Around Beijing and Shandong 

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Sunday 20 August

Boys took us to the airport a bit late but the flight was delayed half an hour so OK. A long flight, nothing eventful except for some brief but quite bad turbulence going into Shanghai which made people squeal and gasp a bit. The highway into Beijing was partially closed for repairs and it took us an hour and a half, possibly more to get in from the airport. Got into the complex OK as the guard recognized Lilly and straight up to 1908 in building 5.  So happy with our flat. It is hot inside but everything is ship shape. We spread quilts on the floor and collapse about 4:20 am Sydney time, 2:20am China time.

Monday 21 August

Lilly up early cleaning and tidying – we have a little foyer, kitchen, the main dining, lounge and then a study and two bedrooms, main en suite. It is quite spacious and the finishings have been done tastefully.  In the dining/lounge we have quite a large side cabinet, upright display cabinet, side table, small coffee table and a long and wide low table which we will put the TV on.  There is a dining table to be assembled and six chairs. In the study there is a bookcase type tall cabinet, a desk and an exec chair. All furniture is the same wood and same pattern, including the study desk. It is quite good quality stuff and extremely heavy.

We decide to paint it throughout, so it has to be sanded first then painted. It will take a while to organize so once we have it got it underway we may go to Shandong and come back later after it is done.

This morning we spent time with the Property Management downstairs, Lilly organizing some retouching to the wall, where we had a water leak earlier and there is some rising damp. Broadband, car park etc etc. In the afternoon we tried to get some sleep and then had our first swim in a 25m indoor pool, also part of the complex. In the evening went to see the Rens, she is poorly, he looks well fed and is always cheerful. Sollee kindly drove us home in his new car.  The days and nights are warm. It is 30 C at night and I am not sleeping all that well on the floor.


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Tuesday 22 August

We hung around this morning to organise one worker for repairs and another to install broadband. Problems accessing broadband, the techie thought possibly because of the laptop firewalls. Lilly’s old Chinese laptop which she has brought back for Wei’s daughter is OK so there might also be some other problems. Eventually I am up and running but only via the plug in the lounge. Only Lilly’s old laptop works in the study, bugger. Anyway spend a couple of hours with website and email catch-up. 

Then went to Gomes, a huge general home appliance and electronics store. Looked at fridges, water dispensers, washing machine and TVs. Huge range, everything is digital, all cutting edge stuff. Pay Y1000 and the water in the washing machine slopes downwards, pay 2000 and you don’t need to use detergent, pay 3000 and it will pour your beer cooled to -2C, pay 4000 and it will dispense cheese and bikkies, pay 5000 and your clothes are washed dried ironed without needing to disrobe. Personally I like my gear with just a green button and a red button.

Famished, we took a cab to our favourite restaurant where we used to stay. Some of the waitresses recognized us and the food was as good as we remember from a year ago and the previous year. Shopping then home and collapsed.

Wednesday 23 August

Work in morning a bit. All day today we walked up and down furniture and electronics stores. They are massive and the walking and standing is painful after about 4 hours. We argue about everything, but through it all some consensus is developing. We have virtually decided on fridge, and bedroom 1, are close on Lounge suite, closer on TV and DVD and closest on washing machine and cooler where Lilly is going to decide. On reflection that’s probably how it should be. Most of it is fun.

Tonight we go see the Grumps (J’s grandparents) and an Aunt. Most of the time is taken up with Lilly talking to J on the phone and the rest of us sitting around in silence. Granny is overweight and has angina, Pops looks fit and tanned and well. We walk home about 3K – every step is painful but I suppose I am getting used to it.

Resolve to write this up every day in future.

Thursday 24 August

Off again this morning to the first electrical store – looked at Hitachi TV, it has a lot of features, many of which we will not use. Backwards and forwards and eventually order a Haier fridge and a water cooler, both to be delivered tomorrow. Walked around the local area in the evening – there is a huge residential complex going up on the opposite corner called InterWest – we just about bought into it last year when it was just an enormous hole in the ground. Most of the buildings are now 20 or more stories high and they are starting to put the outside cladding on. It is still very warm at nights and I am not sleeping well on the floor. Lilly doesn’t like the air conditioning on otherwise we could lower the temperature inside by 10 degrees and the place would be quite pleasant to come home to.

Friday 25 August

We have been here 4 full days and are no closer to getting our place re-painted. In my humble opinion it could have been done before we arrived and then we could have bought our stuff and settled in relatively quickly. It is frustrating. I feel helpless because everything has to be done through Lilly and she becomes a different person in China. It is her place and she is in total control. As always she is very dedicated, conscientious and hard-working, but also controlling and cost-conscious to the point of exasperation. At least we are catching more cabs this time. A 2 or 3 km trip costs about Y12, a bit more than $2 so it is always the sensible thing to do and the cabs are everywhere.

Everything takes a lot longer to get done. Solly has not delivered on someone to do the sandpapering and painting. With millions of unemployed I am amazed we can’t find people to do the job. Have patience my son.

We spend most of the day at home today as the fridge and water dispenser are delivered and we have to wait for them. Lilly finds a contractor to quote on repairing some tiles in the laundry and he also gives us a quote to do the painting and a small repair job on the flooring in the main. I work most of the day on website stuff and in the evening we go again to the shopping centre about a 1km away. We order and pay for a TV, DVD player and washing machine. PROGRESS. We have looked at that many TVs and have finally picked a Hitachi 37”, it seems to have additional features and has had good reviews. We take the DVD – the TV and washer will be delivered after we have finished painting.  We buy a bit of other gear at the shopping centre and supermarket – there is a change in the weather, it is raining and cooler and we get a cab home as we have a lot to carry. Have some soup and collapse into bed about 1.

Saturday 26 August

Still very hazy out there – the rain has not cleared the air much. From our 19th floor we have quite a commanding view of the area, residential and office blocks stretch as far as you can see in every direction even on a good day. The last couple of days the smog has been so bad you can see no more than about one km.  

Lilly went banking etc this morning, me working on website.  Off furniture hunting this afternoon in 2 different locations and also looking for paint and getting prices. 

Tonight we went in search of the All Blacks v Springboks game.  Lilly had phoned the John Bull Pub, an English style pub and was told the game would be shown. But when we got there it was all low key and only a tiny TV up in the top corner of a small room. Anyway we decided to stay and were having a beer when a couple of young guys came in one American and the other an Aussie.  They quickly established that the Channel was Star and could not show the game. They kindly offered us a lift to The Pavilion, about 10 minutes away and we got there just as the haka finished and saw the whole game. Very salubrious establishment with bars and restaurants. The whole place was alive mainly with expatriates and there were several big screens showing the game with quite a few cheering for both sides. A great evening, particularly given the result of the game. Beer not cheap though, about Sydney prices. Good trip across the city by cab both ways. 

Sunday 27 August

Virtually all day today on the furniture trail. I though we had seen some big stores but the second we were in today was absolutely massive. Corridors as far as you could see in every direction and a comprehensive range of furniture. The cheaper stuff was just that and the more expensive is very bulky and stodgy. Seldom do we see anything elegant and reasonably priced. At the end of the day though we have some ideas for both bedrooms and the lounge suite – do we have room though? Very footsore and leg weary as we have been on our pins almost all day. We get home and measure up and sensibly everything we had our eye on today is just too big for our rooms. Bugger.

Monday 28 August

Working in the morning on the website. Solly brought a painter/contractor around. He says he will start in 2 or 3 days and it will take a few days to do.  Nothing is easy – we have to buy the paint and I suspect we will have to watch every step of the process very carefully.

This afternoon we take off to Ikea (the Scandinavian furniture and accessories giant) – the cabbie tells us it has moved and it takes us half an hour to get there. It is a waste of time because the stuff is cheapie but expensive, and not what we are after.  We see a number of other smaller furniture places on the way back – are we on mission impossible? I have not seen one lounge suite that I like – Lilly does not want leather and I am not keen on the floral that she likes nor on the dull beige colours that she goes for.      

The beds we like – and there is more consensus here – are either grand and monstrous, veneer, board or cheap and nasty.  We limp home from the supermarket to lick our wounds. Somehow Lilly still has the strength to cook a delicious meal.

We measure up the walls and ceilings this evening and decide on paint and colours.

Tuesday 29 August

I am catching up on diary, email and admin. Lilly has gone off herself this morning. My website is pressing on me a bit so I spend 4 or 5 hours straight and get quite a bit done. Lilly returns about 2 in the afternoon – she has ordered the paint which will arrive tomorrow. The paint is Dulux and it is expensive – about $750. Are we going to get Dulux paint or some other paint in Dulux cans? Who knows? There is frustration, mainly from me at the lack of progress – it is not anyone’s fault. Everything takes a long time to get done and people (contractors) can only be relied on if they are recommended by friends or colleagues. I am not sleeping well, the water we bought doesn’t taste good and I have a sore throat today and a headache. 

Late afternoon we go off shopping locally for plastic to cover our furniture and buy veg etc. Beans are $1.20 a kilo and all locally grown stuff is about 20% of what it is in NZ or Aus. Meat is generally about 30%. Zespri kiwifruit on sale at this place are expensive for obvious reasons, NZ prices. Fuel is cheaper, electricity and gas are cheaper – in my opinion overall you could live here (if you avoided the very expensive restaurants, which we do) for about a third of what it costs in NZ or Aust.

Rens visit tonight, Solly brings a small step ladder and we sit around and drink water and eat water melon for an hour or so. I mainly listen but don’t understand.

Wednesday 30 August

Another long day furniture hunting. We are close to agreement and decide to buy a main bedroom suite at one place. From about 10 in the morning till about 5:30 we don’t stop much – just doing our research and having fun. Skipped lunch because there was no where to eat that we liked. On the way home stop to buy a thin mattress type arrangement that will stay under a bed in the event we have a number of guests.  Home to website updating. I am taking stuff for a sore throat – don’t feel bad but the throat is dry and feels like sandpaper is being rubbed over raw flesh. It may be the preservative in the water or it may be the dust in the air.  The air most days is smoggy and full of dust. It permeates everywhere even inside with the aircon going. Bed now much more comfortable but still don’t sleep well.

Thursday 31 August 

Work for an hour or so then off we go – first to order the bedroom suite – bed + 2 side tables, tallboy (for the tall girl), and two chairs and a small table for the little sunroom at the front of the bedroom. Two lamps as well. Off again on the furniture hunt. Stopped at “Outside the park, within the courtyard, green life”.  Think about it, the words are fantastic but put them together and its all Chinese.  Still a lot better than mine.  Eventually decide on a lounge suite and order it. Progress.  Two more places on the way home, find a second bedroom arrangement that we don’t think will fit. The limbs are weary and the mind is gone. So what’s new? Find another way of arranging the furniture in the second bedroom when we get home. Looks OK. If we order tomorrow we are then down to the odd carpet, 1 or 2 coffee tables, some pictures and a few trimmings. Has the back of it been broken in about 10 days? 

Friday 1 September

Work in the morning on website stuff. My throat is getting better, temp down this morning and all I am left with is a heavy cold. Lilly goes off to get receipts for some of our gear and comes home sweating and weighed down by plastic bags full of shopping. She has walked at least a kilometer, all part of the fitness regime. Mother finally comes through on SKYPE and we chat for a while. She recommends lemons for everything, including the smog. Everything seems Ok in NZ.  

Then off we go by cab again looking at furniture. There is an inexhaustible supply of huge furniture marts. This time at our second stop we order the furniture for bedroom 2, including double bed (not too big), wardrobe, writing or make-up table, chair and mirror. It won’t be delivered until mid-October. All white timber, quite nice and a bit more solid than the Ikea type whitewood. Lilly negotiates a 20% discount and in addition gets a further reduction which has to be taken in the form of other homewares within the complex. So at about 5 pm we rush off to another building and buy bathroom mats, feather pillows, knife holder and quite a range of kitchen and other gear, all packed in two shopping trolleys and all done by close at 5:30.

On the way home, through the ubiquitous cranes, I see the sun. It is red, only a small part obscured by cloud and I can look at it. First time I have ever looked straight at the sun. The smog is bad, how are they ever going to get it cleaned up in time for the Beijing Olympics, which will be held about this time of the year in 2 years? Get home about 6:30 and I work till about 10:30. The websites effort has taken me (with help from Lilly) about 2 months and is nearing completion. A couple of days to go.

Saturday 2 September

Up bright and early, working on the website. Lilly is scurrying around, cleaning, organizing, arranging, covering (in preparation for painting), assembling, positioning, categorizing, managing, bounding over tall buildings and generally putting everything into order within our universe. Without her I would not survive 5 minutes. There would be a brief flickering flame and I would pass on extinguished and undistinguished. My only claim to fame is geography. I have an ever so slightly better sense of direction and can mainly pick where we are in huge furniture complexes, with corridors stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see. Outside, providing I can see the sun or sense its whereabouts I have a rough idea of our locale. I am very proud of this vaguely superior quality, all is not lost.

Work most of the day on the computer, Lilly in and out all day discovering, shopping, carrying, negotiating, expediting and relationship building. She is perpetual motion. Tonight we go by bus across the city to watch the All Blacks lose to the Boks. Bugger. Don’t drink too much because the beers (albeit a jug) are Y35 (about A$6) each. The beer is cold and quite tasty. Lilly buys an apple juice which is the same price. So the Y100 odd we spend at the bar would feed an average Chinese family (Dad, mum and one utterly spoilt little emperor) for a month, providing Dad and Mum didn’t eat anything. Quite a salubrious joint, mainly young Westerners, quite a lot of kiwis, judging by the cheers when NZ scored a try and a few Seth Efricans. We catch a cab home because the buses are no longer running. We both spend an hour on the computer looking for fun birthday cards, without finding a card, but with a lot of fun.

Sunday 3 September 

Today is preparation day. Lilly is out shopping and has bought some sandpaper because I have said I want to start the painting etc if these guys don’t arrive by tomorrow. After buying the sandpaper she gets a call to say they are coming tomorrow. I should have said I was going to start last Thursday!  Anyway the 2 or 3 days promised has become a week. Will they actually arrive?  So today we are getting everything big or small covered with plastic, newspaper etc. I work most of the day on the website. Later in the day we both do the covering and preparation, light switches, lights, furniture, water heaters in every room. . Neither stray paint nor dust will get anywhere near our chattels. It is windy outside and the temperature has dropped a bit.

The Beijing Olympics are to be held from 8 August 2008 to 24 August 2008. Madness. A month later would be ideal but August is just too hot. What got into the IOC?

Monday 4 September 

Up bright and early, covering, taping and preparing. Have an early breakfast as we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the painters. Won’t be long now. My head and throat are improved but I am coughing a bit. Must get the lemons. The ambient temp is down from 30ish to 25ish and it is more comfortable. The wind has cleared the smog and we can see out into the distance today for the first time since arriving.  We have quite a good view of the immediate city and can see a range of hills far off to the west. There is even a glimpse of blue sky.

Turns out to be our best day in Beijing to date – it is a bit cooler and much of the sky is blue. We work alternately on covering and me on the website. Painters are expected this morning – they don’t arrive – Solly says leave it to me. We take off for our favourite restaurant tonight and eat a lamb knuckle each (quite tasty), rice and a bowl of dowf and greens. A good meal in a spotlessly clean little restaurant for about Y40 ($7). We buy milk and bits and pieces and a couple of movies on CD (by the roadside) and catch a bus home. Try to watch one of the movies on the computer but the picture is not good and the CD reader is hiccupping so we forget it. Lay bets on when the painters will arrive. Hopefully before we leave in October.

Tuesday 5 September 

Dear Diary, I am wrong once again – the painters arrive.  Two of them, young guys arguing incessantly with each other and ignoring Lilly and me. Anyway eventually we get it ironed out and an hour and a half later they are quiet and getting on with it. The young bloke didn’t want to bother with sanding but the older guy phoned the boss who told them, sanding first. By then the young guy had already started painting the ceiling.  We will have to keep an eye on them.  I hope they will do the two bedrooms first which are a different colour and then do the rest second, but they sound as if they are going to do what they are going to. Me too.

During the day, we switch from one room to the other as they go about sandpapering and plastering up the odd cracks and holes. It is not as dusty as expected. They rip off all the fittings around the light switches and plugs which we had carefully taped and Lilly spends much of the day cleaning off the tape residue. I am still not 100% and work at the computer when I can and read Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, when I am moved on.  Life couldn’t be more exciting.

Lilly wants us to go over to the spare flat at the Grumps to sleep tonight but she can’t get hold of them so she cleans up a bit and we bed down fairly early in our usual.

Wednesday 6 September

We are up bright and early, just as well as the painters arrive at 7 and get straight into it. They are a bit rough and ready but great progress is not always made with great precision. The weather is very pleasant now, balmy with a cool breeze in the evenings and I am beginning to feel human again. Lilly looks after me in sickness and in health with cups of tea, herbal medicines (which don’t taste too great but dry up a cold or dry up the insides), and all manner of TLC.

The boss painter has a second in command who rides the ladder. A different bloke today. The ladder is a very light wooden ladder almost 2 metres high with steps like a normal ladder, that pivots at the top and has the two sides or wings identical. The guy who does the sandpapering or painting, rides it around the room without getting off it – around corners or wherever. For all I know he sleeps on it.

Lilly gets them lunch at 11:30 and then after lunch they sleep on the floor for about an hour and a half. Most Chinese have an afternoon siesta, particularly during the summer.  Tonight they finished about 6, so that’s about a net 9 hour day. We keep out of their hair, though we both keep an eye on what they are doing. What better pastime than watching paint dry. It will be at least 3 more days before they finish. I slave over a hot website all day and feel as if I am making progress. I hope the multitudes do as well.

After dinner we go for a walk through a complex over the road. These residential complexes are huge.  There may be 4 to 12 buildings in each. The one over the road has 8 I think.  Three of them are about 25 floors and the others average about 20 stories. (our complex has 7 I think – we are in No.5)  Our building as an example has 25 floors with 8 flats on each floor – that’s 200 flats, housing possibly 1000 people. There may be 5000 people living in our complex, possibly twice that number in the complex over the road. A complex may occupy a small city block – it has security gates and a security guard at each entrance. They don’t stop you going in – I suppose if you look respectable, they have no authority to stop you. In the complex over the road, one of the lanes has 2 or 3 fruit and veg places, a hairdresser, supermarket, several small restaurants, a video/CD store and other shops. Between many of the buildings are little parks, trees and paths, seats and public exercise equipment. It is a very pleasant place in the evening, particularly a balmy evening, but I suspect quite cold in winter. Lots of romantic couples out tonight (including us of course), in particular draped over the little park benches.

We buy a couple of CDs and watch a very sad little movie “The House of Sand and Fog” on the laptop.  Then make room amongst all the dusty newspapers and plastic on the floor for our floor bed.

Thursday 7 September 

Up bright and early but the painters don’t arrive till 8. They are going to paint the walls of the 2 bedrooms today, which is good as we can then get in there and clean up and start to get back to normal in 2 rooms.

Another day to day amongst the dust and paper and plastic on the floors. The bedrooms are almost finished, but there is still a fair bit to do. Will they finish by Saturday night – we are still hopeful, but it will be close.  Me on the computer, Lilly most of the afternoon returning the scales, buying a mattress for the second bedroom, chasing down skirting boards and catching the wrong bus, eventually gets in about 7pm. I am worried about her.  Fondue meal at a local restaurant.

Watch French Connnection II on the laptop, 20 year old movie a bit of waste of time. Make room for bed and collapse.

Friday 8 September 

Up at 6:30 hoping the painters will arrive early and get the job done. 4 guys arrive at 8. Four!  The two painters and two other guys, one to do the tiles in the laundry (in a couple of places two or three rows of them have come unstuck) – the consensus decision is to glue them back on rather than to re-cement them and one of the guys gets on with it.  In our bedroom the floor boards in the little sun room have come up and need to be re-done. The problem is a clothes line on the ceiling which winds down for drying clothes – at some time they have hung wet clothes and the water has made the flooring expand and come up. About three rows are up and the whole lot needs to be re-done. The second guy has a big pot of glue, a compressor and a nail gun and gets on with it. He knows what he is doing but is a bit rough and ready. I gently remind Lilly to remind him not to damage the edge of the boards. Elementary my dear Watson. I am uprooted from usual place and finish off the epic tale of 20,000 leagues under sea. Never read it when I should have at 16, too busy reading Biggles and Alastair MacLean. Lilly sets up a little retreat in the study where we can sit and read and then takes off to buy glue for the tiles. When will she ever stop? Maybe if I glue her down. Three days of living with plastic, papers, dust and 2 to go. Just as well the weather is cooler. A bit of rain overnight and quite a strong breeze this morning and the air is clean again today, but sky is overcast. From where I am in the study window box, I could see the antipodes, were it not for the smog. The sky clears, the day is sunny and the smog ain’t that bad today. Blue Mountains off to the west.

Some survey I saw a month or so ago in Sydney gave the cost of living for all the major business cities.  Tokyo, London and New York were all towards the top of the list. But what amazed me was that Beijing was higher than Sydney. What rubbish. In my opinion you could live here for less than a half of what it costs in Sydney. Petrol is less than a $1, food is about a quarter, meat about a third, clothes and shoes about a third.  The only way to spend up big here is to go to really top restaurants and it is unlikely they would be any more expensive than Sydney’s top restaurants. Our flat is about on a par with what we have in Chatswood (a bit bigger and possibly a bit better), the locale is good and the price less than a half.  Furniture is about a third, for the same quality. Best is to earn overseas and spend here. But try earning in Beijing and spending in Sydney, even a canny wee Scot couldn’t do it. Blah, blah

Saturday 9 September 

Disappointing only 1 painter arrived today. The other drank too much last night (Friday night on the town) and didn’t make it. Still one is better than none. The end is in sight.

Now the cleaning up process has to start. There is paint everywhere and beyond. Let there be paint and paint covered every nook and cranny. The paint splashed around, would paint the town. Confucious say he who laughs last, laughs longest, narrowly followed by he who paints and leaves immediately.  Today I spent all day cleaning two bedrooms and at the end of the day they look quite good. Lilly buys stuff, does lunch and is in perpetual motion. Tonight we go and watch the Boks v the Wallabies at the Pavilion. 

Sunday 10 September 

More of the same. The one painter comes back to finish off and gets through about 3pm. I work on cleaning the floor of the living room and the study. Finger nails are great for removing paint, particularly off floor boards. They were long, now they are back to the quick – talk about working your fingers to the bone. The painter helps by putting some curtain rails back up and replaces screws back into the walls for pictures (if we ever get that far). He also helps getting our heavy furniture back into place, but is like a bull in a china shop and we are scared stuff will get chipped. These guys are young, quick, conscientious and vigorous but without much finesse.

Lilly cleans and mops and wipes and sweeps and at one stage goes and buys a vacuum cleaner. I say we need one, she says no. But I persist a bit and voila this time I get my toy. It is a little beauty, sucks up stuff that has been lying in state for centuries. To get it I had to promise to use it regularly. My little contribution to domesticity, I am not allowed any other.

After the havoc and devastation of the past week, the place is starting to look civilized again. We are happy with the result. The colours are light, not much different from what was here previously only a shade lighter. Late in the day I assemble the dining table and we are 90% done. We are both walking zombies and collapse into bed early.

Monday 11 September

Like Pearl Harbour, this is another date that will live in infamy, particularly for the Americans – 9/11, will the bastards pull off a 5 year celebratory stunt? Not a good day to be travelling today, whether by plane, bus or train.

Lilly is working on the delivery schedule for mattresses, lounge suite, washing machine, TV, bedroom suite 1, bed 2, which are going to arrive over the next week (apart from bed suite 2) in about that order. We basically have a coffee table, pictures and a couple of rugs to go.

Another clean up day – one mattress arrives today for bed 2. In the late afternoon we go off to check on TV/Washing Machine delivery, get a small hand-held vacuum cleaner as a freebie, buy a ladder and some other stuff. Visit the Rens in the evening taking back a new ladder they lent us. Solly refuses to take money for the painting work. On a cost basis at about $10-$12 a day per man we are talking about say $150 or close to Y900. The paint (Dulux) was the expensive item at about $500 and at least we bought that.

Tuesday 12 September 

Peaceful day, Lilly pottering around, cleaning and tidying, me mainly on the website and responding to emails. Two mattresses arrive for the main bedroom – we are going to trial both (still in the plastic and on the floor) then will return one of them. The lounge suite arrives. The colours are light and it is a bit bland. We have ideas for curtains, coffee table and a rug that will give some contrast and colouring.

In the evening J’s Dad, Daniel’s Dad and the older cousin Michael from Auckland come around and we go out for a meal nearby. They come back to the flat afterwards and we continue chatting, particularly about the boys in Sydney. I get the impression they don’t really want to know too much and aren’t all that concerned about the problems. I resolve not to lose any sleep over the lads again.

Wednesday 13 September

We sleep well on Mattress 1, so that one passes the test and no lost sleep over the boys!!

David has loaded all the new details to the database so I have to really spend some serious time now in checking it, presenting it properly and getting it updated. Having said that off we go today loaded with a list of bits and pieces that are not necessities but the trimmings, like the perennial coffee table and pictures etc. We take back a can of paint and get a refund, then spend about 4 hours traipsing around furniture places and a massive homeware store that has everything for the home and more. We get ideas for curtains, lamps and discard some options for coffee tables. It is a hot day again, the smog is back and I get footsore and weary too easily, my energy levels are certainly down and I am annoyed they are. It must be the head cold which I have not been able to shake. Also we have not had time to swim and I am not feeling as fit as previously. Even Lilly is tired and we lick our wounds over lunch at 3pm and have another go. We come home with nothing but at least have some ideas and a bit more direction.

Thursday 14 September 

Don’t sleep so well on Mattress 2, so after discussion decide that it will go back.

Getting first stage of presentation project ready for David today. Website traffic has dropped as it always does after the end of the financial year and I want to shore it up by having general shareholder resource type stuff on it.  Work most of the day on the website as Lilly potters and organizes – broadband speed has dropped dramatically – are we on dial-up suddenly – have I exceeded my quota and have they wound me back – really frustrating and I read as I wait. One of three books we bought from a street vendor for about $3, elsewhere probably $35 as all best sellers.

Tonight we go walking to the supermarket etc – through the complex over the road – very pleasant – stagger back with all sorts of stuff. Smog bad again today but I am feeling better at long last, the cold is drying up and feel like a human being again. 

Friday 15 September 

Up at 6:15 working on the website. Still slow. Lilly phones the provider at 8:30 and they have no explanation. Smog is bad again today, my indicator is how well I can see a particular building that I guess is about 1km away, perhaps a bit less. Today it is hazy but I can still see it, only one day so far could I not see it at all.

Guy arrives to look at the system under the sink. It is awfully complicated and none of it is working. Taps and hoses are everywhere. Originally they installed a filter for the secondary sink/slim tap arrangement and they also had a water softener system installed. This is so that the water can be sanitized, homogenized, ionized, magnetized, adulterated, carbonated, disinfected, purified, debugged and defrocked. Lilly says the water is now sweeter. I suppose because I am a cynic I call it crap in, crap out, but the great H2O promoters and diviners of this illustrious country make millions out of the gullible.  I wish though we could buy fresh air. The guy that can remove all the crap out of the air and sell it in the supermarket in plastic bags or cartons will make a fortune in China. Fresh air, $5 a litre, buy 2 get 1 free.

This afternoon we take off in search of coffee tables etc. Nothing much catches our fancy except we buy cane chairs and a little table for the sunroom and bring home three pictures for the hall, three quite large ornamental vases for Lilly’s cabinet and four bottles of Tsing Tao beer for me. A large bottle (630ml) of beer costs Y2 and you get Y0.5 back on the empty. That’s a net Y1.50, or about 25 cents and its good beer. If only I didn’t need to lose some belly. The Tsing Tao brewery was set up initially in 1903 by the Germans and it has a long and proud tradition. It is situated in Qing dao (virtually identical pronunciation), one of the major cities in Shandong Province – we were there last year and it reminded me a lot of Tauranga.

Lilly pays little attention to the beer and spends the evening unwrapping and hanging all our stuff. It all looks great. Tomorrow the cane setting will arrive and so will our bedroom suite. But where is the TV? Tonight from about 10am, Lilly sits in the armchair and reads the newspaper for at least 30 minutes, what’s wrong with her?

Saturday 16 September 

Stay at home all day today waiting for furniture. The cane chairs and table are the first to arrive, then guys come and take away the second mattress and later in the day the bedroom stuff arrives. No dramas. Everything in good condition and we are happy with our purchases. The bed fits well and there is plenty of space over in the bedroom. After a short argument Lilly re-locates the chairs and table designated for the little sunroom (at the front of the bedroom) into the bedroom itself. Our new bed is really comfy and we sleep well even though nights are still hot.

Sunday 17 September

Broadband is ridiculously slow and I am frustrated at not being able to update properly and get on with my work. This morning Lilly sees an ad for our TV (which has still not arrived) for Y2000 (about A$350) less than what we are paying, so we take off to the store and say we want our money back. They had promised delivery almost a week ago and are very apologetic. After discussion they will give us back the Y2000 and provide us with a small TV immediately until the new one is delivered. We accept, so we carry a 27” set to a cab and along with the shop girl go back home where she installs it along with our CD player. Although we can pick up only a few of the TV channels (there are 66) at least we can watch a movie or two from the CD.

So a real lazy day today for me as I have nothing much to read and the broadband is impossibly slow. Lilly goes out shopping and brings home cushions and flowers and a mattress protector etc. In the evening we watch the story of the Emperor Penguins again on TV.  It is an incredible story of an annual pilgrimage to an isolated spot on the ice shelf in the Antarctica to raise a chick in absolutely brutal winter conditions; a story that has been repeating itself every year for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years. Here is a bird that can’t fly, but can swim like a fish. It can hold its breath for 15 minutes and go down to about 1200 feet. It is not really built for walking and yet waddles and slides across the ice for what seems like the greater part of its life.  

Monday 18 September 

Up early, hopeful that Broadband has had a rest over a very long weekend and is back in business – no such luck. There is a huge contrast here in every facet of life. Some things just take an age to resolve and it depends on who you know, not what you know. It is particularly frustrating for me, because I can do very little myself. If there is a problem, Lilly has to resolve it. When she is here, she seems to forget that we earn overseas and she tends to look at spending here as if it were dollars.  We have spent Y350 (about $60) for a 2 month period on an internet connection that is now not working. It has never worked in the study so I am using a connection in the lounge. By not being able to work effectively over the past 4 days, I am probably 20 hours behind, conservatively $1000 worth of time, or Y6000. In my opinion the expenditure is nothing. Cut your losses and run. Try an option. There must be other providers – the other problem is that I have to use my Sydney ISP’s external account because we have not looked for an ISP provider. It is inconvenient and time consuming but if I complain about it, I am a whinging. So I have said nothing but the net cost to us again is significant. Penny wise, but pound foolish.

Lilly gets the guy from the broadband provider along. He has no explanation for why the speed has dropped so dramatically – but promises to increase my speed from 1.5 to 3.0 when he gets back to the office.

We go off to the hospital as Lilly has a little infection and gets some medicine. The hospital is a Navy hospital only a couple of blocks from where we are. It takes anybody though – the fees are small although the medicine is a bit more expensive. The hospitals here appear to be better run, more hygienic and generally superior to what I have seen in Australia and NZ. Lilly reckons the doctors are as good or better.  

Really hot out today – well into the 30s. Nearby we try to resolve our TV reception problem. Can we get all channels by paying the bill or is there some other problem?  I am in the dark but suggest we pay the bill and then we can insist they get reception fixed. Lilly the nurse, me the purse. (except my beloved doles out the money as well).

When we get back, the broadband is much better and I get stuck into updating. It still hangs a bit, but most of the time now it is quite quick. Happiness is a quick broadband connection.

Mr Ren comes around with wine and moon cakes – after all they haven’t given us anything this week, so why not. I tell him to keep his other bike and their TV set. Not to give us anything else this week at least. After he leaves we watch a CD of Mission Impossible 3 in English, with Chinese subtitles. Lilly helps with the dialogue because the background music is so loud, I often miss it and then don’t get the plot. Why can’t they get a better balance between the two?

Tuesday 19 September

Broadband fine and I am making progress at last. All day poke away at the computer sending follow up emails to liquidators, administrators etc. A bloke comes along and switches on our TV reception (done from immediately outside the entrance – over the top of the door) and during the day I keep an eye on 9, the English channel – not too bad, a lot of repeats during the day but some interesting historical documentaries about China, news, business and one or two good interviews, particularly one later in the day about property ownership. This is an issue I have been reading about because it is vital that China gets some certainty and transparency in property ownership.

There is a “bill” currently before the National Party Congress – it is up to its 5th reading, which indicates how touchy and important the whole subject is – which will regularize property ownership. The big issues are state ownership, collective (farmer) ownership and private ownership. In essence, if what is proposed is finally enacted, all land will remain in state ownership, but it will be long-term leasehold. This is the way it is in Hong Kong and has been under British rule and subsequently under the Chinese. There is a lot of leasehold still in Britain and still also quite a bit in NZ. So it is not unusual. Our “ownership” of our flat in Beijing will last for 70 years. The state exacts a “small leasehold fee” for the land every year, which is paid by the property managers and is reflected in our corporate body fee (currently about Y4000 or $700 a year). At the end of the 70 years, the guess is that the state will come along and decide if they want to do something different with the land. Maybe the building is decrepit and abandoned, maybe it is still livable – or there is a new building on it – and the state will say “looks Ok, we don’t want to reclaim the land for a park or hospital or whatever and the lease will just be renewed”. An American lawyer who has been here for 19 years was one of the two lawyers being interviewed and he seemed to be quite positive about developments and the protection of individual property rights. The other big issue to be resolved by the legislation is the relationship between property managers and the property owners. I have already seen potential problems here, although our property managers seem to be doing a reasonable job. What if we thought there should be additional security or the landing on each floor needed a coat of paint and others didn’t or the property managers didn’t agree. I n the TV interview, the lawyers acknowledged problems here and said there had already been court cases over various management/ownership issues. Watch this space.

Lilly out and about, buying little things for the flat. Me mostly head down but even saw a bit of tennis on the TV. Went to bed early, still hot at night, Lilly watched a series on TV.

Wednesday 20 September 

Today’s smog report – not a pretty sight, my key indicator building is almost indistinguishable this morning.

We have inherited from the previous owners a one metre in diameter satellite dish that sits outside the sunroom window and points in a south westerly direction, low trajectory. I thought they said they were going to take it away so was surprised to find it here when we arrived. I see that the state has recently forbidden the installation of satellite dishes because more and more people were getting access to overseas programs from the decadent west. Upset a lot of people. But they make special exemptions for top hotels where foreigners are expected to stay and for expatriate compounds etc, so I doubt they will confiscate our dish.

I am trying to find out how we can use it to pick up overseas news, in particular the ABC Australian network which broadcasts into China, but nobody here seems to know anything about them. Can’t even find the manufacturer’s name on the dish. Will probably need a decoder of some sort and will need to have the dish pointing in the right direction. If we can’t use it, it would make a good wok for a stir fry for a really big party.

Main event of the day is the installation of a window in bedroom 2. Quite a drama getting this window as the previous one was cracked. Nothing serious but it was always our intention to replace it and Lilly paid Y500 deposit on it last time we were here. The bloke then seemed to disappear and has taken a lot of calls and time to eventually get him to bring it along. This window is 1.7 metres long and 1.05 wide. It is double thickness and so heavy that the 2 guys that bring it, struggle to lift it. I can just imagine the damage it would cause 19 floors down if the existing one fell out or they slipped putting the new one in. Anyway this guy is tiny but strong and seemed to know what he was doing. Finally he gets the old one out after hanging out in space having to chisel around the old one to separate it from the rubber surrounds. I ask him what the premiums on his life policy are but Lilly says it is not appropriate to translate so we laugh it off. The new one goes in gently and fits perfectly. Mission accomplished and we have a brand new window, Y700 in total about $120.  

Mostly work today, one eye on the English channel, one eye on the Sports channel (don’t need that in English) with some top athletics, table tennis and tennis, one eye on Lilly  and the other eye on the work. We go to Gomes at the end of the day, wander around have chilly beef noodles at a little eat-in – not great – get cereals and other bits and pieces and go to bed early.

Thursday 21 September 

Another quiet day at home. The guy came and repaired the really complicated system under our kitchen sink whereby water is first filtered and then softened. The flexible water pipes lead in all directions and you would need a Masters in Hydrology to understand what occurs. Supposedly out of one tap we now get filtered, softened and beautifully sanitized water. Is it all smoke and mirrors? Anyhow we will use it for everything else but drinking.

Even Lilly relaxes a bit today and with the broadband going well, I press on. Watch a bit of TV as I work, including some international athletics and repeats of various Chinese historical/cultural documentaries which are moderately interesting.        

Tonight we walk and catch a bus over to Sun Li Hur where we were based in De’s flat previously. Buy about 15 CDs from a street vendor – they tell us they are all English, but when we get them home we find a mixed bag. The first is virtually unplayable. The second is in Chinese with subtitles in English, but the subtitles are so bad, I can only understand when Lilly translates. We persevere with it as it is not a bad little story Poseiden. Another CD the subtitling is a long way out of sync with the picture, in fact we think the audio is for a different film altogether. Probably the subtitling is for a third movie. Another one looks OK so 1 out of 4 not bad as we paid less than a dollar for each CD.

Also buy ¼ kilo of whitebait which is about $5 a kilo. People gather around as we talk about whitebait to the shop assistant. Most of them know nothing about whitebait except one guy seems to know how and where they are caught. The Chinese like you to talk to them in English, particularly if Lilly translates. Many of them have high school level English and they like to test their few words and see what they can understand. 

Friday 22 September 

Smog not so bad, quite a sunny day. We are told our TV arrived last night but they can’t deliver until tomorrow. Is that a promise – we think so – so Lilly goes off and books to go by plane to Yan Tai on Sunday morning at 7:30. Wei will meet us. Plane tickets are cheaper at that time of the day and she pays Y600 (about $100) for both of us. This is only a one hour flight but still $50 each isn’t bad. We may come back by train especially if Ma comes back with us. But plane is cheaper and much quicker.

After lunch we go to the Beijing Public Library – huge place, only 15 minutes walk from where we live. About 6 floors – there are three large rooms each about the size of an ordinary library devoted to Foreign Periodicals and the collection of the periodicals is amazing – and they are up to date. Every conceivable monthly magazine on every possible subject from all over the world. I am impressed. We also go to the Foreign Books area – again immense – there are students everywhere but it is quiet and I get the impression very well organized and catalogued. I am unable to take books out, but Lilly can once she has her local ID again. (She has applied and expects it to be ready next month). The librarian in the Foreign Books section carefully says to Lilly if the foreigner wants to take books out, he can do so in your name.  But even then there are restrictions. Books have to be at least three years old and must not be too old. They are very careful about people taking books out of the library for obvious reasons. You have to provide a CV, an autobiography, 10 years bank statements and balance sheets, all personal jewelry, property titles and 10 million as security before they will let you take a book out. We see probably 5% of the library in one wing on one floor. There is a bookshop downstairs and we buy books and CDs on the way out. Bugger the library, for now. But we will be back.

We walk home – when you walk, bicycle or drive in China you need to have eyes everywhere – a pedestrian crossing is particularly dangerous because this is lines on the road and that’s where the similarity ends. It is not recognized by cars or cyclists so what is a relative haven in the West is constant danger here. You can get a false sense of security on a pedestrian crossing and if you get on one accidentally, get off it as quick as a zebra. And be careful when you come to cross the road. Never step out on the road until you have looked in the opposite direction from the natural reaction, because the traffic is on the right not the left. The strange thing is there appear to be very few traffic accidents. The Chinese have eyes strategically located I suppose.

Saturday 23 September 

Work today getting refinements off to David. Would like to go live with the new system before going to Shandong but it is not going to happen. Lilly in and out buying stuff and organizing. Only one thing outstanding and that is the new TV. About midday the shop girl brings the stand for it. She is followed later in the day by delivery of the unit itself. Finally early evening the technician arrives and we have our new TV. Looks great but the picture is limited to a certain extent by the Station transmissions and probably the quality of the receiver on the rooftop. We pay the Rens a last visit taking around fruit and milk and flowers. Her leg is a bit better. and we get coffee in exchange, not for the leg. Lilly watches a bit of TV and guess what, I find I can watch last nights preliminary rugby league final in Sydney. It is carried on BigPond and I can click on it and watch the game on my laptop. And what a good game. Hopefully in Shandong I can see the other final and then the Grand Final next week. Somehow Lilly has packed most of our gear and we are ready to get up at 4:45am to go to Shandong.

OZFX Transferring Money Internationally to Free


Sunday 24 September 

Up bright and early, call the cabbie at 5:30 and he picks us up at 6. On a Sunday morning at that hour the roads are not so busy and it takes only 35 minutes to get to the airport (normally at least an hour and when we arrived it took an hour and a half because of road works.) But the terminal itself is crowded. People everywhere, you can hardly move for them. Bit different from Hamilton. We go to Gate 25. It is a huge structure with Gates 25A to about Gate 25H.  There are a large number of planes departing for all over China just from the Gates of 25. We wait and wait and eventually see a handwritten sign that says our flight is delayed because of fog in Yan Tai. We can get breakfast while we wait. It is reasonably palatable and after about an hour and half we are bussed to our flight. No dramas and we arrive in Yan Tai about 11. Wei and Chin are there to meet us along with Mr John and his Buick. So we get a nice comfortable ride in from the airport. It is a sunny day and the temperatures are mid twenties; very pleasant.  Wei still looks 30 although he is now 43. We go into the city to his office and wait for Suzy who finishes school today at 12:30. I use the internet briefly to look at my email and get a quick note off to Mother.

When Suzy arrives we then all go in the little van off to see Ma. Suzy and I chat a bit in English – hers is better than it was a year ago and she can understand me easier. Ma’s place is about half an hour away. She looks good – maybe lost a pound or 2 but her complexion is good and she says she no longer has back problems. Her vege garden is full of stuff and she has obviously been busy. Ma is frugal in the true sense of the word. She is the only person I know with living expenses in the negative. Water is collected in an assortment of drums and buckets from the roof when it rains and stored for as long as possible. Electricity is a small 25W light bulb only used if absolutely essential. The fridge is turned off and the water cooler is buggered so just as well that doesn’t work. There is an electric water heater in the downstairs bathroom for the shower but I suspect that is only used when Lilly and I are here. There are two dark green bottles sitting on the ground in the garden. Lilly tells me that is Ma’s hot water supply, pretty effective on a warm sunny day. Ma’s leisure is talking to her Master(s) and writing what they say. She also does calligraphy and writes poetry of scenic scenes and beauty. Some of it has ended up on the wall – it looks good and sounds good when Lilly translates. She has grown several rose plants and has just cut some for arranging inside.

We all go off for a seafood lunch locally with a good few toasts and much chat. The more toasts, the better is Wei’s English and mine of course, or at least it seems that way to me.  After lunch the others go off and Lilly and I go for a walk, buy a bit of stuff and go to the major new internet café. It is huge, I try the broadband speed and it is good. After negotiation they will give me a separate room and let me plug my laptop in. (They don’t usually because they are worried about viruses, but Lilly explains I am too and I have firewalls.) The rate is a massive Y2 an hour or about 35cents. I will probably spend a couple of hours a day in there, during the week, mainly in the late afternoon after the market is closed in Australia. Will first try tomorrow – hope I can get the right settings for the laptop.

Monday 25 September 

Sleep reasonably, although there is building construction noise and dogs barking very early morning.  Nine months ago they had just begun driving piles for a new residential apartment on the site here. It is now 8 stories high and nearing completion. Another two are half done.  These are the first of many and eventually Ma’s place will go as well. What does she want to do? They will pay something for this place, which is also partly owned by Jing. Will it be enough to get her something else reasonable? She would be better being closer to Wei in central Yan Tai, preferably smaller but in a better locality. Lilly has to work through the issues with Ma and both brothers.

Lilly and I walk off to the south along the main road about a km, then right for another km. Shops and stores line each side of the wide road, with wide brick pavements. It is subsistence stuff, grubby and smelly with rubbish lying around. Here someone has spilt a can of paint and not bothered to clean it up, here there are motor bike mechanics running their business on the pavement and there is grease and oil and bikes everywhere. Here a little shop selling gifts, then a curtain place, then hardware, then someone selling toilets, then cement, then a restaurant. Vendors with 3 wheel bikes and motor bikes with little trailers selling fruit and veg are everywhere. The streets are not crowded here and the shops appear to be doing little business. Most of the vendors sit outside on stools, some get together and play cards. I don’t know how they survive. There is the odd bed behind the counter and I imagine this is the shopkeeper’s home as well. It is poor and I feel for people who have to struggle like this. But then they don’t know any different – they are making the most of the hand they have been dealt. They have come into the cities, because it is worse in the villages. The gap between the poor and the rich is huge and in between is a rapidly growing middle class of people that can progressively afford the little luxuries, maybe a good meal out every week, maybe a good school for the child, maybe the year after next even a trip abroad. Even though many of them don’t get much, the Chinese are noted for their saving. As a percentage of income it is higher here than anywhere. The 2 elderly Rens receive about Y5000 a month as pensions (they were both senior civil servants and would be regarded as better off) and save Y4000 of it. What for, who knows?  Lilly and I could live very comfortably here on Y100,000 a year which is less than $20,000, in fact Lilly would probably end up saving a good bit of that too, so forget the idea.

We buy another suitcase and bits and pieces and stroll home for a lunch of beans, meat and dowf. Ma grows her own runner beans, not bad, but she leaves them too long before she picks them. I tell them all about growing blue lake runners on the Moutere plains and in Riwaka. How we grew enough beans to feed Africa, China and the human beans in NZ besides. Will get on to raspberries next time.

The broadband at the new internet café about 150 metres away is OK and I get my work done in about 2 hours, cost Y6 about a $1. Have a shower, read a bit of the Scarlet Pimpernel and go to bed early.

Having a shower requires a bit of a performance as the water heater is only turned on half an hour in advance and the water is used sparingly. Lilly follows immediately. Ma probably uses the sun heated water – she always seems clean and tidy though. If it were me, I would be as high as a kite. Bathroom and kitchen are a bit primitive, but the rest of the house is quite nicely done and spacious. Our bedroom upstairs is half as big again as our bedroom at home. This time Ma has put some light cloth in the doorway and it acts to keep the mozzies out. So we sleep mosquito free – now that is one of life’s little luxuries.

Tuesday 26 September 

Up early. The weather is a bit cooler and the air feels fresher here than in Beijing. Lilly and I talk in principle about setting up a website to make Chinese real estate available to overseas investors but it is only pie in the sky stuff because we don’t even know if is permitted. What will the new property legislation say on the subject? At least we will investigate, although I have enough to do as it is.

We travel into Yan Tai by bus this morning – about a 40 minute trip. Somehow we both get seats quite quickly – I suspect that young people get up as if they are getting off at the next stop. We wander around the shopping area, buying a water dispenser and mozzy zapper for Ma and a new handbag for my beloved. Get a bus home, have lunch, go to the internet café early and get my daily updating done.  It is not so quick but still better than dial up. Sleep a bit in the late afternoon – Wei and Chin arrive with a fish dish and baby octopus and we eat at home. Wei says foreign ownership is no longer permitted except if the foreigner has been here at least a year (and presumably is intending to stay on). I ask him what it is going to cost to send Suzy to University – if no scholarship Y80,000 a year if to Japan (she is studying Japanese at school and would like to go to Japan), Y40,000 a year to a good university in Beijing or Shanghai, maybe Y20,000 elsewhere.  Divide by 6 for Aussie dollars. The more beer you drink the cheaper it gets.

They warn against going to Dalian this weekend as Sunday is National Day and there won’t be accommodation anywhere. Instead we are planning a day trip to Wei-Hei which is only about 70km away – probably 2 hours in Wei’s little van. J went to school there for a while when his father remarried. Dalian will have to wait a week.

Wednesday 27 September 

Lilly and I walk in an easterly direction this morning to the river.  Talk about Wei’s family situation and what can be done about Ma’s property matters and what we think would be best for her. It has basically to be decided by Jing and Wei, particularly Jing as he is the elder brother and he shares the property here with Ma. Will she come through to Beijing for the winter or does she want to stay here with her veg and keep an eye on the place? When is the development going to overtake the property?  It is very noisy with the construction going on virtually around the clock and it is rough with a lot of workers now in some of the houses in the street. I think she would be better out of it and in a more salubrious area and Lilly agrees.

We visit a new development down by the river – a 28 storey 5 star hotel and 22 storey apartment/office block, due completion end 2007. Buying off the plan. We get the full sales spiel including a boring video. I don’t understand a word of it, Lilly translates important bits. A 200 square metre apartment on the 10th floor is going for about A$250,000, probably call it $275,000 by the time it is refurbished properly. You would get 2 bedrooms, small kitchen, 2 bathrooms, a lounge, quite large general office area and a boardroom. Ideal for combined office/home, reasonable quality and quite spacious; all in all a grand complex with swimming pool and tennis courts and a 9 hole golf course just down the road.  Korean and some Australian money is going into it.  On the way back we look at the development that is taking place on Ma’s block. 100sq metere apartments, quite ordinary are selling for about $70,000. Later Lilly talks to Jing – she recommends he come back in the not too distant future to try to get Ma’s situation sorted out. He has a stake too. I suggest to Lilly that when Ma is in a position to buy again, that Lilly help. Area and locality are vital. Spend a bit more, get something a bit better for goodness sake.

Website updating at the café this afternoon. It is slow going. Give David the go ahead to take new data live. Fingers crossed.

Thursday 28 September 

Another almost sleepless night and I get up grumpy and resolved that if I don’t say some thing, we will suffer here for another couple of weeks without the creature comforts. It was a novelty the first time, a drawn out reality the second time and now it is just drudgery. I have nothing further left to read, can’t get anything worth watching on TV, the only leisure is walking with Lilly and most of the area is squalid. The internet is slow and I am worried about safety every time we walk down our little street to the shops. With all the construction workers around (they have taken over many of the houses in the street) it is not a safe place in my opinion. Lilly and I with our bags are ripe targets. This is not the place for Westerners and it is no wonder we never see any. If they live here at all, it will be in compounds in the development zone.  I tell Lilly, I want to go back to Beijing, to tell Ma that I need to in the interests of my website.  She says wait a few days, so I will try and be patient. Lilly really does her best to make things comfortable within a very limited budget, but this is the last time I will come through here. At least to this area.

Go to the internet café early and spend more than 4 hours there through the middle of the day. Lilly is converting Ma to coming through to Beijing which probably means tidying all her stuff and storing it somewhere. The preoccupation at every turn over a few yuan is unbelievable but I have to understand it is deeply rooted in their mentality. Lilly has progressed, but is still tarred with the same brush. For a little bit extra, their lives, Ma’s in particular could be improved immeasurably. She is not poor, she just lives as if she is. Spending is a crime, saving is a virtue.

Today is picking on the Chinese day. The other problem they have, is that they won’t say “I don’t know”. Dreadful loss of face to have to admit they don’t know something. So if you ask where MacDonalds is, they will point down the street. Too bad that you take off in that direction and cross a suburb, two municipalities, three districts, four counties and two provinces, stop for a meal on the way and by the time you get there, forget what you are looking for. Too bad that the nearest MacDonalds was 100 yards away just round the corner in the other direction. So those 3 little words are unknown in the Chinese vocabulary. They do not cross their lips. Ask them how many rich men will fit on the sharp end of a needle and they will respond, “all rich men are pricks”, or “approximately 2000” (which is close, correct answer is 2100) or “my family will be rich soon”. Ask them what is the capital of New Zealand and they will answer, “my father played rugby at university” or “Australia” (close, correct answer is Canberra), or “I want three for the price of one”.  So they will always have a shot at answering questions and you have to give them full marks for enterprise and ingenuity. No wonder they are so good at passing exams.

Friday 29 September 

Not much sleep again but for some obscure reason I am not so grumpy today. Perhaps it’s because the sky is blue. We take off fairly early on a circular bus trip that takes us about 30 stops and perhaps 15 kms around the area and through the development zone. The bus is fairly full most of the time but we get seats and can survey the surrounds. The development zone is a step up from the rest of the area (which is basically where Ma lives, it is called Fushan) – the streets are lined with trees and shrubs and flowers and a bit better looked after. The zone is the area for Westerners if they want to set up business or industry. Here they are mainly Korean, I suppose because geographically we are situated very close to South Korea.

One overriding impression I get is that a big percentage of offices and factories are empty and deserted. Construction has got a long way ahead of usage. The same applies to residential apartments. (Wei later confirms the official vacancy rate for the latter is 40% and agrees with me that in fact it is likely to be much higher). There is one huge air conditioning factory called Dipper that is utterly deserted. It has always had this enormous sign up that has amused me because it says: GREAT LOVE FOR CHINA and on the next line GREAT LOVE FOR DIPPER. The second LOVE should now be HATRED.

I don’t know why the town planners have allowed this situation to develop. Possibly the expected rate of urbanization has not occurred. In the development zone the contrast is stark. On one side of the street there is a huge but expensive department store, very clean, well looked after but with nobody in it apart from the shop girls, on the other side is an even bigger department store, unkempt, messy, dirty, but cheaper and with crowds of shoppers.

We go half way around the bus circuit again and get off close to a retirement village we have heard about. Walk about a km and visit this converted hospital which now provides a home to about 300 elderly people. It is clean and well looked after. They are mostly older women and Lilly stops to talk to them a bit. Each unit has a bedroom with a little bathroom. All the accommodation is shared, with 2, 3 or 4 bed units. This is the custom here and the elderly ladies like to have company and sit and play Mah Jong or watch TV or wander around the area. Lilly spoke at length to an 82 year old who has been there 2 years. She was very happy with it. The all-up cost including three meals a day is about Y1000 a month ($170). Lilly wants to book me in immediately. Just kidding. Later we discuss it with Ma but she doesn’t want to share as the energy she gets from her deep breathing exercises is dissipated if there is someone else in the room. This is kinetic or cosmic or some such energy force. Beyond me. Anyway it was just a thought and inevitably it leads us to think of the commercial possibilities of setting up a retirement village here. We have been through this before and I am reluctant to get into it all again. In my opinion, if we were to do it, we would be nothing more than passive investors. The first thing you would have to do is appoint a manager with experience in running such a facility. There is no hands-on role for us. Each to his own, I think. I am better doing what I know best in the financial area and Lilly is best being boss, organizer, coordinator, arranger, planner, financial controller and general factotum. We are a good team aren’t we sweetie.

After the retirement village we catch a bus to the shopping centre of the development zone, have a bit of lunch and walk about a km and a half to the beach. It is a golden sandy beach, with a few people swimming. See a Western couple sunbathing in the distance, first I have seen here. They might be Russian or Eastern European for all I know. The woman is the shape of a beach ball.  Wander along the beach a bit, clamber about 20 steps up on a steel structure lookout, but it doesn’t feel safe and we get back down real quick. Watch a fireworks display in the distance – these go on all the time for weddings or the opening of a new business or building. The bigger the building, the louder and more prolonged the bangs; all a bit ostentatious in my opinion and what a complete waste of good fireworks during the day when you can’t see much. Catch a battery operated 10- seater back to the zone and a cab home.

Spend most of the afternoon at the internet café and have dinner out at the local fondue restaurant with Wei and Chin and Ma.

Saturday 30 September

Dear diary, one thousand apologies for rambling, I must be more concise. The sun is poking through light clouds today. Lilly and I are up at 6:15. Lilly lectures Ma incessantly, the central theme is to improve living standards and to let tomorrow look after itself. I suspect it is water off a ducks back but Ma appears to agree with most of it and takes it all in good humour. Only occasionally is there a flare up and I have to step in to separate the warring factions. I say to Ma that she is the only person I know that saves more than her income. Lilly translates and it gets a laugh but the reality is not lost on any of us.

The plan is to go to the local market today, spend tomorrow (which is National Day) with Wei and Chin, go to Wei-Hei with them on Monday, Ma has friends coming on Tuesday and we will go back to Beijing, taking Ma with us, on Thursday. Jing will visit us in Beijing for a couple of days next weekend. We will then have about 3 weeks in Beijing and Lilly will be able to show Ma around and get her settled in. She will stay there for the winter. The heating comes on for three months from November 15. That’s important for everybody; particularly the elderly as it does get cold in Beijing, snow etc.

I decide that website problems have to take precedence today and go off to the cafe where I spend most of the morning. The internet is slow and I struggle through clearing up my website hyperlink connection problems. By midday it is so slow and I am so bored with it, that I chuck it in. Wei has arrived with Chin and Suzy and we spend the afternoon chatting and drinking beer. It is Saturday if I am not mistaken. Suzy and I work a bit on her English and with Wei it is mainly English (a bit of a struggle but bless him he tries and does very well) except when Lilly can be persuaded to translate. Translation is always a problem, which tells me again that I should be learning the language. They stay for dinner as well, but the evening is only a blur as Wei and I get through at least 15 750ml bottles.

Sunday 1 October 

Up early and off to the internet café but Wei arrives about 10am and I have to curtail. We go off to look at a massive residential development under the mountain, by the harbour, overlooking the beach, on the west coast, are you ready Yan Tai? And so goes the advertising and hype. By 2008 this development will be completed – the size of it is beyond comprehension. It is a city in itself. And it is selling. Deposit today, 100% paid within 7 days and possession possibly in a year, but who knows. It is a possibility for Ma, but not one that appeals to me. Should we not be looking at a mature development where we can walk around and evaluate the area, the security, the management and the existing residents? I think they agree.

Back to Wei’s for lunch.  Chin’s sister (about 50) and her son (24) are there, as is Suzy. Great lunch with beef steaks and spaghetti and chicken and shellfish, the latter I avoid like the plague. There are two bottles of Chinese wine, a red and a dry white. I don’t say so, but they are both awful. The red is worse than vinegar and the white is a 1996 vintage – both have been saved for a special occasion, bless them. The cork from the white is still OK and the wine has not gone off, but it smells like a camel’s armpit and it tastes worse. Unfortunately by the time we get to the white, only Wei and I are drinking. What do you say?

This afternoon Wei, Lilly and I walk and walk and walk. It is a great afternoon and we take our time. Lots of sights and smells with people everywhere; one of the best days I have had in China. We walk steadily up to the south, go through a huge tunnel at the top (2 lanes each way) about a km in length and descend into a cherry/peach growing area. We see a development which I must say I quite like from a locality/positioning perspective but we are unable to establish whether it is being sold.  About 40% complete in my view. Catch a bus home. We must have walked at least 7 kms mostly uphill.

Have dinner at Weis and they take us home. Lilly and I are not talking as she wanted me to have a shower at Weis and I refused. I said before we left today that I needed a shower and a shave but she insisted there was not time so I complied. Now she wants me suddenly to have a shower at Weis and get back into my pongy socks, undies and shirt. Bugger that! What has got into her? Why on earth should I have a shower at Weis? And because I refuse, she turns on me. I am a burden to her. Fussy Westerner, she’s got to go out of her way to look after me. True, she does make special provision for me and so do the others. I appreciate that and I don’t want to be a burden.  I have said before, that it would be better if I stayed in Beijing rather than go to Yan Tai, if it was a problem. Lilly seems not to understand this because Yan Tai is home, it is perfect and I should shut up and do as I’m told. A disappointing end to an otherwise great day.

Monday 2 October 

Spend most of the day at internet café. It is slow but I have got to get some of the broken hyperlinks fixed.  Now have 16,000 hyperlinks on the site and have to find some way of testing them regularly and repairing broken links. David quoted 2 days to develop a program to do it, but I have found free software on the Net that works OK. It took about 8 hours, in 2 sessions, to test them in background and develop an error report, but I suspect it will be a lot quicker in Beijing and back in OZ or NZ. Leave it going overnight next time. Repairing is a slow and boring job. Daily updating is now 2 hours instead of about an hour average in the past. Hope the traffic will eventually justify it. Always there is a drop off in traffic after the end of the financial year and the decline continues until about February. I hope to stem that this year – if that happens, trying to attract some advertising will be the next move. In 2 or 3 months we will know.

Tuesday 3 October

Up early, but visitors are to arrive about 9am so will go to café mid morning. Dig a bit in the garden this morning, even get a sweat up. Covered the shallots half way up so that they will survive the winter – did the same little job last year. Lilly and Ma have cleaned and tidied in preparation for visitors, but I notice within half an hour the floor is dirty again. Part of the problem is there is always water lying around on the bathroom floor where there are several containers of water for using in the toilet and in the hand basin. So this water is traipsed through the house and soon the floor is dirty again. Also the air and environment is dusty and polluted; the air is full of dust, which is very difficult to keep out of the house.

Two separate lots of visitors arrive about mid-morning. Family the first, and friends the second. A bountiful supply of fruit, beer, ducks, prawns, crabs, moon cake, myrrh and frankincense arrive with them. Wei and Chin also arrive. The friends are an older couple with their daughter and son-in-law. She taught at school with Ma but held right wing views when the class struggle was at its height and spent 20 years in prison for talking out at the time. She was beaten and suffered enormously over that period but apart from diabetes seems now to be in reasonable health. Her daughter is a journalist and the son-in-law is in the sock business. Getting socks produced for overseas buyers, particularly Japanese and Korean. He leaves a few pairs of socks with us; featuring the Simpsons and a 20th Century Fox label. They both speak some English and can understand me a bit. They live in Wei-Hai where we are going the day after tomorrow. They reckon it’s the best place around – relatively small (popn 400,000) with a climate better than Yan-Tai and Qindao.

The family are Lilly’s first cousin Li Bao Djian and his wife One Fung. We met them last year in ShaHur when we traveled around. Li Bao Djian is 53 and is the most cheerful person imaginable. His face is just one big smile with laughter lines around his eyes. He is very small – can’t be more than about 55ks and his wife One Fung is 110 kg and is all business. She is the boss of a government labour exporting enterprise and is a very capable woman. Li Bao Djian wants to go to the United Arab Emirates where he thinks he can get a job and starting making lots of money. Too bad that he is 53 and doesn’t understand English. He has bought a book of English phrases and in two months has make remarkable progress. We christen him Tom and later go through a fair bit of the book with him, emphasizing where he needs to improve. His English is at least understandable and in a couple of months he should be able to get by.

People all sit around and chat over tea and fruit for a couple of hours. The friends have to go but the family stays for lunch, there are a lot of toasts and jokes and laughing. Crab is the delicacy and I eat many prawns which are delicious. Tom’s father died when he was young and the Mother (who I met in ShaHur last year and is now 91) had to bring up 7 kids through the terrible times in China. Ma helped them out, but they often had to beg for food on the streets and eat leaves off the trees. Ma tells us later that from 1957 to 1972 she was constantly hungry. In 15 years she never had a decent meal. Lilly was 6kg at 10. Wei much younger, was little more than a head and bones. I get emotional just thinking about it, but they have survived and anything after that is a bonus, to happy Tom at least.

Go to the internet café late and do only what I need to. Bed early.

Wednesday 4 October 

Another virtually sleepless night. Is insomnia a sign of psychological problems or of a hard bed, I hope simply the latter.

Today is market day and this morning Lilly and I go to the market. Nobody has seen a Westener walking around the market here, with the possible exception of this time last year, and everyone gawks at Lilly and I – quite often somebody tells Lilly her Chinese is pretty good. Often she just leaves it at that, but this morning some of the butchers in the market said she was Japanese, while saying her Chinese was great. She didn’t take kindly to that and quite firmly told them she was Chinese, before buying their meat. The market has to be seen to be believed. You can buy anything there, although I saw no elephants or aircraft for sale. It has a crazy organization I suppose, with people, bikes, motor bikes and cars all fighting for space on the narrow tracks between long rows of stalls. It is haphazard, in most places filthy, there is sludge and mud in the meat and fish area, even though it is a fine day. I estimate that in about 2 hours we see 10% of the market. There are people everywhere and we guard our camera and cash carefully. We buy a map of China for 80c, 2 large crabs for lunch, a heap of prawns, quite a bit of lamb and a big chunk of beef. It is all about 15 to 20% of what we would pay in Oz or NZ but the meat will not be the same quality. Sure enough over lunch I discover the so-called lamb to be an emaciated 55 year old ram. They breed them tough here, both sheep and people. To be fair, I should say that most days Lilly does breakfast, lunch and dinner (and virtually everything else) and I have nothing to complain about the food. She works away while I do nothing. Mostly when we have visitors, Chin is here to help or to do it, and the food is always great, particularly when it is complemented by the odd toast or three. Lamb just a bit chewy today.

Lilly books the three of us to go to Beijing by plane on Sunday evening, so we have four days left here. Quite a bit of the afternoon at the internet café.

Try to fix the water heater so that we can have a shower, otherwise we are going to be pretty high both ways when we fly on Sunday. I am already one way.

Thursday 5 October

Very good nights sleep. Shower not working this morning but still have a shave and a rinse, only mentioned because it is the first of both for a few days – Lilly kindly boils a billy of water and I soap and rinse a couple of times. Now as sweet as a rose.

It is very foggy this morning but Wei and Chin still arrive about 7:15 and we take off for Wei-Hai about 7:45.  It must be only about 80 – 90ks, mostly expressway but it takes a good couple of hours in Wei’s little van. The fog gradually clears but the smog is bad today, even in Wei-Hai. We go through the city to the sea. This city is ideally situated. It is on the northern coastline but is nestled in behind quite a high range of hills to the north and is therefore protected from the bitterly cold northerly winds. It lies in a bay towards the south and the sun. It is quite hot and we (5 of us including Ma) park and stroll along a wide paved area for about a km. We then take a ferry to an island about a km off the coast. This is Liu Gong (Little Island) and it has a long history. It is positioned almost at the eastern extremity of Shandong Province and more recently was overrun by the Japanese in 1894-95. The British took possession of it for 40 years until the beginning of the Second World War and I presume it was then re-taken by the Japs again. Many of the buildings and other installations are in evidence and are now used by the Chinese. Like the mainland, it has a high range of hills to the north and slopes towards the south and sun. On the southern side it is balmy with golden sands and the sea looks clear and fresh. Great place to live but there are restrictions – it is now the base for a Chinese naval school. There is a port, many of the old gun emplacements remain and it is obviously a strategic area, besides being a tourist attraction. We strolled about, took a quick guided trip and also took another ferry right round the island itself. Beautiful day, seas smooth although a little bit of a swell on the north side.

We got a chance to look around the central city area of Wei Hai afterwards, as we drove around hunting for a restaurant for a late lunch. Found one about 2:30 and after lunch then started back. Pine trees on both sides of the freeway for about 30ks then apple trees and more intensive cropping. Looked for a place where we could ride a horse but it had closed down. Eventually got home about 6:30 and Ma then walks down to the local hospital for her 2-3 hour drip – she is taking medicine by drip to keep her blood thin. Does it every day for a week but only maybe once every 6 months. She is 78 and I am astonished she is still alive after a long day today. It has certainly been tiring for Lilly and me, but a most enjoyable day.

Friday 6 October 

Up at 6 this morning after another good night’s sleep and immediately off to the Internet café to make up for yesterday. Broadband is really quick this morning and I get a lot done.

Today is Moon Festival and we will celebrate at home with Wei and Chin at midday with a big feast and plenty of drinking. I like to have a beer or three but usually only once or twice a week. With Wei it is lunch and dinner every day (although we usually only see them every two days) – he is such a patient and kindly character I don’t like to refuse!! And he is good company, quite voluble even in English after he has had a few. From Monday will get the chance to dry out a bit.

Exactly as aforesaid, we celebrate Moon Festival in style. It is a beautiful day and after a long lunch we sit outside in the sun. Late afternoon after a great deal of eating and drinking Wei and Chin head off so they are home when Suzy gets back from school. Lilly and I sit outside into the evening – a couple of the local workers start talking through the fence to us and come in and we chat for a while. Neither of them drink or smoke so they would be cheap to keep but Lilly does not appear interested. In the evening the Moon is out huge and bright. This is a mid autumn festival and everyone gets together to celebrate the round Moon and eats moon cakes. These moon cakes are very expensive to buy, because the packaging is so lavish. They are often given as gifts and if you get a gift a week or so before Moon festival you can gift them on to someone else. I imagine they sometimes go full circle where a large family is involved. The cakes are about four inches across and about two inches deep and they are nothing to write home about when it comes to taste. It would have been more sensible to have gifted ours on.

Saturday 7 October 

All morning on the internet. A quiet day at home; necessary to re-charge batteries. We agree to celebrate Lilly’s birthday tomorrow with lunch at our favourite restaurant in the city and then go straight from Weis to the airport in the early evening.  Birthdays are no big deal here. Do a bit of work in the afternoon, walk around the local area with Lilly and go to bed early.

Sunday 8 October 

Up early for the breakfast session at the internet café. Get quite a bit done and home at 11 for ablutions followed by lunch. We are not sure when Wei will arrive today but we don’t need to be at the airport until 8pm. So much for the planned birthday celebration.

The birthday girl instead is scurrying around getting stuff packed, Ma organized, preparing lunch, boiling water for me, pre-arranging funds for Ma, entertaining, washing up, tidying up, cleaning up and planning, ordering and systematizing where otherwise chaos would prevail. I am warned to stay clear if I try to inject myself into the overall scheme of things; Lilly tolerates no loose cannons, no potential disasters in her domain. I would be like a bull in a china shop so to speak. If I am told to rest after lunch I had better do so within the appointed time, otherwise the carefully orchestrated campaign could falter. Definitely a Germanic influence there somewhere, though the features are hardly Aryan. Leaving home and arriving home are her specialties. She has done this many times. Practice usually makes perfect, but in Lilly’s case it was done to perfection the first time and has been getting steadily better since.

Lilly tells me the water and electricity account has been paid. Y64 covering 7 months, translating to about $1.50 a month. In the final analysis for someone receiving a pension of Y2000 a month (about $350) it is a bit over the top; clearly Ma needs to implement a savings program. Why is it necessary to consume any electricity? Reading etc need only be done during the day. TV is an unnecessary luxury only for the filthy rich. Vegetables and meat could be sliced very finely and well chewed, so no need for a cooker. As for water, do not turn taps on at all, only use rain water. Drink it certainly and look to recycle at every opportunity. Come to think of it, the Y64 is probably the usage when Lilly and I are here.

Ma drives Lilly nuts and at times, in exactly the same vein, Lilly drives me nuts. Why can’t we have a good time today, forget about tomorrow? What are we saving for? By Western standards I am probably frugal. If the family here were exposed to how many decadent Westerners throw their money around, it would be incomprehensible to them.

At about 5:30 Wei and Chin arrive and we go off to my favourite restaurant in Yan Tai for our farewell dinner and Lilly’s birthday celebration. Mr John and his new girlfriend and a business colleague of Weis join us. Great meal and many toasts, pity it had to be curtailed. We all go out to the airport about half an hour away for the hours trip to Beijing.


No dramas although the taxi driver in Beijing didn’t want to take the three of us because of all our luggage. While he was arguing with Lilly I loaded all the stuff plus Ma into his car, got in and gave him no choice. No tip for him, he was just a lazy bugger.

Back home at last – like our little haven in China. Ma seems impressed. Sleep well in our comfy bed.

Monday 9 October 

Settling in today. I work all day – with the quicker broadband I get a lot done and watch the remaining Final and Grand Final league games in the evening. Great games with the Broncos prevailing.

Lilly rushes round introducing Ma to all the ins and outs. The remaining furniture arrives, side tables for our bed and all the bed 2 furniture. The latter is damaged a bit and we retain some of the money until it is repaired. Otherwise we are happy with it all.

Tuesday 10 October

Smog really bad initially (can only just see my smog landmark) but it clears and turns out to be a pleasant sunny day. This is the best time of the year to be here, not too hot and not too cold. We are planning on some walking and swimming today. Have been getting far too little exercise lately, exacerbated by too much Yan Tai beer.

Not much to report. Lilly and I walk up to Gomes and get pots and pans etc. Work a 12 hour day, watch a bit of Tele in the late evening. Workers come and repair our damaged Bed 2 furniture and adjust the wardrobe doors. At the end it looks like new again so we pay the bit that we retained. Ma sleeps on the sofa tonight because of the smell of the paintwork.

A guy comes to drill a hole for the Bed 2 mirror and an electrician arrives and we painstakingly go through all the processes to get broadband going in the study. Eventually we discover that the signal is present in another socket and that the blue cables that we have, do not work in the study, but an existing grey one does. The logic confounds me but I am now set up in the study and Lilly can go to her computer in the living room and use it. The only constraint is that we can’t both use the broadband together because of IP address conflict. Somehow we found our way around that in NZ with the hub, but that does not work here.  Wireless as in Sydney is the way to go, but for next time.

Wednesday 11 October 

Me mainly head down all day. Lilly pottering around, taking Ma to market and showing her the ropes. They have discovered a cheaper supermarket that is much closer – on the north side almost immediately after exiting from the complex so that makes everyone happier. Have persuaded Lilly to return the bicycle to the Rens – she is not really using it and it is a nuisance having it parked in the Bicycle Garage downstairs.

Lilly and I put the heavy steel outside door back on (after a bit of a struggle) now that all the furniture has arrived. There are now two heavy security entrance doors and a third lockable door from the foyer into the flat. It is like Fort Knox and we have to have a system for opening and closing, so that we can exit fast if we need to and Ma has to know it well. The big advantage with the outside door is that it has an inside and outside steel panels in a grid covered by mosquito netting that you can see through and that lets the air through. It is very pleasant to get a breeze through the living area on a hot day.

Swim in the afternoon, only our second since arriving. Tiring easily, I feel not so fit now. Lilly the same. We must keep at it. Ma has discovered half an hour of wildlife on TV at 7pm on one of the 66 channels so we both sit watching it. China TV has about 10 channels (including one devoted to sport and one to English), Beijing TV has about 8 or 9 and the rest are mainly provincial, with some of the provinces having more than one.

Thursday 12 October 

Up at seven, immediately back into it. The broadband is quick and I am getting a lot done, which is a relief. Lilly is getting everything organized around the place and we are happily settled now that we have a haven here with all the creature comforts. I listen to the BBC World Service as I work and civilization is restored.

But don’t get too complacent. Not all that far away geographically, North Korea is supposed to have tested a nuclear weapon on Monday. Hope they don’t deliver one into the heart of Beijing or anywhere else for that matter.

Lilly and I walk around the local area in the evening for about an hour – discover some new restaurants, 2 huge 5 star hotels and quite a pleasant residential area in the middle of our block. Watch an English CD for a while, but the sections on it are difficult to pinpoint.

Friday 13 October 

Up late this morning; what happened. Friday the 13th comes up every so often so what’s new. The Chinese are very superstitious but this is not one of theirs. Lilly is constantly working on bringing up Ma, which diverts attention from me; a welcome development. Ma is presumably comforted and counseled by her Master and seems to stay fairly blasé about it all. When Lilly snaps, the trick is in knowing when it is appropriate to snap back, ignore or placidly turn the other cheek. My natural reaction is the latter of course; but sometimes one method works well, at other times it falls flat on its face. When a method doesn’t work, don’t discard it because it may work next time.

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