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.