Tomorrow (Sunday) we leave Jiaxing for an overnight in Shanghai before travelling to Bali for a week and just in time too. Terry is very tired and needs a rest! We have had a very busy couple of weeks.
Yes, I am tired. It may be the “I want it to be over” syndrome where everything slows down and gets particularly tiresome, just before you start wishing you had more time to finish all that you need to do. We have had two more entrance exam sessions, plus one more for a single student yesterday who, thankfully, passed. This past week at school, we ran four course exams, compiled report cards, and threw a Canada Day party for the kids on Friday–our last day of school (but not for the kids who have 3 more exams in Chinese). Two days this week, I went apartment hunting with Mr. Zhao, and on Friday night, Geoff and I went out to dinner with Mr. Zhao (George) and his wife, Xiao Ming. Both these events are blog-worthy.
(Ed. note: soon on youtube: a video taken by a student of me doing a solo, a capella version of O Canada. Likely to go viral, so watch for it.)
Rental apartments are predominantly furnished, I believe. At least, all the ones we looked at were furnished. The same standards that we live with are not in practice here. For example, it is not important to leave your apartment clean, just as it is not an expectation that the apartments you will view will be clean, or that they will be clean when you move in. On our first day out, we saw a range of units whose cleanliness level could be described as tolerable (This will have to be scrubbed by someone before anyone can move in) to horrible (a crew of 8 could spend the entire day here). One unit we looked at was laughable, really. I tried to explain to my Chinese friends that this guy wasn’t really making much of an effort to rent the apartment as NO effort had been made to clean. The deck was filthy, the furniture moldy, the tiny kitchen and bathrooms grimy. The shower stall in this place was so small, Geoff would have to crouch to get in, then gawd help him if he dropped the soap! It was in the tower in Jiang Nan Mall, which coincidentally, I had wandered into last week while searching for a foot massage. At that time it felt creepy–the halls are all kept relatively clean and free of clutter but the lighting was dim and the whole place felt abandoned. Now that I’ve seen the inside of one of these units, I understand why!
Another place we saw was a three bedroom, two bath place, right along the canal. Not bad, I thought–a view to the front, right on the Jiaxing Greenway and lots of space. The only thing it lacked, really was an A/C-heat unit in the living area. When I mentioned it, Mr. Zhao began to negotiate with the owner who gesticulated that their were sliding doors at both sides of the apartment, making for great air flow. Yes, I said, in the summer that would be dandy but in the winter, double-cold! The bathrooms were fairly grungy also but seemed like they could be cleaned up and made livable.
The next unit was also large and was not too much different than the first one except for the dirt level. OMG, it was filthy–and that was only what you could see! Have we mentioned the black dust that settles on everything in Jiaxing? There wasn’t a surface that wasn’t completely coated. The transition strip on the floor between living and eating areas had apparently come lose and was held down with some sort of wide clear tape that had since yellowed to a nice golden colour, and was now peeling up at every corner. Mr. Zhao caught me studying the light fixture. “It’s not very clean, is it?” he asked. We left pretty quickly after that.
Next came another two bedroom walk-up on the second floor of another building. We had to pick our steps to get in as it had been raining all day and the drainage tiles in the front courtyard were over-flowing. The owner was late so we waited on the front steps for awhile, giving me time to observe the overgrown plants and abandoned dining room chair in the courtyard. Finally, we were buzzed in. I must say, it does give one pause to enter a rental unit to see the chimney above the stove fan in pieces on the kitchen counter and a plunger in the toilet. No problem, though, these things would be fixed by move-in date. Uh-huh. As a sales point, the owner pointed to a unit in the next building and said there were foreigners living there, I guess to suggest that at least one other white person found the place acceptable.
This morning, we saw two more units in newer buildings. The first was a two bedroom, one bath that I thought was nice, not just doable, but nice. Clean, modern, western mattresses, comfy leather furniture and lots of built-in storage cupboards. Great neighbourhood, close to the school and downtown with easy access to a vegetable market and lots of small restaurants near-by. We are looking for our new teachers so I wanted to make sure they will be comfortable and happy. This one was a winner. In the same complex, we looked at a studio for the third teacher. Again, it was modern and clean but just too small. It would feel like living out of a suitcase, with was no room at all for guests to come by, even for a drink. So we gave it a pass and asked the agent to find us a one bedroom at the same standard as this one. I wanted to make sure he understood so after George explained, I said, “Bu yao Jiang Nan Mall.” He laughed and nodded. Not interested in anything like that!
Earlier in the week, Mr. Zhao invited us to join him and his wife at a western-style restaurant in The Sunshine Hotel, which we know is nice. We agreed to meet at 5:50 so took the bus down and found our way to the restaurant right on time. Imagine our surprise to see that George and Xiao Ming had started without us! Another cultural difference, obviously, for these two are the picture of graciousness. They implored us to find something to eat from the buffet which was spread out into different stations. Not resting on ceremony or a pre-dinner drink, we got up and had a look around, then started with some fresh seafood and sushi. The standard cultural peculiarity of pushing in line was in full play, especially around the seafood. It was an all-you-can-eat-and-drink place so why the need to fight over a crab leg? (Ed. note: It is a good thing the red wine was an average vintage and there was no white wine or who knows what shape my princess and I would have been in.) The food was pretty good but it became clear to us that another cultural difference is that it is entirely acceptable for kids to be let run wild in restaurants. We have seen this–and been irritated by it–in Krabi. Kids, ages 4 – 8 or 9, simply tear around the place playing tag or some other game of chase. No one stops them, no one says anything. Of course running games result in a lot of shrieking and screaming, which certainly adds a dimension to dining but not one that we particularly enjoy. The restaurant caters to kids–one station makes candy floss and caramelized sugar suckers which are sculpted into wonderful shapes. The poor guy who was making the floss was grimacing while the kids screamed at him for floss, but he said nothing other than meekly trying to shush them. The kids climbed brazenly onto the staging when the entertainment came on, peering around the musician and singer and hamming it up for each other. How the singer kept in tune was a miracle, but she was wonderful! Another Filipino act, with a Whitney Houston voice and her brother (I think) on keyboard and back-up vocals. They did three sets while we were there and sang tunes from the decades, starting with some 1950s Patsy Cline and making it as far into the 90s with “I will always love you.” Good times! It made the children go away, finally. (Ed. note: The singer was quite lovely, had the obligatory short shorts and 7″ (literally) stiletto heels. Most of the time she just stood still and moved her legs while singing. The best part was after each set, she carefully and gingerly stepped down the two 8″ risers and IMMEDIATELY removed the shoes and put on running shoes. It was so funny. We were right by the stage, and as she left the second time she looked at us and laughed about it. She certainly wasn’t wearing them anywhere but on stage!)
And so our first year in Jiaxing comes to a close. (Ed. note: we arrived here exactly ten months ago today.) We have spent the day doing laundry, packing for our trip and moving our plants around, hoping they will survive with a few waterings by Tina’s mommy. There’s nothing to eat in the house except a few crackers and a bit of fruit so we are eating it all and starving, saving up to try a newly opened Tibetan restaurant in the mall. Then tomorrow, we head out to Shanghai as our flight to Bali on Monday leaves too early to make from Jiaxing. Then 9 days of relaxation before we head home! We can’t wait to get there to see our family and friends and to breathe some of that wonderful, fresh air. BC, here we come!
(Ed. note: last weekend for the Travel contest entries.)
Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!