Daily Archives: June 29, 2013

Off to Bali

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!


Travel Contest, Week Two

(Ed. note: 5 more entries.  Once again, names have been removed to protect the entrant from future harassment, but for those of you who are wise, you may be able to figure the “owner” out. All italicized preambles are the words of the entrant, but all photo captions are mine. There is still one week to go, so get those entries in.)

Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play!

Enrty #10

Gerry and I were on a trip to Central America…some nice hotels, some backpacking, some hiking into jungles and some quiet time exploring ruins etc.
One embarrassing time was when we were the only ones on this Mayan ruin..a smaller one in Belize. The guide showed us the way to go up the back…a one foot wide stairway without an outside rope or railing. Would not pass safety guidelines anywere in the civilized world. …but up we went clinging to the wall. At the top there was an amazing view on a platform without a railing so we clung to the inside wall…and marvelled. You could see the tops of some temples bursting out of the jungle …some under excavation and the sounds of monkeys. Neat.

However…now we have to go down that outside, back, one foot wide stairway…

We both tried but could not overcome the panic and fear of falling off the edge and were stuck. Help? Who was there? No one!!! Cries for help finally got the attention of the guide down on the ground and he came up and we were able to get down partially on our butts! Embarrassing but we had to laugh as we imagined the story told to the guide’s family…about the white dudes who could not get off a small pyramid. Then there ws the one about Gerry having to climb back down from the inside of a pyramid on his hands and butt but that is another story. All for the sake of understanding ancient civilizations.

Entries 11 AND 12

1. Business travel: Returning from a great two week vacation in Hawaii I left my wife Debbi at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, her to return home to Virginia, me to carry on to Cadiz, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal on business.  Eleven time zones in all.  I was jet lagged, you can imagine, when I arrived in Munich (I think it was) to hook up with a colleague for the connecting flight to Cadiz.  Managed to leave my laptop at security.  Failed to respond to what later I seemed to recall as subliminal hails that came over the PA system from security personnel who had found my name on the computer and were trying hard to put me together with it.  Proceeded obliviously on to Cadiz where the missing laptop was discovered quite quickly, if too late.

Next day I got sick as a dog eating what I think was tainted mayonnaise at a customer provided luncheon.  Really, really sick for the rest of the trip.

Next day after that, flew to Lisbon, sick or no.  Spent an awful day there avoiding food, being useless at a prospective customer meeting, and trying to find some sort of over-the-counter stomach relief.  In a pharmacy I was offered an 8 Euro bottle of Tums.  A big sigh for language barriers.  Remembered that Debbi likes port, so bought a nice bottle, maybe 20 Euros, to bring home to her.

Next day at the airport, in my nauseous daze, I had my gift of port snugly in my carry on as I went through security.  Whereupon the nice security may reminded me of the three ounce limit on liquids and gels, all to be stored in a 1 quart zip lock baggy.  The port got left behind.

Later the same day my colleague and I arrive at Dulles Airport in the middle of one of those northeaster snow storms.  Connecting flight and all potential alternates cancelled.  Decided to rent a car and made my colleague drive the four hours or so through the snow in the middle of the night.  Finally home with absolutely no vacation afterglow left.

Probably more than 200 words, but I had to get it off my chest. (Ed. note: No penalty called)

2. Vacation travel:  Took family east from Vancouver to Toronto to spend some time with sister in-law and her family at the lake.  To save money, we only purchased three seats, as our son Jeremiah was only two, and we figured he could sleep on parent laps if necessary.  On the way out there were so many empty seats we had a whole center row of a 747 for the four of us.  Jeremy, slept the entire flight stretched across several seats.  Three weeks later, nicely relaxed and ready for work, we found ourselves on the Friday, 4:00 PM DC-9 that  was completely packed with weary business travellers returning home.  Us with only three seats.  Needless to say, Jeremiah stood on his feet on first my lap, then Debbi’s, and screamed and fussed the entire 5 hour flight home.  He never knew how close he came to being victim of in-flight homicide.  Vacation over.  Sigh.

Notes for the file:  The kid still lives and can still irritate his dad.  The computer was recovered unharmed thanks to some nice people who also worked for Tyco (my employer then) over there.  I made it to bed that fateful night and recovered a day or two later…weekend, of course.  When else does a working person get sick?

Entries 13 AND 14

I was travelling home alone after a trip to Europe and when I was waiting at the baggage carousel in Vancouver to collect my luggage I noticed a suitcase go by which was completely encapsulated in what appeared to be heavy duty saran wrap. I thought to myself, hmmm  now there’s someone who is a bit anal about their luggage getting damaged.  Several minutes went by with no sign of my suitcase arriving.  I did however then notice that there were some pairs of ladies panties, a bra and some socks loose on the carousel and also what looked like a card of some sort.  Perhaps a birthday card or some such thing I again thought.  I thought, oh dear, poor unfortunate person that has to step forward and claim those.

More time elapsed as the assembly of ladies undergarments went unclaimed.  Hmmmm.  I moved closer.  OMG, imagine the horror when the card went by again and I recognised my Mother’s handwriting on the card.  It was a birthday card that she was sending back for one of the kids birthdays.  Oh dear Jesus, did that mean that the other accoutrements were also mine? Yes, indeed they were.  Did the embarrased female step forward and claim her items?   Yes, she did but only when the carousel had stopped, the other passengers had left and one of the baggage handlers lifted the “anal” piece of baggage from the carousel.  It was wrapped because the zip had broken. Enough said.

Another story, this time at Thanksgiving weekend Monday in Belleville Ontario.  October 1980. We were coming back from a long weekend at Lake Placid and as we were very new to Canada and living in Ontario we weren’t really up to par on the total significance of Thanksgiving.  We arrived in Belleville on our way back to Toronto and were really tired so decided that would do us for the night as we really needed to eat, drink and sleep (and not necessarily in that order). Well, guess what?  All the restaurants (I use the term loosely) were closed and there was only one “hotel” in town.  We decided we would have to bite the bullet.

We checked in and were met by a very nice  lady who gave us our key and told us the restaurant in the hotel would be serving dinner for another hour.  We quickly made haste for our room.  Once in the room I asked my beloved did the hotel remind him of anywhere else.  Yes, indeed it did but he had been afraid to broach the subject with me.  It looked like the hotel from The Shining. Ok, enough said.  We would go and eat and retire to bed and then hit the road early in the morning.  Good plan.

We showered and stepped out into the corridor a half an hour later and we had to step over someone asleep in the hallway.  He seemed to be breathing so when we reached the front desk I reported the person and was told oh yeah, that’s so and so he just didn’t make it into his room, was harmless and not to worry!!! Fair enough.  We were too tired to worry and they could deal with it.  We went to the restaurant and the same lady that checked us in came and was our waitress for the night. Alrighty then.  It is Thanksgiving after all and staff are probably multitasking.  Had a nice meal and decided to have a nightcap before retiring.  In we go to the bar and lo and behold the same lady comes to take our drinks order. We are now helpless with the laughter. We are finishing up our drink and the next moment, music starts and guess what?  Well it’s going to be a stiptease seemingly.  I said to my beloved, if that lady appears again as the stripper you will have to carry me out of here with the laughter.  Enough said.  I was right.  We retired for the night. In hindsight we often wondered what her interview process was like.  “Can you multitask?  “Yes”.  Little did she know!.  Belleville you are indelibly imprinted in our minds.