A Travellerspoint blog

It's Friday!

Where has the week gone?!

sunny 32 °C

A couple of exciting things happened today.
First, I made a new friend!
Second, I got the keys to my apartment!!

This morning we had to go into school so Caroline could finish the list of her shipping & all the other (what turned out to be) long & tedious paperwork so (hopefully) she can collect her box at some point in the near future. It ended up taking a lot longer than the 30 ish minutes we first thought (almost 3 hours in the end!) so I went for a wander. I walked down to the nearby canal, which is very pretty, then thought I'd have a look in a shop we passed earlier named 'Cake. Drink. Coffee' & see what kind of bread & cake products they had. The owner, Ingrid (no, not Scandinavian, she's Chinese!) spoke very good English & we started chatting. It turned out she lived in England for two years; one year studying & the other working, exploring the country & visiting relatives. While she was there, she lived in Luton & went shopping in Milton Keynes! She even went clubbing in MK a couple of times (she went to Revs!) & told me MK is famous around here, mostly because a lot of Hong Kong Chinese go there & open Chinese takeaways!!! In all the countries I've visited, no one I've met there has ever heard of Milton Keynes - until now, & I think this was the place I least expected people to have heard of MK! I ended up staying there chatting to her for the rest of the morning. She also told me that quite a few members of staff at the school get their breakfast in her shop, so I promised her I would come back next week to see her & get breakfast.

I walked back to school about 1pm, by which time Caroline & Jessica had just about sorted out all the necessary paperwork, so we all (& Mandy) went for lunch. It is customary in China to leave a small amount of food in your bowl/on your plate to show that you have had sufficient. Otherwise you could be insulting your host by inadvertently saying they have not given you enough food to satisfy your appetite. I had a bowl of noodles in a kind of broth with lettuce and pork & shrimp dumplings. Jessica asked us both how long we'd been using chopsticks (Caroline only since the beginning of this week, me for years, usually whenever I have Chinese food at home), & she & Mandy said I used them very well, like a natural, & seemed to be quite impressed that I used them at home! I was very pleased with them saying that!

This afternoon (& early evening) was taken up with sorting out the contracts, keys & various other stuff to do with my new apartment. Did I mention I have a balcony & there's a swimming pool in the apartment complex??
The view from my balcony

The view from my balcony

I also have a new air con unit & fridge freezer being delivered tomorrow - hopefully in the afternoon, after I've moved all my stuff in. It was a long & arduous process, which involved going to the tax office, filling in lots of forms, going through the inventory with the landlady (who had her very cute four year old daughter with her), getting someone to change the locks, getting the maintenance manager to fix the drawer & door stop, & getting another man to remove the old fridge freezer (which was quite a palaver as it wouldn't fit through the kitchen door, so the door had to be removed from the hinges!). All of which Mandy (who is amazing) had to sort out for me as I can't read, write or speak Chinese!

Anyway, the end result was that I have the keys to my apartment & I'm moving in tomorrow. Very exciting! Tomorrow evening will be strange, because I've got used to being in the hotel & the area around here, & it's kind of felt like a holiday so far. I think tomorrow it might begin to seem a bit more real that I'm here for 2 years. Although I've been telling myself that every now & then, I've been so busy getting everything done I still don't think it's quite sunk in yet.

It will take about a week or so until I will have the internet at home, as I have to wait until I have my bank card (which I can collect on Thursday) before I can apply for it. The same thing goes for getting tv set up, so I think I'll be buying a DVD player tomorrow! Apparently Starbucks (which is just down the road from my new place) has wi-fi, so hopefully I'll still be able to email & update my blog, but if you don't hear anything from me for a while, you know why!

Posted by Persephoned 23:03 Archived in China Comments (6)

Day 4 - Thursday

More apartments & a bit of chill out time

sunny 34 °C

Well. Today was very difficult to get up. I've been having difficulty getting to sleep, usually drifting off around or just after 2am here (which would be 7pm in the UK), which then makes it even harder to wake up in the morning. Seems like the change in the time is taking a bit of getting used to. It's also taking time to adjust to the climate. It's very hot & humid & you become drenched in sweat within a few minutes of leaving any nice air conditioned building. I've managed to not get sunburnt yet - mostly because I've been using my new purple umbrella as a parasol, as most people seem to do here. Such a good idea!

I went to revisit two apartments this morning - both nice, both two bedrooms, both with pros & cons. The nicer one with newer furniture was nearer the school but none of the other staff live in that area & the balcony was in the bedroom instead of the living room. It was also more expensive (4500rmb - £450). The other one was in a better area, nearer supermarkets & where other staff live & go out, but was smaller & had mostly older furniture, although the balcony was in the living room & it was cheaper (4200rmb - £420). I spent quite a while trying to decide & couldn't, then suddenly remembered that there had been another apartment that we'd seen yesterday that both myself & Caroline had liked & we'd both forgotten about. I checked through Caroline's (highly organised & very useful) notes & found it, upon which Mandy (remembering which one it was) arranged for me to view it again this afternoon. It's lovely! I knew straight away that that's the apartment I want, so we negotiated slightly, got the price down to 4300rmb from 4500rmb & agreed the landlord would get air conditioning put in the living room (it has ac in the two bedrooms, but the one in the living room was missing). I'm signing the contract tomorrow & I can move in on Saturday!! Very excited!!!

Deposits here are much higher than at home - you have to pay two months' rent as deposit, one month's rent in advance & half a month's rent as commission to the agent. A grand total of 15050rmb (£1,505). Luckily, the school gave us a loan of half our monthly salary which we pay back over 5 months straight out of our pay, & we got our expenses for the flight, excess baggage, visa & medical back - otherwise I'd never be able to pay that!

Once all that had been sorted out, I had a bit of time at the hotel to myself, during which I checked emails (very exciting!) & had a Skype call from Yanina; it was lovely to talk to her & catch up. Caroline then returned from trying to sort out when she can collect the box of stuff she shipped with DHL. I'm soooo glad I didn't ship anything separately - she's having so much hassle with it. They're holding it at customs & want a detailed inventory of the entire contents & the price of each item, without which they won't release it. They're also going to start charging her 50rmb a day for holding it from tomorrow, and she probably won't be able to collect it until next Thursday because there's a three day public holiday next week. Apparently I did quite well to only be 5kg over my baggage allowance for my flight, for which I had to pay £235. Anne (the head) was 15kg over when she first came here & had to pay over £600!!

We went for dinner at about 6.45pm, to a different restaurant almost next door to the hotel in the other direction. We ended up ( because we weren't entirely sure what we'd ordered apart from fish & vegetables!) with some lovely fish & sping onion dumplings, followed by a huge dish with a whole fish that had been butterflied & covered in garlic, onion, ginger & various vegetables (some of which we had no clue what they were!). This was placed on a gas burner (full size) in the centre of the table which kept it really hot. It was very tasty. (Apart from one of the unidentifiable toppings!)
Fish Dish

Fish Dish

After dinner we went to Tianmien, the local supermarket, to buy some fruit, mooncakes, coffee (for Caroline, not me!) & check prices for things we'll need for our flats, such as bedding, hairdryer, mop, a kettle, saucepans, crockery & cutlery. On the way back to the hotel we stopped in a little shop where Caroline managed to get credit for her phone, provided by a very helpful & polite young man who spoke a little English. When he couldn't understand what she meant he got his laptop out & asked her to type in what she wanted so he could get it translated!

One other unusual thing I saw on the way to the supermarket was a man selling goldfish in bowls on the street corner. The really unusual thing was that he was also selling small and baby terrapins as pets!
Terrapins for sale!

Terrapins for sale!

Anyway, that's enough for today. I really don't know where the days are disappearing to so quickly!

Posted by Persephoned 22:53 Archived in China Comments (4)

Day 3 in China (I think it's Wednesday!)

Apartments, apartments & more apartments...

sunny 30 °C

Today was all about apartment hunting.

We (me & Caroline, the other new teacher who arrived the same day as me) looked at about 14 different apartments, following on from the 6 we looked at yesterday. Way too many to remember every detail! Luckily, Caroline was organised & made notes about each one - size, price, furniture, our opinion. Of course, to begin with we both liked the same ones, so we were contemplating either tossing a coin, picking flats out of a hat or (at Anne's, the head teacher, suggestion) arm wrestling for the one we both wanted!

After the first 9 apartments, we had a break for lunch, for which we ordered much too much food. We thought the portions would be small, like at the restaurant we had dinner at yesterday. But they weren't. We had enough food to easily feed about 5 people! So we felt very guilty for leaving so much, but we just couldn't manage it. Even that much food came to the grand total of £11 between the two of us!

Once lunch was finished (& only slightly digested! Could have done with a siesta at that point.) we were taken by Mandy (our Foreign Liaison from the school) to the bank to open our bank accounts - via our hotel because I had left my passport behind. Ooops! At least I knew exactly where it was & remembered before we got to the bank! The bank visit was fairly painless and straightforward, & we get to pick up our bank cards in a week.

Having successfully achieved one thing, we then went back to the arduous task of looking at apartments. They were all 2 bedroom, varying in size from 55m2 to 88m2, and varying in price from 3,500 renminbi (about £350) to 5,600rmb (about £560). They also varied a great deal in furniture, layout, age of appliances, etc. & cleanliness. Some were lovely, some were not. Of course, the ones that were lovely were the ones we both wanted! Eventually, Caroline decided on a lovely apartment which currently looks a bit like a bomb site. The owner had a huge apartment that he had split into two, and is renting out half of it. This meant that Caroline's half doesn't currently have a kitchen, but it does have a lovely raised living room area, bathroom (well, shower room - very few apartments had baths, most only had showers), two good-sized bedrooms and a nice balcony. She now has to wait 10 days before she can move in due to the landlords belongings being all in Caroline's half at the moment while he refurbishes the other half & the kitchen needing to be fitted. The good thing is that the hotel we are currently staying in gives school staff a discounted rate of 193rmb a night (about £19) including breakfast, which works out about the same as the rent she would be paying. That having been decided, we thought it would be a simple matter of everyone agreeing the price & what needed to be done to the apartment, signing the contract & paying the deposit. You'd think that wouldn't take long. We were wrong. It took about 3 hours. By the end of which, we were ready to turn into puddles of melted human on the floor. Hooray for Mandy, who took us to McDonald's (yes, they have McDonald's, no they don't have noodles instead of chips!) so we could use the facilities (Chinese toilets are weird) & get a drink. The contract signing (which seemed to take forever) then took place there!

However, at least Caroline is happy with her new apartment (or will be once it's all finished & she's moved in). Dinner (costing a total of 69rmb - £6.90 - between us) was an essential next stop, followed by buying more Sprite (80p for a large bottle!) & back to the hotel at about 9.30pm.

Tomorrow I'm going to revisit two of the apartments that I liked & then I'll have to decide between them. Decisions, decisions! It's so difficult!

For now, however, it's time to go to sleep...

Posted by Persephoned 23:02 Archived in China Comments (4)

Day 2 in China

Noodles for breakfast! And lots of other food.

sunny 31 °C

It's nearly the end of my first full day in China, and I have no idea where the day went!

Breakfast at the hotel was interesting. The choices were: noodles, cooked lettuce, sausage meat, ham, boiled eggs, corn on the cob, steamed dumplings, crispy fried things, watermelon, oats, toast, tea, milky coffee or 'orangeade' (which was more like orange squash). I had watermelon, crispy fried things (which were very nice), corn on the cob & noodles (which were also very nice).

Myself & Caroline (another teacher new to the school & China who arrived the same day as me) then went to the school, where we were given a loan (so we can pay the deposit for an apartment) & our expenses back. We got shown round the school by Anne, the head of primary, (again for me, but Caroline didn't arrive until gone 10pm yesterday so didn't get a tour when I did the first time) & met Dennis, the principal, who seems very nice & said he'd like to take all of us new staff out to a good Malaysian restaurant he knows. I've never had a head who takes the staff out for dinner before! Another thing we were told (& I'm only adding this to make my teacher friends jealous!) is that we get four personal hours a week, when we can do our banking, pay bills, whatever we want & don't have to be in school; this is as well as non-contact time...!!! (Although I'm not sure how much non-contact time we get yet, but hey, any is good after that!)

We decided to get lunch after that, and went to a restaurant in the huge hotel next to the school (not the one we're staying in - ours is cheaper!), where we were told by Anne that they do a great eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet (Chinese & Western food) for about £10. However, she told us it was on the third floor, which is actually where a different (Chinese) restaurant is. By the time we realised this, we'd already been served tea, so we decided to stay there. The food was really good, as was the service. Every time our cups were even a quarter empty, someone would come & refill them! Me & Caroline shared four dishes so that we both got to try more. We had lovely steamed & fried dumplings stuffed with scallions, crispy grilled cod, noodles with soy sauce & shrimp rice dumplings - all really tasty. The grand total for all this was (approximately) £18 between us, including a tip!

Now that we were nicely full, we went back to school, where we were taken by Jessica to get our medicals done. Oh what fun that was! Blood test (where of course they had trouble finding my vein, as always), blood pressure, height, weight, bmi, eye sight, colour blindness, ultra sound, ecg, chest x-ray & urine sample. We got the VIP fast track treatment though, which meant it only took about 45 minutes, so not too bad really. We then got sent back to school in a taxi while Jessica went to take our work permit application to the police station, where we met up with Mandy (another admin/Chinese liaison) who took us apartment hunting. We looked at 6 apartments altogether, all 2 bedroom but varying quite a lot in size & furnishings, & all in walking distance from the school. There was only one that was fine as it was, three others needed newer/better furniture & a lick of paint, & 2 weren't very appealing - either a bit small or grubby or rubbish furniture that the landlord would only change if we paid more rent (one place had a bench instead of a sofa!). We're looking at some more tomorrow a bit further from the school, which will be nicer for less money because the school is in the most expensive district of Shenzhen! We're also going to open bank accounts tomorrow, which will be useful for having our salaries paid into! The only annoying thing about the bank account is that you can't set up a standing order to another country, so when I need to transfer money home I have to go into the bank with a pile of various documents & it takes about 40 minutes to do! The alternative is to go to Hong Kong & open a bank account with HSBC there, from which I can set up a standing order home but I will have to go to Hong Kong to pay money directly into the account each month! Anyway, I'm sure I'll figure it out...

Mandy then took us to a huge supermarket called Vanguard where I was able to get a new mobile (cheaper & easier than trying to get my phone unlocked) & we picked up drinks & tea. We then found our own way back to our hotel (which luckily I recognised because Caroline had only seen the front once when she arrived late yesterday), dumped our stuff & headed to the restaurant 2 doors down from the hotel for some dinner. It was a nice little restaurant & the food was really nice; the only problem was the language barrier, which we managed to muddle through (luckily they had an English menu!) with hand gestures, pointing & odd words. I really need to learn some more Mandarin & to read some Chinese characters - it'll make things so much easier! Dinner was even cheaper than lunch (which was in a posh hotel restaurant, so would be) & came to the grand total of £3 each for 4 shared dishes, a dish each & a can of iced tea! I can see why most people eat out all the time, and a lot of houses & apartments don't have an oven!

Now I'm writing this, listening to Radio 1 online, drinking a cup of tea & eating a Mooncake, which is really nice.
Mooncake & prawn crackers

Mooncake & prawn crackers

Posted by Persephoned 23:05 Archived in China Comments (5)

Arriving in China

sunny 32 °C

So after about 27 hours of travelling altogether (although a few hours of that was spent sitting in various airports) I have arrived at my destination: Shenzhen, China.

It's a lovely sunny day, very warm (about 90oF) and quite humid. Thank goodness my hotel room has air conditioning!
The journey was reasonably uneventful, apart from a 2 hour delay flying from Beijing to Shenzhen caused by a 'mechanical problem'.
I had breakfast in Brussels yesterday - a cup of tea & a Belgian waffle - can't go to Belgium without having a Belgian waffle!
Breakfast in Belgium

Breakfast in Belgium

Tea in Belgium

Tea in Belgium

After going through to departures for the flight to Beijing I discovered (& bought because there was very little choice!) the most expensive bottle of Sprite ever - £3.60!
The cheapest Sprite ever!

The cheapest Sprite ever!

Once in Beijing airport I bought the cheapest bottle of Sprite ever - 28p! It's amazing, the vast difference in price for the same product in different countries.

I was met at Shenzhen airport by Anne (the head teacher of my new school) & Jessica (one of the admin staff who is also Chinese, which makes it a lot easier to get around & get things done!), then taken to my hotel. Green Oasis School is the school I'm going to be working at, which is only a 5 minute walk from the hotel I'm staying in.

I then had my photo taken (looking quite hot & dishevelled, I'm sure!) for the government documents I need, bought a Chinese sim card (although I've since discovered my phone is locked & won't accept a different sim - pants) then was given a guided tour of the school. It seems very nice, lots of great facilities & specialist teaching areas.

I've now got a few hours to myself to relax & chill out - and go hunting for food at some point! There are lots of little corner shops and restaurants very nearby, so the food question shouldn't be an issue. I might see if I can find some tea too...





Tomorrow it looks like I'm going to have a busy day - Jessica's meeting me at 9am to take me to get my medical done, open a bank account & then probably apartment hunting in the afternoon. For now, however, I'm watching Sesame Street on one of the (very) few English language tv channels!

Posted by Persephoned 17:48 Archived in China Comments (7)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 20) « Page 1 2 3 [4]