Posts Tagged With: Beijing

‘Ringing’ in the new year

1 January 2015

Today marks the beginning of a new blogging adventure: A Year in Jewelry.

Several years ago I was living in Beijing, China, when my younger brother, N, came to visit. We spent a week exploring the city, eating strange foods, drinking, and generally having a blast.

On December 31, 2012, I decided that it was time to get my nose pierced. I’d thought about it for a while, and decided it was high time. So, I plucked up my courage, gathered my brother, and headed to the nearby shopping center, Golden Towers.

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22 Hour Layover

I love to fly; especially takeoff. That feeling where the plane picks up insane amounts of speed, your body is shoved back against the seat, and suddenly you’re airborne. Your body gets sucked downward into the seat as the plane fights gravity; you feel like you weigh a million pounds. Then suddenly you’re light as a feather and winging your way to your destination. It gives me a rush every time.

However, traveling long distances can be tough. Waiting in airports. Airline food. Customs. Taxis. Finding a hotel room. These are all annoyances that come with long distance travel. Recently I had the opportunity to travel a very long distance, 5838.57 miles (9396.02 km) to be exact. Because I’m a girl on a budget I bought the cheapest flight from Beijing, China to Seattle, Washington and that flight included a 22 hour layover in Narita, Japan.

22 hours is a long time. I meant that my total travel time ended up being 35 hours and 10 minutes. Yeesh. But it turns out that my 22 hours was not wasted. In fact, I rather enjoyed my layover.

I left my friends’ L and S’s apartment at around 11:30 am for my 2:45 flight. L graciously helped me haul my heavy luggage through metro security and into Beijing Airport. By the way, it’s totally worth it to take the metro rather than a cab. Sure you have to run all of your luggage through the scanners and sometimes haul it across miles of underground passageways, but in the long run it’s cheaper. 25 RMB ($4) each way on the airport shuttle plus 2 RMB ($0.30) to get to that stop, versus a 300 RMB ($49) cab ride.

The sum total of my life in China reduced to 4 bags. 4 VERY heavy bags.

The sum total of my life in China reduced to 4 bags. 4 VERY heavy bags.

Getting my luggage onto the plane ended up costing me a lot of time and energy, but I was prepared for it. I had to pay the cost of an extra bag, plus both bags were seriously overweight. No worries, I had planned for all of that. Total cost: $180. Way cheaper than I had expected, but still a hassle to pay for.

Tip for travelers: Chew gum as the plane ascends and descends; this helps keep your ears from popping.

The flight was uneventful, and I was grateful to have picked an aisle seat. I used to always pick the window, but I’ve learned that the discomfort of having to bother people when you have to pee is not worth 5 minutes of a cool view. Plus legroom in the aisles is always appreciated, even for those of us that are 5’2”.

Upon arrival there was some confusion. Did I have to go to the international terminal? Did I have to leave the airport? Where do I go? I’d done a little research, and learned that there were showers available and possibly even rooms to rent for some sleep, I just had to find them.

After going through every procedure to get to the international terminal I found out I was in the wrong place and had to backtrack. Oh well. It’s always fun to explain to security that you’re just going back the way you just came because you messed up. They don’t think you’re suspicious at all…

I made it out through customs and looked for a place to crash. Turns out my romp through Narita was a waste of time, and it put me past the room rental. Sigh, now I had to find a hotel.

Luckily, Japan is a nation of incredibly kind, helpful people and the ladies at the information desk were incredibly helpful. They gave me a list of hotels to try near the airport and showed me where to catch the shuttles. I made it to a hotel by 9 pm local time, grabbed a sandwich from the vending machine, and even had wireless internet that allowed me to check in with friends and family.

My teeny hotel room in Narita, Japan.

My teeny hotel room in Narita, Japan.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and EARLY. I don’t sleep well the first night in a new place, and traveling makes it harder. So I was up by 6, and ready to go out and face Narita by 8. I checked out downstairs, and went over to the obligatory fliers that are set up in every hotel. I picked one at random, and found a map of a temple and tourist district that looked like it could distract me for a few hours. Excellent!

I checked my luggage into storage at the airport and hopped a train to Narita proper.

The town was so cute, a little touristy, but who cares? I was free to wander and look at whatever I pleased. And since I was travelling alone, I didn’t have to check with anyone else, or work around someone else’s foibles.

The temple area was gorgeous, and it helped that it was a beautiful day too. Although, the map did not indicate that everything was on hills. I was expecting some nice strolling, instead I did a lot of climbing and hiking. Oh well, it tired me out for the long sit on the plane ride.

There were turtles resting on a turtle-shaped island. Beautiful temples with people praying or meditating. Peaceful ponds full of some of the largest koi fish I have ever seen. Not to mention the very cool calligraphy museum.

After an idyllic afternoon exploring the temple park and the calligraphy museum I walked back up the touristy street pausing to look at all the knick knacks available for purchase. My stomach let me know that it was past lunchtime and I stopped in a little sushi restaurant. One of the coolest meals I’ve ever eaten.

The menu was helpfully in English and Japanese and included many pictures, but I was heartened to see a few locals enjoying their meals. I sat at the counter and ordered a soda and pointed out what I wanted to the sushi chef behind the counter. Oddly, he didn’t hand me a plate of sushi when he was done preparing it all. Instead he wiped down the glass counter between us and placed all of my sushi on it, right at eye level. It was stunning! I thought I’d had sushi before, boy was I wrong. All of the fish was three times the length of the tiny patch of rice it came on. Each piece was beautifully seasoned with wasabi (real wasabi too, none of that horseradish dyed green).

After my fabulous sushi lunch I trudged back to the train station and managed to buy a ticket back to the airport, almost. I attempted to use an automated machine but underpaid for my fare. The woman at the ticket counter however was just as helpful as all of the Japanese I’d encountered and showed me where to get on the train, and explained that I could pay the difference I owed at the airport station. Lovely.

 

All in all I’d say that having a 22 hour layover was great. I got a chance to sleep in a bed, shower, change my clothes, see a little culture, and eat an authentic meal. If you’re not in too much of a rush to get to your next destination I recommend a 22 hour layover, particularly in Narita, Japan.

 

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Harsh Lesson Learned

Moving is never easy. Organizing, packing, getting rid of stuff, cleaning… it all starts to get ridiculous after a while. It helps to know you’re going somewhere exciting, it also helps to have some time to prep and plan. A few days ago it was time to check out of my apartment, and I learned some harsh lessons.

When moving to China I was naive. I had lived on my own before, but I hadn’t had to make my own housing arrangements before. As a Peace Corps Volunteer the Peace Corps sets it all up for you. You show up and your housing is all arranged. It may not be up to your standards (no heating, no running water) but there are standards that must be met. In Beijing I was excited (and not a little terrified) to look for my own apartment, pick the best one, and rent it. All by myself! Not having done this stuff before, I made a few mistakes:

  1. Letting my real estate agent know just how much money I was allotted for rent.
  2. Not having an independent party help translate for me.
  3. Not documenting EVERYTHING when I moved in.

Mistakes one and two weren’t that awful, I just forgot that while Tom, my real estate guy, was really nice he was always looking after the bottom line. He met me every time I asked, no matter the day or how short the notice. He also showed me lots of different apartments in the area I wanted; some were above my price range, a few below, but most about where I was comfortable.

My biggest mistake was the third one. When I finally settled on an apartment and was ready to sign all the papers I didn’t know that I had to document all of the damage in the apartment. But alas, I was dealing with a management company, not an independent owner. Said management company is out for the most money, always. When I had issues with my visa and residency permit I had to threaten to move out of my apartment because the company was being so uncooperative.

On Monday I moved all of my stuff across town to the apartment of some friends of mine, S and L. Tuesday, I spent the day cleaning my recently vacated apartment and waiting for a friend, K, to help translate for me and check out with the management company. Unfortunately, my air conditioning unit broke a few days before, turning my apartment into an oven. I did not know it was possible for me to sweat that much. I even contemplated turning the refrigerator on full blast and leaving the door open.

So, two hours of cleaning and scrubbing (where the hell did all of that dust come from?) later I’m ready to check out, but my friend K is not ready to help translate. So, I sit on my couch, in the baking heat and wait. And wait, and wait.

Finally my friend shows up and we go to the management company, which is conveniently located downstairs, and ask to be checked out. We’re told we must wait an hour. So, K and I sit down in the management office, prepared to wait out the hour in the air conditioning. We must have made them nervous because a scant few minutes after sitting down K and I are asked to head upstairs to my apartment with the Thin Man. The Thin Man is the same guy who rented my apartment to me, he seems nice enough, but speaks no English whatsoever.

The next hour was one of the most frustrating, and uncomfortable of my life. The Thin Man checked over the apartment in detail and began listing imperfections:

  • Missing light bulbs in the overhead fixtures
  • Scuffs on the hardwood floor
  • Damage to the wall where something was torn down
  • One of the shower doors is off the hinges (but still functional)
  • The door handle to the bathroom is loose and coming off the door (but still functional)

With the exception of the damage to the wall, everything was that way when I moved in. As each item was counted off by the Thin Man I explained to K that all was like that when I moved in. But slowly, the expenses started to add up. 850 RMB for this, 500 RMB for that, 250 RMB for the other thing… Each time I explained that all of this damage was already there when I moved in the Thin Man and K would have a lengthy discussion in Chinese, but very little was translated back to me.

Eventually I said I would pay for pretty much everything but the f*&%ing shower door because it’s still fully functional, but the Thin Man wouldn’t back down. See, since I didn’t document any of this damage when I moved in, there was no way to prove that I didn’t do it or exacerbate it. K, sweet young college kid that he is couldn’t help me negotiate it down, and finally I had had enough. I had to leave the hot, stuffy apartment that I had spent the day cleaning, and cool off by the elevators.

A few minutes and several choice curse words later K appeared around the corner carrying my backpack. He’d reached the end of the agreement with the Thin Man and spared me the pain of having to go back and face my massive, expensive mistake.

Of my 4000 RMB security deposit I only received 1800 RMB back. And the only damaged that I actually incurred during my time in that apartment was 500 RMB worth.

Harsh Lessons Learned:

Take pictures of EVERYTHING when you move into a new apartment. Print those photos, make sure they’re dated and time-stamped, too. Write down all the damage in the contract as well. That document may be the only thing standing between you and your security deposit.

Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beijing Traffic

I came across this article on Business Insider recently:  Video: Crowds At Beijing’s Xierqi Station. It shows a video (also posted below) and a few explanations of why Chinese public transportation is a challenge.

I take the bus to work every day and every day is a new experience:

  • Early on in my tenure in China it was getting my wallet stolen from my purse as I rode the bus to work. I didn’t realize it was missing until I went to pay for my breakfast at 7-Eleven. Bye-bye credit cards, passport, driver’s license, work permit, cash, bank card, dignity…
  • Another day I felt violated as a large Chinese man used his body to box me into a corner and subtly rub his crotch against me.
  • Some days are good, and I play peekaboo with the little babies that sit and stare at me.
  • Some days are not so great and I get off the bus covered in sweat. Most of it is mine, but some belongs to the other passengers that were forced to rub against me by the sheer number of people on the bus.
  • One Saturday morning on my way to work an elderly Chinese lady treated us all to an impromptu sampling of her Chinese opera skills.
  • Often the bus lurches unexpectedly as the driver contends with blind pedestrians, reckless scooter drivers, and ruthless taxi drivers. Usually this means I fall into another passenger and have to apologize profusely while enduring, red-faced, the glare of others at the stupid “laowai” who doesn’t know to hold on at all times.
  • I’ve seen bus drivers refuse to take on homeless passengers; to then have those potential passengers shout obscenities at the whole bus. That was the first time I had heard Chinese profanity used and actually understood what it meant.
  • People take all manner of odd items on public transportation: printers, bags of clothing, musical instruments, etc. I myself have been known to carry a rug, an oven, a down comforter, bed sheets, and a fan…all at the same time, no less!
  • Then there are the line cheaters. People who do not wait patiently in line to get on the bus or subway, but simply elbow their way in as soon as the vehicle of choice pulls up. I hope there is a special circle of hell reserved for those people.
  • Learning bus etiquette: If the bus has three doors enter through the middle and exit through the front or rear doors. If the bus has two doors, enter through the forward door and exit through the rear door. Heaven forbid you use the wrong door!

There is truly nothing like being stuck on an airless bus in July in rush-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic with 5 dozen other miserable souls who simply must get to work as cheaply as possible. That generally means the bus, which is .4 RMB with a metro card if you go less than 14 stops .8 RMB if you go further than that. 1 RMB without the card. The subway costs only 2 RMB, but can be just as crowded as the video shows. Also, it can be a bit of a hike from some housing developments. Taxis are by far the most expensive, particularly when stuck in rush hour traffic. It can cost close to 30 RMB to get from my apartment to work, a distance of only a few kilometers.

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Making your own fun

Sometimes living overseas can be exhausting. You’re away from familiar friends and family, food is different, customs are different, entertainment is different, sometimes even going to the bathroom is different. Every once in awhile an expat needs to get together with some other expat friends and revel in the ‘normal.’ I put normal in quotation marks because there is no such thing, really (except as a setting on the dryer). But it’s a convenient word to use to describe the traditions, customs, and foods that one gets homesick for while living abroad.

These past few weekends (technically they’re weekdays, but they come at the end of my work week), I’ve indulged with some fellow expats in some bouts of ‘normalcy.’

To make our own fun we decided to have a sleepover at a friend’s house that included people playing mancala on my back, watching Bambi until 3 AM, and lots of hair braiding. Hilarity and hijinks ensued and we all gained a little of our sanity back.

 

The following weekend my friends and I held another sleepover, this time with a theme! It’s Christmas in July! We even brought gifts for a Yankee Christmas exchange. (I shamelessly used this as an opportunity to get rid of some junk I don’t need to take with me to Egypt.)

This second sleepover included much less shenanigans and we utilized our time the next day to visit Houhai, a popular area of Beijing among tourists.

Activities in the 100+ degree heat included a walk around HouHai Lake, a pedal-boat ride, lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, and general revelry in the beauty that is the Beijing we live in.

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