The Emperors Would Be Horrified

I went to the Forbidden City yesterday. Unfortunately, nobody told me it would be a seething mass of people, because all the Chinese are on holiday, too.  So it was beautiful, but a bit unpleasant being jostled by thousands of people without the same sense of personal space!  Photos below.

 

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The Strange Reluctance of Beijing Taxi Drivers

Taxi-drivers in Beijing are every bit as annoying as taxi-drivers in Egypt, but for the opposite reason.  In Cairo, you are swamped with taxi-drivers. Everywhere you go, they honk and beckon, trying to entice you into their dilapidated vehicle.  Leave the airport or bus station, and you swarmed by drivers, like a queen bee surrounded by persistent, irritating drones, each imploring you to “Take my taxi! Best price!”

In Beijing? Not so much.

When we all compare notes on what we find most difficult about living here, invariably it comes down to getting around. There is great public transport, but you have to know where you’re going, which bus to take, or which subway stop you want to get off at. That’s daunting in itself.  Often, then you’ll decide to take a taxi.  But just try getting one to stop!

Seriously–you might flag down 10 taxis before you’ll find one who will actually take you someplace.  The driver may just be sitting in his car, but he won’t want to take you anywhere.  At first I thought it was a “because I’m a foreigner” thing, but it happens to locals, too.  One of my friends had to just a few miles, and by the time she as on her 5th taxi, she was practically on her knees in the street, begging him to take her.

And she lives right in town!  I live 25 minutes away from the closest section of Beijing proper, and that makes it even harder.  But even out here in Shunyi, it can be hard to find a taxi-driver who actually wants to, you know, drive!

Weird.

The Air That I Breathe…(Cont)

Since I posted the bad air day (and it’s the worst we’ve had since I was here (though the dog’s sneezing even more than usual), it’s only fair that I post the good ones, too.  This was a beautiful day.  I’m looking at a couple apartments Saturday.  Not sure I want to live on the 30th floor, though, however bright, sunny, and gorgeous the view!

BTW:  Given I’m in Communist China, one of these photos struck me as pretty funny.  You’ll know it when you see it!

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All I Need is the Air That I Breathe…

So I woke up yesterday to find an alert on my phone.

It’s this nifty little China Air quality app I have.  Normally it only tells me the number for the air quality (both the US embassy number and the “official” Chinese number.  Note there’s a difference!  This is apparently a bone of contention with the Chinese gov’t, and they have request the US to stop posting numbers.  But I digress.)

Anyway, apparently the app, when it gets to “If I were you, I’d wear a mask” levels, actually sends a warning. The school took us around Beijing yesterday (more on that in a minute), so I was able to snap a few photos from the thick of it, as it were.  Here’s what 240 looks like:

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We had this 9 hour tour yesterday of all the different areas we could live in, with many of the faculty opening up their apartments so we could get an idea of what is available and the cost. It was loads of fun, actually. WAB is known as the drinking school apparently, someone said, and there were beverages of all sorts on the bus, China trivia quizzes, and tons of food at each of the apartments, all ending with a barbecue at the apartments downtown.

Now, let me preface this by saying an agent took me hunting about two weeks ago, and I was seriously depressed afterwards.  He was showing me $1100 dollar dives–small, filthy, and falling apart.  I put in a bid on one small but very nice apt near the school.  The landlords wanted $2200, I offered $2,000, but it took them so long to accept, that I was past my notice date for our temporary apartments, so I had to turn it down.

Thank God!  When I saw the large, airy, beautiful flats most people were living in for around $1500, I was so glad it didn’t work out!  So I am now hopeful I’ll find something lovely and affordable.  Of course, all 47 of us newbies are now vying for flats in the same buildings, so it may be something of a free-for-all as we try to get places by the end of Sept.

I know where I want mine.  Everyone send up prayers and positive thoughts that I do!

Being a Hero on the Great Wall

We went to the Great Wall yesterday.  One of those “OMG, look where I am” moments.  I was having camera issues, so photos aren’t that great, but you’ll get the gist.  And, of course, there are more sections to be seen, so I’ll definitely be going back!

I didn’t walk out that far. The steps are steep and narrow, and (as you know!) I am teetery on my legs at the best of times, so I just went out far enough to get some shots and be able to say “I stood on the wall,” since Chairman Man says “No one can be a hero who has not stood on the wall.”

Most of the adventure lay in the trip up to the wall.  Apparently it takes a couple hours to walk up there (and, again, it’s REALLY steep), so they have a chair lift. It was probably a 5 minute ride up, over deep gorges.  And, of course, I’m terrified of heights.  It was mostly an exercise in quashing my terror, interspersed with the occasional “Oh, wow” as you caught a glimpse of the vista.

Coming down offered two options:  The chairlift, or a luge-like journey down a metal chute.  That would actually have been fun, but the line was an hour long, at least; so, clad in my new Hero status, I braved the chairlift again.  Good decision.  Some of the other teachers stood in line, and just as they got to the front, it started raining.  Officials closed the luge, (apparently the brakes don’t work when wet), and made everyone turn around. So they were at the end of the line again for the chairlift!

Like tourist traps everywhere, you have to run a gantlet of people hawking their wares with “Hey! I recognize you”   “Buy my t-shirt” and offering bargain prices at 100 times their actual worth.  I compared notes with the other teachers who had been in Egypt, and we agreed the Chinese version weren’t nearly as aggressive and annoying as the hawkers at, say, Hatshepsut’s temple in Luxor.  Nevertheless, I learned to say: “Bu yao!  Wo mei yo chen.”  (I don’t want any.  I don’t have any money.”)  The first time I said it, the guy started laughing, and kind of waved me on.  On returning down the hill he called out to me:  “I remember you!  You don’t have any money!”   Who said the Chinese don’t have a sense of humor?!

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The More Things Change…

So, I went apartment hunting today.  For anyone who has followed me over the course of my moves, that would trigger a big  “Uh-oh.” Nothing depresses me more than apartment hunting.  Even at home.  Overseas it’s worse, because you see a lot of dumps.  And I do not do dumps.  Thus, I have had more than one post-apartment hunting meltdown.

Today was no different.  I viewed a  small but lovely (and very expensive)  2 BR apartment today. It’s within walking distance of the school, on gorgeous grounds that include a dog park with a stream meandering through it, a swimming pool and extensive gym, restaurants and more.  It is, however, more than the school gives us for rent, so I would need to pay out of my own pocket.  Which is fine, except they also want 3 months rent up front. About $6,000 total. Anyway, I put in a bid for 13,000 RMB instead of 14,000 (about $150 less), but I’d sign a 2 year lease instead of 1 if they gave it.  We’ll see.   Then, of course, I started panicking that they’d just rent it to someone else instead. It’s the only apartment the complex had available, and there are 4 big schools out here, all with new teachers apartment hunting. I do not want to lose this place.

In the meantime, we checked out two apartments at my back-up compound.  That’s when I really panicked. They were dumps. I’ve been in toilet-only bathrooms that were bigger than the kitchens; neither had ovens.  Just shabby, shabby, shabby, and deeply depressing to think I’d actually have to live in one of them.

So I came home and freaked.  Didn’t actually break down crying, which is a big step forward.  But I called Gerald and woke him up to wallow.  Which is pretty useless, really, if you’ve ever tried to talk to him right after he’s gotten up!

Anyway, at the same time all this is happening, I’m completely beating myself up for being such a baby, of course.  My temporary roomie is gladly out hunting through small apartments, not fussing about the kitchens, etc.

I just had a chat with her, told her about the apartments and my near breakdown. She laughed. Our internet was down last night. This annoyed me no end, but I didn’t really think anything of it.  She, however, completely collapsed, unbeknownst to me.  She said she cried herself to sleep last night.  Then she told me about her talk today with one of the guys, who admitted to breaking down last night when he couldn’t get his phone to work.

And it all came back.  Even though everyone puts on a brave front during the day, appearing as pillars of strength, we are all walking on a crumbling edge, struggling with huge stressors, overwhelming change–one depressing apartment or internet breakdown away from complete collapse.

Which is great, really. It reminded me that it’s not just me. That it’s part of the process and to be expected. That I’ve been through this before, and it has always worked out.  And will again.

But keep your fingers crossed on the apartment!

(I might add, it doesn’t help that I’ve had about 8 hours sleep in 4 days! But Addison gets out of quarantine on Friday, hooray, hooray!)