China – week 1

We’ve officially been here for 6 days now, and we’re beginning to feel like we’re transitioning from survival mode to tourist mode.  For instance, our major concern the first 3 or 4 days has been water.  It has been fairly painful to go to a supermarket and carry 3-4 bottles of water which we have been using for drinking and cooking.  A few days ago, the apartment gave us a water dispenser with a big bottle of water.  We also each got a cell phone – the Nokia 1200 which is the super-low end cell phone for emerging markets.  I love it.  It does come with a flashlight because in emerging markets, electricity and light is not always available. 

We also effectively got two views of two different people that have lived in China for a while.  First, on Wednesday, we got the orientation from a company that is supposed to help us ease into the transition.  The lady that came to pick us up was a Texan, probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s that has been living here for 8 years as a wife of a diplomat.  She came with a Chinese driver that spoke English.  She showed us around to all the English speaking supermarkets (such as Jenny Lou and the German butcher).  She also showed us around to all the embassy and tourist markets where most vendors spoke English to sell to the tourists.  It gave us a glimpse of a certain type of life-style.  If you want to live in China, pay a "tax" for not being able to speak the language and remain in the tourist bubble, it’s definitely possible that you could live here relatively comfortably.  She hardly spoke the language, and couldn’t tell us what a text message costs, and couldn’t ask.  But, when you ask her, she very much enjoys living in Beijing.

The next day, we went to a Spring Festival at the Ditan Park (Temple of the Earth) with a ward member/co-worker from Microsoft, Curt Carpenter.  As soon as we got into a Taxi, he started up a conversation with the taxi driver like he was a native.  He’s been here for about a year and a half and has extended to three years.  Through intensive study, he can read, speak, and understand Chinese fairly comfortably.  He says that he still speaks English as work because his vocabulary is not suited for business.  Personally, I have ambitions to try and learn as much as I can and try to be able to get around competently, although it’s clearly going to be a difficult road.  Curt has been a great inspiration, and validation that it can be done.  I think Tenille is still trying to decide what her goals are for being here.  Throughout the day, Curt spoke naturally to the waiters and waitresses, taxi drivers, and read signs for us, explaining the things around us.

Spring Festival was interesting.  I could probably best describe it as a Chinese version of the bite of Seattle, where they sell a lot of morsels to eat, a bunch of random, cheap children toys, some performances (lion dancing), and of course swamped in a thick mass of Chinese people.  

At the Spring Festival

The place we ate lunch at and Tenille’s first squatter toilet experience.

Navigating the crowds with a stroller was not easy!

We’re still not completely comfortable getting around in a taxi, because we have no idea what to say, and what they’re saying.  We get around by showing pieces of paper that other people have written things on for us.  I’m hoping that this will transition fairly quickly.  We need to at least learn "taxi talk".  We’d love to do take-out, because cooking meals in our home is not as comfortable as we’re used to – tiny dishwasher, tiny range, no oven, etc.  But, we don’t know what we’d say if we called a restaurant to try and order something.  Honestly, we don’t really even have to worry about that yet, because we don’t even know who to call.

With that, we’re planning on our first touristy adventure this evening to WangFuJing Street which is a street market.  This is the quintessential street market that we saw during the Olympics where vendors are selling spiders and scorpions on a stick.  Hopefully, we’ll make it there…(and back…)

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