Move In

Wo shi Beijinger!

The movers arrived right on time Saturday morning, swiftly moving 33 assorted size boxes into the new apartment. It was a pleasant surprise when they also unpacked the boxes for me and removed all the empty boxes with the voluminous packing material from the apartment. The entire process took about 90 minutes.

Some friends dropped in to say hello and make sure there was no Chinese communication emergency. All was fine – the supervisor spoke excellent English. Each box was numbered, so the crew practiced English while I practiced Chinese and we marked boxes off the packing list as they were brought into the apartment.

I learned that the ‘coffee table’ we purchased from our landlord in Shanghai is actually a table to eat on. At first, I thought maybe we were failing to communicate properly – the table is on aobut 12 inches high but fairly wide (2 1/2 feet square). Apparently, though, in Northeast China they would put the table on the bed for meals and all sit around and eat. According to David the supervisor, ‘They have big beds in Northeast China.’ When I explained to Linda she noted that at antique shops in Shanghai she had seen similar tables ‘under the beds’ but had assumed it was more like a stool or step bench. Apparently, the custom would be to keep the table under the bed when not in use.

The movers-in loved the drum as much as the movers-out and, surprise, each gave it a wack. I did not observe the unpacking of the Playboy magazines so can not comment on the reaction.

My friends also marveled at how much stuff we had. They have lived here 3 years and have far fewer ‘things’ than we do. I blamed it on Linda though must admit my clothes and shoes take up a fair amount of space (I am bigger than your average Chinese). Everything else though…

I spent most of the rest of the day reorganizing the apartment – sorting clothes into his / hers and winter / summer, doing laundry, making the bed, and organizing both the kitchen and the den. At the end of the day, I walked next door to an English pub for a couple of pints of cold Foster’s. Very refreshing.

The Coffee Maker Quest

One of our most regrettable mistakes when we moved to Shanghai in 2004 was our acquisition of a coffee maker. Linda and I need coffee every morning. The foreign brand coffee makers cost the equivalent of US$60 to $70 in China for what in the US would be a $40 appliance. They are probably all made in China.

To save $30, we purchased a ‘Chinese’ coffee maker (caffei ji). It looked fine but in reality it was a hunk-a junk-a. There was no corresponding relationship between the size of the carafe and the size of the water reservoir. To prevent overflows, a hole was drilled near the top of the reservoir so water would just pour out when capacity was reached. Preventing spills as you filled the reservoir was impossible – the lid was specifically designed to impede access. The container for the coffee beans required absolute precision in placement in order to prevent a massive overflow of scalding water and ground coffee from exploding onto the counter, down the front of the kitchen cabinets and onto the floor. Even when aligned precisely, water flowed into the coffee bean container at a rate faster than water could make its way from the coffee beans into the carafe so there was always a collection of ground coffee at the bottom.

The coffee maker stayed in Shanghai.

I took a wad of money to the Carrefour (French version of Wal-Mart with a large presence in China) in search of a Braun, Phillips, or Mr. Coffee. Price was no object. Alas, there were no large automatic coffee makers (da caffei ji) – only the tiny models that say four cups but really mean two. This was completely unacceptable.

braunMy friends took me to lunch as a ‘welcome to Beijing.’ We then went to a large department store. On the 4th floor we found appliances and after 7 seconds I selected a Braun 12 cup coffee maker for about US$60 (on sale – saved $10). The Braun is a model of elegant and simple design – quick brewing, no spills, and easy to clean. Sunday’s coffee was the most satisfying home brew I have had in 14 months. Linda will resupply the coffee beans when she visits in October.

Waiting

It is really no surprise that our shipment of clothes and household items from Shanghai is not arriving in Beijing on Friday. This is China.

I had explicit agreement with the sales person that Friday was the day since I am leaving the country ‘the following week.’ On Tuesday, someone from the moving company, Santa Fe, called me asking my preference of dates for delivery. That was the first clear sign that something was amiss. According to the ‘move schedule’ a representative from the movers’ Beijing office was to call on Wednesday to schedule a delivery time on Friday. Late Thursday afternoon, I took maters into my own hands and called my sales person in Shanghai asking for a status so I could plan my schedule.

About 45 minutes later, a representative from Beijing did indeed call and acknowledge that my shipment from Shanghai had arrived that afternoon but their Friday schedule was too busy to fit me in. In theory, my stuff will be delivered around 9:30 AM on Saturday. We will see.

We planned ahead and have a four day buffer – on Wednesday, August 31 I fly to the UK to attend a wedding, so I wanted our stuff at least delivered by Tuesday. Stupidly, I had initially proposed a schedule with a one day buffer, but my landlord / co-worker kindly noted that it ‘was probably best’ to allow for more time – this is China. As usual, good advice.

The New Neighborhood

Another co-worker took me out to dinner Wednesday with his wife. They live in the complex next door. Our new apartment is about a 15-20 minute walk from the BearingPoint office. There are four large complexes next to each other, plus one across the street (aka major highway with 8 lanes). There is a ‘back way’ that I was not aware of. It was a very nice, wide, tree-lined street with restaurants and shops – very unlike the highway 200 meters on the other side of our complex. They showed me the grocery, dry cleaners and a pair of gyms. Apparently, they are building the 2nd Wal-Mart in Beijing on the corner next to our apartment – it is just a big hole in the ground so I doubt it will be finished before I return to the US next year.

Linda is coming to visit in October so I need to find the good restaurants both in Beijing and in the neighborhood + figure out how to get around smoothly. Otherwise, she will think I am lazy and boring. The streets in Beijing all have long names and Beijinger’s use some different words than in Shanghai – kind of inimidating, especially since I was comfortable getting around Shanghai. Since the streets tend to be wider here, you specify where you want to go not only by stating the intersection but also by adding what side of the street (NW corner or SE corner). The custom is also to use the word jiao instead of lukou for corner (NW jiao) – I think jiao (corner) must be more precise than lukou (probably more like intersection) – I will ask my new tutor on Tuesday.

I successfully ventured to Ikea to buy plates and glasses for the apartment. We did not ship any of the kitchen stuff that was breakable. Daringly, I then instructed the cab driver ‘qu da wang qiao xi bei jiao.’ When we got close, I added ‘zai jia you zhan you zhuan.’ The driver understood (at the gas station turn right), though the custom in Beijing is to use guai instead of zhuan for turn – he repeated my instructions back using guai. The final 100 meters required only ‘xia yi ge you guai; je li zuo guai; qu da lou B’ (next right, turn left here, go to building B). I was to the apartment safely and without embarrassment. We will try it again today to see if it really works or if I was just lucky.

The New Apartment

The apartment is quite nice – very similar to Shanghai. Technically, it is about 20-30 square meters bigger. I don’t really need all the space, but it was a very convenient arrangement since the landlord is also a co-worker – we trust each other and she will help out in the event of a real crisis. I think I turned on the AC in the main room (anticipating a next day delivery of 33 assorted size boxes) it was kind of complicated – it could be hot or frigid when I swing by next. I then tested the dishwasher, stovetop (gas) and stove (electric). None worked.

I poked around – the stovetop problem was easy – no gas card. Unlike the US where you have a meter and get a bill every month, it is typical in China to buy a prepaid card that you insert into the meter (both gas and electric) – kind of like a copy card or prepaid gift card. A relative of the landlord is droping off the card, which you can charge up at the local equivalent of a 7-Eleven.

The oven stumped me.

The dishwasher still had the packing / accessory materials inside, which I removed. Everything seemed to be installed ok. The machine would come on briefly but then shut off. It seemed there was no water but it didn’t look like there was anywhere to turn the water supply on or off.

I went to the reception desk in the building. I did not know the Chinese word for dishwasher and she did not know what a ‘dishwasher’ was, but we agreed that something in my apartment was hui le (broken). There are 4-5 highrises in the complex, and the management office is in a different building. I walked to the management office, explained my problem, and immediately someone came to the apartment with me to sort things out.

An engineer joined us at my building. My original analysis was correct. The water supply to the dishwasher was not turned on. The knob to turn on the water is hard to find. The joint under the sink immediately starting leaking but then stopped. I know the engineer saw it but elected to ignore the potential flood. I will keep an eye on that.

The problem with the oven was equivalent – it was not plugged in. We plugged it in, turned it on and then turned it off. There was an exchange in Chinese and then I was instructed not to use oven because of the possibility of fire. I began to pay closer attention to the conversation. On Sunday morning it seems, they will come and replace some type of fuse that should remove the possibility of highrise catastrophe. I did not suggest the appropriate course of action might be to just replace the dangerous fuse in every apartment now.

I now know the Chinese for dishwasher is shi wan ji – wan is the word for bowl and ji is kind of like appliance. I taught them the English word for stovetop – seperate and distinct from oven. Quid pro quo.

Move Out

We arrived in Shanghai 14 months ago via airplane with 6 bags each. Today, Santa Fe Relocation packed 33 assorted size boxes for delivery to Beijing Friday. That is a growth rate of 175%. Curious.

The move out appears efficient and the contents seem safely packed. The morning was spent packing the 33 assorted size boxes, followed by lunch, followed by loading the 33 assorted size boxes into a truck that said ‘China Post’ on the side. Equally curious.

There were 3 packers + a foreman. The foreman spoke excellent English – though he initially attempted Chinese in response to what must have been my flawless Chinese pronunciation of ‘hello, good morning, please come in.’ There was initial confusion regarding which items were going to Chicago, but that was quickly resolved – nothing is going to Chicago.

The foreman documented the contents of each box – ‘gong’ was a new word though he seemed pleased that it was onomatopoeia-like – GOOOONGGGgggg. For simplicity, I described as ‘sounds like’ with no mention of onomatopoeia. We confirmed ‘drumsticks’ as the long wooden things you hit the drum with. The foreman seemed disappointed that the specific translation for ‘big, traditional Chinese screen’ was ‘big, traditional Chinese screen.’

I lost track of the Chicken. I think he is somewhere between #17 and #25.

drumEveryone loves the big red drum. I don’t think we have had a single visitor with enough self-control to refrain from giving it a good wack, our movers included. My dad purchased the drum here in Shanghai during a visit earlier this year. We are going to bring it back with the rest of our stuff when we return to the US, and somehow he will get it to his home in Missouri. It took a while to wrap up the drum so that the heads were protected – takes two people.

A couple of Playboy magazine’s also created excitment, though it was quite subtle. I think everyone had a sneak-peak – a bunch of yellow-hair’s with no clothes. Extremely curious.

Since 75% of the team didn’t speak English, I am confident no one read the articles.

My flight to Beijing is at 9 PM. I have two normal size bags and my computer.

Our ayi will clean for the last time tomorrow and leave the key.

That is the end of our time in Shanghai.

Moving to Beijing

Monday, August 22 I am moving to Beijing. While this sounds exciting, the context is I am moving to Beijing from Shanghai. I relocated to Shanghai, People’s Republic of China in June 2004. I work for BearingPoint, a management consulting firm, and came for work. My wife Linda joined me that July and we spent the last year in Shanghai. Paybacks are hell, I guess, and while I left Linda in the US to pack up all of our stuff for storage in Chicago, Linda returned to work in the US last month so I am own my own getting to Beijing. Moving always has a degree of pain.

great wall

The one visitor to our new blog read my initial entry and was completely unimpressed with my technical prowess and stylistic prose. Hopefully, this will be more satisfactory. Seriously, we have a picture! The photo was added successfully the first try with no syntax errors – writing html by hand! WordPress has some image plugins that I will test, and I will play with formatting options (wrap text). It has now become apparent that I need (a) to refresh my basic html skills, and (b) buy a text / html editor. Linda has most of our photos and our graphics editor, so the extent of my testing will be limited to simple stuff. I also need to find a way to make the file size smaller for faster downloading. More updates on all that later.

Both Beijing and Shanghai are modern cities, at least on the surface. Cabs, busses, subways, airports, etc. Shanghai is one of the largest cities in China with ‘about’ 17 million people – no one really knows, especially with all the migrant construction workers. Beijing is much smaller, only 12-14 million people, I think. The difference is almost equivalent to the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

Beijing is much ‘bigger’ from a geographic perspective – Shanghai built up while Beijing built out. I think Linda told me that Shanghai has more buildings taller than 50 stories than any city in the world – something like 1500 buildings taller than 50 floors. In many ways, downtown Shanghai is like downtown Chicago – just more Asian people and 5 times bigger. Beijing is more spread out and literally takes forever to get from one side to the other. Everything seems farther apart – longer to get to the market, longer to get to the corner.

I moved to Shanghai because that is where my company’s local leadership team is based and, at the time, was the HQ for the one client in my industry. As fate would have it, about everything else I need to do for work is in Beijing. I do not mind the travel but I spend more time in China trying to develop and sell business to our local clients. This has created two problems. First, since most of my clients are in Beijing, it is more difficult for me to stop in or to respond physically if there is something they would like to discuss. Second, the cost for these activities is a company expense, so basically it doesn’t make financial sense to live in Shanghai but spend every week in Beijing. The total cost of the move should be less than US$3,000, so the relocation should pay for itself in 3-6 weeks – don’t need an MBA to figure that out.

In retrospect, I should have moved straight to Beijing.

Movers are coming to pack me on Monday. We don’t have much stuff – Linda left many books and some of her clothes. Everything else is mine. All we brought with us to China were clothes, books, and small personal items that could come on the plane with us. Linda has picked up some furniture – an end table, a small bench, her prize possession wooden screen from an old Chinese home, and my prize possession, a bamboo chair from a 1930’s Shanghai brothel. My dad bought a huge drum (3 1/2 feet in diameter) and a gong during a Spring visit. Since you can’t really check an enormous drum on any airline, we will bring it back with us.

It will take 4-5 days to drive everything from Shanghai to Beijing. I think the drive is only about 2-days, but they depart and deliver to a local warehouse that I think adds a day on either end. During the transition week, I will stay at my usual hotel in Beijing, near the BearingPoint office.

I will miss my Shanghai friends – that is my biggest regret and disappointment about the move. While you meet some weirdo’s that can’t possibly function successfully in a western business environment, you also meet interesting people with an adventurous outlook on life. I will miss the latter very much.

Blog: Day 1

The weekend of August 12, 2005, in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China, I became a blogger.

For a surprisingly complete definition of ‘weblog‘ try Wikipedia.

Why? Basically because I failed miserably at trying to be a webmaster. I did not fail alone – the failure is shared with my then non-working spouse, Linda. The original intent in the Spring of 2004 was to create a website to update friends and family on our continuing adventure in China. The effort required to do what we wanted exceeded our passion for actually doing it.

Time will tell if the blog approach is superior or more successful for us, or if in August 2010 this post will still be the latest addition. I think the content we were producing for those future, theoretical uploads to our website are well-structured for a blog – basically stories and pictures that extend over time. More importantly, I hope the the actual maintanance of the blog requires less time than the html-based web-site fiasco. Writing this post has certainly proven easier than editing the web-site using an html editor.

How? So far it has not been terribly difficult, but has taken a bit of time. I spent about 3-4 months occassionally searching out details on the web via google. My early attempts were not very fruitful. A search for ‘how to blog’ will likely send you to blogger.com (and, ironically, www.JohnKerry.com). Clicking around blogger.com did help me discover one of my requirements, though – I wanted a blog located at the existing deanandlinda.com. Blogger.com appears to be a popular option if you don’t already have a registered domain name or don’t intend to get one. Blogger.com was not useful in directing me to the do-it-yourself alternatives. I am not a user but suspect blogger.com is also easier to set-up than the ‘do-it-yourself’ method.

A few hours playing around one morning led me to WordPress. Basically, everything you see here is done using this tool. It is the blog equivalent to Microsoft FrontPage (I am certain weblog purists will cringe at this comparison). As a beginner, I have no point of reference to compare this tool to others but my initial comment would be that if you have experience with an FTP tool and even very limited exposure to html and any type of html editor, you can do this. My father, however, should not try.

The WordPress website explains the details but the short version is:

if you want to host your blog at http://www.yourdomainname.com then you need a web hosting provider that supports WordPress’ requirements.

To this end, there are two basic options:

(1) You follow the detailed instructions to set-up a database on the web-server, ftp the required files to the preferred directories on the web-server, and configure the specified resource locators / files on the web-server; or

(2) Your domain host already provides support for WordPress and you perform some variation of “select ‘Install WordPress.'”

I used the second option – after about 10 hours of research and planning, it took me < 10 seconds to be up and running.

My domain host is ipowerweb.com. I have been a customer for over a year and they were responsible for registering www.deanandlinda.com, hosting our web-site, and providing email services. There are many options included in my package that I don’t use but I can’t imagine this could have been much easier. I have found their service to be responsive but not always clear and understandable – sometimes it takes a few email exchanges.

Using ipowerweb’s standard vdeck administrative interface, the WordPress installation was surprisingly simple (“select ‘Install WordPress’ from the Applications menu). The only struggle I had was 30 minutes trying to figure out how to locate the index.php file in the root directory. The index.php file is basically the WordPress equivilent to a web home page – when you go to www.deanandlinda.com you want the home page to pop up, not the web-site directory structure (something scary like ‘public_html…..’).

ipowerweb will not allow you (or I am too stupid to figure out how) to install WordPress in the root directory. The WordPress codex (i.e. help file) is quite good and includes a section on how to rearrange your directory structure – basically a variation on how to solve my problem. The codex instructions are accurate but failed to suggest that the required edit was case sensitive, but trial and error eventually reigned supreme. That was the only notable problem I had.

Note: the directory path edit to the index.php is case sensitive – wordpress is not the same as WordPress, at least using ipowerweb.

The next set of activities involved finding a theme – basically what do I want the blog to look like. WordPress comes with a standard theme that was automatically installed during the set-up. The biggest problem with installing additional themes is sorting through the hundreds available to find a couple you like. WordPress has several themes and links – I downloaded two from Alex King (Alex King templates).

And there you have it – my first post. I expect to spend the next weeks exploring the WordPress tool, teaching Linda how to post entries, figuring out how to add and format photos (I see frustration in my future on this one), and setting-up the capability to post entries directly via an email.

Feel free to make comments – I have no idea how they work, so it will be good practice.

The WordPress administrator is kind of like the Chinese government: if I don’t like what you say, I can just delete it:)