Monday, 25 August 2008

The First Night in the New Apartment

The time is 4:15 AM China time. So much has happened in the last day.

The flight went ok, though I indeed was unable to sleep much. I got maybe 4 hours total of sleep, but it was all completely disjointed. I got a window seat and the one seat next to me was empty, so I got to stretch out as much as possible. The little sleep I did get was found curling up in the fetal position facing the seat back. Though I did wake up with my hip killing me and my tongue sore (I think I had been biting it).

They said we were going to get dinner, breakfast and a snack. I got dinner and breakfast and I guess I slept through the snack. Oh well. I saw bits and pieces of a bunch of movies, though I watched most of Chocolate. I started knitting a blanket square out of a skein that Chelsea Rowe had given me. I wrote in my notebook. I read some “Hogfather”. I read the second note from Emily.

We arrived in Shanghai an hour earlier than I expected (430AM). I wasn’t expected at the school until 8am. I went through customs and immigration and baggage claim with no hitch. I then dragged all my bags and such to the area where people wait to meet arrivals. I got asked about three times if I wanted a taxi, but I figured I would rather wait at the airport than get to the school impossibly early and wait there. I brushed my teeth and hair, splashed some water on my face and changed my shirt in the bathroom so I could feel a bit more human.

I tried to call home using my new cell phone, but I couldn’t. I think the plan I got only works to call in China (I found out later in the day I could call people in China). I was able to send my rentals a text message though to let them know I arrived and was safe.

I did more reading and writing in the lobby. Finished the square I had started on the plane. While I was knitting an older woman noticed and came over to inspect my knitting. She told me how beautiful it was. I showed her a picture of what the finished blanket looks like, but I think she misunderstood and thought it was a rug. HA.

At a little after 7am, I figured it was best to catch a taxi and head to the school, since I wasn’t sure how far away it was, only that it was in the same district. I loaded my stuff in the first taxi and made an honest attempt to ask for where I was going in Chinese. I said the name of the school. No luck. I said the address of the school in Chinese. No luck. I then grudgingly dug out the envelope the school had used to send me my contracts that had a mini map on it. The driver grunted and we headed out.

I want to learn this area and SOON. I don’t like feeling like a tourist and I have no idea if the driver was taking me on a tour trying to rip me off. I kept my eyes on signs and everything but I really have no way of telling. It was a long ride, costing me 119 yuan, the most expensive taxi ride I’ve ever had. The school told me to get the receipt so they could pay me back.

The area that the school is in seems like most of the China I’ve seen. Half of the buildings seem brand new and shiny and clean and amazing. Half seem broken down and old and dirty. And sprinkled around are tons of places being built or renovated.

The school seems similar. It wasn’t as fancy as the website would have you believe, but it does seem like a nice place. And there were people working on cleaning it up when I arrived (School doesn’t start until the 27th). I waited by the main gate at the security booth for a bit, then they told me to go to room 318 in the main building. I did. No one was there. I went back outside and told them so. They told me to go back in and wait until 9am. It was a couple minutes before 8am. I called Amy (the foreign teacher contact person) as she was walking into the room.

We went into her office where she turned on the air conditioner and started making phone calls and shuffling paper work around. She then went to get the key to my apartment. Getting to my apartment was a bit of a production since my bags were so heavy. A security guard ended up finding a cart and ripping up some cardboard to put in the bottom of the cart (since it was wet) then wheeled the cart to the teacher’s apartments. She told me I was on the tenth floor. I asked nervously if there was an elevator. I don’t think she understood me. (Don’t worry, there is!)

So, ready to hear about my apartment? I actually really like it. True, this is coming from someone who has only ever had either one bedroom or a dorm room to herself, so this is an upgrade for me. The only real low point is the kitchen. As they had told me ahead of time, I have a hotplate and a microwave. I also have a rice cooker, which I wasn’t expecting. And they provided me with a pan and a pot, so I can use the hotplate as a stove. I am only really missing an oven. I’ll make due. I have some standard kitchen stuff. Some plates, bowls, cups, chopsticks, and even a set of cutlery that looks like it was tossed in last minute. My fridge is tall and thin. It has a freezer compartment, a freezer drawer, and in the middle is the regular fridge. Next to the fridge is a cabinet with a glass front that currently has all my kitchen stuff and the tiny amount of food I bought so far. I also have a water dispenser thing. Apparently water gets delivered to each floor and we just need to replace our own when it gets empty. So I should have no trouble getting clean drinking water.

Since my apartment is actually two apartments that have been made into one, I have two full bathrooms. They recommend I only keep on one water heater though, since I have to pay my utilities if I go over 200 yuan and using two just wastes electricity. The bathrooms have a standing shower, no tub. They provided me with one roll of toilet paper and told me I need to get the rest myself.

I have a little table that could fit two people comfortably to eat a meal. The living room has a little glass coffee table that has a bouquet of fake flowers on it (whoops! On closer inspection they are real! They looked so fresh I figured they were fake). There is a futon type couch, bright blue, with orange pillows on it. I haven’t figured out yet how to unfold it into a bed instead of a couch. There is a tv stand/cabinet with a tv and cable box. My original viewing found one channel in German, one in French, one in Spanish, one in English (Bloomberg), and a few in Chinese.

My bed is queen size (I think). The mattress is very stiff. I’m going to try and make due since I know it’s better for my back, but if I need to I can always buy a mattress pad. They provided me with two pillows with cases, a sheet and a comforter. The pattern is giant pink roses. Oh well. Rose would love it. The actual mattress underneath (which is very visible under my thin sheet) is a black and white cow pattern. There is a bed side table with a lamp. In the bedroom is a desk and a decent chair. I have two wardrobes that have a closet type bit, a low shelf, and then a side cabinet on each with four shelves and a drawer with a key to lock it.

I do have a washer and dryer, though not like you’d see in the US. Amy had to explain what each of the buttons meant. It looks a little intimidating, but I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out once I need to get some clothes clean.

I also have two air conditioners, one in each side of the apartment, which is helpful since it is hot here. Like…HOT. And so very humid. UGH. It’s supposed to get decently cold here in winter, but right now it is HOT. Anyway. One of my favorite things about my apartment is that on each side of it I have a little balcony. The view isn’t anything amazing, but I love having a balcony. Once the weather cools down a bit, I can drag one of the many chairs I have in my apartment out there and read or something.

Anyway, after we brought my stuff to my apartment, I was only able to look at it very quickly before Amy took me to the police station to get me a temporary residence. Then we went to the bank so I could open up an ICBC account. I deposited the money I had brought as travelers cheques. OH! And by the way, turns out I wasn’t ripped off at the exchange place in the airport. The exchange rate is currently 6.81 yuan to the dollar. Holy crap! When I came to China in 2004, it was 8.2 yuan to the dollar. I feel rather poor right now.

We went back to the school where I talked to Sue (the person I had been e-mailing and interviewing with to get the job. She told me a little about what was expected of me (apparently if I want a visitor I need to notify the school a month in advance. WOW. I hope I misunderstood her.), and about the surrounding area. She carries herself as an individual who expects when she says something should be taken care of, it will be done immediately.

Afterwards, Amy and I went with some other people (I’m a bit confused as to who, although one person was head of logistics/facilities and one was the principle/mistress of the school). We went to this large building where you could either have a noodle meal or a rice meal. I went with Amy to get rice. My lunch was composed of a bowl of white rice, some duck, some sort of spicy green bean and chicken thing, and a watery soup. Lunch went quickly and for the most part silently. Then we all piled back into the van. The driver dropped everyone else off at the school and me and Amy at the local Carrefour. It’s silly, but I was really happy to know there was a Carrefour so close to the school. It was something familiar. We shopped rather quickly. I bought some towels, since the school didn’t provide them and I hadn’t packed any. I also go some toilet paper, an umbrella, some instant noodle meals, chips, some water (until the first delivery), and face soap. Turns out if you want to use a plastic bag at the store, you have to pay for it. It seems like this area is at least making an effort to be environmentally conscious (the bank also encouraged people to look at the statements online instead of getting a booklet). So I bought some reusable bags. Amy got picked up by a friend, so I took a taxi back to school. I again kept the receipt so the school can pay me back.

I went back to my apartment and unpacked the little I bought. I then discovered that they had only turned on the electricity in half of my apartment. I called Amy and told her and after a while someone came along and fixed it. I unpacked a bunch of my clothes but I couldn’t really stay awake much longer. I decided to take a two hour nap (from 3 to 5) so I could do more and try to start myself on a normal sleep schedule. I turned off the air conditioner in part of the apartment I wasn’t in and turned the air conditioner in my bedroom on low. They have me so nervous about how much the electricity is going to cost me.

I can’t even remember if my watch alarm woke me up. I woke up around 3am. Ah well. I feel pretty tired and a little sick, but this is how I felt every time I had jet lag. I’m going to try and keep myself busy today and get to bed at a normal hour. There is no internet in my apartment yet (the guy couldn’t come yesterday but should be here Monday), but Sue told me about a coffee place nearby with wifi so I’ll probably head there when it gets to be a decent hour.

I already feel a little lonely. It’s weird to be in a country where I don’t really know anyone. I hope I make friends quickly. I hope I get along with the other foreign teachers. I thought since it was Shanghai, being white wouldn’t really be a big deal, but I haven’t seen many foreigners in the area I’m in and I’m already getting stared at.

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