A Travellerspoint blog

Daily Life 2: Home (draft)

Yeye and nainai's apartment is 85 square meters (approximately 915 square feet), two bedrooms, one living/dining room, a bathroom, a narrow kitchen, and an enclosed porch.

When you buy an apartment in China, usually it comes unfinished. That means plumbing and electrical services have been installed, but there is no kitchen or bathroom installation (sinks, toilet, stove, counters), no windows, and you have a bare concrete floor and walls in all rooms.

That 85 m2 area includes a proportion of the stairwell, however, amounting to one third of our landing because there are 3 apartments on this floor. We're on the fourth floor (quite desirable in a seven story building); there is no elevator. The floors above us have only two apartments each.

Directions are very important in Chinese homes, not only for strict adherents to Feng Shui. Everyone desires to have south facing windows or balcony; in fact it's best if your apartment or home is lengthwise east-west, to maximize the length of your south-facing windows. I don't know about the reasoning in Feng Shui, but I can see practical and traditional reasons for this desire, and it boils down to sunlight. The sun is very important to cleaning your clothes and linens, not only because it dries them when wet. People will leave out clothes and bedding in the sun long past dryness, believing the sun itself is doing some cleaning. And I believe that is true. Ultraviolet light would kill some bacteria (and possibly some viruses?), and probably helps get rid of other sorts of infestations (mites or insects -- although I don't believe anyone would live with these today). I can imagine that it would help break down or sterilize other organic matter (skin cells, oils, hair, etc) that would attract mites and parasites.

This preference creates an interesting new dimension to architecture: as you are designing a building, keep in mind that every buyer wants south-facing windows. Now what?

Buildings are frequently oriented for cardinal directions, not simply squeezed tightly into a given piece of property. Look at the buildings in our own Village 27, for example. The area covered by Village 27 is lengthwise northeast-southwest. For an American developer, the practicalities easily lend themselves to orienting buildings that way. And a pair of the buildings at the southwest end of Village 27 are indeed oriented this way: they were built first and sold first. (They are also dreadfully ugly, I might add. Perhaps the developer hadn't hired architects at that stage?) All the rest of the buildings, though, are designed to offer direct south-facing windows, porches and patios.

There are four buildings identical to ours.

Buyers want south-facing windows. Not everyone can have this ideal, of course.

Posted by myrrhlin 18:45 Tagged draft Comments (0)

Photos etc (draft)

I've added photos to many of the past blog entries. You don't have to go re-read all that though, you can access the photos directly at this url:
http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/myrrhlin/
or by clicking on the handy link I have added to the right side of the blog. Also, looking at the photo gallery or stream, you can read captions describing the photos, which don't appear in blog entries.

The photos on travellerspoint are limited to 800 pixels size, so they are lacking in some detail. Also, the bandwidth for uploading is pretty limited (i'm already at 67% for this month), so this is not an ideal way to share photos. That's why Z and I are using Flickr accounts, where bandwidth is not limited. Instead, we're limited to 200 photos (for a free account), but that's a lot more than I can put on travellerspoint. Over time, however, the Flickr photos will disappear as new ones replace them. You can find those photos at
Z's Flickr stream and M's Flickr stream. Links to these streams are now on the right side of the blog, too!

And just to put all links in one place, this sitting-on-my-ass blog is at
http://myrrhlin.travellerspoint.com/

On Google Maps there's also the not-really-travel Wuhan Summer Map (zoom out to see more markers)
and the Sichuan Map I made after the May 12 earthquake.

Finally, Skyler video (so far nothing from China, but will add some) can be found on www.youtube.com by searching for "skyler hamlin" or everything posted by the user "daiyitian".

Posted by myrrhlin 18:44 Archived in China Tagged draft Comments (0)

A History of Heat

the furnace and its history

overcast 87 °F

It's humid, and quite hot. Saturday's high was about 96F, and Sunday's was 98F, both days partly sunny. Today's forecast is a high of 93F and partly sunny again. I can't be sure about these, though, because that's just based on Accuweather predictions, and I have reason to find them suspect.

Accuweather says right now, 9.15am Monday, that it's 82F and light fog, with 83% humidity. Light fog? The low last night was 77F degrees, which is also the current dewpoint. It hasn't been cool enough for fog. Accuweather said the same thing yesterday and the day before, for half the day: light fog. I haven't seen any fog at all. What I did see, yesterday we went out for about 4 hours, was haze. A thick greyish-white haze looking towards downtown. I don't see it from our apartment here, perhaps that's just nothing in the distance to observe from our windows. Maybe Accuweather doesn't have an icon for haze or smog, so they use "fog" instead?

Anyway, it has been hot, and humid. Wuhan is well-known as one of the "three furnaces" of China, cities in central China which are famed for being unbearably hot, the other two being Chongqing and Nanjing. Wuhan is the hottest of the three, and is usually at its worst in late summer, July and August. That's part of the reason we planned our trip for early summer, but we certainly haven't avoided the heat.

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Yesterday morning, after breakfast, we went to the Wuhan Historical Museum (map), which is free (for the first 3000 visitors daily -- I don't think they ever exceed that number) and open daily 9-5. The taxi was about 11Y, but the air-conditioning was priceless! The museum is three stories of three large galleries each, with a large enclosed atrium covered with glass. I was interested in historical stuff, which they probably don't change very much.

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There were half a dozen classes-worth of school kids in orange hats running around the museum, making quite a bit of noise. School kids on a Sunday? I think they were on a field trip from further away. Of course when they saw Skyler, or me, they were suddenly struck silent and stared. Some said "hello". I smiled at lots of them. They were gone after an hour.

Yeye and nainai kept Skyler busy while Zhewei and I toured the galleries. The permanent exhibits usually had English translations, but the English is quite weird.

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The first floor had a gallery of artifacts from all eras, organized by materials: bronze, ivory, wood and bamboo, jade, ceramics, glass. A second gallery held a (slowly?) travelling exhibit of Ming dynasty objects. We skipped the third gallery which held art by living artists and was for sale.

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The second floor was devoted to history of Wuhan itself and surrounding area. Three large galleries divided the material roughly chronologically: the first gallery begins with neolithic times (< 2000BC) and moves forward. It was difficult to follow, because names and borders changed frequently. Even the geography changed: a large island in the Changjiang river just south of the Wuhan area was an important trading port in early eras, eventually being named for a famous general who wrote a poem about it. By the Ming Dynasty, the island was gone completely, wiped away by the seasonal whim of the mighty Yangtze! The second gallery was devoted to tombs of a king (or viscount, perhaps? a local ruler with allegiance to the emperor) and some military officers during the Ming dynasty, buried just north of Hankou.

The third gallery was devoted to "modern" times, beginning with foreign trade appearing in Wuhan and going through industrialization up to the 1912 revolution. Interestingly, Wuhan (Wuchang specifically) held the first steel factory in China ( aha, the premier "furnace", right? ), and its first armory. The climax of this exhibit for most Chinese visitors seems to be a large heavy Chinese-made automobile (not sure what year). But for me, I found the cataloguing of various industrial businesses, often joint partnerships with foreigners, and the huge foreign presence in Wuhan fascinating. Sometimes the text was overtly political, condemning western influence in some exhibits, and celebrating it in others. There were land concessions for Russians, British, Americans, and French, at least, and other europeans were also pictured in various endeavors, like Belgians. Hankou had something of a Bund like Shanghai, with lots of banks and trading houses.
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Not much evidence of that history today, that I know of, although a large iconic Customs House completed in 1912 still stands at the river end of the pedestrian zone (Jianghan Lu). This building replaced an earlier one that was at another location. I wonder what if anything remains of those various foreign quarters, like the churches I saw pictured?

The exhibit ended with praising descriptions of the democratic revolution in 1912 which finally overthrew the Qing dynasty and the entire feudalistic political system. Oh, and an opium pipe. The 1912 revolution actually began with a military uprising, the Wuchang Uprising, which started by accident on October 10, 1911 (the anniversary date is called "Double Ten"). Officers of the modern New Army, located in Wuchang along with China's most modern military industry, were influenced by the revolutionary ideas of Sun Yat-sen. A few were mixing explosives in a hide-out in the Russian concession when an accidental explosion led to an investigation by authorities. The officers had enough support that the local New Army revolted, the local authorities fled in fear, and Wuchang was the first city to declare itself independent of the Qing. Although he was elected provisional President of the new Republic in December, Sun Yat-sen had nothing to do with the actual uprising: he was travelling in the US and read about it in a Denver newspaper! I learned most of this by reading on the web, though, not in the Museum, where details are given (like a map showing the paths of New Army revolutionaries through the city) but the connecting context seems largely left out. Of course, that was also the case with the earlier exhibits, and understandably, there is an awful lot of context to know!

We skipped the entire third floor, which I think was empty.

We stayed until about 1.30p, by which time Skyler had zonked out and yeye had reclined the stroller against a bench and covered him. It was lunch-time, I thought maybe we could eat out. We asked a couple of the employees about restaurants nearby. Most were not helpful, but one guard gave us a good tip, a place within walking distance across the road.

The restaurant was on the second floor, was somewhat clean although it had a slight unpleasant smell, and relatively empty. Several waitress staff waiting by the door at the top of the stairs smiled and welcomed us, one taking Skyler from Z's arms (what presumption!) and leading us straight into a private room (no extra charge!) with a single large round table equipped (as always) with a lazy susan. One advantage of the private room is no cigarette smoke, and less noise, although because they were not so busy neither was a real issue. The waitress turned on the AC unit in the room (the other big advantage!), another waitress brought three small plates of snacks (sunflower seeds, chopped pickled vegetables (daikon radish mostly), and salted roasted soy nuts).

We ordered four dishes and two cold beers. Three of the dishes were má là : a flavor combining spicy peppers with tongue-numbing sichuan peppers, and the last was sweet-sour pork, with Skyler in mind. The food came really surprisingly fast after we ordered it. It was pretty good, although too salty and using a good bit more oil than we do at home. After a taxi home we took naps, or tried. Skyler wouldn't sleep, even with AC, so Z and I didn't either.

It's been hot enough that it's difficult to sleep. We have a wall air-conditioning unit in the bedroom which we use to help get Skyler sleeping. We turn it off later in the evening and switch to a fan (one of two in the apartment). We've also used the AC for nap-time after lunch. I have resisted using the AC until these last 3 days, when it's become so warm and humid. This is still early in the summer, and Wuhan is notably hotter late in the season. Z's parents also have a window AC unit, less modern, but they haven't used it yet. I imagine they only use it in the worst of the heat.

We often take extra mid-day lukewarm showers to rinse off the stickiness, just after lunch and before nap.

Hmm, it's 11.21a, and Accuweather still says "Fog".

[Update: In the afternoon today it started to look like rain. The there was lightning and thunder, for over an hour -- but no rain! What little water fell evaporated upon hitting the pavement, and the pavement remained dry. After an hour of this, we finally got some rainfall with continuing thunder, but not a lot. The temperature dropped a bit, but still warm and the humidity was oppressive. Late in the evening, a similar event: thunder and lightning with little rain. This is just weird. Maybe the city's micro-climate has something to do with it, somehow preventing the clouds from dumping their moisture here?]

Posted by myrrhlin 20:22 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Router

overcast 85 °F

Wednesday 5/21 Zhewei and I set off on a shopping trip at 8.10am. We walked to Changqing Road and caught the Walmart bus (because it's free, and goes non-stop after leaving our area) to go downtown.

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We went into Walmart looking for a couple shirts for Skyler. There wasn't a good selection, but we found a couple good candidates on the third floor and bought them, then headed up to the fourth floor to look around. The fourth floor is not Walmart, but instead a bunch of independent vendors of appliances and electronics spread out across the floor.

I was looking for a wireless router. I had seen one for sale in a local shop near our home, a TP-LINK, for about 230Y, but was hoping to get one for cheaper if we found the right place. The brand TP-LINK is the most widely used and available brand in China right now. Even in our apartment, I can pick up a wireless network from a TP-LINK router (because the owner never changed the name of the access point). I didn't think Walmart would be the right place, but wanted to get an idea of the price for comparison. We approached one promising computer vendor and asked, and yes, they had some not on display. 280Y. Yeesh. Certainly hagglable, but still.

We left the Walmart and went into a Chinese department store (called something like Great Ocean). It looks and feels just like a JC Penney or Macy's. Baby clothes were on the 6th floor. The selection of clothes was larger, but more expensive. We didn't get any. Near the escalators, Zhewei asked a store employee about electronics. He said there was a small area on another floor, but probably we wanted to go to the digital market, a building a few blocks away with lots of computer vendors. Zhewei didn't quite get the directions, but we got the street name at least. Sure enough, the department store had a very small electronics counter that was mostly cell phones, pocket PCs, and MP3 players. We wandered through a toys area on the way back to the escalators, passing imported Legos and lots of complicated motorized plastic war toys.

We crossed the street and headed towards the computer market. We walked passed a store of baby clothes, then stopped and went in. Lots of clothes for little kids, made for export, and very cheap! Zhewei picked out 2 or 3 more items for Skyler. Then we went around the corner and headed a few blocks west, past tiny restaurants, vendors of various things (I saw one selling mops), a video arcade, a real estate broker with apartment listings written on a whiteboard out front, a mender of zippers. Yes, a zipper-mender. In China, there are still stores and workers with very high specialization that you just don't see in retail in the US. I regret that I didn't take a picture of the zipper-mender, but I do have a picture of a shop that sells sump pumps. Maybe that shop has other kinds of pumps, but I'm not altogether sure.

We asked for directions once more. We found a building full of little vendors of electromechanical items and electronic components, and closed circuit video equipment. The next building had a mixture of this with electronics and computer components. Some vendors sold just cable. Some sold just MP3 players. A few sold just DVD blanks (another item I was looking for). We walked through, Zhewei stopped at one to ask the price on a TP-LINK router as I walked past, then climbed the stairs. When we are shopping, it's better for me not to be standing nearby while Zhewei negotiates a price. Zhewei got a price of 175Y from the vendor without haggling. But I wanted to look some more.

Upstairs were several shops that build computers and sell components like motherboards, dvd-drives, peripherals. Zhewei asked at one shop whether they had routers. He had none on display, although there were at least a dozen in the building that did, but sure, he had one. He pulled out a Kingnet wireless router made in Shenzhen. It had the same features but was cheaper than the TP-LINKs, he said. He unpacked it and plugged it in, hooking up a computer to it so we could see the setup interface, all in chinese, of course. It seemed okay. Zhewei negotiated a price of 150Y, but expressed her concerns about whether it was going to work once we got home, he gave her a business card and said to call if there was any trouble. He also offered to come set it up for us, for a fee. We also asked why he didn't sell the TP-LINK like the other vendors -- oh, he could sell that too, he said, he just didn't have one at the moment. We also asked about DVD blanks since I was interested in that, even though there was a vendor right next to him selling nothing but DVD blanks. We bought 10 DVD+R blanks for 20Y. We also got a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch, just down the block.

We headed out for lunch. The restaurant was good, relatively clean, the beer was cold. We had a spicy chicken dish and a fish soup. An adjacent table had four men who had just bought a complete computer system. The waiter people at the restaurant were all men, a plus really, except they had recently hired one younger woman. If a restaurant has all pretty young women as service people, you wonder if they are compensating for lower food quality or something.

We walked back to the Walmart, but the bus schedule was unfavorable -- we'd have to wait 90 minutes for a free ride home. We called home to ask about catching the 721 bus, yeye told us to walk south to the river and catch it there. We weren't sure about south, but discovered we were only a block or two from the pedestrian zone, which immediately told us which way to walk. We stopped in a bakery and bought a few rather bland cookies just to try.
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We walked down the pedestrian street, where i was repeatedly approached and offered "watch", "shoes", "shirt" from various men, which I refused. Near the south end of the street, I noticed a younger guy walking towards us carrying a badminton racket who looked familiar. I didn't place him immediately but somehow knew him and smiled at him and waved. I think he was having the same reaction, then realized and called me by name. Zhewei was not immediately next to me but came walking over and started talking to him. He was the husband of one of Zhewei's cousins (Zhehong) -- the couple have a toddler boy (coincidentally also called Tiantian) who is about 2 and a half, and we'd seen them at both big recent family events, the wedding and the banquet. This husband works as an IT person for a bank downtown, and uses his lunch break (2 hours) to go exercise. After chatting a few minutes we let him go and walked down to catch the bus. Zhewei wished for an air-conditioned bus, and she was lucky that the 721 which came by was in fact air-conditioned.

We got home around 4, and I tried hooking up the router. It was sort of challenging because I only had one ethernet cable. With the router about half a meter away, the signal strength was 4/5 bars. Not a good sign. I was able to set up the router to connect to the DSL modem okay, and had network connection. But connecting wirelessly, the signal kept dropping. It was unusable. Zhewei groaned. She called the guy and he seemed relatively sorry and said we could swap for a TP-LINK, it would cost 20Y more. They closed at 5.30p though and it was late, so we said we'd come the next morning.

The Walmart bus only comes to our neighborhood on MWF. So after breakfast, we took the 721 downtown. It was already warm, walking to the bus stop, and on the bus, all the seats were full. It was an air-conditioned bus, but the driver didn't have the AC turned on. Since the AC busses cost more to ride, everyone had paid extra to ride on this AC bus, but the driver was saving gas money by leaving it off as long as he could. At one point, an older guy called out to the driver to turn on the AC, and he relented. It was just after 9am.

We headed straight back to the little shop. After we arrived, the guy went off the "acquire" the TP-LINK. I wandered through the second-floor of the building looking at other vendors. Many had TP-LINKs for sale. After he got back, he only asked for 10Y instead of 20Y. I think Zhewei made him feel bad -- he may very well have known the first router was bad. I told him in mandarin - "restaurant good, this (router) bad", smiling. We left and walked around the block.

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The next building was the "real" computer market - two stories of computer vendors all around. As I walked through, about four of them whispered to me asking if I was looking for DVDs or "discs". I was, but the fact that they were hidden and it was surreptitious sales made me nervous, so I waved them all off. Most vendors also had DVD blanks for sale, sitting on counter tops. On the second floor of this building we actually found an Apple vendor. MacBook Air for 17000Y ($2400)! It's an odd building -- superficially the stores all look good, but go to the third floor where a dog is barking (indoors), or peer between vendors to see the back alleys or the bathroom, and it's dirty and rough.

I remembered about the ethernet cable and we went back to our same vendor to ask. They cut us about 3m of cable and put ends on it for 4Y. They tested it too, before selling it to us.

I hadn't had breakfast, and Z had only had some crackers, so we looked for a place to grab a bite before heading back. It was well past breakfast time, and still too early for lunch, so several street restaurants were in transition and wouldn't have anything fresh. But Z had seen a muslim noodle shop... and we found it. We ordered two bowls of beef noodle (there isn't much beef, it's mostly noodle) for 10Y. The noodles however are made when you order them. The guy pulls them right there in front of your eyes, then throws the bundle into a boiling wok on the sidewalk. It was good. There was a little girl 17mos old, daughter of the shop owner couple. She sat on a stool and ate noodles using chopsticks and her hands. She was very cute. And no one had to hold her still! They had a little white kitten too which the girl played with.

After eating, I ducked into the video arcade I had seen just to look. It was all driving games, and some weird ones that look like gambling. I didn't understand those. On our walk back down the pedestrian zone, we grabbed ice cream (on a stick - like probably 95% of ice cream sold in China). It was 10.45 but humid and quite hot. The ice cream melted fast. Zhewei stopped to look in several shoe stores, but was equally interested in their air conditioning. I was approached again half a dozen times about watches, etc. I wonder how that scam would go. We caught an air-conditioned bus home before noon. It's about 40 minutes to ride to our stop, then a 12 minute walk back to the apartment.

I hooked up the router when we got home, Zhewei put Skyler down for a nap. I couldn't read the configuration pages, so I had to wait til after nap-time. With Z's help translating, it wasn't hard to set up and it works like a charm.

So, somehow we found a vendor who didn't have DVD blanks, routers, or cable on display, unlike many of his competitors, and we bought all of those things from him. And he didn't even HAVE the router we bought, he had to go buy it from a wholesaler just to sell to us! Wireless router: 160Y ($23), firmware was dated April 14 of this year, only 5 weeks ago! Wow. I wonder if this thing runs embedded linux. Going to try to find out.

I'm thinking about going back to the computer market again, for earphones, or a cheap MP3 player, or just maybe I'll try looking at DVDs too. I would like to go somewhere where there's less attention being paid, and the DVDs are out on display, but that also means less competition and higher prices. A local shop sells some for 4Y per disc for movies/TV, and 5Y/disc for software. But today is even hotter than yesterday, and tomorrow is supposed to be worse, so we're probably not going anywhere.

Posted by myrrhlin 18:21 Archived in China Tagged shopping Comments (0)

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