Monday, March 5, 2007

We're in Xiamen!

We made it to Xiamen, no fuss, no muss! The conference ended around 11 a.m. in Guangzhou, and the law faculty met briefly with the director of the Hong Kong-America Center, because he is interested in doing a conference in Shanghai in June on teaching American law in Chinese universities. We all agreed it would be a good idea, and agreed to participate.

The girls played on campus, where there is a sculpture garden, with statues of such greats as Shakespeare, Einstein, Marx, and Socrates. They also went to the “playground” – where there is outdoor exercise equipment for adults, but that is fun for the kids.

We rendezvoused back at the hotel, where we hurriedly finished our packing, checked out, and ate lunch. Checking out is an adventure, since the clerks had little English, everyone wanted to check out at once, and there was limited computer equipment. Our waiban, Tian, got Zoe and Maya started on the buffet lunch while I waited. Then comes the bill – 2008.00 . . . . yuan! About $240 U.S. for 7 night’s stay, with breakfast each morning, laundry, frequent raids on the honor bar, and in-room internet at $6 per day!

It took two taxis to get us to the airport, solely because of our luggage. Tian navigated us through the check-in, where we were joined by the three Xiamen University professors who participated in the conference. They said not to worry about the luggage, because we had 7 tickets to spread it out on. So we didn’t have to pay any overweight charges.

The flight left the gate around 2:30, and we landed in Xiamen at 3:36. But I think we were actually in the air for less than 30 minutes. The girls actually slept the whole way. Again, it took two cars to take us and the luggage, and our driver was very proud of his American racing car (I have no idea what kind of car it was, but it was actually painted with flames on the outside, and it had a very sporty black and red interior), and definitely showed us its speed! This was the first time in China that the driving was as I remembered it – long on speed, short on brakes!

The city of Xiamen is mostly on an island, and the airport is at the north end and the university at the south end. Still, it took us only 30 minutes – small island! We followed the coast for part of the way, which included a very large dock with dozens of loading cranes for cargo. Next to it was an undeveloped coastal area where we could see small islands and craggy rocks in the sea. It looked quite untamed and quite beautiful. Tian waved dismissively at it and said, “Soon they build another dock!”

We also went through the downtown area, full of immense skyscrapers – a very modern-looking city. There is construction everywhere.

Finally, we came to the university campus. It is an interesting mix of modern and decrepit. The administration building is about 15 stories and very modern, as are many of the dorms. But there are also older buildings and some that look completely abandoned.

We are living in the Foreign Experts’ Guest House. It is 4 stories tall – no elevator, of course – and we are on the third floor, apartment 301. I’m really happy with it so far. It passed the “smell test,” when we first walked into the lobby. Though it is an older building, there was no musty smell, and it smelled clean and fresh. The lobby and stairwell doesn’t look particularly clean, since it’s pretty well worn, but it smells clean. In the lobby there is a small wooden play house – each time we’ve entered and left, the girls race for the play house to hide from me. Gee, I wonder when that game will get old! (Umm, never?).

Our apartment is much larger than I expected and has tall ceilings – 10 to 12 feet high – with crown molding all around. Every room has tons of windows, and the walls are stark white, so it is very bright and airy. There are even screens on the windows.

We have two very large bedrooms, one with a queen-size bed, and one with two twin beds. We have lots of desks, armoires, cabinets, dressers – all mismatched, and not necessarily designed for efficient use of space, but definitely more storage than I was expecting. We have a bathroom with a shower, no tub, so the girls will learn to like showers, I guess! The shower is the only place to get running hot water – there’s a small water heater inside the shower stall, hanging on the wall, and you have to turn it on to heat up water for the shower.

Our kitchen is miniscule, with a two-burner gas cook –top (you have to turn on the gas canister first), and a microwave and a tiny sink. It is walled off from the living room , with sliding glass doors. “What about a refrigerator?”, I hear you ask. Well, when we first arrived, we didn’t have one! I pointed that out to Tian, and he said he’d take care of it. I figured that meant we’d get a fridge in a few days. Nope, 5 minutes later, and one cell phone call later, two men walked in carrying a refrigerator! It’s small, about the width of those little dorm fridges, but about 4.5 feet tall. There’s a freezer on the bottom. As small as it is, it is still too big to fit in the kitchen, so it’s in the living room.

The living room is VERY large – probably 20 feet from door to back wall. The kitchen is tucked into one corner, which makes a nice alcove for the “office” on the other side. There’s a folding table that snugs up against the opposite wall, and can be used as a dining room table. We have a TV, with all Chinese programming, of course. The girls are happy about that.

And I’M happy about the fact that the apartment has a cleaning service! They will clean 3 times a week. We were here this morning when they came in, and they vacuumed, made the bed, wiped down all the furniture with cold water, and cleaned the bathroom and kitchen. Chinese cleaning is basically cold-water, no-soap cleaning, but it’s better than nothing. I can wipe down counters with antiseptic cleaner easily enough. I’m just glad of the vacuuming. And they will change the sheets once a week, so we don’t have to worry about washing sheets.

Speaking of washing, we have a washing machine on our balcony! (Did I mention we have a balcony?) I’m so excited that I don’t have to haul laundry up and down stairs, I don’t even mind that we don’t have a dryer – hardly anyone in China does. And it’s a small washer, and it only has cold water (are you noticing a theme here?), but it is a washer! From talking to the other Fulbrighters, that makes me extremely fortunate. And some of the Fulbright wives told me that you can just pour in boiling-hot water for a pre-soak for the stuff that really needs it.

All in all, we’ll be quite content here, I think. And it will really make us appreciate our house when we get back!

After exploring the apartment, Tian showed us around our corner of campus, pointing out a convenient supermarket very close to us on campus, and a good restaurant. We then had dinner, which was great. How nice to be able to pick your own menu! We ate noodles with seafood, and broccoli. With a 10 yuan bottle of orange juice, our tab was 40 yuan – about $5!

Tian then left us to go to the supermarket and back to our apartment on our own – and we made it! Given my lousy sense of direction, that’s a miracle! We bought some pastries and juice and yoghurt for breakfast, and some noodles-in-a-cup we can cook in the microwave, just to tide us over until we can get to a big supermarket and buy some cooking utensils!

It was a bit of a loud night, since it was the Lantern Festival. Thus Chinese New Year officially ends. But we heard lots of partying and firecrackers. It didn’t seem to bother the girls – they were asleep within minutes of going to bed. It didn’t keep me awake long, either! We were ALL pretty tired.

We unpacked quite a bit last night, and finished up this morning. That included unpacking six boxes of stuff that former Fulbrighters had left here – including a deskjet printer (empty ink cartridges and no paper), space heater, bottled water dispenser (we ordered big water bottles this morning and they’ve already been delivered), iron, coffee maker (useless for me!), and lots of other miscellaneous doo-dads. There were also some English-language books, but none to my taste. Maybe I’ll get desperate enough later . . . .

The temperature has dropped since yesterday, and it is cloudy, rainy, and windy today. It actually feels good to me, after sweating like crazy in Guangzhou for the last week! But we stayed close to home this morning because of it. It brightened up just around lunchtime, and we went out to the same restaurant for lunch. I successfully ordered with the aid of my handy “Essential Guide to Mandarin” and a waitress with some English. Noodles again, since both girls will assuredly eat it, and what my book calls Chinese broccoli. I hoped that would be this yummy green veggie we had in Nanning, but haven’t seen yet. Nope, but it was some other green veggie that was nice, too.

Just past the restaurant is a lovely park, with a pond and fountain, and a small island reached by a bridge. There are statues on the island, that appear to be ancient Chinese scholars and modern college students. Very nice. The girls loved running around the pond and picking up fallen leaves – large red ones that were shaped like magnolia leaves. We then went to the administration building to look for Tian, but we showed up during the lunch period – 1:30 to 2:30. So we headed back to the apartment and rested.

Tian then took us to the Bank of China so I could exchange money to pay for our airline tickets from Guangzhou to Xiamen. The line was so long and so slow that I withdrew money from the ATM instead, which was a good test to see if my ATM machine would work and it did! We then walked to the big supermarket. We bought a cooking pot and some cleaning supplies and some oranges. I think we’ll make tons of small trips to the market since it’s a bit of a hike to haul it all home.

Tonight we are having dinner with the Vice Dean of the law school. His representative, Tracy, called this morning to arrange it, and will meet us in the lobby this evening at 5:50. She said we were to get settled and relax, and then tomorrow she will show us around the law school. My classes don’t start until Thursday, so I have a little time, thank goodness.

More later!


mimifrancoise said...

I just wrote a long post but my password was not accepted. It did yesterday, so I lost all I wrote. I was asking about the apt. What kind of floor do you have? Will you have AC when it gets warmer?
Too bad there are no children in your building. Do you have "Foreign Experts" neighbors? Have you found a different restaurant? it might get boring to eat at the same one.

Emily said...

Hi Malinda, Zoe, and Maya!

Ellie and I are so excited to follow along on your China adventure. Ellie is a little young to understand the whole thing, but she LOVES the pictures. She will be 3 in April. We wanted to know if there is anyway we can send the girls a postcard or a letter? Do you have an address we can send mail to? If you have an address for us, you can send a private email (if you'd prefer) to

Emily - From FCC Tarrant County (in Keller)