Saturday, July 27, 2013

When it rains (or leaks), it pours.....

Howdy everyone, some of you noticed right away that I didn't send my Wednesday night update this week.

Well, there's a pretty good reason for that.

Lets just pick up from last update.  The weekend was the normal routine, not much exciting, though Bob and I did try a German restaurant in town, and had their "giant pig knuckle" which was great.  They also had a nice coffee machine inside, so we ordered a cup of joe.  It was the nicest cup of coffee I've had in a long time.  Afterwards I did my usual shopping. Check out the picture of this HUGE durian.  You could smell it from a mile away!

This week has been very busy workwise, deadlines and big management meetings coming up have stretched me pretty thin.  Between work, home, and Kody, there wasnt much time to punch out an update.  I also finally did join the Gym by the house and went to my first spin class there.  I dont know if it was me being out of shape,  no fans in the classroom, or the lack of AC, but I only lasted about 30 minutes.  The room is dark like US spin classes, but has LED strobes all over the place like a trance club.  That, combined with EuroTrash Techno exhausted me.  I decided to leave before I had seizures from the lights.

This Wednesday evening, I went to bed, and for some reason forgot to power off my Houston cell phone.  I always power it off. About 12:30 midnight, phone rang, it was my neighbor.  I answered, completely incoherent, and he was paitent enough to let me get my bearings, and to tell me I had a major water leak in the house.  Nick has been checking on the house regularly, along with my Mom and stepdad, and Dayna, so the house usually doesn't go for extended amounts of time without people looking in.  Well, the water leak started at the water heater (defective rubber hose), and leaked all over, caving the ceiling in at the guest room, and leaking down the hall, to the office, dining room, living room, and kitchen.  I'm so fortunate that my Mom and Step Dad , and Nick and my contractor friend Mark, all stepped up to the plate.  I called my insurance agent, and the same day, Mom, Darrell, Nick and Mark, and the insurance company had come out, done estimates, brought in fans and dehumidifiers and were starting the cleanup process.  Felt really nice to know I'm in good hands. The damage is pretty extensive, floors, sheetrock and plumbing repair. Still waiting for the final estimate.  Thank goodness for insurance.

To top that off, Friday morning, Kody and I went for our usual 5AM walk.  Except this guy, walked out the door without his house keys.  So here I am, sitting outside the door of the apartment,  flip flops, shorts and a Tshirt with Kody. I had my wallet but no cell phone.  And knew nobodys phone number here.   I hadnt shaved, showered or even brushed my teeth.  I was going to walk down the street to the Holiday inn and wake up bob, and have him call my admin who has a key, but it would take two hours to get her to the office, get the key and then come unlock the door.  On top of that, they probably dont allow dogs into holiday inn.  So option 2 was to take Kody in a Cab and head to work, and twiddle my thumbs still 8am when people came to work to get a key, but most cabs dont allow dogs.   So the last and final option, was to bother a neighbor.  I had met two neighbors, the one on the first floor, who is VERY nice,but not sure how nice anyones going to be at 5:30 in the morning.  The second neighbor lives above me, we met once, but the important part is, since he lives above me, I know what time he gets moving.  Which was about 5:30.  I knocked on his door, and asked him to lock kody up while I went for keys, and he said that he and his wife go to work at 7.  So that wasnt an option. Then he remembered that there was a flyer for a locksmith at our West entrance to the compound.  He ran down with me, we got the number, and 15 minutes later, the locksmith arrived, wearing cutoffs, no shirt and carrying with him a hammer and a metal rod.  Using  the hammer and his scooter key, he punched out the peep hole, and the metal rod was shaped exactly like the door handle.  It took him less than 5 minutes to get in.  Total cost? 100 RMB= 16 dollars.   I was back inside by 6:15 AM.

So, here I sit writing this email on Saturday at 2pm from work (deadlines due!) and looking back, thinking about how very fortunate I am to have so many great people around me.  People that I can not express how grateful I am, people that have stepped up, offered help, and responded when called on.  So for those of you that have offered help on the house, thanks so much, but its under control so far.

This weekends plans are to look for a microwave, and go to the used furniture market (the renter grade furniture just isnt cutting it), I'm deal hunting!

In other news, works in China, so I can listen to Satellite Radio from my desk, and get a taste of US music.  I'm working out regularly and just finished the first season of Arrested Development.  Presently watching the current season of Hell's Kitchen too.  So I'm able to keep sane.  Kody is doing good, he's enjoying sharing my after dinner popsicle (Chinese sweet green bean).

Weather here is nice, mid to upper 80s but its stays very humid!

I miss everyone, and I hope this note finds you very well.

peace and love,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Time flies....

Has it been a week already? Time has seemed to have flown by since the last update.

So, since last week, I've been just settling in and exploring more.

I'm still pretty homesick, but being able to facetime with family and friends helps a lot.

On Friday afternoon, I got the windows tinted in the car, and Friday night, I had dinner with a colleague at his hotel.  Saturday the A-yi was supposed to come and clean but did not show up.  I later found out that shes scared of Kody, but supposedly will be back Saturday as long as he's crated.  So Saturday, I cleaned the floors and the bathrooms, and did laundry, and watched it rain outside. In the evening, I went out for a little drive and then stopped at a street food vendor outside my neighborhood for some meat skewers (see pictures).  They were good, but eating from a street vendor does have risks.

Sunday, Bob, my colleague and I went into Qingdao for our 'day in town'.  He was looking for a hotel that had a nice brunch, but he couldn't remember the name or street it was on, so after 2 hours of aimlessly wandering, I made the decision that we would stop by "Sunshine Center" which is another high end shopping mall downtown.  Inside they had a very upscale buffet, which we were lucky to get a table without a reservation.  The food was great, international choices and fresh seafood.  In the afternoon, I took Bob back to his hotel and went by the farmers market to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  I ended up with 4 bags of stuff for about 12 dollars. I went home to meet the AC Repair man (on a sunday!) who misdiagnosed my AC unit, and would be back "later in the week" with the new part.   Kody and I went for a little walk, and I headed off to find a place to get a haircut.  There was a place close by the house, and I walked in, and it seemed pretty fancy.  I got a little nervous because I figured it would be pricey, but the staff told me the haircuts were 38 RMB, a little over 6 dollars, and included shampoo and blowdry,  however, If I bought their "preferred customer card", for 200 RMB, (32 dollars), I could get TEN haircuts, which is what I did.  And they dont accept tips.  I later told a local chinese colleague about the 20 RMB haircut and he told me that it was too expensive, and he pays 10-15 RMB. Go figure.  Afterwards, I did some shopping at another Walmart/Target type store, and this one was the nicest one yet. 

This week at work, I have decided to leave the office for lunch, as I'm getting a little tired of the cafeteria food.  Its been nice to get away for an hour, and also helpful to learn the local area around work.  Customer emails have been flying back and forth but it appears that as fires are being put out, people are beginning to mellow out quite a bit.

As far as preventing myself from going insane, this weeks entertainment includes more CHiPs from Itunes, and Hells Kitchen (latest season).  There is an expat meetup tonight, but its in town and I'm seriously considering going and taking a cab (police like to do sobriety checks at night, and I dont have an official Chinese license yet).   I'll be joining the gym in my neighborhood, but access to cash is not easy right now because china employers pay salary once a month.  So I dont get a July paycheck till August.  So I go to a bank that actually accepts Visa Logo ATM cards and I pull out the equivalent of 300 USD at a time. Fortunately, I finally got a gasoline card, so that helps with the amount of cash I need to lay out for gas.

Yesterday, I went to a steak place for lunch,  Steaks in China are different.  Where in the US, we're used to nice, thick cut steaks, with a nice pink center, (rare or medium rare), the Chinese steakhouses serve steaks like Pork Chop thin, on a sizzling plate, well done.  I ended up ordering some chinese food they had instead.  If I do want a steak, there's a place downtown called "Wang Steak House" , which is a franchise all over Asia, and they're as close as you can get to a western steak dining experience.

Thats all for now everyone, I hope you are all well!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Just figured I'd send my weekly update of being in China.

So, most of you guys know that I got Kody out of customs last week. That was a huge relief in itself!  The first few days, I couldn't get more than 5' away from Kody.  He stayed very close to me.  He's better now, and enjoying the wood floors (they stay nice and cool).  High rise life doesn't really seem to affect him that much, He's been sleeping on the couch or the carpeted front door mat when I get home.

The house is coming together nicely.  The AC in the bedroom was repaired on Tuesday, so now its nice and cool when I sleep at night.  I hired an A-yi (auntie) to clean the House every saturday.  Until I get to know her more, I'm only having her come around when I'm home.  Really theres not much of a mess thats made, other than the Kody fur on the wood floors.  I'm keeping my eyes peeled for any expats moving home, so I can snag a deal on their furniture.  The rental property furniture isnt exactly of the best quality.

Work is going ok, though there's lots of stuff to get cleaned up, folks that were supposed to be assigned here were living in other cities and coming in every 4-6 weeks, and that wasn't really cutting it.    I'm starting to meet more of the staff and see how things operate.  Not always the most efficient or the best way to do it, but the wheels of progress grind slowly.

I have found most of the Target/Walmart type stores already close by, and the Farmer's Market, which is pretty much walking distance from my place.  I did actually go visit the Wal Mart on Saturday, and its pretty much  like the Walmart in the US.  Meager quality stuff at meager prices.  I have been on the hunt for a toilet mat.  Nobodys heard of one here. Afterwards, I went and had my car hand washed, Vacuumed and new wiper blades installed.  The cost? 55 rmb (less than 10 dollars).  The Farmers Market is the place to go for the meats, and fresh fruits and veggies.  I really enjoyed it, its very much like the Farmers mkt in houston where each stand is operated by a different owner. 

This past Sunday, I went with a co-worker into downtown to attend the Qingdao International Christian Fellowship.  This is a church service thats non-denominational and allows anyone that holds a foreign passport.  The service was ok, but we were late, so we missed some of the beginning.  I will return next week to check it out again.  Afterwards, we went to HiSense shopping center (which is like the Galleria).  This was high fashion, and upscale.  They had a Swaorvski crystal store, all the expensive boutique clothing stores, that you find in the high rent districts.   Wouldn't you know it? They had a toilet mat here.  I paid...40 dollars for it, but its the nicest toilet mat you've ever seen.  I'll pick one up for the other bathroom when I'm in Houston at Christmas time! This center is 4 stories tall, the basement is a food court and grocery store.The grocery store pretty much has everything that you would find in a typical Chinese grocery store, with the exception that its more like a supermarket, air conditioned, well lit, and clean.  On top of that, they have LOTS of expat products.  Cheese, Cake mix, tomato sauce, breads, jell-o etc.  Anything that you may need, they probably have.  You may pay 4X the cost for it (Betty Crocker cake mix was 5 dollars), but when you're 8000 miles away, you'll probably be willing to pay for it.

Sunday evening, I had some co-workers over for dinner.  I made Spaghetti, sauce from scratch.  The house still smells wonderful from all of it!

Thats all I really have to report.  I'm keeping myself sane by downloading TV shows from Itunes.  Right now I'm working through Arrested Development, COPS (2012 season), The office (season 2), and CHiPs ( the motorcycle cop show from the 70s).  I found a gym close to my house, walking distance actually.  They have spin every night, and are pretty nicely outfitted.  The cost is a little higher than I expected, but I must factor in how close to my home that it is.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

China Update #1

Hey guys!

 First off, sorry for the silence since I have been here. I have only really been keeping in touch with a small handful of people because its been sort of a nightmare since I arrived. So how can I narrate this for you all?

Kody and I drove to Dallas this week, saw friends on the way up, had dinner with friends in Dallas, and then spent the night, and flew direct from Dallas to Seoul the next morning. Because of the crate size, (and probably some greed from the agent that I used), they insisted that Kody go as Cargo to China, not as excess luggage. This was a big mistake. Lessons learned.

 The agent that I hired was helpful in getting Kody checked in, and Korean air took very good care of Kody in Dallas and Korea. They left his crate inside their offices so he would have some AC. My flight was uneventful, got to Korea, checked into the hotel, and then got a decent nights sleep, and flew out the next day. Here is where the trouble starts. Arriving in Qingdao, my co-worker meets me, and we go to pick up Kody from the Air Cargo terminal. which should have been showing them my passport, Kodys rabies certs and health certs, and taking him home. Well, because he went cargo, its the same as shipping a box of shoes, or documents etc. They really dont 'belong' to anyone until they clear customs and the consignee can pick them up. Long story short, we spent Friday afternoon with the freight agent in china and a korean air rep trying to get kody out. We were unsuccessful. The good news is, that the customs warehouse people were VERY nice, and allowed me go in twice a day, feed, water and walk him. They even walked him and played with him. I'm so glad Kody is a nice dog and not aggressive.

Every day when I went to go see him and let him out, we drew a crowd of about 12 people that wanted to take pics, pose with him and ask all kinds of questions "is he famous?" etc. So, my days were consumed with being at customs, talking to the agents, inspection people, and freight forwarder regarding Kody NOT being 'freight' but a pet.

Every day, we've been making a little headway. And yesterday (tuesday) we finally made progress. So, today, I have to pick Kody up, pick up our freight agent, and then take him to the airport for an 'inspection' (they just want to pet him), and then he can go home.

 Everything else is progressing. The apartment, which was supposed to be cleaned twice before I arrived. was not even cleaned once. I stayed there Friday night, frustrated and upset about Kody, almost no sleep because I had almost nothing, no sheets, pillows etc. I woke up at 4 am and started cleaning the wood floors with just a wet rag. The dirt that was on the floor was incredible. They didn't clean.

I visited Kody saturday, and my coworker took me out to buy some stuff at "Leader" which is like a super Wal mart. I didnt even have a shower curtain! Sunday, my coworker and I drove to the east coast of Qingdao, saw the beach and had some fresh seafood. In the afternoon, my dad and his wife came down from Beijing with my car and his car loaded full of stuff for the apartment. Slowly but surely, the apartment is coming together. I brought soft scrub with bleach from the US, and I've been cleaning little by little. Its getting there! I like the neighborhood I live in. Theres lots of people out walking around, so it feels very community like. I dont have much else to report.

I've been doing a lot of driving here, trying to get Kody out, and going to visit him. The thing you must remember about driving in China? There are no rules.