Monthly Archives: April 2012

Apartment clean-up


Need to clear up a few things about our apartment. Some of these questions go way back to March when I first posted pics of the place.

  • The pictures of the streets are not “public” streets and explains why they are devoid of people. Every photo from yesterday’s post was taken within the walls of the complex. There is one gate in, another gate out and they both have guards stationed at them. The guards are so sweet, I have my favorite.  The whole Oakwood complex takes up maybe a small city block?  There are cement walls and iron gates. It’s not like a prison or anything, actually we barely know they’re there. The other night Anders and I were walking back to our apartment and there were 4 little kids running around, totally unsupervised. They were maybe 2,3 4, and 6 years old. We commented how nice it would be to raise kids here because there isn’t any way someone who doesn’t belong here is getting in or out. It’s incredibly safe.
  • The palm trees took me by surprise too. I remember driving from the airport the first time and thinking that I didn’t expect palm trees. They just aren’t what you associate with China. But there are plenty of them in this part of the country.
  • Our apartment is average sized in the ex-pat community. We saw places that were bigger, lots bigger as a matter of fact, but too big for what we needed. Compared to most Chinese apartments? We are living in the lap of luxury. Ben lives in a 3-room apartment with his wife, baby, and mother-in-law. (Oh we’ve had good conversations about that!) I also think that even without the one-child policy China would be a nation of one-child families 😉 Just think, you’re living in a tiny apartment and your mother or mother-in-law moves in for the first 3 years of your child’s life to help raise him/her while you both work. So not only is there a lack of privacy to do what you gotta do to have another baby but would you really want to repeat the process of having your mother or MIL move back in with you again for 3 years? Every time you had a child?
  • Having a washer & dryer is the norm for ex-pats but by Chinese standards, no way. Most people hang their clothes to dry on their balconies if they have one.  I do too but not out of necessity. I feel sorry for them. In the winter time it takes forever for clothes to dry outside because there’s no sun, no hot air, and way too much humidity. Which leads me to another thing: most Chinese don’t have a wardrobe the size of Delaware.
  • The microwave is high off the counter but I can reach it. I pretty much only use it to warm up my coffee. The worst part is that I occasionally bump my head on the shelf! 

So this concludes the post about the apartment. I think that if you have more questions you need to visit and get the answers for yourself!

5PM – 81°

Gold Arch (not McDonald’s) photos


One year ago today, Anders and I landed in GZ for our look/see trip. Here we are a year later living a dream. We didn’t know at the time that it was a dream 🙂 but we do now. Anyway…

I never finished writing about the apartment complex. I was waiting for a nice day to take photos of the outside environment at Disney World, I mean Oakwood Gold Arch Residence. There have been several nice days since I first posted about the apartment but I was too busy enjoying them to remember that I was supposed to take photos. This past weekend was perfect. The sun was shining and the humidity was low. We could actually see blue sky! After the big ping-ping tournament 😉 Anders and I headed out to walk in the park. Along the way I took photos and will now fulfill my obligation by showing my former PA neighbor (who really should get that adorable puppy) what the grounds look like. If you didn’t know we lived in China you could easily think we were in Florida. Is this a portent of retired life? NO WAY!

3PM – 94°

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Who says Westerners can’t play ping-pong?


I can tell you that just about everyone at Saturday’s P&G sponsored tournament thought that when they saw Anders walk in. They changed their minds by the end of the tournament!

Let’s start at the beginning. A few weeks ago T challenged Anders to a game or two or three of ping-pong. Anders beat him and T admitted he was surprised at Anders’ skill. When the notice came around for the P&G tourney, T asked Anders to play as his partner. They practiced twice in the week before. That was it.

Saturday we arrived at the locale. It was not easy to find. We walked through the lobby to a back hallway, down some stairs, followed the sound of ping-pong balls, and arrived at a door that was cemented open. I think it was a former bomb shelter. The door looked exactly like the one we had in our house in Switzerland only I guess the threat of war has passed as the door was cemented in a permanent open position. 🙂 It was exactly like the church basement from your youth. It looked and smelled the same.  Again, we were the only non-Chinese. We were also the only ones that we knew and were beginning to doubt Ben. Not long after I found a seat in the corner (the perfect people watching perch), a few people Anders knew arrived and they were soon warming up.

Anders decided to play in the singles division as well but got an unlucky draw. He had to play a qualifying round just to make it to the bracket and unfortunately lost. I’m not just being the ever-supportive wife when I tell you he held his own against the guy. Both games were close.

Then we waited around for the singles division to finish and it was time for the doubles. He and T were great. They served well, returned serves well, and danced around each other like they were old partners. When it was time for the final in the Men’s Doubles, the crowd had gathered to watch the “laowai” and his Chinese partner.  There was more than once when Anders managed to make a great shot or return a tough serve and the crowd oohed. I’m embellishing a bit but it was fun to watch the spectators’ faces and listen to them. T and Anders ended up taking second place. The men that won were excellent players and very good sports.

If you’re tired of reading about how nice the Chinese people are just log off now because I’m going to do it again. The Chinese people are so nice!!! All of the people who played were P&G employees but Anders only knew about 10 %. The only people who I knew were Anders (obviously), T, P, and XJ. But…so many people came up and talked to me and chatted. They were all smiles and congratulatory after he took 2nd place.

Yep, Anders is spreading the love one ping-pong tournament at a time here in China!  

4PM – 87°

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Two weeks doesn’t seem so bad


I thought  it would be interesting to let you know what China Post is like. It’s not great but it seems to be getting better. We have service every day and there is no junk mail. For those 2 reasons alone it’s better than the US.

I have received 2 packages and had to go to the post office to pick them up. Of course I was required to prove who I was with my passport. Surprisingly enough, it’s the first time I showed my passport and the recipient did NOT take a photocopy of it! I was also told to open the boxes before we left to ensure that nothing was broken. Not sure what that scene would have been like if something was but I had my translator with me. 🙂

I have only mailed one letter. I was going to go into the post office by myself but Ben thought he should help. I told the clerk it was going to America and he gave me a few stamps and pointed to the communal desk behind us. What? No computer generated stamp? No scanner? I have to do something with the stamps that requires me to step away from the window? Why I had to walk to the desk to apply the stamp to the envelope when no one was waiting behind me (what I really mean to say is that no one was pushing and prodding me from behind) was beyond me. But what do I know? Evidently not as much as I’d like to believe. I went to lick the stamp and Ben pulled my hand away (this is why it was good that he was with me ;-)) Evidently licking and self-sticking technology haven’t made it to China either. He pointed to a glue tin and I swear it was a frozen OJ can with the a 100 year-old brush in it.  So this is why I couldn’t take care of business at the window. The glue was…well…very glue-y looking. I smelled it – I actually picked up the OJ can, held it to my nose, and whiffed. It was nasty smelling and  I can’t help but wonder what it was made from. Kiersten cover your ears but I think it was horse glue. It wouldn’t surprise me.  Ben laughed at me – he must think I’m insane sometimes. So, I glued my stamp on and handed it back to the window clerk.  It cost about $1.20 to mail and off  it went. I really didn’t think it would ever make it but it did and it only took a week. I was shocked. I guess they’re more than happy to dispense with the stuff they don’t need to concern themselves with. Can you imagine how much mail they have to deal with in a country with a population of more than a billion?!?!? Not delivering junk mail is a good start.

The problem seems to be receiving mail from the US. 

Mailed from US Dec. 12, arrived in China March 10!!! Mailed from US Jan. 6, arrived in China Feb. 26. Mailed from US March 2 and arrived in China March 19. The addresses were exactly the same and written correctly. The only difference was that the Christmas card that took 3 months had a computer generated mailing label on it and the other letters were written in my dad’s very bad, left-handed writing. I guess maybe his chicken scratch looks more like Chinese characters and therefore they were able to read it. 😉  Go figure. The good thing is that for whatever reason mail is arriving faster. I don’t know if it’s because they know our name now at the local PO or what but I’m not complaining. Two weeks from halfway around the world seems reasonable.

Confession time – I did not do spell check or make corrections. I am having internet connection issues again ( I really hope it’s not my VPN) so it’s going out as is.

12PM – 78

I just shake my head


A few weeks ago on a Saturday morning I took the photos that appear in the slideshow. I saw a lot of activity across the way at the hotel and wondered what they heck they were doing. I believe I figured it out but it defies logic.

Several truckloads arrived during the course of the morning and men busily unloaded the contents. My first thought was that they were unloading mattresses but I really didn’t think I could be correct. I mean, would you line up mattresses outside and leave them there? So maybe they need to be aired out but fully exposed to all of the elements (and creatures that live in said elements)? Hmmm…I thought for sure I was wrong and it was some Chinese thing that I just didn’t know about. I took the photos solely so I could get a closer view of what was going on across the river. Yep, they were indeed mattresses. They were very neatly stacked and left out OVERNIGHT. Sometime during Sunday they disappeared. I surmise that they disappeared into the hotel.

I guess the hotel manager really trusted the weather forecast.

6:30PM – 80°

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Finally got this one published!


After two very frustrating afternoons and much internal cursing at the laptop, internet, and WordPress I have finally managed to get this post done! ARGH! I can say with all certainty that for once the issues were not due to my lack of computer skills.

So…dinner Tuesday night turned out to be amazing. It was so good that I’m going back to the wet market this weekend and buying more shrimp to use up the leftover dipping sauce.  The shrimp were not that big. What they lacked in size they sure made up for in freshness. I can safely say that 48 hours after eating them there were no digestive problems (if you know what I mean). I was a little worried about it but not enough that I didn’t buy them. 🙂

I was told to steam them for 3 minutes and ended up doing it for 4. My mistake! Should have listened to the master. They were a tad over done so I won’t repeat that mistake. The dipping sauce consisted of the following:

1 c. soy sauce (low sodium would be better if you don’t like things too salty)

huge handful of chopped coriander, plus extra for steaming the shrimp

lots of scallions, chopped

hot chilies to taste – finely chopped

1 clove garlic – finely chopped but I’ve since been told that raw garlic and soy sauce upset Yin-Yang. What do I know?

To prepare the shrimp, if you buy live ;-), put them to sleep in the refrigerator for a few hours. Right before you’re ready to steam them, give them a shower – that’s exactly what I was told to do – give them a shower. I interpreted that as rinse them. I worked very fast at this point because I did not want them waking up. By the time I was done taking pictures a few were starting to move. Resilient little things they are. Pop them in a steamer with lots of chopped coriander over boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, depending on the size. The Chinese way to serve is similar to a crab feast or crayfish boil. Pile them in a bowl and let people shell them. Dip them in the sauce and ENJOY!

This will be a regular in my repertoire, as Ben would say, “So EEEE-ZY.”

5PM – 86°

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New Horizons


Well, I finally did it. I bought live shrimp at the wet market. Ben came with me although I certainly could have done it myself. I ended up with 1/2 kilo (1 pound) for $5. That doesn’t strike me as a bargain but then again I can’t remember what I paid for shrimp in the US. I told Ben that  Americans don’t buy live shrimp and he told me that Guangzhourens don’t buy dead shrimp. I have a feeling that the Chinese have the right way of thinking.

As I sit here writing this they are squirming in a bag in the fridge. Really, they are. 🙂 After the woman weighed them she put them in the same kind of plastic bag that I get my fruit and veg in. Ben carried the bag to the car for me and every now and then his arm would jerk from the movement of the little buggers trying to get out or find water or be anywhere but on their way to my refrigerator. Just kidding, his arm didn’t jerk but the shrimp were flopping. Can you say fresh?

I was planning on cooking them in a fresh tomato and basil sauce with penne. I had it all planned out in my head. Then because Ben is Ben and the man has the appetite of a growing 16 year-old boy (and the metabolism to match), he shared his shrimp wisdom with me. I will now be steaming them for about 3 mins over water in my bamboo steamer in my wok. For dipping sauce, I’ll be using soy sauce, garlic, coriander (my favorite herb), scallions, and hot chilis. His eyes were lighting up as he was telling me all this and I wouldn’t be surprised if  he called Mrs. Ben and told her to cook shrimp for dinner. I’ve said it before, for a man who doesn’t cook he sure knows a lot about food and how to prepare it.  He is a typical Guagnzhouren, he likes food. Money, status, government power, or designer labels don’t interest them. They care about food. Hmmmm…maybe that’s why I like it here so much. Tune in tomorrow to find out how it all went down. 😉

The best part is that we had this entire conversation in Mandarin. Oh yes, all of it was in Chinese. 🙂

5PM – 88°

Guangzhou is China’s best-kept secret


Because Anders and I didn’t have any tombs to sweep on Wednesday we decided to visit Guangzhou’s most famous park, Yuexiu Gongyuan.  Actually I decided by myself that he needed to see more of GZ than P&G, restaurants, Starbucks, and the watch market. He’s a good guy like that, he listens to me when I tell him something’s good for him.

The park turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. I thought I’d like it but I wasn’t prepared for how lush the vegetation was. I was judging it by other Chinese parks I’ve been in. They have been flat, open, and provide lots of places for people to do morning exercises, fly kites, snap bullwhips (remember him?), and ride bikes. This park is made up of seven hills and it was a mini workout. There are so many paths that one can take and meander on.

There are several attractions in the park but the most famous is the Five Rams Statue. It’s the symbol of GZ and the story goes like this:

2,000 years ago GZ was suffering from drought and famine. People were dying and they lost hope. Five immortal beings rode into GZ wearing 5-colored robes on five rams. They each held a sheaf of rice in their mouth and these were given to the citizens to plant. The immortals left but the rams stayed behind and turned to stone. They rice grew and Guangzhou became prosperous.

The Guangzhou Municipal Museum is housed in a building called the Five-Story Tower. It was originally a watch tower from the Ming Dynasty and parts of the wall from the 14th century are still visible.  In the museum are relics  from GZ that help explain it’s 2,000+ year history. It was crowded so I will have to go back another day but I think it’s something that can’t be missed. The building from the outside is beautiful and sits on top of one of the hills.

Another famous building in the park is the Sun Yat-sen monument. Dr. Sun Yat-sen is considered to be the founding father of modern China. He served as president for a short time. He is a native of Guandong province and they are quite proud of him in GZ. There is a beautiful memorial hall in his honor in the park as well but that too must wait for another day. I’ll try to drag Kiersten all through this park when she comes. 😉

There were many mumiam trees in the park. Mumiam is the Chinese word, we call it kapok. There are a lot of plants, flowers, and trees here that I have never seen. Its flower is the symbolic flower of Guangzhou. It’s beautiful. The flowers start blooming in March and while they bloom there is not a leaf on the tree. The color is a beautiful red, almost orange-red. I’ve been told that this color flower on the mumiam tree is only in Guandong. The trees are very tall and full of dark-colored branches. They made for some very nice pictures. They would have been nicer if they sky was blue and there was some sun shining but it’s the rainy season.

Every time I’m out and about “touring” GZ, I come home with an even bigger appreciation of  how much there is to see and do here.

PS – Anders ended up having a much nicer time than he thought he would and was glad that I got him out on one of his days off. 🙂

4PM – 72°

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Tomb sweeping day!


Yesterday was Qingming Jie. Literally it means pure bright festival and is similar to our Memorial Day. Yes, the Chinese actually go and sweep the tombs, clear out weeds, and do a general spring-cleanup. I remember doing that with my mom every year. The added Chinese element is that they take offerings of food, wine, paper money, and incense. These things insure that the loved ones have what they need in the after life.

In GZ, the traffic headed in the direction of the cemetery was heavy last weekend and will be this weekend as well. There is a 3-day holiday and a lot of people take an additional 2 days off to make it a whole week. This holiday and CNY are the holidays when people go back home. Like Chinese New Year, a lot of people return to their hometowns. Not quite the mass exodus of CNY but things were quiet around GZ this week.

Ben told us that about 5 million people in GZ will be headed to cemeteries and mortuaries to pay their respects over a two week period.  Mortuaries in China are more popular because where do you bury 1 billion people? He asked me a while ago to take April 8 off so he could go with his daddy and uncle to the cemetery and then they were going out to lunch. We told him to take the whole day off. Usually he makes a fuss and tells us, “It OK. I juss need morning and afternoon until fee o’clock. I drive after that.” Anders and I were pleasantly surprised that he just thanked us and nodded and smiled. For him to do that, it must mean a lot to his family.

So in the spirit of Qingming Jie, may you all go out and sweep tombs and pay respects to your loved ones. Whether or not you take offerings is up to you.

4PM – 72°