Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our life in Jiuzhaigou

Hi everyone! This is Amanda. Josh is watching Big Bang Theory.

I thought that although it's maybe a bit mundane, I would tell you about what it's like living in a Chinese apartment in a tourist spot in rural Sichuan. I don't have a video camera, so I can't create a repeat performance of my parents' famous insomnia curing movie of our Strawberry Hill house in the late 80s.

We live in a 3 bedroom flat. Josh and I were assigned one room and when we moved in we had 1 roommate, a lovely Chinese undergraduate. She's here for some kind of internship. Then about 10 days after we arrived, when we had guests staying in the spare room, another girl moved in. She is a PhD student in CS from Wuhan. She and her 4 classmates and teacher (they live downstairs with Kieran, the Irish guy) are setting up a new computer system. They are here for one of the following: 2 months, 5 months, a long time, 2-3 months, or some number of months. I heard all within a single conversation.

Our flat has a big living room with dirty Chinese arm chairs and a couch. They are mostly leopard print. Big windows. A broken water dispenser. 2 mountain bikes (those are ours) and 2 extra and empty shoe racks (those belong to the American professors who are coming back in June and needed them in the hotel). Oh yeah, and a TV sans remote. Or any cables with which to connect a computer to it for movies. Aaron brought one, but it wasn't quite right. We have some weird shaped shelves between the living room and what we call the dining room. The dining room is empty except for the bags belonging to the American professors for when they come back. Josh wants to build us a table. At the entry way we have a shoe storage place and a sign where I used the wrong character for remove shoes and it says "please slippers" instead of "please remove shoes". I didn't know they were different words and my dictionary didn't tell me. Also the PhD student's room is off the entry way and overlooks the sun room. And the Asian style bathroom (no hot water and no shower) which has our laundry machine (more on that later). Through the dining room one way is the western bathroom (hot water, sit toilet not bolted to floor which leaks, shower and shower curtain that no one except us uses (the curtain that is), and a sink). To the parking lot side is our undergrad roommate's room. To the river side is our room. It has 1 bed (2.3x2 m size), 2 fake closets (metals frames with cloth over them which we bought), 1 end table, 1 electric blanket (YEAH!), and 1 tupperware box for use as the other end table. It's cozy.

The best part of the house, in our opinions, is the sun room and kitchen. The sun room runs basically from our room along the entire length of the apartment to the kitchen. We are on the 2nd floor and it faces west over the river, so we get good sunlight, which helps with warmth. We put the spare tv stand out here, along with our wireless router and some Tibetan cushions on the floor. It is a small enough space that the space heater works. We also have a table (card table like, except that in this case you flip the top over to get a mahjong table) and 4 stools. We have cupboards at the end of the room which mostly have our stuff in them. The fridge and water dispenser are also in the sun room. The kitchen is big by Chinese standards. Unfortunately the sink is a 2 tap sink and the hot water is not hot water on demand, so we can't really adjust the temperature. At least we have 24 hr hot water and our own heater. We have a 1 burner ceramic heater, an oversized toaster oven, a griddle that heats from both sides like a waffle maker, and a rice cooker. We paid to have extra shelves put in so we have some decent storage space. Our food is all in a rat proof cabinet where Josh repaired the rat proof screen. The previous stuff hadn't kept the rats out. The top part is where the rats came in and that section is off limits to anything except rat poison. So far our rat removal plans are basically working.

The water dispenser is interesting. We asked when we first got here what number to call to get water. We were given a number and I called. The conversation went something like this:

Amanda: Please deliver water
Other end of the phone (OEP): What's your address
A: Park administration apartments, Entry 1, apartment 2-2.
OEP: You're in Chengdu. I don't deliver there.
A: No, I'm in Jiuzhaigou
OEP: Ok, I can take it to the bridge
A: I'm over the bridge
OEP: I'm in Chengdu
A: No, you're in Jiuzhaigou
OEP: I don't deliver to Jiuzhaigou
A: Where are you
OEP: Jiuzhaigou

I hung up. I called our handler (Wang Yan). She called the water guy and called me back. He was in the county town and would deliver our water to the visitor center the next day. The next day Josh dutifully went to get the water and discovered it wasn't there. He went to find Wang Yan (it was Sunday, but the park staff work 7 days a week. we refuse and only work 5). Wang Yan asked around and discovered that actually what you do for water is go to office 201 during work hours and pick up a jug. We get about 1 jug per week now. It's free.

Internet was another nightmare. It was one of the many times we have been very happy to have a car. The internet is in the township town (about 10 minutes away) and it took 3 trips, at least 5 phone calls, passports, a letter from the park, and a year advance payment to get signed up for it. Then another 10 days and a long visit by a technician and some angry phone calls to get it set up. I had to upgrade the firmware to get our router to cooperate with our VPN, but everything is working well now. Except with the PhD student is home and downloading too much stuff. We got internet for less than half price and pay under $10/month. The discount was for working for the park.

We get our vegetables from veggie trucks. They come at lunch time to our apartment complex and a bunch hang out all morning in the village closest to us (about a 10 min walk away). The village trucks have better selection and I prefer to shop there. Fruit is easier to get since tourists like to buy it. Most grocery stores sell some fruit and snacks. We have found 2 which sell things that we can actually use. We end up having to drive to the county town about once every 2 weeks to get staples. It's a 40 min drive. We have a 25 kg bag of flour that was the result of a staples shopping trip when we couldn't find a grocery store for residents rather than tourists (this was up on the plateau after we dropped Aaron and Nicole off at the airport). We found a wholesaler though and got a gigantic bag of flour. I've been cooking a lot recently, in part because the thing stares at me all day. I have to admit to a huge wish list for shopping in Chengdu next week when we go down to get the car inspected.

We have so far failed at making fritatta, sourdough bread, sourdough pancakes, french toast from Tibetan flat bread, and yogurt. We have successfully made: sourdough starter, sourdough pancakes, sourdough carrot cake, sourdough bread, yogurt, granola, curry, pizza, cream cheese frosting, ratatouille, rice pudding, french toast from Song Pan bread (Muslim bread from the plateau). Cooking is quite the adventure here, but it's generally turned out ok. It's relatively expensive to eat out, so we eat at home more than I ever have before in China.

Laundry is always an adventure. Of course there is no dryer. But, in both our flat here and back in Chengdu we have regressed to my laundry nightmares from Harbin. In Chengdu I had a real, fully automatic washing machine. Here and in Chengdu this time we have the awful 2 part things which either agitate or spin. At least it's in the bathroom this time and is permanently attached to the water supply. In Chengdu the drain is permanently in the floor. Here we need to direct it down the toilet. Basically you put in soap, fill up the water, add clothes (about 1/2 of what you think you can put in, less if there are pants involved), agitate for 15 min, drain, fill, agitate, drain, fill, agitate, drain, spin in 3 parts. then repeat for the rest of the week's laundry. We then have to hang it in the sun room from a pole across the ceiling. I tend to stand on chairs to do this. Josh uses the stick we have for just that purpose. Things dry quickly and sheets dry the day we wash them if we wash them in the morning. Our roommates do laundry by hand.

Washing dishes is also an adventure. We have the dreaded 2-tap sink with hot water too hot to actually use straight. After a few weeks of washing dishes and being annoyed by the inability to easily use the hot, we decided to go with the 3-sink method used in restaurants (1 sink for soapy water, 1 hot rinse, 1 cold bleach bath). We use 1 sink and 2 wash tubs spread out on the counter with the drying rack in between. It actually works really really well. Thank goodness for restaurant training.

Ok. I have definitely gone on for too long and am getting ready to go to bed anyway.

Some posts to look forward to:
Two Laowais in Tibetan clothes attend the monastery festival
Hiking in Long Kang - maybe there are golden monkeys!
Introducing our friends, Zhuo Ma and Ke Zhu, their restaurant, and their homestay
The wild 2 year old, Lop Song

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