Departure Day – Saturday
Since I have jet lag and I am up at 4 am I thought I’d jot down a few notes on the transition and how things have gone since we arrived. We were originally supposed to leave San Francisco (after Disneyland) on Friday, but Stac and Miles both had a bad cough. So we changed our flights to delay by a day and give them another day to rest and recoup.
My first worry was dealing with jetlag and trying to help the kids get over it as easily as possible. The night before our flight I kept Miles and Sofi up until midnight. I awoke at 5am Saturday and got them up by 5:30 am. On our way to eat continental breakfast in the hotel Miles threw up in the hallway. Waking up early on no sleep didn’t agree with him. We loaded up our 8 bags of luggage and our four carry ons and set off for the airport at 7:30. A nice United employee at the counter noticed all our luggage and took us out of the very long line to the otherside and we were able to check in immediately. I played the game of shuffling one or two pounds of this or that between bags to get them to all come under 50 lbs and we trundled off to the gate.
Airports are fun places. Everyone is traveling to and fro, going places. They have long hallways and corridors and now-a-days they even having moving walkways. I remember them as kids, waiting to pick someone up whose flight was delayed and seeing how long we could roll a penny down the corridor before it tipped over. Miles and Sofi love playing on the moving walkways, back and forth they went until an airport employee yelled at them.
We boarded at 10:30 and were in the air by 11 am. Stac was in a row in front of us and I sat in a row of three between the two kids. Stac can’t generally sleep on planes, but I always do. I gave Miles his cough medicine and both he and Sofi each a 1/3 of a Tylenol PM pill, (I took nothing). Within 20 minutes we were all asleep. Miles and I slept for 4.5 hours and Sofi moved up a couple of rows to more space and she slept around 7 hours. They had served dinner while we were asleep so I went foraging for food in the back of the plane. Miles ate and drank a bit and then promptly threw up. Those barf bags sure do come in handy. After wards he said he felt better and he laid down on the floor under the seats and watched a movie on the iPad. We passed the rest of the time with movies, games and legos.
Arrival Day – Sunday
When we finally landed it was around 3:40 pm. I had been really worried after all the SARs scare a couple of years ago about them possibly quarantining us at the airport due to Miles and Stac’s very obvious coughs. We made sure we plied them with cough syrup an hour before landing. We breezed through the health check where two workers were chatting and not paying attention to anyone. Immigrations was a short wait, maybe 10 minutes where Miles promptly laid down on the floor all tired from jet lag. Then on to get our luggage and clear customs. The guy at customs looked at us with our 3 luggage carts and all our bags and had me take only 2 off the 3 off one cart and run them threw an x-ray machine. He didn’t even bother paying attention after that, it seemed he did it just to mess with me.
Part of our relocation is to have a driver for the first two months to help us get oriented and settled in. Our driver, who doesn’t speak much English came with a translator. They both met us at the airport (we needed two cars anyway to carry us and all our luggage). It was so nice to have someone waiting for us, help us get all the luggage into the cars and off to our temporary housing. After dropping us off we checked into the Fraser Residence Ocean Center. These are fully furnished apartment/hotels that can only be rented on a monthly basis. They have a very large living room/kitchen/dining area, two bathrooms and two large bedrooms, one with a walk in closet. And they come with wifi and 3 TVs. The kids have been watching a lot of discovery channel (not a bad thing).
We managed to drag yourselves out for some dinner. Over the visits to Beijing I’ve fallen into a bit of a tradition of going to eat at Din Tai Fung, its close to where I usually stay and dumplings always taste good. Poor little Miles was just super super tired and wouldn’t eat anything and put his head down on the table and fell asleep. After a quick bite we took a taxi back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep; it was Sunday evening.
Day One – Monday
We arrived right in the middle of Chinese New Year, which is celebrated on the lunar calendar, also called Spring Festival. So I had Monday and Tuesday off and wasn’t to start back to work until Wednesday. Monday bright and early Sofi and Miles had an interview with their school Beijing City International School (BCIS) , with the elementary school principal. This was to assess them and determine if they would be accepted or not. This was largely a pro-forma exercise as we’d already paid entrance fees, arranged payment and filled out all the forms and been told they had held a space for us. A couple of funny things, when principal (from Australia) asked Sofi where she had gone to school?
Sofi : “Issaquah Elementary School”
Principal : “Where is that?”
Sofi (really incredulous look on her face) : “Issaquah”
Amazing how small the world view is when you grow up in a single place, and one of the great things about this experience is how expansive it will be to Miles and Sofi’s world view. When the principal asked Miles what his favorite thing about Elementary school was he replied : “Recess”. 🙂 So anyway the kids were accepted and we returned to our driver for our next set of errands. We returned back to the hotel to pick up Stac and went to visit our real apartment to show the kids and measure for furniture. It’s basically unfurnished, there are three beds and that is about it. The landlord will give us some money to go buy furnishings that we’ll leave behind when we move out.
After wards we took Miles and Stac to the Vista Clinic in the Kerry Centre. They are a western style facility with 24 hour service and doctors that all speak English, many are western. Stac saw a Dr from Colorado who had been living her for 10 years. He confirmed she still has bronchitis and gave her more prednisone and some cough syrup to help her sleep at night. Miles was checked out by a pediatrician and they were concerned he might have pneumonia, they gave us some cough syrup and put him on antibiotics. While we were waiting for Miles to get seen, Sofi and I wandered down to the local grocery store where we bought 3 power strips. All our electronics were going dead because we couldn’t plug them in. China’s power is 240V and their plug configuration is different from US plugs. While most power adapters today say 110-240V (be sure to check though before plugging in), we needed the powerstrips that would take a Chinese or US plug. We then dropped of Stac and Miles at the hotel and Sofi and I went with Robert to a grocery store to get a few things.
Robert called the store a “local” grocery store, which is interesting because its an Auchan that is run by France company. Most foreign companies that have been successful have adapted to local culture. For example can buy fresh live fish at Auchan and Walmart. Auchan is mostly full of local Chinese products and has very inexpensive prices. Robert kept correcting me when I would say cheap, they take the translation literally to mean low quality. After buying some rice, yogurt, bread, peanut butter (which Robert assured me despite him never having tried it that it was just like any other butter) and jelly we headed off to a mobile company China Unicom to try to get Stac a sim card and me an iPhone. This was a fruitless exercise because I didn’t have my original passport just a copy and they insisted they needed the originally, even though they were just going to make a copy of the original. After arguing with the bureaucracy for a little bit we gave up and called it a day. It had been a long one.
A quick note about our driver and translator. The driver’s name is Mr. Wang, he speaks little English, though he can read quite a bit. He is a careful driver, a bit too slow for my taste, but he gets us there without incident. Robert Zhou speaks excellent English and he is worth his weight in gold. We could have done most of the things without him, but it was immensely much easier with his help. Highly recommend him (or someone like him) if you end up relocating to Beijing. By the 3rd day Robert was no longer accompany us with Driver Wang, but he was always a text or call away. He would translate/relay questions to Driver Wang and was always willing to help.
Day Two – Tuesday
Stac wasn’t feeling well so the kids and I met Robert and Driver Wang in the morning at our hotel around 10 am. We were going to go to The Golden Resources Mall. In Stac’s research on moving to Beijing she ran across a very informative blog by Teresa Bragg who lived in Beijing for several years teaching English. She’s been invaluable helping out Stac with advice. Teresa arranged for a good friend of her’s (Shelagh) to meet us at the mall. It was a good 40 minute drive on a normal day of traffic but due to the holiday it only took us around 25 minutes to get there. This mall is massive. Its huge. Its ginourmous. Unfathomably large! It has a total area of over 6 million square feet with six floors. It’s only the second largest mall in the world, there is one in southern China that beats it by about 50,000 square meters. It’s over twice the size of the number three mall. For comparison the Bellevue Mall where we lived had 1.5 million square feet. You can be on one corridor and look for a long way and think you see the end and you get to the point and its just a junction and another corridor just as long stretches out before you. I would bet if you had all day and you just tried to walk to every store you couldn’t even make it. The size was mind boggling and it was full of people. There was a few western stores, like a Lego store, where we stopped to buy Miles a Lego toy, but there was mostly local stores. We bought Miles and Sofi a sweater at the BlaBla store.
We went and saw the foreign store, walked down the toy aisle past at least 50 different toy stores. We saw the 10 plex movie theater (showing all Chinese movies). We ate lunch at a dumpling restart amid dozens and dozens of places to eat. We saw a big bouncy rubber band trampoline thingee that the kids wanted to jump on so we waited and watch them bounce and flip. And lastly we went to the local super market and bought a few more things that I’d forgot the day before, some soy sauce (for the rice for Miles), some real butter, some zip lock bags (called zipper bags), some garbage bags (which were strangely aisle and aisle’s away from the zip lock bags) and some laundry detergent. Then back outside to find Robert and Driver Wang. This took some time because the mall is so huge even on outside that it took around 10 minutes for him to find us and then another 10 minutes to walk back to where the van was parked.
We dropped Miles off at the hotel and Robert, Sofi and I went back to the Unicom office near our hotel to try again with the phone. We got Stac and Sofi a sim card, I asked about an iPhone and was informed that it would be a two to six month wait to get one. So I just bought a sim card for me to. After an hour we had completed the paper work (couldn’t have done it without Robert) and we were done for the day. I plugged in the sim to Stac’s Canadian (and therefore unlocked) iPhone and it fired right up with cell and 3G service. Yeah! One more minor detail done. After two days we had been to the doctor, the 2nd biggest mall in the world, we could charge our electronics, do laundry, had a few things of food and Stac had a phone. Wednesday would be School for Sofi and work for me, but more on that later.