Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Good and the Bad

Living in China certainly has its downsides.
Getting around, for instance, is a hassle. Taxi drivers do not speak English. They are usually not from Beijing which means that they know the city even less than you do. If their cab is pointing north, they refuse to go south. If their cab is pointing west, they refuse to go east. If you’re the last fare of the day, you’re probably not going in the right direction.

Washing machines exist, but dryers are a rarity. In the temporary apartment, our washer actually has the ability to dry clothes too. Instead of turning the button to the right for washing, you turn it left for drying. But if you have more than a couple of shirts in there, two cycles of the “dryer” won’t do the trick. After two cycles (and we’re talking a good hour each time), I hang the clothes up on a rack for the final drying. It’s a multi-step process. You can’t imagine how much I miss my good old American washer and dryer.

Dishwashers. I’m the dishwasher. Hard to find an automatic one in a Beijing apartment, unless you count the ayi. But she comes only twice a week (yes, I know how that sounds) and I do the dishes the rest of the time. It’s not terrible, but it is one more thing to do.

The air. Even when the sun is out, I can tell by that little tickle in the back of my throat that the air quality is “very unhealthy.” Thinking of volunteering my services to the American embassy’s Twitter account.

The good stuff is a nice compensation, though.
For example, there’s Mr. Mu, my sometime driver. Mr. Mu specializes in taking around journalists – I got his name from a photographer who shoots for the NY Times – and speaks very good English. He’s super nice as well, and we had a conversation the other night about Christmas traditions in the U.S. He mainly wanted to know how much time people got off.

Awesome street food. Bob and I just had this amazing treat. Start with an 18-inch crepe, crack an egg over that. Chop up the egg so that it kind of cooks into the batter. Toss on cilantro and chopped scallions. Flip it over. Put on some brown sauce and some red peppers. Add lettuce (this may have been a mistake – but so far, so good). Put on a long, flat rice cake. Fold half the crepe up over, cut the rice cake, fold again. The result is a delicious sort of breakfast sandwich for 4 quai (63 cents). It was so huge that Bob and I split it and I won’t feel hungry for the rest of the day.

The service sector is pretty impressive. I ordered theater tickets for a play when I first got here, and they wanted to know where they should deliver them.

And yesterday, Joanna and I went to get manicures. As we were leaving, the owner came over to tell us that the manicure place, which is also a coffee shop and a bar, would come to our apartment to do manis and pedis, at no extra cost. Manicures cost 70 quai, which is $11. So I could get a pedicure while eating pizza and drinking beer, or a mani and a mojito. Imagine what something like that would cost in the States, if it were even available.

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