Friday, August 24, 2012

Tian Mu Shan

Although we found an apartment right away, we had roughly three weeks before we could move in. We spent the weekdays trying to survive the heat at Esther's parents house in Xiaoshan, and the weekends looking at more apartments in Hangzhou.

Living at her parents was fine for the most part. Muse is living there too, at least for the next few months. It must be a paradise for her. There's an outside patio, four levels to explore, and birds. This actually might be the first time she's seen a bird since she was rescued when she was 3 months old. Nothing else in the world matters to her when she's watching them. She focuses intensely, making a whimpering sound, almost like chirping, as she pines for them. There aren't enough bird-watching hours in the day to satisfy her desire, as far as she's concerned.

There was also the Olympics. It was interesting to watch it from China, rooting for the USA, while the games were on neutral turf. CCTV chooses to use gold medal quantity for ranking country performance, while western media uses overall medal quantity. This meant that for most of the games, China was in first on CCTV, while USA was first on, say, The Huffington Post. It's clearly a bias in favor of whichever side is reporting, but it's true that Chinese place a heavily weighted importance on gold. Even watching with Esther, i could see her elation when a Chinese diver took gold, and her disappointment when a swimmer merely placed second.

One monday, during a particularly bad heat wave, i was told to pack my stuff up, that we're leaving for a mountain retreat called Tian Mu Shan. For about $15 each per day, we got a really nice room and all our meals covered. It was a nice enough place, well kept, and they even had wifi access. I was a little concerned when i spotted a scorpion on the stairs leading to our room, but i never saw another, so i guess it was just leaving?

Tian Mu Shan is popular with the elderly as a place to retreat for the summer months. This was evident twice a day (sunrise and sunset) when they mass-migrated up the hill to the parking lot at the entrance to the mountain.

Does it make me a horrible person that i was reminded of The Walking Dead whenever i watched them slowly lumbering in packs, sauntering off toward an unknown location?

One day i got up a little early to hike the mountain. I was told it would take about 5 hours to hike up and take a bus down. I was back in three. Esther's family was very concerned about me going alone. But as an athletic adult who lived in Colorado for 12 years, i explained i am qualified to hike the paved steps of a popular tourist destination alone.

The hike itself was really nice, for China. The few times i've been hiking around Beijing (the wild wall excluded) you end up hiking with people in business suits, high heels, jeans. This was much better. People were here to enjoy nature.

On my way up, i passed the 50 or so Chinese hikers in the first half. I ended up being alone until the top, even though i stopped for a half hour to take pictures of butterflies.

At the peak, there was a nice Buddhist temple where i rewarded myself with ice cream, a rest in a hammock, and the petting of a puppy, before finding the shuttle bus back to the bottom.

The next day, we went back home and immediately joked that if we left now, we could be back in Tian Mu Shan before dinner. Hangzhou is HOT in July!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Our Hangzhou Home

Esther and i arrived in Hangzhou on July 15th and started looking at apartments immediately. Over the next three weeks we'd see about 20 places, and it turns out we found our future home on the first day. The family living there wasn't ready to move yet so we had another month to try to find something better, but this place was just too good: a two bedroom/one office/two bathroom end unit with windows on three sides, second floor, 121 sqm, with very nice furnishing and in a good location. This place would be 8000RMB in Beijing, but it's ours for 4500/month in Hangzhou. We even escaped the agent fee by working with the family directly and locked in a flexible two-year lease.

We moved in on August 10th and it's taken about a week to get settled, but it already feels like home. Life in Hangzhou is good. We've got frisbee two days a week, poker every monday, and plenty to keep us busy in between. I've been cooking for often, trying out some dishes her mom cooks, as well as improvising some of my own. My favorite so far is the Organic Cauliflower with Bacon, but the Salmon Spinach Pasta is great too. Our days are spent running errands, setting up the home gym (!) and preparing for parenthood (!!). The treadmill arrives this weekend, and the baby on Oct 21st.

Esther's hospital visits in Xiaoshan have been easy and uneventful, which is good. The last checkup, i'm not exaggerating, would have cost 3RMB, but her insurance covered 2 of it (yaaay!) so she paid 1 RMB.

Hangzhou is still relatively new to me, but i'm figuring it out fast. The free bike system helps a lot. You put down a 200 RMB deposit one time and you can take a bike for 1 hour for free. It's 1 RMB for the second hour, but you can return the bike at any of the bike stations and just grab another one before the hour is up, renewing your free hour. It's all automated. We've got a bike station right outside our apartment, and they are everywhere. The bikes are impressively well-maintained too. Aside from the occasional broken bell or lock, they ride beautifully.

That's it for now... i'll close it out with a random picture of my beautiful wife.