Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My apartment: first impressions

Today was the day that we finally moved out of the Fuhua Hotel and had to officially move into our real homes for the next year. We were supposed to be picked up at 9:30 AM, but our Waiban showed up early. I was packed and everything, and headed down at 9 to grab a bottle of water and a snack from the little store across the street. When I got to the lobby, though, my waiban was there, and waiting for us. I went back to my room to get my stuff, and Kirk came up and told us we had to go. We were pretty much rushed out of our hotel in a hurry and into this SUV that they somehow managed to fit all of our luggage into.

Our middle school is in the northwestern part of Shijiazhuang. No, I’m not that good with directions outside of Iowa. They told us that. When you first pull up to our apartment, it looks really old and dirty. The school’s entrance is currently undergoing construction, so even that looks a little scary. Pulling up and hearing him say which building was our apartment, I was extremely nervous. But, as with most apartment buildings in China, the inside is much, much, much nicer than the outside. I’ve taken quite a few pictures, but I left my cord to transfer them at home. I’m hoping to find one later at the supermarket. More about that in a minute.

Emily and Lauren are on the first floor; I’m on the second. I must have lucked out, because my apartment is definitely nicer than theirs. That’s not to say that their apartments are bad, because the three of us are in the nicest/newest apartment building of anyone with the program. Two of the guys in Chongqing are even going to be living in a hotel the entire time because their school couldn’t find them an apartment!

So, I’m in apartment 202. Pretty much everything is dark wood, which works well with my OCD over the mismatched dark and light wood that are in Emily and Lauren’s apartments…not that the color of the wood is the biggest of my concerns right now, it’s just a nice added touch. When I walk in, to my right is a door (that doesn’t shut all the way) that just had a little bit of a storage area behind it. I don’t plan on having enough things to fill it with, but it’s nice. On second thought, maybe that’s where I’ll put my suitcases. Maybe even Lauren’s and Emily’s if they need me to. Straight ahead from my front door is the sitting room. It has a TV and DVD player, an armoire, an air conditioning unit, and a futon. The futon is currently covered in a blanket, presumably to keep it clean…but the actual fabric is covered in dust, so I don’t see myself using it. Ever. Well, maybe I’ll sit on the blanket.

Okay, again, coming from the front door. If I turn left, there is a little nook thing where I can hang coats and store shoes. If I keep walking down the little hall, there is a fridge at the end. The fridges here are a lot shorter than in the US. And it’s dirty. Well, pretty much everything in my apartment could use a good scrub-down.

Turning right from the fridge is another short hallway. To the left is my bedroom. My bed is HUMONGOUS. Well, beds, I should say. It’s two twin beds pushed together to make one massively large bed. Then I have the desk and chair that I am currently sitting at to write this, a working air conditioning unit that is pumping out some very lovely cool air on my arms, and two armoires for my clothes.

Back out in the hallway, to the left of my bedroom, is the toilet and a sink. Again, not as clean as I would like it to be, but it actually flushes, so no complaints here.

Directly across from my bedroom is the shower. And yes, it’s a REAL SHOWER. With DOORS! It’s actually separated from the rest of things and not a hose on the wall!! In that same room, there is a counter top with a sink and a mirror, the hot water heater that I have to turn on to take a shower (which I’m going to forget to do at least a handful of times), and the washing machine. All of the directions are in Chinese, but there is a blue button and a red button. I’m assuming that stands for cold or hot water. At least, that’s how I’m going to take it.

If I go to the end of this half of my “bathroom”, it goes out to this little patio-type area. It’s not open like a patio, but it has big windows with a bit of a view. It’s my kitchen…kind of. There is a sink, a few metal shelves, and a microwave. That’s all.

Okay, that’s the tour of my apartment as for now. I’m hoping to get a few other necessities like shower shoes, towels, a rug, and maybe a fan.

The supermarket is just a short walk away from us, and it has everything you could possibly imagine. The downstairs has clothes, shoes, electronics, purses, briefcases, etc. The upstairs has every kind of food you can imagine. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables, I feel like I’m in heaven. There is even fresh shrimp on ice! If I ever get a hotplate to actually cook on, I’m going to be making so many shrimp dishes. A little touch of home, I guess!

Since we do have to walk, I was very happy to discover that I can buy some of the heavier items right next door. There’s a little corner store right next door that sells toilet paper and water. I actually just ran over there right before finishing up typing this. It’s kind of frustrating, because even knowing a little bit of Chinese, it’s hard to get around. The language is so tonal that my pronunciation is hard for them to understand, even if I know what words I want to say. I accomplished buying my jug of water and toilet paper with a lot of gestures and holding up how many fingers it costs. (5 kuai for toilet paper and water – a little more than 75 cents). Oh, and kuai is just kind of like slang for yuan, similar to dollars versus bucks.

Mom and dad, you’ll be happy to know that not only is there a lock to get into my apartment, but we also have a key to get into the apartment building at all. That makes me feel a lot better about living on my own for the very first time, with no roommates. There’s also a lady who everyone refers to as “auntie”. She basically has a room at the very front of the apartment, with a window looking out into the courtyard. We’re pretty sure her only job is to look out the window and see who comes into our building. There is also a video camera on every floor.

We’re getting ready to head to the supermarket soon, to get some food and home items. There’s also a pharmacy and a KFC right there, in case we need some American food. We had lunch with two of the men who work in the foreign affairs office today, though, and there are a few good restaurants around.

After going to the supermarket, Mr. Fu took us on another walk to show us where the bank and post office are. Then, he took us through the outdoor market that winds around right by our apartment. At first, I was a little weary of the market. Not trying to be mean, but a lot of places in China smell bad. There’s a lot of open garbage piles or just weird smells that don’t seem to have a reason or source. Anyway, the market at first reminded me of the market in Uganda. As we got further in, and closer back to our apartment, the market is actually going to be a really good place to go to find fruits and vegetables, and maybe even bread and rolls.

Actually being at my own apartment has made me feel a lot better, much like I thought it would. I feel more settled, and I think I’m going to enjoy living here. I still miss everyone, but I just feel better having my own place and not living out of a suitcase. When I find cool places around here, I know how to get back to them because I live here. The streets are dirty and, at first glance, it kind of looks like I live in the Chinese version of the projects, but keeping things in perspective for the Chinese income instead of the American view of city life, this actually isn’t too bad.

I’m typing this right before Emily, Lauren, and I go back to the supermarket on our own. We’re going to try to find an Ethernet cord and maybe even a wireless router. I don’t know when I’ll be able to post this, but it will obviously be after that point.

At this moment, right now, as I type this, I feel okay. I feel like this next year is going to be an adventure. It’s barely started, and it’s already had such an impact on my world view and what I want for my future. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m homesick. But I’m keeping a journal of all the things I see and do so when I do have access to the internet, I can remember the things I see that I want to tell people. It makes me feel closer to home, even if I do look like a weirdo taking out a pen and notebook to jot things down out of the blue. I really don’t care. I’m already used to being stared at, having my picture taken, and being videotaped just for being American in China.

The control freak that I am, I’m starting to learn to let things go. I can’t plan how the next year is going to map out. I can’t possibly now what’s going to happen when I get home. But I can live in the moment and enjoy it, and try my hardest to keep in touch with the people I care about.

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