The first 50 days (well, 53 right now and 54 by the time I post this)

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I had hoped I’d be writing this missive grateful for the arrival of our boxes. The delivery van did turn up this afternoon but the occupants refused to carry the boxes up one floor. With 14 of them, each weighing just under 30kg, as a retired ‘old man’ I didn’t feel strong enough to do that myself (especially as I’m suffering from a summer cold). Back in Wood Green it was all I could do to move each box from the front room to the kitchen. So the boxes have gone back to the depot and await some young strong blood to do the heave-ho bit!

 

We’re grateful that the boxes are almost here, since it’s just 2 months since they were collected. Our experience of air-mail letters is only just quicker than that and our boxes came by sea. I don’t really quite understand why ordinary mail is so slow. I ordered a printer from the USA just 3 days ago and today it arrived in Guangzhou (the old ‘Canton’) not far from Hong Kong. We’ll see how long it takes to get to Changsha, about 450 miles north.

 

I ordered it on Amazon.com (the US version) but I’ve not tried buying online on a Chinese site. Yvonne got some help from her daughter in setting up an online account with the Chinese equivalent to Amazon, known as TaoBao, and now each day we seem to get a ‘present’ for the kittens! And these online Chinese orders get delivered in 24-48 hours.

 

(In case you’re wondering, I bought the printer from the US since it was significantly cheaper than within China, even having to pay hefty shipping fees, and because the US models come with English instructions in their digital read-outs). I wish I’d bought one in the UK before we left! It seems not many people own a printer here, so perhaps there’s a supply and demand thing going on!

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The highlight of pretty much every day is (are?) the kittens we have. Yvonne’s daughter bought us the first British Shorthair and a week later we bought a second step brother to the first. We’ve named them after footballers and other cats that Yvonne has loved: Messi Jack (Lionel Messi and Jack, the 3 legged cat from No 16) and Billy Beckham (after our neighbours’ cats in Lyndhurst). They’re so cute and seem to be attached to their new parents!

 

We’ve started daily participation in Chinese square dancing (sort of like group ‘Gangnam Style’ dancing). There’s a current favourite 小苹果 – xiao ping guo, or Little Apple – is very popular at the moment, has a catchy tune and fun movements. Yvonne tells me that square dancing (more to do with dancing in the street rather than a square shape) used to be the recreation of older people but the modern dances are attracting younger folk too. There’s a nice open air square just a block from here (you see, all those American contacts have effected my language) so it’s very convenient. As a man, I get to go for free and Yvonne only has to pay £2 a year! Just an hour every evening at 7.30 p.m., weather permitting. The evenings are really cool, just less hot, so one quickly works up a ‘glow’! Daytime temperatures have been up to 38C but in general it’s been a bit cooler than usual at around 31C day time and 27-28C at night.

Dancing

Yvonne’s bought some DVD’s to show us how the dances are put together and she’s been practicing. I’ve been slowed down the last week with a minor medical problem so I’ll probably get practicing again in a couple of days. Last night we were watching the instructions for the Little Apple routine, and Messi Jack insisted in trying to jump up at the video instructor. Very funny!

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We’ve visited our new ‘house’ – read ‘apartment’ – a few times now and have had several meetings with an architect/decorating firm and heating engineers. New builds here come as basic concrete blocks which you have to finish off. So we’re getting engineers to fit underfloor heating, and a building/decorating/architect’s firm to design the fixtures and fittings and turn it into a liveable establishment. This weekend we’ve just signed contracts and hopefully they’ll start work mid October as soon as the main construction firm move out. I’ve run our ideas passed Helen Roe who has been helpful in checking whether she thinks it’s a reasonable design and that things aren’t obviously missing. Yesterday we spend several hours going over tiles and floor finishes, cupboard materials and kitchen units. I feel enormously privileged to be able to not only own our new house on the 10th floor, but to be able to make all the detailed choices involved. Of course, if it doesn’t work, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves! But we both think that it will be a super place to live.

 

It’s in a different part of town to Yvonne’s old house. We’re currently about 4 km south of the centre of the city, and our new place will be about 2 km east of the centre. There are things that we shall miss when we eventually move – probably not until February/March next year. There are lots of facilities nearby her old house, market, massage establishment (big here), banks and other supplies and plenty of tiny cheap cafes who do wonderful dumplings and noodles. There are plenty of people living in the area of our new place so they must have facilities themselves but they’re not as obvious to us right now.

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We’re very grateful that my residence permit came through early in August with only one small hitch. Yvonne’s response was that I should also apply for a driving permit once 3 months has passed. I’m not keen! It’s bad enough trying to cross the road on foot let alone drive where there seems to be little in the way of lane discipline etc that I’m used to back in the UK. The one good thing is that people seem to drive at a modest speed. No racing from one traffic light to another. I’d have to sit a written exam first and she tells me it can be done in English. Of course I’d have to spend a lot of time studying their highway code equivalent and learn the meaning of the roadsigns which are not all familiar. But I would imagine that I’d need to be competent in Chinese in order to read written road signs. We have paid for an underground parking space in our new house but I’m not really keen on using it! I’d far rather use taxis which are very cheap, or hire a car for more substantial trips.

 

The first tube line here is up and running – the East-West route, but the second North-South route won’t be finished for another year at least. It will be useful for Yvonne’s house since the station would be very close. But she tells me that locals are not keen on using it as it’s more expensive than the busses. 25p a ride compared to 20p! A little different from London prices, but then again, salaries here are about 1/10th of a UK wage.

 

I’m studying Chinese on my RosettaStone program on the computer and loving it. It feels like it dovetails quite well with the classes I was doing in London. But I’m looking forward to getting our boxes and the Chinese text books to explain quite a few questions which have cropped up. I imagine I’ll try and find some classes next month once the school/college year starts up again. I am making headway, but you’d not notice it from the amount I’m able to speak or comprehend from conversations. Yvonne still has to translate anything I try to say into a more comprehensible Chinese. They say that 2 years of full time study is required to become reasonably fluent!

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Yvonne’s family and friends have been most hospitable. We were taken out to eat almost every evening of our first week and some her friends took us on an all expenses paid trip to the hills/mountains 3 or 4 hours drive south of here. It was good to start learning a little more of Chinese history. Jing Gang Mountain was the location where Mao’s troops ‘recovered’ after a defeat in Changsha in 1927.

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We’ve visited one lively congregation where English was the main language and most of the participants were local students. I would have enjoyed going there more regularly but Yvonne wasn’t very comfortable and the gathering lasted a long time; well over 3 hours.

 

Blessings to everyone,

Will & Yvonne

 

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