Home Sweet Home Away From Home – Part 2

I’ve just returned from a gorgeous stroll around Zhong Tian Hua Yuan.  My heart rate is still elevated, and my cheeks are still a little flush, and I feel like a million bucks!  Over the past month, Dave and I have been upping the ante in maintaining a healthier lifestyle.  This has, of course, been partially in anticipation for the inevitable bathing suits that we will wear in Thailand, but it’s also more than that.  For the past 3 years of my life, I’ve been terribly unhealthy.  I’ve picked up some nasty habits (both nutritionally and physically) that have resulted in gained weight, a weakened immune system and overall sentiments of discontent.   My health fell low in my list of priorities while I juggled my university degree, a demanding job, home renovations and a variety of other factors.  It was unfortunate, certainly, but as any university student can tell you…some times all you have time to eat (or can afford to eat!) is a burger!

I fell victim to McDonald's Dollar menu more times than I'd like to admit. Seeing as how I was relying on their coffee a great deal to get through the long days at school, it was just so easy to pick up a burger with my Lg double double.
I fell victim to McDonald’s Dollar menu more times than I’d like to admit. Seeing as how I was relying on their coffee a great deal to get through the long days at school, it was just so easy to pick up a burger with my Lg double double.

But since I finished my exams in April, I’ve bumped health back up to the top of my priority list, and I couldn’t be happier about that decision.  In the last 8 months, I’ve lost 30 pounds and I’ve lost 4 inches around both my chest and my hips.  But more than that, I have more confidence than I’ve had in ages.  Not only because I’m looking better, but also because 30 pounds is a HUGE accomplishment.  I feel like I can do anything!!  It’s such a great feeling!

So far, I've lost as much weight as this cat weighs!!
So far, I’ve lost as much weight as this cat weighs!!  30 pounds is also the weight of 240 eggs, a human head, or a flat tire!!

And in addition to all the fantastic endorphins my body releases while I take these long walks, I’m seeing more of Zhong Tian, and Guiyang is feeling more like home, as I explore the gardens here and begin recognizing the owners of the shops I pass by each night.

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The view from our bedroom window. I’m looking forward to springtime when I can journal from inside that pagoda 🙂
The night market where we go for bbq. I often go by this alley when I go for walks at night
The night market where we go for bbq. I often go by this alley when I go for walks at night
This was the view from the bedroom of our old apartment. The dome is Zhong Tian's pool and the courtyard in front of the dome is where the neighbors excercise in the morning, dance at night and practice gong fu daily
This was the view from the bedroom of our old apartment. The dome is Zhong Tian’s pool and the courtyard in front of the dome is where the neighbors excercise in the morning, dance at night and practice gong fu daily

If you’d like to see more of Zhong Tian Hua Yuan, please check out the video we made this week!  We gave a mini tour of our garden and a bit of the community park.  We’ll be posting many more like it and I’ll be sure to update you as I blog!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19M6S577mMA

But living in Zhong Tian isn’t always a walk in the park.  As I mentioned in my last post, our apartment does leave some things to be desired.  The cockroaches and grease drenched walls definitely made me want to cry, but still…there are more things that have made me laugh (and shake my head) in Zhong Tian than have reduced me to tears.

See previous post for more information on how we broke these pipes by cleaning them!
See previous post for more information on how we broke these pipes by cleaning them!

Take, for example, our walls when we first move in.  For us, it was a no-brainer to paint them, but clearly the apartment’s previous tenants hadn’t thought that way.  Instead of patching holes in the walls, they stuffed Kleenex into the holes and then covered them in tape (that they covered with white out so that the colour sort of matched the rest of the wall).  Another popular technique to hide stains and holes in the walls at our apartment was to cover them up with posters and calendars.  We had several big bulky calendars in our living room (some of them for the wrong year) and many old, faded posters.  When we took them down, it was easy to see why they’d been placed there, but we still didn’t want to put the smelly paper back onto the walls (the previous owners smoked so everything smelled).  The worst thing about this form of ‘covering up’ issues though, wasn’t the posters themselves.  It’s that all of these ‘quick fixes’ had been stuck onto the walls with scotch tape, which couldn’t actually be removed from the walls.

Our bedroom door. We took the red poster off, but the tape remains...
Our bedroom door. We took the red poster off, but the tape remains… Our whole living room and dining room looked like this prior to our painting…

We discovered soon that a wide variety of things here are remedied with tape (and I’m not talking about duct tape…it’s usually packing tape, scotch tape or two sided tape…).  For example…we had water coming into our kitchen from an upstairs neighbor. The repair guy showed up to fix it, and decided that cutting a hole in our ceiling was the best way to figure out what was going on.

For example...we had water coming into our kitchen from an upstairs neighbor. The repair guy showed up to fix it, and decided that cutting a hole in our ceiling was the best way to figure out what was going on. He did replace the missing chunk of ceiling though! Any guesses how??
He did replace the missing chunk of ceiling though! Any guesses how??
Yup...he taped it right back up there...
Yup…he taped it right back up there…

Unfortunately, not everything in our apartment is so easily fixed….before we moved in, the school had our fridge and our toilet replaced because they were in such bad shape.  Those were two major things for Huang to replace for us, so we’ve let other things go unrepaired because there’s no point in trying to fix everything when we’re only living here for a year.  Some examples…

IMG_3125
The light above our dining room table is frustratingly non-functional. At first, we thought that it just needed a new light bulb, which was the case in nearly every other light socket in the apartment, but a new bulb didn’t do anything. Luckily, as we replaced the bulbs in the adjacent living room, the dining room also got brighter.
IMG_3123
The A/C is still a bit of a sore spot for us. Most apartments in Guiyang don’t have them, so when we found out this one did, we were thrilled and willing to overlook the cleaning we’d have to do as a trade off. We confirmed with the land lord that it worked (he said it did) but we never thought to check it ourselves.  We did ask the landlord to fix it, but property owners in Zhong Tian don’t seem to like to invest money into fixing anything in their buildings…

My favorite ‘unfixable’ problem in our apartment though, is in the kitchen.  We only discovered this particular issue after living in the apartment for 2 months.  It took us so long to discover the problem because that particular light socket is an odd shape and it took ages to find a light bulb that would fit it.  Even when we did find this odd light bulb (Naveed informed us that they are actually quite popular in England…), we could only find one that was far too long for the light fixture, so we had to leave it off.

The lightbulb only comes in size 'ridiculous'
The light bulb only comes in size ‘ridiculous’

The easiest way for me to explain what’s wrong with the lights in our kitchen is to show you, so we’ve made another video 🙂  I’m going to learn how to embed videos right into my blog soon, but as some of you know from my FB page, this week has been a little frustrating for me as I learn how to set up my blog in a more visually appealing way.  So for now, just follow this link to see the silly way our lights act in the kitchen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-8MEMvYcpM

But it the entertainment (and headaches) our apartment provides for us doesn’t end with quick fixes and the unfixable.  China hasn’t yet implemented much in the way of ‘safety standards’, and as a result, we have a phone line that runs through our shower, electrical sockets hanging out of the walls and flooring that has absolutely no texture, so if you are wearing socks, or are coming out of the shower, the likelihood of slipping is astronomical.  Slippers or shoes are nearly always worn indoors.

I'm pretty clumsy as it is, so the fact that Dave hasn't put these up around the apartment everywhere to remind me to be careful is a little surprising!
I’m pretty clumsy as it is, so the fact that Dave hasn’t put these up around the apartment everywhere to remind me to be careful is a little surprising!

We have definitely refrained from complaining about all these small things to the school, because we know that this is just what life is like in China.  Landlords don’t HAVE to fix things…your lights don’t ALL have to work…leaky ceilings are only a big deal if they’re causing damage in your apartment…things are just a little different here.  But in spite of our attempts to complain as little as possible, the school’s accountant grew very tired of us in the weeks after we moved into the new place (she is in charge of fixing problems in the teachers’ apartments).  The final straw was when I told her the washing machine didn’t work.  Now, in all fairness, that’s sort of a big one…..without a washing machine, I can’t come to work in clean clothes.  I’ve yet to see a laundrymat in Guiyang so it wasn’t something we could just live without.  But, as it turns out, our washing machine wasn’t actually broken; we simply had no idea how it worked.

In our defense, everything is in Chinese, so we didn't know that the middle dial needed to be turned all the way to the left for the machine to work...
In our defense, everything is in Chinese, so we didn’t know that the middle dial needed to be turned all the way to the left for the machine to work…

We soon discovered that it would have been better if our washing machine actually WAS broken, because now that it works, we have to take the following 14 steps to doing our laundry every week.  For your enjoyment, we photo-documented the process 🙂

2 - Laundry
Step 1: Face the beast…you will be dealing with her for the next hour or so….
1 - Laundry
Step 2: Begin boiling water, because although our hot water tank is directly above the washing machine, it does not provide hot water FOR the washing machine. We can take water from the shower, but only if neither of us plan on showing for the evening…the tank isn’t big enough to do both laundry, and shower…
Step 3: Remove the lid for the washing side (because it doesn't stay upright on its own). The blue circle at the bottom of the washing machine is what does the work, by the way. It spins both clockwise and counterclockwise to clean your clothes...
Step 3: Remove the lid for the washing side (because it doesn’t stay upright on its own). The blue circle at the bottom of the washing machine is what does the work, by the way. It spins both clockwise and counterclockwise to clean your clothes…
Step 5: Round up your clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Make sure that you don't throw in too much because the blue circle will only spin with a key amount of clothing in the washing machine
Step 4 : Round up your clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Make sure that the amount of clothing is exactly right because if there’s too much, the blue circle doesn’t spin, but if there isn’t enough, the spin section of the washing machine doesn’t work (yup…spin cycle is in a different part of the machine.  We’ll get to that…
Step 5: Add your first 2 kettles full of boiling water (make sure the drain valve is closed first...). Refill your kettles (yeah, we have 2) and get them boiling again.
Step 5: Add your first 2 kettles full of boiling water (make sure the drain valve is closed first…). Refill your kettles (yeah, we have 2) and get them boiling again.
Step: Add some cold water (by hand, with a hose, because the hole kinks up and sprays water all over the kitchen if you don't hold it just right...)
Step 6: Add some cold water (by hand, with a hose, because the hose kinks up and sprays water all over the kitchen if you don’t hold it just right…)
Step 7: Roughly 20 minutes later, you have warm water to wash your clothes in. Turn the far left valve all the way counter clockwise and let the machine do it's thing for 35 minutes
Step 7: Roughly 20 minutes later, you have warm water to wash your clothes in. Turn the far left valve all the way counter clockwise and let the machine do it’s thing for 35 minutes
Step 8: After 35 minutes (25 of which are spent just allowing the clothes to soak between clockwise or counterclockwise spins), your clothes have been 'cleaned'. This is what the water looks like. China is very dusty by the way...
Step 8: After 35 minutes (25 of which are spent just allowing the clothes to soak between clockwise or counterclockwise spins), your clothes have been ‘cleaned’. This is what the water looks like. China is very dusty by the way…
Step 9: Turn the middle valve all the way to the right, to let the dirty water drain out.
Step 9:  Get more hot water boiling and turn the middle valve all the way to the right, to let the dirty water drain out.
Step 10: once the water is drained, turn the middle valve back to the left and fill the machine with cold water. Turn the far left dial about 1/3 around so that you get about 10 minutes of swishing to rinse the clothes. While this is happening, start boiling more water
Step 10: once the water is drained, turn the middle valve back to the left and fill the machine with cold water. Turn the far left dial about 1/3 around so that you get about 10 minutes of swishing to rinse the clothes.
This is what the water looks like after the first rinse. We rinse it a second time (using hot water) because I'm pretty sure the clothes still aren't actually clean at this point.
Step 11:  This is what the water looks like after the first rinse. We rinse it a second time (using hot water) because I’m pretty sure the clothes still aren’t actually clean at this point.
Step 12: Let the water drain out one final time. I should also mention that when the water drains, it goes down a pink plastic tube that leads into a drain in the floor of our kitchen. This pink tube has been knocked out of the drain before....it can be a bit messy when that happens...
Step 12: Let the water drain out one final time. I should also mention that when the water drains, it goes down a pink plastic tube that leads into a drain in the floor of our kitchen. This pink tube has been knocked out of the drain before….it got messy…
Step 13: The clothes are now ready to be moved over to the other side of the washing machine, where they are spin dried.
Step 13: The clothes are now ready to be moved over to the other side of the washing machine, where they are spin dried.
I do have to admit that this feature works quite well, and probably saves us a day or two of drying time. Oh yeah...did I mention that they don't have clothes dryers here? You hang dry it all... Oh...and the plastic piece you put on top of the clothes so they don't fly out while they spin!
I do have to admit that this feature works quite well, and probably saves us a day or two of drying time. Oh yeah…did I mention that they don’t have clothes dryers here? You hang dry it all… Oh…and the plastic piece you put on top of the clothes…it’s there so they don’t fly out while they spin!
Step 14: Hang up your clothes to dry. We are lucky enough to have inherited a couple of dehumidifiers that speed up the process.
Step 14: Hang up your clothes to dry. We are lucky enough to have inherited a couple of dehumidifiers that speed up the process.
The key is to spread out everything as far as you can. In winter, it can take 2-3 days for everything to dry, so you also do laundry with that in mind.
The key is to spread out everything as far as you can. In winter, it can take 2-3 days for everything to dry, so you also do laundry with that in mind.

So that’s what it’s like living in a Chinese apartment.  As I mentioned in my last post, we live in the poorest province in China, so it’s definitely different elsewhere in the country.  The laundry was a pain at first, but once you get into a routine, it gets much easier.  The worst is when Dave throws the clothes in the wash, because he hardly ever checks to make sure I have a pair of pants to wear while the clean ones dry.  I came to China with 5 pairs but I now only have 2 that properly fit me (and they’re already pretty loose), so that’s always a bit of a struggle.  He’s pretty happy though, because I’ve forbidden him to do this part of the laundry routine again….you’ve lucked out this time, Reimer…

We are only 20 days away from Thailand now, and we’re both getting VERY excited about the trip!  Between now and then I hope to be writing some posts regarding what it’s like to be a teacher here.  It’s the end of the semester, so as I do my progress reports and correct tests, I’m beaming with pride as I see how much my students have learned in the last 5 months.  I think it’s a good time to write about the wonderful experience teaching can be!

Stay tuned and be sure to check back soon!

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