Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The First Week: Meeting the Other Newbies
When we last left our heroic traveling couple, they had just been dropped off at their new apartment in Shanghai...
Carnival Garden 4-201 is our new home, and it is far more beautiful than we could have imagined. Three large bedrooms, two bathrooms, large main living/dining room, laundry room and kitchen, and more storage than we needed even if we had brought everything from home. The floors are either terrazo tile or varnished wood, and the A/C works beautifully (which we might regret when we get our first electric bill). Our abundant luggage was waiting when we pulled up, and the bus driver and a few doormen got it up to our apartment, where we were met with the lauded fruit basket, one key, and yes, the famous stacks of money. We had to count it before we signed for it. We have two beds, one "king" (which might be larger than our king at home) and a "twin" (which is definitely a double), and the only drawback is that a Chinese mattress consists of springs covered by probably a 3/4 inch piece of solid wood, encased in material about the thickness of corduroy. It is, as promised, harder than anything we could have imagined, and we are eyeing the overstuffed leather couches as a potential alternative. Jet lag did hit hard the first day, so we took a long nap at noon, then got up, put things away and took a walk around the neighborhood.
Having no phone or internet service for the apartment, we headed over to school as soon as we could the next morning (which was quite early, as the time adjustment also meant we woke up around 4:00 a.m.), and Skyped with Joe's parents, then Rhonda and my mom. We had a little tour of the local shops, including the French sponsored Carrefour, which is much like a Super Wal-Mart, except with very little English and a cat in the vegetable/fruit section. We also put some faces to email names and started working on setting up utilities and finding someone to fix a stopped toilet (the school sent over a maintenance worker right away). The weekend found us again at Carrefour, where we met some of our new colleagues and had a nice dinner at a little diner. We had an initial unintentional subway ride on Saturday evening, when the security guard ordered some tickets for us and sent us on our completely unguided way. We managed to make it home again, and had a better experience on Sunday afternoon when we took off to find the Shanghai Community Fellowship, a great non-denom evangelical church with excellent A/C (that is becoming very important to me) and an even better preacher. The sermon was from Psalm 121 and was about how God guides us through the most confusing of circumstances if we will only trust Him, a much needed word in a long weekend.
The first week was a series of meetings and tours to different places: a hospital, a shopping mall, Ikea, the health inspection (not too bad). We met the Gribbles from Seattle, Amanda from Tucson, the Watts from Australia, and just about everyone else. The school fed us both breakfast and lunch (although after the first day, breakfast was just muffins and fruit), and we had one nice dinner at Big Bamboo, an American-style restaurant in a food street (Hong Mei Lu). We managed to get our bottled water service started (through Nestle, but not much English), had more toilet issues, and everyone started getting sick. Montezuma visited most of us, just cramps and such in our house, but some were running rather high fevers. I was the sickest on our Ikea day, and have vowed never to go back unless I must. We do need a few more things, but I'm going to try to get them online and delivered from the local store! We also met our ayi, a lovely tiny woman named Luo Yan, who will start next week if we can get an extra key and door card.
By the end of the week, we still didn't have internet or phone at home, but we had our school laptops and could run back and forth for email and Skype purposes. We also got a few electronics matters handled (good old Carrefour doesn't do clock radios) in the special electronics mall, which is conveniently close to the Shanghai Best Buy for anything else. My email buddy Steve Venema, who is unbelievably tall, led that expedition, and it seems that whatever you need, Steve knows a guy. Very handy.
We got a crash course in Mandarin and received a four page "cheat sheet," with lots of phrases in Chinese characters and pinyin, the English equivalent. Our tutor, Shirley Huang, teaches Mandarin at the school and is fixing us up with her university son, who needs to polish his English, for some language exchange. The cheat sheet is an amazing entree into the Chinese world; as soon as we bring it out, smiles break out everywhere and we are quizzed (and corrected) on every page of the guide, followed by instruction in more words and phrases as our Chinese friends deem useful. Our Mandarin, while still quite pitiable, is increasing every day, and we practice, sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity, like when we went to the apartment management office to get an extra door card for Luo Yan. It is frustrating to be so hogtied by a lack of language skills, and we are certainly experiencing lots of adjustment, but the city is exciting and we are seeing so many new people and places that we have hardly had time to be homesick.