Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sept. 7 Wednesday

Found the apartment: a studio in a modern high-rise near Nan Sanlitun Lu for about US $600 a month. Convenient, close to shops and restaurants and a comfortable, well-lit place to study.

Withdrawing money from a Citibank ATM to pay my rental deposit was a separate challenge. At 430 pm in Beijing, customer service says it's still Tuesday in New York. Because of the Labor Day holiday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are counted as one day. By Thursday though, Citibank Beijing is saying it's the US bank that's placing limits on my withdrawals, and US Citibank is saying it's Beijing's fault.

A trip to the international visitor's health center at Heiping Hospital was like a trip to the DMV. You're sent upstairs only to be sent downstairs only to be told to come back tomorrow because there is no one to help you today.

Sept. 8 Thursday

At 10 am, Heiping Hospital was crowded, organized chaos as foreigners and Chinese lined up trying to get their health exams and health records in order. Some visitors spoke Mandarin but many did not. None of the staff seemed to speak English. Some people didn't have enough money and lined up for nothing. Others walked into the private exams of other people.

On the streets, the most popular car seems to be the Volkswagon. A Chinese car called the Qi Rui, or the Cherry, is also everywhere. Taxi drivers say it costs about US $20 to $25 to fill up a tank of a mid-sized car. The traffic is horrendous as thousands of new cars are aded to the streets each week: drivers say they can see the license plate numbers jump exponentially.

Lunch was a bowl of noodles at a Taiwanese takeaway in the French supermarket Carrefour. A basic bowl with meat and vegetables was just under 8 yuan, or less than a dollar. You pay slightly more for a vegetarian version, more for dumplings and more for a hot, unsweetened soy milk on the side. But it's all very cheap.

The market was jammed with shoppers buying mooncakes, plastic hangers, toilet paper, bed sheets and cleaning liquid. It's cheaper than Ikea, and some say more popular than the big discounter Walmart, which got here after Carrefour and apparently annoyed consumers by starting life here as a members-only store where you had to pay to shop.