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Monday, September 30, 2019

Happy 70th Birthday China

Photo by Lulu

October 1st is the day they celebrate the new government of Chairman Mao. Of course civilization has been here 4500 years - but it is just 70 years as the People's Republic. In school - we used to call it Red China and Beijing is draped with red and gold all week. It is 9am as I type this on my iPhone - the parade occurs at 10 am. It will be a one hour show of force. The parade is in Tiananmen Square about 2 miles from us. See the map. Only high Communist Party members are allowed inside the square. The security is over the top. We will watch everything on TV with the rest of the Chinese on CCTV1. We do have cable TV in our apartment but the sound is not turned on - the picture is very clear. We intend to switch over from DSL to cable modem this week.

The blue dot is our apartment. Tiananmen Square is the green area 2 miles away. We may see some aircraft. 

We have been told they can manipulate the weather but from our window it may be the haziest day we have had. You see the sun but the white haze blocks your view. 

We were out and about last night. The decorations are outstanding. Everything from bright red lanterns on the street lights to beautiful flowers displays all over. 

The government really clamps down on internet this week. I am typing this on my iPhone using t-mobile - our computers are stymied. If it makes it out it would be a great commercial for t-mobile.

It is day 42 for us. It is the most different place we have visited. The people are fantastic. They have respect and love of Americans. We are excited to show China to our coming guests. Now I press send and hope this goes out.  

Friday, September 27, 2019

Lulu Discovered - It Is China's - Day 39

We have been here for 39 days - and one of the things we missed was Amazon. At home in Tallahassee - we buy so many things online. We like the selection - convenience - but mainly the price. When we came over here - and set up housekeeping - we went to IKEA - and bought everything we needed at once. At IKEA - the selection is minimal - but the stuff is nice and priced well. 

After searching all over Beijing for a vacuum cleaner for a couple days - we came up empty.  The ones we saw were very nice - put they were long term purchases. We told our guide - Chu - that we wanted to buy from Amazon. She said there is no Amazon in China. They have Alibaba. While we were inline at Immigration - Lulu was online discovering this mail order place. 

She ordered two things - a vacuum cleaner for me - and a king size bedspread for her. The vacuum was $21 and the bedspread was $7. The prices online are in Yuan - so you must divide by 7. What is nice is there is no tax - no delivery fee - just the price. You just pay with your WeChat account on your phone. It is just too easy to buy. WeChat is a national type program like Facebook - except it includes banking. You put money on your account - and spend it very similarly to Apple Pay. The money blindly comes out of your account. 

Overnight the bedspread came and it was excellent. Next the vacuum was delivered right to our apartment door - floor 10. Separate delivery. 

Our apartment is 20 x 40 - about 800 feet - living room - kitchen - bedroom - bedroom - bath. There is not a lot to clean. The floor is made of polished 3 feet by 3 feet marble tiles - polished to a glassy surface. It is very easy to clean with the right tools. The apartment came with an old wet mop - but it is not my style. So I bought a squeegee with a sponge - it worked - but the dust bunnies would float around. Then I got a squeeze mop - good except for dust bunnies. Next I tried a little push floor sweeper. Finally - seeing my frustration Lulu got this vacuum - which is perfect. I will still squeeze mop  after vacuuming - but the vacuum is perfect. 

The vacuum is well built - metal fixtures - retractable cord - 1400 watt motor - lots of suction. It even has a reusable dirt bag. It runs on 120 volts AC. It would work at home if I wanted it. I would say it is Hoover quality. Big wheels. 

The bedspread is very nice for $7. It is gray plaid on one side - reversible - and plain gray on the other side. It is king size. 

I am really surprise it took Lulu this long to go without Amazon. Alibaba is an appropriate name……… with the 40 thieves. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

We Had A Bad Day - We Turned It All Around - Day 36

Immigrants trying to get Residency Permits

Our Temporary Residency Cards

Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know
You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile, and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
The camera don't lie
You're coming back down, and you really don't mind
You had a bad day
You had a bad day

It all started on Monday. We decided that we would take a 4 day trip to Macau. Lulu went on and bought plane tickets and hotel rooms for a trip to this special tropical gambling paradise. It totaled about $1400 - she even landed 3 days of the famous Four Seasons Hotel. She called the University to make sure it was all okay. She teaches her class on Tuesday and we would leave Wednesday after her class. 

The University said that all our papers were not in order for a Permanent Long Term Resident Visa. If we left China to go to Macau - we might not get back in. So our interpreter - Chu - yes she is also Lulu's Grad Asst - rushed over and we went to the police station. We waited an hour for our turn. When we got to the agent - she told us that our temporary visa ran out two days before. They are very strict about the 30 days limit. It took a lot of time because we had to fill out a bunch of papers - yes Lulu and I had to sign and date papers using Kanji - the Chinese lettering. It was like working with kindergarten copy workbooks. This was around 10 AM - and Lulu had her class to teach at 1 PM. We got the paper done - I thought great - we still might be able to make to to Lulu's class and our trip. 

The agents then said - through our translator - and now the punishment. She physically walked us to police precinct - outside the building and through another door. We were there waiting as other petty problems came before the desk officer. Chu explained our problem - we sat there two hours - while they decided what to do with us. I envisioned Chinese Water Torture - Lulu envisioned us being deported. Around noon - Lulu emailed her students to postpone the class to 8 PM. 

After a couple hours wait - the police told us we would get a warning. They said - do not ever come to China on a visa and not report our residence after 30 days. We apologized and said we would not. They gave us some papers and send us to another office about 5 miles across town. Lulu was really bummed about having to reschedule her class - I was happy to not be sent off to Siberia. 

We went to the immigration office about 7 miles away to get another approval -  We thought we were done - they took our picture. After waiting another two hours - we got called to the counter and they said we need the police report of our crime. During the wait I talked to a group of young Pakistani men who were studying in China to be electrical engineers.  Another delay - no trip to Macau. 

At 8 PM - Lulu taught her class. They all showed up - without one complaint. Lulu explained her police visit - when she said punishment - the whole class nodded in unison. The class was over and she went home. She was bummed because she realized we lost $1400 on the trip. For me - to top it all off - our wifi at the apartment was terrible. My web page was suffering :-)

Wednesday morning - the time of our flight to Macau. We were back in the police station - in front of an office preparing the report of our Resident Visa Expiration. With all the beautiful computer systems and office - the officer was preparing it in Kanji - hand written picture letters. It took quite a while. After he was done the reports - Lulu and I had to sign them in quadruple - each one by hand. After we were done - he said I spelled my signature wrong on two of the forms. By hand he rewrote two pages and I signed them again in Kanji. I have no idea what I signed. For a minute I thought Columbia House had caught up with me for buying those rock and roll records in the 1960s. 

Next - the Chief of Police - came out and asked what we were doing there. He spoke English - and we told him - we were applying for our Resident Cards. He said okay - and cleared the papers. He smiled and said to call him David and that he was in charge of immigration at the station.  He was interested in Lulu's work. He asked Lulu if she had WeChat - and when she said yes - they exchanged WeChat emails and now are chat buddies.

With papers in hand - we rushed off to the Residency Office - far away. We officially filed our papers for our Residency. They took our Passports - and gave us our Temporary Passports. With those we could travel - we are not sure if we can leave the country. On October 10th - they said we can pick up our Passports - Permanent Visa glued in - Residency Permits - and all the rights and privileges it represents.  It was another hour wait but Chu tutored Lulu in online shopping in China and she bought a vacuum cleaner and a bedspread. 

We were relieved - but still were out $1400 for the Macau trip. We accepted it as a minor price for such a major adventure in China. We would not let them get us down. 

Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down

In the middle of the night - Lulu got an email. and Macau Airlines - waived all fees. We did not lose any money. 

You work at a smile, and you go for a ride
You had a bad day

Filling out forms

Exit and Entry Services

We spent a couple days in here. Applying for Visas.

Trying to post from phone

This is me posting from my iPhone. WiFi stinks over here right now. Government crack down. So I am trying my cellular to post.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Day 32 - We Have Been in Beijing a Month - Watching an FSU Football Victory

 I love these electric buses. Super quiet and fast. When the battery goes low - they put their "pick ups" up and they touch the wires - and run like electric trains. It makes for a very smooth - vibration free ride. It is the future - all for 15 cents a ride. Senior Citizens - it is free - if you live here permanently.

Beijing Main Train Station - funny - you cannot enter without a ticket - heavy security in that low front building.

Lulu and her Grad Asst - Tu. They use the peace symbol a lot here. Tu has been very helpful.

Is is Sunday morning at 8 AM - we have just watched the FSU football victory over Louisville on television. After a month in China - our eyes have been opened to this different place. Lots of things we expected - never happened. Lots of nice things we never expected did happen.

I expected a spartan life - a dormitory style apartment - lack of nice facilities - and the dreaded "sh**hole" toilet. I expected it being difficult to impossible to find my way around. I expected being shutout to the news of the world. I expected not to be able to follow Florida State Sports. I expected terrible choking pollution - dragonian traffic - and police and guards checking our identification and locking us out of certain areas. I expected our bedroom to be bugged - our finances to be monitored - and the Internet to be non-existent. I expected people stopping me on the street and trying to be smuggled out of the country. I expected people to be dressed in flour sack uniforms. I expected my web page to be shutdown - before I could say anything. I expected my camera to be confiscated.

I could not have been more wrong.

First off - our flight over was really nice - with a bed. We slept almost the whole 15 hours. We arrived fresh. Fulbright put us up in 4 star hotels for the first week for orientation and adjustment to jet lag. Meanwhile - the faculty of Beijing Normal University was busy painting and renovating our permanent apartment. They assigned Lulu a teaching assistant - who walked us through our medical tests - residency cards - getting Internet - getting a local bank - etc.

OUR APARTMENT - The apartment is spacious and has a great view. We have a beautiful king size bed overlooking the city. We have DSL Internet which is good - but sometime waivers. We can watch our home TV using our slingbox back home over the Net. We can listen to CNN on Sirius Radio and on regular TV. We can avoid any censorship. We have a normal bathroom - our own hot water heater - full kitchen - washer - TV - microwave - gas stove - refrigerator - and a split AC in each room. We have a dinette and a desk - also a separate guest bedroom. It is normal to hang your laundry to dry here - we do it - no sweat. I do a load a day. I also hand-wash our dishes.

TELEPHONE - The real star of the whole month is my T-Mobile iphone. It is my regular phone plan from home. No changes. We pay $90 a month for two iphones - text - data - calls over Facetime. The t-mobile cellular service is so steady - sometimes it is better than the wifi of our apartment. Nothing is censored - NY Times - Wash Post - Tallahassee Democrat - Times News - Wells Fargo Bank. Facebook - Google - Wikipedia - everything is free and clear - without using a VPN. Without this t-mobile iphone service - I could see myself getting homesick. Any time I want I can see the cameras from our home - and see what is going on. I can FaceTime with my sons - their families - the grands - and friends.

FOOD - I was worried I would not find anything to eat. My diet of breakfast cereal - eggs/bacon - hamburgers - hot dogs - chicken - beef - pork - pizza - pasta - would not exist here. I doubted that I would like the Chinese foods. This was all prejudice. There are so many restaurants here - Chinese - French - German - American - Italian - etc - etc - etc. The prices are insanely cheap. In the grocery stores you still have to figure out labels - but "there is an app for that."

TRANSPORTATION - Buses - Subways - Taxis - they are all great and cheap. Cabs are metered - which starts at $2. Then it seldom goes over $6. You pay using a "apple pay" type program called WeChat. WeChat is hooked to your bank account - example - when a cab ride is done - you shine your iphone on the cab's bar code - and bam it is paid. When you get on a bus - you scan your card or phone. When you get off it charges you 15 cents! That is almost anywhere in town. The buses are electric - new - super clean - and every bus has a driver and a host. The host is like a guard that helps you on your way. He will tell you where to get off - etc. They have been very nice to us. The subways are super fast - clean - and very non-threatening. You can sit on the floor they are that clean.

BIKES - SCOOTERS - CARS - TRUCKS. They are quiet - and non-polluting. You must watch out - they are so quiet - they sneak up on you. You see everything from Maseratis to Fords. Diesel trucks are banned from the city. I love the electric scooters and bikes and trikes. I want to bring some home.

MUSEUMS - There are over 300 museums in Beijing alone. Most of them are free if you are over 60 - or a foreigner. We are here 150 days - and I could do two a day and not hit them all. I am saving some of the big ones for when our three sets of guests come. Planes - Trains - Cars - History - Animals - Money - Art - Books - and even Tap Water and Watermelon -  there are museums for them.

NUMBERS - USA has about 300 million people. China has more than 4 times that - 1.3 billion people. You would expect it to be overrun here - it is not. And we are in Beijing - the capital city of 25 million. Compare that to NYC of 8 million. We are in the top city. People work hard here - dress nicely - have nice cars - fancy condos - and love to eat out. I only left the city for one day - but had lunch for $1.80 that was fantastic. We took our friend to a very nice Hot Pot restaurant - which included hand massages - drinks - many main courses - desserts - and a guest bag for home - for $35 for 3 - no tip - no tax - you pay with your iphone. Our guest did not even know what a tip was.

HEALTH - So far we have not been sick from food or anything. They say the water has lead in it - so we buy coke and coke bottled water. The water business is big here. The air gets polluted sometimes. We have an air quality app on our iphone. We have had 4 high days - only 1 rain day. In the last 10 years Beijing has gone from Top 10 polluted cities in the world to out of the Top 100. That is because of electric vehicles - and using less coal and diesel fuel. There are big incentives to buy electric vehicles and it shows. Some people where masks - maybe one in a 100 - but I think it is more a political and style statement. They have their own Tesla car plant in ShangHai.

We are both very healthy - our back surgeries have been wonderful - no bad side effects. It was my biggest worry that I would screw up this opportunity for Lulu. I take two prescriptions - blood pressure and cholesterol - and I brought 180 days worth with me. I also take gummy probiotics and fiber - and brought a good supply. The only other drug I take is aspirin. They are really hard on illegal drugs and drunk driving. There are hospitals all over but I worry about the language barrier. We travel all over the world - and it is nothing like this. Very few know English. We have an app on our phone to translate. I write in English and it translates to Chinese - and vice versa. They are used to this and comply. Chinese people are very nice and helpful. They are used to things we find as different.

USA EMBASSY - Fulbright and the USA Embassy has been very kind. They helped us in many ways - and invited Lulu to work on projects at the Embassy. It is nice knowing it is just 5 miles away - in case of any trouble.

EMBRACE THE DIFFERENCE - On the first year we went to London - the FSU Director said "Embrace the Difference!" Enjoy things that are different - you might learn something new and good. That is my motto. I enjoy people watching us wherever we go. It is fun sneaking a little smile from a toddler as they stare. They might want to touch Lulu's hair - or get a picture together. They do love Americans! If you are a hip teenager or 20ish - you wear a shirt with something English on it. It may seem strange to us what it says - but it is the mark of being hip. China is a country steeped in 4500 months of tradition - but enthusiastically leaping into the future. Their economy has sailed past Japan - England  - Germany - Russia - to being the number 2 economy. The current GDP of the USA is $20 trillion - the GDP of china is $13 trillion. One is growing much faster.

WORK - It is common to work here 12 hours a day - 6 days a week. You see people all over catching a few winks of sleep. Even the hosts on the bus catch some shuteye. The vibrator chairs at the mall are always filled with nappers. A computer engineer can make $300,000 a year - and drive a Porsche to work a couple miles a day.

GUARDS - Yes - there are guards all over. You get used to them. At each subway entrance - there are 2 stoic national guards. They sort of stand back to back. At every subway entrance there are at least 6 TSO type guards. You do the metal detector thing - but then everyone gets a crotch scan with a wand. I am surprised they have some nice looking young ladies doing this :-) It does not bother me one bit. Each bus had a guard - but he is more of a host - talkative - helpful. Museums scan you pretty good. The US Embassy - has big security. There are no guards at our apartment - but we do have two gates that require key fobs to open. Also there are tons of cameras over here - TONS. We have nothing to hide. Only once did a guard stop me from photographing him - HALT - and I did.

This place offered some American products - like pretzels. Many stores have plastic magnet curtains - to hold the AC in - they seem effective.

October 1st is the China Birthday - 70 years ago - the current government.  Chairman Mao. They have a big parade - but we cannot go to parade ground. Only party people form all over China. I would like a pass.

 My favorite hospital - Stomatology. It means dental - I thought it meant belly.

70 years old. I am older than this China government.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Day 30 - 40th Anniversary Party at the US Embassy Last Night

Kerry - the tall women in the middle - is a diplomat -
license plate and all.

George Bush's bike

30 DAYS! 20% of our time in China is gone. It has been a really exciting experience. We have never been somewhere quite like this before. 

Last night - the United States Embassy had a big party to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic friendship between the USA and China. You may remember Richard Nixon visiting China during "ping pong" diplomacy - that eventually established the relationship. George HW Bush (41) - was one of the first diplomats here. He is like the Godfather here - lots of pictures of him. 

Lulu has been doing lots of special assignments at the embassy the last couple of weeks. It has become a second home for her. She is fascinated by the workings. 

Most of the people at the party last night were former Fulbright Scholars. Fulbright sends Americans all over the world - but they also support scholars from other countries. Chinese love to come to America to study. It was fun hearing their stories about their trips and where they stayed. This exchange has really shaped a positive view of America to the people of China. 

Chinese people love American culture. It is fun seeing Chinese teens with t-shirts with English words on them. Most of them make no sense at all - except they are cool because they seem American. 

The USA Embassy covers an entire city block. Inside - it is like its own little city. There are buildings - courtyards - statues - ponds - etc. There is also a lot of glass and stainless steel. Looking around it reminded me of the final days at the Vietnam Embassy in 1975. I could see several places where helicopters could fly in to extract the staff. 

Ambassador Terry Branstad spoke - then we had buffet food - barbecued beef and pork. They also had lots of really good ice cream. All the products were from American food vendors. They had a full line of beer and wine.

I brought along a navy blue blazer and a tie just in case. I looked like a used car salesman. Lulu brought along several professional outfits and she looked like a diplomat. 

We took the subway to the embassy because during rush hour it is much faster and avoids traffic. It is only 45 cents. After the party - we hopped a cab - and he had us home quickly. 5 miles - $5.

Today - I plan to go to a Scooter Store. It is right near the Flower Market by the main station. I want to see the different models - how much they cost - and how much it would be to ship home. I do not plan to drive over here. I am not a very brave person.

This guy had a turtle on his bike

I guess he was for sale

Open bar

Forty years of pictures

Neat camera studio

Ready to serve the barbecue

Lots of ice cream

Other food too

Fulbright published books


No one touched the sacred bike - then Lulu hopped up

Look at how clean the subway floor is

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Riddle - what Cost $21 To Get There - $1.80 For Lunch - Then 30 Cents to Get Home?

Answer to Riddle - Took a Taxi to the China Aviation Museum 26 Miles Away - It Was Closed - Had A Wonderful Lunch In Tiny Town for $1.80 - Then took the Bus and Subway Home
It looks like a B-29 - atomic bomb dropper
The museum and taxiway I walked.

I ate at the green sign

Lulu was busy all day at the US Embassy on special assignment. She said I should go to something that would bore her - and be at the Small German Bakery on Lucky Street at 5 PM by the Embassy. 

I picked out the China Aviation Museum - it is 26 miles north of Beijing - it is out in the boondocks. Monday I looked it up online and it said it was closed Mondays. So I figured it was open the rest of the week. It was 2.5 hours by bus or 35 minutes by Taxi - so I caught a cab right out in front of our apartment. I had a really nice quick ride up the expressway - and soon I was in wide open country. It could have been anywhere in the world. During the last mile or so - we were driving on open runways - but there was no other cars. 

The driver let me off - and I walked to the gate. As the taxi disappeared back down the runway - the guards told me the museum was closed until November. I am guessing they were preparing it for October - their big holiday period. It was 11 AM - the guards were helpful - they explained there was a bus stop about a mile away - down at the other end of the runway/highway. I figured I had time to kill - and there were adventures out there to experience.

The runway was wide - long - concrete - and about two feet thick. It reminded me of walking on the German Autobahn - except no cars. Along the runway/highway - there were old buildings that looked liked abandoned hotels - barracks - stores - who knows. They were just left to rot.  4 or 5 cars went by - but no one stopped to ask questions. News travels over here and they all probably knew my fate. Newspapers and TV are suppressed - but that does not mean they do not know what is going on. 

I got to the stop - a bus came in minutes. I hopped on using my bus card. In about a mile or two - we were at a little town - Baishan. It looked good - about 30 stores lined up. I figured I would sit down for lunch - check out my phone maps - and figure a way home. 

I picked out a restaurant that had a permanent sign - Beef Noodle Soup - in English. I also ordered a Coke - although the waiter had already brought a pot of tea. I figured a Coke would be safer. Of course I ordered the Beef Noodle Soup - price unseen. Both were delivered promptly. 

The Soup was gigantic. Full of noodles - a big bowl - and several pieces of meat floating. It was supposed to be beef - but could be cow - horse - dog - cat - who knows. I swear it was 2 quarts - but I finished. The Coke was a tall 1/3 liter bottle. People would walk by my table and gesture. Some would use the little English they had. I enjoyed my time there. Maybe 20 people came and went - while I ate. Many would do a double take.

I walked to the counter to pay. To my surprise my bill was 13 Yuan - about $1.80. You know me and a bargain. I thanked them - but no tipping here - no tax. If it is 13 Yuan - that is what you pay. I got out my iphone - open up WeChat - scan their little bar code sign - and bam - money goes from my iphone to their cash register. He asks me if I am American. I said yes - and said I live in Florida. I might as well have been the man from the moon. He said thank you. I said good-bye. 

I checkout my Apple Maps on the iphone. They worked fine - without wifi - without VPN. I was in a very strange place to me - but my iphone worked - I could have called my sons back home. Apple Maps said I could either take buses all the way - or take the bus halfway - then catch the subway. I decided to do the bus/subway thing. I took Bus 419 to the Train Station - halfway home. Then I hopped this beautiful new subway in this beautiful gigantic station - that seemed so out of place in the country side. For the first few stops I was alone in the train car with the guard. 

Before I knew it - I was near the USA embassy. I got out of the subway and I was right in front of the hotel where we stayed the first week. After a little snack of a chicken cutlet - at you know where - I walked to Lucky Street to wait for Lulu. As I was waiting in the upstairs dining room of the Little German Bakery - charging my iphone - I looked out the window to see Bus 419 stop. Yeah - that's the bus that started out - way back by the China Aviation Museum. I could have made the whole 52 mile round trip for 15 cents on that one bus. 

Lulu arrived at 5 PM - all chipper after a hard day's work at the Embassy. After I had a Berliner and milk at the German Bakery - we both agreed we had eaten too much. We went home without supper - we crashed in bed at 8 PM - and woke up this morning at 6 AM

Wednesday - today - Lulu will finish up her special project at the Embassy at 8 PM. They will order in supper at work. I will go to a closer museum - and make sure it is open before I go.

Nothing like walking an old runway
I was hungry but not that hungry

My cab passed Electric Power University

China Aviation Museum

The guards said it was closed

The main gate

Hero Plaques

Long abandoned gate

Gate at end of taxi way

Looks like an old shopping center

I had lunch here

My small lunch town

Main street - apartments on left - store right

My seat on the bus

Bus had a driver - guard - host

This bus had a separate walled lane

Modern Subway Station and bike parked

C-46 Goonie Bird

Flying boat
Plane with cruise missile

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