Our Miscellaneous (and simple) Life

I’ve often thought about how to share the pictures we take on a daily basis.  Most of the time, there are pictures we take when saying, “What is that?”  or “Why would you…?”  or “WTH?”   Things that make us laugh or smile, or those that help us learn more about cultural differences.  Pictures of what we see on normal and special days in Shenyang.  And since I am writing this in December, listening to the scrape of snow shovels on the street, I am also happy to share a few pics from fall’s beautiful days.

A friend of ours wrote a post about their “Miscellaneous Life”, so I’m borrowing it from their great blog.  Here are some pictures from  our miscellaneous, and simple, life.

For more details on each picture, just click.  And for more pictures from our daily life, follow us on Instagram @thesimpleadventure.

Life in this Big City

One of the biggest adjustments to life in Shenyang is that it is a BIG city.  I’ve said it before.  I’m sure I’ll say it all again.  Population of approximately 7.5 million people.  400 new car licenses every day.  Noisy, busy, a little crazy – every day.  It is hard to believe what we’ve seen over the last three years, and who knows what we’ll see in the years to come?!

Over the last few months, there are city shots I haven’t shared on the blog.  These are images that will stay in our minds for a long time, simply because we see them every day under various skies and in many moods.  Images of a city we couldn’t imagine before we arrived, and now, it will always be a part of us.

Enjoy a little Shenyang in its big city, crazy glory.

Diamond Update

I should stop calling it The Monstrosity.  It is supposed to be a diamond.  The facade will shine brightly on the skyline, that’s for sure.

They have been working through the winter to make sure this building is ready for the China National Games about 150 days from now.  Liaoning Province won the honor to host these games and the city has been preparing for years.  It is one of the reasons why we have seen so much construction during our time here.  This particular bit of construction is a daily sight for us.  Tiny ant people walk along the huge, circular beams.  Welders welding all hours of the day and night.  Cranes moving round and round, up and down.  Fascinating.


Under Construction

Maybe every blogger in China writes an entry about construction at some point.  So I’m joining the club.  Construction in China is, at times, unreal.  An older 4-story building is there one day, rubble the next, picked through after a few weeks to sort the copper and rebar, cleared a week later, and construction starts soon after that.  In January 2012, International Business Times reported that a 30-story hotel was built in 15 days in the Hunan Province in southern China.  Make a joke about shoddy construction if you will, but they also reported that building was sturdy enough to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.  Watch the time lapse here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwvmru5JmXk

Construction in Shenyang is remarkable.  According to an Marketwatch article, Shenyang ranks #2 in the world in retail construction.  I believe it.  I’ve never seen so many shopping malls or retail stores.  The article states that Shenyang is planning on 2.18 million square meters of retail space in 18 shopping development projects this year alone.  Only 18?  I don’t even have a concept of what 10 square meters is, let alone 2.18 million, but I know it’s a lot.  China commands the top 3 spots on this retail construction list, and a ridiculous number of cities in the top 20.  And it goes beyond retail.  Caterpillar forecasted 10% growth in China’s construction equipment market for 2012.  The company plans to double their workforce in China by 2015.  Yes, there are concerns about a downturn finally reaching China, but growth is still expected.  More than a billion people have to live and shop somewhere.

In addition to all of this retail space, Shenyang’s rust belt has amazing industrial activity.  After all, that’s why we moved here.  The Shenyang Economic Development Area in the Tiexi District includes new construction from Michelin, BMW, NHI and Coca-Cola.  The high-tech development zone includes LG, Neusoft and Mitsubishi.  Dadong Auto City contains the other new BMW plant, plus GM’s facility in China.  Most people will read this and think all this production will result in more exports, thereby increasing the ongoing trade war with the US.  I can’t speak for all of the companies, but I have heard from employees at three of these who say they can’t keep up with the China market, let alone export the products to other countries.  And for those who think all that retail space is for LV copies… not so.  Forbes says that by 2015, China will become the world’s largest luxury market.  They love name brands.

On a daily basis, I am amazed with buildings in Shenyang… construction, rubble, aftermath, rebirth.  We are even home to one of the ugliest buildings in the world, as voted by CNN.com.  Construction seems to be neverending, or at least I don’t think we’ll see an end to it.  As I look out the window just over the screen of this laptop, I can watch the daily progression of a Wulihe business center on the river.  Looks like an amusement park ride at this point.  There are quite a few shots of this construction in the photos; beginning May 18, through today, June 18.  See for yourself.  Are they imitating the Bird’s Nest in Beijing?  Will there be any corkscrews or sidewinders when they get done?  I’m not sure I’ll ever care too much for the building that took some of my river view, but I love to watch the cranes move.

During our time here, we will see the completion of the 72-story Maoye just up the street, which will be the tallest building in Shenyang.  We have heard of people who don’t have cell coverage in their apartments on the 50th floor because the towers aren’t tall enough.  We have seen the opening of two metro lines, with ongoing construction of the rest.  We have watched fields go from grass or crops to neighborhoods in less than a year.  And we have wondered, on more than a few occasions, what will we see next?


One of the craziest things about living in China is the traffic.  In a country with 1.5 billion people and an estimated 62 million+ vehicles on the road, it is certainly something to watch.  That’s a recent USA Today statistic, quoting the number from 2009.  They also wrote that the US had 254 million passenger vehicles in 2007. 

You might have seen or read something this summer about a 10-day traffic jam outside of Beijing.  You can Google that to find out more, and decide for yourself how much information was exaggerated.  I also recommend looking a Wikipedia’s file on China traffic laws.  It was there I learned that the right of way in China is given to whoever is first (basically).  So that’s why they are constantly merging and cutting in front of others.  WikiTravel actually says that the best traffic rule in China is don’t hit anything, and don’t get hit by anything.

On a daily basis, we might not experience a lengthy traffic jams, but we do see enough craziness.  After all, an approved U turn in some intersections is from the far right lane, including for buses.  We’ve been in taxis when the driver didn’t want to wait in line at the light, so he used the nearest open lane of oncoming traffic to pass 10 or 15 cars.  Interestingly enough, they seem to be able to time it perfectly with the light.  Tim has seen donkeys pulling delivery carts on the ring road (interstate).  Chinese drivers also have a unique use of what we used to call the California rolling stop; the unique part being that they don’t really slow down to make a right turn.  And most Westerners never get used to the incessant honking.  Most drivers don’t use their mirrors or blinkers, so the horn is an announcement to other drivers, bicycle riders, pedestrians, etc.  During the daytime, t is not uncommon for me to hear 10 or 20 second honking speeches from cars on the street below our apartment. The honking is annoyingly interesting, but they seem to have some sort of body language with their cars as well.  How would a foreigner learn that?

Recently, the Mayor of Shenyang, or some other honored party official, announced 100 days of traffic vigilance.  When I first saw the sign, I laughed.  (The traffic signs are in Chinese characters and English.)  But after a couple of weeks, I actually noticed a difference.  Police officers appeared in all the major intersections.  Drivers would stay in proper lanes rather than make 6 columns of cars in 4 actual lanes.  There was a slight reduction in the honking.  And taxi drivers actually wait in a lane through the traffic lights.

Despite all this craziness, I miss driving and wish that I could do that here.  I think I have been here long enough to figure most things out and could do it, but the company doesn’t make any concessions for helping us get our license or drive.  I’ve read about how to get a Chinese drivers license; either pay for it in Hong Kong or take the translated test here in Shenyang.  We’ll see.

I will note here that I first thought about this blog subject months ago, in good weather.  We had quite a lot of snow today that iced over the streets, and we watched the no-fear techniques of drivers, bicyclists and even those maneuvering public buses.  It was an intersting dance going on 10 floors down on Wu Ai Jie.  Here is a short video of our traffic view on that street from a few months ago.  It was an interesting night.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ItEkLM6OD0

We also take random photos of traffic oddities over time.  You might get a smile like we do.

My (Almost) Daily Walk

I like to walk places.  I like taking a taxi from here to there.  Don’t get me wrong – I miss driving, a lot.  But we’ve never lived in a city like this before; where walking 15 minutes to a meeting, or taking a taxi to and from dinner is an option.  It’s fun.  And part of the experience.  When we moved to Shenyang, we had the choice taxis or a car and driver.  Friends of ours have children, and there really isn’t a choice.  If you want to use a car seat, then you have to choose your own car.  But as a child-free couple, we were thoughtful in our decision.  Why not take this opportunity to be city walkers and taxi takers?

One of my favorite walks is the one I take almost every day going to class or the gym.  I get my crap together, trying not to forget a tissue and sunglasses, say goodbye to the sleeping kitties, unlock the apartment door, and enter the sometimes smelly, always warm lobby on the 10th floor.  I usually push the elevator button before I lock the door, just for good timing.  The elevators have mirror-like walls, so depending on how good I think my hair looks, I might look up or I might not.  I exit on the 1st floor, then through the inner security door, say Ni hao! (hello) to pair of guys working the door of our building, turn up my ipod and I’m off.  There are three main people who work the door. These three men are on rotating shifts of about 48 hours each.  Plus there is sometimes a security guard, in uniform, who works with them.  I should mention that it took a while for these men and guards to warm up to the wai guo ren (foreigner).  I just kept saying Ni hao, waving and smiling.  Now, they smile when they see me coming, and respond to my hello.

I walk out the front door and across the parking lot.  I cut through the gazebo/garden area, and there are usually two or three older women sitting on a bench who look at me.  I imagine they are like most older women who gather; they are talking about their husbands or inlaws.  Across another parking lot, then through the vine-covered walkway.  By this point, I have found the perfect song in the shuffle, and I’m lost to the world.  Coming out from under the vines, I’m still in our neighborhood, so I watch out for cars, but there aren’t any big streets to cross yet.  I take shortcuts behind houses and through the stone walkways.  To be honest, I also avoid some staring this way.  Sometimes, I see the Riverside Garden neighborhood workers doing their daily tasks.  I like that they don’t notice me, and I can watch them for a moment of real life. 

I cross over a stone bridge over the once-filled neighborhood pond.  There is no more water though, and I’m not sure why.  I come up to the main gate, through the turn style, and I am facing Qing nian da jie, one of Shenyang’s main streets with six lanes transecting the city north-south.  The music muffles the horns and traffic sounds, and the staring begins.  In our neighborhood, I think people are used to seeing foreigners.  Just outside the gate, it’s a different story.  I walk along the sidewalk for 25m or so, then down the stairs into the tunnel that crosses under this huge street.  On the day I was thinking about writing this, I took two pictures inside the tunnel; one where I was alone, and on the trip back home, it was full.  Also when I took the photos, there were doing some work on the tunnel entrances, adding covers to protect the stairs and walkers from the rain. 

When I come out of the stairwell on the other side of Qing nian Street, I walk another 25m.  If I have class, I enter the China Agricultural Bank building, go to the 20th floor and see Wendy for another dose of humility and small success.  If I’m going to the gym, that’s next door at the Sheraton Hotel building.  The experiences in Chinese class and at the gym are for another day. This is about the walk, after all.

Leaving class, there is usually a man selling fruit from a decorated basket just outside the building entrance.  His sales go with the season, so I might see berries or grapes, something small that he can carry and sell easily from his post in front of the bank.  Leaving these buildings is also where I see some of the best cars.  Last week, it was Bentley convertible one day, and a Porsche 911 with a rear spoiler a few days later.  I adjust my ipod and head back to the stairwell and the tunnel.  Most days, there is a young man playing guitar and singing for coins down below, but not this day. 

As I climb the stairs on the east side of the street, I feel a bit of anticipation.  I exit the stairwell and come face to window with Louis Vuitton himself.  Well, his creations at least.  On any given day, I don’t know if I’ll see the patent leather clutch or the traditional brown leather.  Next door to LV is Ferragamo, and then Prada.  I don’t ever want to get used to the fact that I walk by these beautiful stores every day.  I should note that I haven’t, nor will I (probably) buy anything in these stores, but I am a woman who appreciates beauty in all forms, and a handbag is no exception.  Luxury abounds in China.  It is a fascinating thing.

Still smiling from the aubergine patent leather display, I am through the turnstyle and back in the neighborhood.  It is busier now, midday.  I like seeing the grandparents out walking with grandchildren.  More workers working.  People watching.  Sometimes on the way home, I stop in at our little Riverside store.  It is a little supermarket near the apartment where you can find fresh vegetables and fruits, many imported products and other necessities.  It’s like the Cabana store Gail and I used to walk to on the weekends; you never know what you’ll find, but there is always something you need.  I take my goodies and walk about 75m to our apartment building.  Ni hao!  I check the mailbox, hoping for another of Mom’s letters, shrugging if it is just something from the bank.  Then upstairs to the wake the cats, eat lunch, look out the windows and figure out the rest of the day.  I can’t complain.

Wǒ de qìchē hěn hǎo!

I am impressed with the cars in China.  Before moving here, I expected to see a lot of tiny, Smart-Car-esque vehicles.  So many cars, so little space – that was my impression.  When we arrived, I was a bit shocked at the full-size sedans, but especially shocked at the quality.  Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Audi, Porsche and more. There are so many black Audis with tinted windows that I expect the Transporter to step out of one someday. (Expect, or hope?)  And it is a beautiful surprise, though no longer out of the ordinary, to see a Bentley in front of the hotel across the street.  The doormen laugh seeing this foreigner pull out her camera when a Carrera or Rolls are parked in the drive. The first time I saw a Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade, it was a “what the hell!?” moment.  And the Lamborghini in front of the Ritz last week in Shanghai  – there were no words.  Rest assured, I wasn’t the only one checking it out.

I don’t mean to leave out the usual suspects.  There are plenty of Honda, Toyota, VW, Nissan level of vehicle too.  Then add in the Jin Bei’s and other Chinese and Korean marks that, as Americans, we don’t recognize.  Since status is so important in China, most of these gorgeous cars are new.  It has been said that a Chinese person will save up in order to walk in and pay cash for their new vehicle.  Yeah, how many yuan for that X5?

Don’t get me wrong – you can still tell that you’re in a foreign country.  Delivery trucks and vans have that cute boxy shape.  Deliveries are also made by pedal or electric bicycle carts.  Taxis, bicycles and mopeds are everywhere.  City buses too, and the subway is coming in another year or so.  Sometimes you can even see district taxis that look like Thai tuk-tuks.  And though, unfortunately, I have no photographic evidence at this time, it is no longer a surprise to see a donkey pulling a cart on a main road.

With this blog subject, I expect you might have questions about vehicle, gas and maintenance costs.  Actually, I have no idea.  You can Google it as well as I can.  According to a July article, it lists Beijing at $3.71 a gallon, so it is probably a little less here.  I could go on and on, comparing GDP per capita ($6000 vs US $46,000) and average incomes; I don’t mean to start anything. 

I just want to show you these fabulous cars!

Dan Dong and Hu Shan

Last weekend, we went to Dandong and Hushan, about 3 hours southeast of here, on the eastern part of the Liaoning Province.   The Yalu River separates Dandong from a small industrial town in North Korea.  Yes, the border.  The Yalu River Bridge used to connect the two sides, but it now ends half way long its full span, the remainder was dismantled by the Koreans at some point.  They say the Chinese half of this bridge bears the scars of US fighter jet combat in 1950.  This, along with a museum, monuments the War to Resist US Aggression & Aid Korea, or as we call it, the Korean War.  There is the new Friendship Bridge, for trains and buses. The train line runs from Beijing all the way to Pyongyang.

 It was amazing to us to be so close to the border.  You could swim across, and at some points, I think the river is quite shallow.  We were able to see factories and other buildings.  Through the telescope in our hotel room, we could also see some people and even a North Korean cow.  You’ll be happy to know they look the same as they do around the world.

About 10 miles from Dandong is a town called Hushan.  It is very small actually, but famous because there is a restored piece of the Great Wall there.  It is amazing.  The Great Wall is called Changcheng in Chinese, which can be translated as “long fortress” or “long city”.  The fortress itself once stretched more than 5000 miles in northern China to protect the country from invaders.  That included about 4000 miles of actual wall, with some trenches and other blockages for protection.  The building started in the 5th century BC and went through the 16th century.  They have done a great job to restore many parts of the Wall, most of them near Beijing.  Most of what remains is from the Ming Dynasty (15th & 16th century).  So before Columbus even landed in North America, the Chinese were restoring sections and building new sections.

Part of the Wall near Hushan was only unearthed in the last 10-20 years after years of sandstorms had covered it.  This section also overlooks the Korean border, and there are warnings about hiking out of range since the border is not always well marked.  An amazing feature for us to see was working farm situated right next to the Wall.  And yes, we climbed all the way to the top!

The other stop we made was at the Daoist Temples at Phoenix Mountain (Feng Huang Shan).  This is similar to Qian Shan that you may have seen elsewhere in the blog.  You hike for a while, then stop at a temple to look at it and get some rest, then more hiking.  We picnicked with friends, did some hiking, and in the rain, also saw much of the mountain by car.  Driving to and from the interstate, we drove through very rural area and saw rice and tea fields.  We have seen many crops before, but never those two. Like so many things seen with fresh eyes, we looked at these and remembered how lucky we are to have these experiences.


Some thoughts after 1 month

It is May 26, 2010.  We have been in Shenyang for a little more than a month.  In that time, we lived in a hotel for about 3 weeks, and moved to our apartment last weekend.  Our shipment has yet to arrive from the US.  As of Saturday, it was in Dalian, China, about 4 hours south of here.  The Michelin contact says it is going through customs now, and we should receive it next week.  Our cats are in transit from North Carolina.  Actually, they are on their flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong right now thanks to Pet Relocation and KLM.  So for the last 10 days, I have been doing a major cleaning of the apartment, watching hulu and studying my Chinese.  The cleaning is going alright, though I’m bored with that and wish my Dustbusters folks were here.  The Chinese is going alright too, and my teacher thinks I’m doing well so far.  Or maybe she is just being nice.

I have some pictures to process before I post our latest excursion, so this post is just some ponderings and experiences, in no particular order. 

… Top Ten Responses.  When we told people we were moving to China, there tended to be a lot of the same questions, and we got to the point where we could say the answers before the interrogation began. 

  •      Yes, China.
  •      No, we’ve never been there.
  •      He will be working on a new plant construction project for Michelin.
  •      I don’t know what I’m going to do with my time.
  •      Shenyang. It is in the northeast, close to the Mongolian, Siberian and North Korean borders.
  •      4 years.
  •      No, we don’t speak Chinese (yet).
  •      We will live in a furnished apartment.
  •      We can take 1100 pounds of our stuff in a shipment.
  •      Yes, we plan to take the cats.

…  Services.  In preparing for this move, and in doing research, I began using this phrase a lot – There has to be someone who does this.  For example, when we lived in France, our amazing friend, Donna, was kind enough to check our po box and mail things to us periodically.  This time, I kept thinking there has to be a service like this for businesses, expatriates, world travelers, drug dealers, etc.  And so there is.  We use a mail service and are able to maintain a US address in Miami.  (insert your own drug dealer joke here)  And unlike the last time we lived overseas, you are now required to keep a US address in order to maintain US bank accounts. So we’ll be keeping the service throughout our time here.  Friends and family members might send mail to us in Miami, or they might send it directly to China.  Purdue will send it to China.  We are still determining what mail goes to which address.  When we receive a piece of mail in Miami, the company takes a photo of it and sends us an email.  When we log on to our account, we can look at the photos and also find out how much the piece weighs. We discard it or keep it.  And when we save up enough for 1 pound, we tell them what to send and where, and off it goes in a DHL envelope.  We pay for 1 pound regardless, so we save up.  The envelopes take about 4 days to reach us, and they deliver to the door.  The last envelope included my Fine Cooking magazine and some final notices from utilities and banks following the house closing.  There were ribs on the cover of FC, so I think you know what I looked at first. 

… Another “there has to be someone who does this” moment happened last week when I googled “using email to send letters”.  My Mom doesn’t have nor will she get email, so she looks forward to what arrives in her mailbox everyday.  I haven’t quite figured out the postal system in China and was wanted to send her a letter.  Turns out there are online services where you can submit a letter electronically, then they will print it and mail it for you.  It costed $1.10 for 2 pages.  Then I also submitted pictures to walmart.com and had them mailed directly to her.  So despite her lack of email or desire for it, she is still benefiting from the internet in other ways.  And I’ll have a little less guilt during the next phone call.

… Wrong numbers.  It is an amusing annoyance to me getting wrong number calls in China.  You see, they don’t have voice mail here.  I know it sounds crazy. We didn’t really believe the cultural consultant when she told us this two months ago, then we arrived and found it to be true.  No voice mail, no answering machines.  They answer their cell phones anytime.  They text.  So in the US, when someone calls the wrong number and you answer, you say hello and you both realize that it’s wrong. Click.  Or they get your voice mail and realize it is the wrong number.  Click.  Here, if you don’t recognize the number and let it go, they get ringing and more ringing, and they keep calling back.  One person called me 8 times on Saturday, until I answered the phone and said “hello, are you calling for Julie?”  Click.  (This also helps end the telemarketing calls quickly.)  On Sunday, they called me 4 times, until I texted them in English.  They still call me once a day, and unfortunately, this morning it was at 6:15.  I’m not sure why they don’t have or use voice mail in China.  I’m sure it is something about how they value relationships and that answering a call will help build a relationship much faster than voice mail.  It may also be that they do not have the same sense of order nor interuption as Westerners do. (see below about waiting in line)  Please understand this is not a criticism, just something different about their culture.  I told my Chinese teacher about the wrong numbers and told her that, this morning, I had asked them, “Ni shuo Yingu?” (do you speak English?).  She thought it was amusing that I would use wrong numbers to practice my Chinese.

… Sterilizing with ozone.  We have an extra contraption in our kitchen, a sterilizer.  It is about the size of a large microwave and is mounted between cabinets above the sink.  You need this because there are bacteria in the water.  It is not safe for drinking, and despite washing the dishes, you still need to sterilize them in some way.  You can use a bleach or vinegar mixture, or use the heat sterilizer in the dish washer.  Since I don’t really care for our dishwasher, and it took me a few days to buy bleach and vinegar, I got used to using the sterilizer.  It has a dish rack, so you wash items and then put them in the sterilizer, turn it on for 45-90 minutes, and it generates ozone to kill bacteria.  It makes a low buzzing sound, and you get used to it.  I realized that you could also wash fruits and vegetables and put them in this machine.  That helps.  I found that they make ozone machines with tubing also.  I’m going to look for one of those.  You put fruits or vegetables in a bowl of water, insert the end of the tube, and the machine generates ozone that travels through the tube and makes bubbles in the water.  Fascinating.

…  Waiting in line.  The Chinese gather, or congregate; they don’t wait in line.  Store employees or customer service reps will serve multiple people at a time. Waiting for the elevator is a free for all.  A restaurant buffet is like watching ants attack spilled soda on a sidewalk.  And the traffic, oh my, the traffic, and the honking!  From our apartment, we look down at a 6 lane street that often has 8-9 lanes of cars.  Taxi drivers turn left from the far right lane, and will use opposing lanes of traffic to go around slower cars.  The traffic could be many paragraphs all by itself; let’s get back to lines.  There aren’t any, or many.  I believe the only reason people wait in line at the grocery store checkout is because you are funneled toward the cash register.  Recently, we went to an event of the European Chamber with other Michelin folks, and it was chaos.  It was one of those events, like a Taste of Shenyang, where there tables around the room providing information and sample food and wine.  Nice, huh?  In principle.  Imagine 100 Westerners, or NAFs as I say, non-Asian faces, a term I came up with because Western doesn’t describe those from down under.  Imagine these Westerners getting in line for the pasta station; waiting patiently to choose which pasta, which toppings, which sauce, mmmmm.  Imagine another 100 people who don’t have the same concept of waiting in line. Suddenly, the pasta station becomes this crazy place with pushing and hovering and personal space invasion.  For those who know me, you know that order and structure are paramount to my sanity.  Make fun if you will; I own it.  The driving and traffic don’t bother me so much, probably because I am not the one driving.  But lines and order, hmmm … our stint in this country will either calm those tendencies in me, or I’ll end up on some sort of OCD medication soon enough because of a freak-out in the grocery store. (insert your own Julie/control issues joke here.  @#*%&@#* – there might  be children reading)

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.