Does the Dead Pigeon Come with the Apartment? (Shenyang)

bya Gabrielle at 7:27 AM

The dead pigeon chilling above Christine’s squatting toilet. How cool is that?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I said that we found a dead pigeon in our co-workers apartment the day we arrived in Shenyang. Being the picture taking Queen that I am, I couldn’t pass up a photo opportunity. As important as the fact is that we actually found a dead pigeon in her apartment, I think the story of how we found the pigeon is just as important. So I will stop delaying and get to the goods.
We arrived at the train station right on schedule – 7:00 am sharp. If it hadn’t been for everyone getting off the train,I don’t think we would have known it was our stop. No one called out “Last stop” or “We’re here” but when we noticed we were the last ones remaining in our car, we decided it best to follow the crowd. Outside we found Richard and a full entourage of Chinese men waiting to help take our luggage to the cars waiting out front of the station. We of course had too much luggage for just one car, so they had to flag down a taxi or two. I took my computer bag and let them do what they wanted with my suitcase. I waved goodbye to it just in case it went in the taxi and the taxi never went to where it was supposed to.
I was impressed that the principal of our new school, Mr. Zhao, showed up to shake our hands. The only person who met us in Shanghai when we landed was some woman named Cherry who really had no knowledge of the school in Fuyang. She just happened to be the person in charge of making sure we got to Hangzhou to get our paper work in order. So, to see the principal the first instance that we stepped on Shenyang soil made it seem that we were having a promising start. This was an assumption on my part – and we all know what assuming does. As we walked the principal told Richard in Chinese to tell us in English that the train station had been built by the Japanese. Shenyang’s history is long, and since I’ve never been a history buff, I would be wrong to try to describe to you how the Japanese came to reside in Shenyang. If you’re interested, I think http://www.wikipedia.com/ says something about it. But, anyway, on with the story.
The ride to our apartment wasn’t a very long one. After about 15 minutes the car pulled in front of a run down set of apartments. We all sort of looked at each other and hoped that the inside was a much better story than what the outside was telling us. The snow storm that had hit a week earlier was still quite visible. Snow was piled up sky high on either side of where the cars had once been parked. Needless to say, it was quite hazardous walking to the foot of the stairs of our apartment building. I told Phil and Christine(our new friend and co-worker) that the outside of our apartment in Fuyang looked like total crap, but that the inside turned out to be awesome. They laughed and said not to get my hopes up.
Christine’s apartment was on the first floor and ours was on the second. We waited behind Christine as they opened the door for her. Her front door was quiet old and looked like it was ready to fall of it’s hinges. It had definitely seen better days. As they opened the door, someone motioned us to follow them up one more flight. We were able to peer in the door as we walked past it and what we saw made us cringe. “Well,” Phil said, “this is exactly what I expected when I came to China.” What he expected was the worst possible scenario and if the apartment looked like the little piece we saw, then this was the worst possible scenario.
Half way up to our apartment I heard Christine yell, “No, Richard . . . this will not work! This will not work at all!” She said this with so horror in her voice that I no longer had any idea what to expect as they turned the key and opened our door. It didn’t take long to understand why Christine had made such a fuss. I think maybe less than a second.
Our apartment was dark and dirty beyond words. Phil later said that he could hear his mother say in his ear, “Oh, Philby, no,” and that is how he knew that the apartment they were trying to provide us was truly the pits, and quiet possibly hell.

There were several inches of dust covering every surface that we could see. Dust bunnies ran like tumble weeds across the floor as our luggage was dragged in and laid down. I was speechless. Phil was speechless. There was nothing that we could say. We were dumbfounded. Shocked. I tried blinking, pinching myself, in hopes that it was just a bad dream, but it was real. All to real.

We didn’t have a refrigerator. There was no table or chairs, or any other furniture for that matter. I couldn’t see a stove at first, but we found one sitting on top of a bucket on the “balcony”. We would have had to squat to use it and would have felt quiet primitive doing so. It reminded me of one of those portable stoves that you take camping with you, except that this wasn’t a campground. This was supposed to be our home. I only peered in the bathroom, afraid of what I might find, and it didn’t look as bad as the front room, but of course, I only took a peek. The only place that could have been deemed a home was our bedroom. For some reason this particular part of the apartment was bright and somewhat clean, but it was far from homey. It’s just sad that the only thing nice we could say while standing there was, “Hey, at least we have a TV.” I don’t even know if it worked. We weren’t there long enough to found out.

Christine came running up the stairs and was very articulate about how much she detested the place and made sure to let everyone including Richard and the principal. We just nodded in agreement and decided to watch the show. We were still in shock. That’s when we found out that Christine didn’t have a western toilet and that there was a dead bird right above it. Now, squatting toilets aren’t as bad as they seem, but being western, it nice at least to use a familiar toilet after a long days work. When it comes to birds – both dead and alive – they sure as heck don’t belong in the bathroom. Richard tired convincing that the bird was fake. I knew better. I worked long enough at Carolina Wildlife Care to know the difference between a fake and real tweety.

There was a lot of discussion. Richard and the Principle talked for a long while, and every now and then Richard would ask a question. Meanwhile, Christine had disappeared and I had no idea where she had gone. At one point, Richard said, “How was your apartment in Fuyang?” Phil said, “Better than this.” I said, “I’ve got pictures.” They went back to talking in Chinese. When Christine hadn’t come back in the room I decided to go try and find here. I looked in her apartment, but no one was in there. I went down to the ground floor to see if she might be out there, and that is when I saw here dragging her 20 KG suitcase back out to the road and throwing it into the car we had come in. Christine was obviously not staying. I ran over to her and asked what in the world she was doing. “Go get your stuff,” she said. “We’re leaving.”

I ran back upstairs to find Richard and the Principal still talking everything out. Christine wasn’t too far behind me. Richard asked if it was OK to stay here for the next few days until they found something more suitable. Christine’s response, “NO!” Our response, “….” He then continued to say that the school thought since these conditions were OK for Chinese people, that it certainly should have been OK for us. I’ve met a lot of different types of Chinese people – poor, middle class, and rich beyond numbers, and none of them had something quiet like this. There was a lot more talk, some bargaining, and eventually Richard or the Principal gave in and said that we would be taken to a hotel for the night until better apartments could be arranged.

And that’s what they did. They drove us down the street and walked into a few hotels until they found one that would take foreigners that didn’t have passports(Richard had taken ours to get our resident permit). The one that they picked out for us was better by leaps and bounds than the apartment. We would have lived there if it hadn’t been for the inability to take hot showers. Besides that one detail, the place was great. I didn’t think it possible, but I think that the bed in the room was actually softer than the one I use back home – and that one is pretty darn soft.
And I guess everything that happened beyond that doesn’t pertain to this particular post. I’ll have other stories about Shenyang up soon.

Until then
– G

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The Road We’ve Traveled.

bya Gabrielle at 6:11 AM

Ah. No more planes, buses, trains or automobiles. I never thought I would despise traveling so much or enjoy the pleasures of home like I do now. It’s so nice to know that my home will be nice and stable for the next three months(at least) and that it won’t have wings, tires, shake, or have the possibility of crashing. We’ve only been here four days now and I’ve already dug my feet into the ground and started growing roots. It’s either going to take all of the men, women, and children of China ripping me up and dragging me out or a fierce typhoon to make me leave Xiamen.For those of you who have just arrived or missed some of the posts that talked about our crazy trip that bounced us all over China, let me bring you up to speed. For those who know all about it, take a look at the map above and get a good idea of just how far we’ve gone is such a little amount of time. I know think I can say that I have been to more places in China, than I can say I’ve been in my own country. There is something wrong about that, I think.

So, if you take a look at the map above, you will see a whole bunch of black lines going from one corner of China, one city at a time, to the other corner of China. Now you can understand my hatred for traveling. I think anyone would have a sour look upon their face if they had just gone through what we have. I’m just a little sad that I didn’t make it any further west. I mean, if you are going to bounce us around China, you could have at least bounced us in all of the cardinal directions! :)Alright, hopefully, this final explanation of everywhere we’ve been will not become any bigger than it has. Every time I’ve thought its come to an end, something else has happened. This time though, I think the insanity has finally settled to the bottom of the ocean and won’t be tempted to show it’s evil face again.

From the top:

Fuyang to Hangzhou – by bus – 1 hour
Hangzhou to Beijing – by train – 14 hours – soft seat
Beijing to Shenzhen – by plane – 4 hours
Shenzhen to Hong Kong – by “train” – 1 hour
Hong Kong to Shenzhen – by “train” – 1 hour
Shenzhen to Hangzhou – by plane – 2 hours
Hangzhou to Tunxi – by bus – 2.5 hours
Tunxi to Huang Shan – by bus – 1.5 hours
Huang Shan to Tunxi – by bus – 1.5 hours
Tunxi to Hangzhou – by bus – 2.5 hours
Hangzhou to Beijing – by plane – 2 hours
1st attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – 2 hours of sitting – Freak snow storm
2nd attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – Flight canceled
3rd attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – 14 hours of sitting for a one hour flight
4th attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by train – soft sleeper – 8 hours
Shenyang to Beijing – by train – soft seat – 9.5 hours
Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – 1 hour
Shenyang to Xiamen – by plane – 5.5 hours (delay and stop-over)

That’s about 70 hours of traveling and is probably pretty accurate, but I wouldn’t doubt it if it was actually more. I’m probably missing a bus ride or something in there somewhere. The worst part about it is that the only places we had actually planned on going after our contract was up in January was Huang Shan, Beijing, and of course Shenyang. It is true that we got to see a lot of China, but almost everywhere we went, we were trying to get important things done so that we could stay in China for the following semester. Because of that, we missed a lot of cool things in the cities that we were able to go. Maybe I will win the lottery or something, and be able to go back and enjoy them all at a much more leisurely pace. Heh, that would be nice.

And after all of that, there isn’t much more to say on that subject. I guess that chapter of my life is over and it is time to move on to the next one. As crazy as this chapter was, I sure got some crazy stories out of it – that’s for sure. And even though the experience at the time frustrated the living hell out of me, I know that I will have a good laugh when I’m 60 and sipping sweet tea on my front porch. . . .”Hey, Phil, do you remember the time we got bounced all over China.”

I have a feeling that Xiamen is going to be good to us.

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