Moving to a foreign country has its own set of challenges. Housing for me has been the most difficult. I can get through the language barrier with a the tiny amount of Chinese we know and by using “sign language.” I have managed to find enough food to keep us alive (mostly oranges, bananas, mystery crackers and the school caferteria at this point.) I’ve also been pretty adept at finding our way around with a map provided by the hotel, google maps and the subway map. We’ve had our share of trouble with taxi’s because we either have too many people or because it is raining and they are all full, but our plan always was to walk, take buses and use the subway. (Oh, my poor feet and legs! They are feeling the effects of walking around on concrete for three days straight!)
I am not writing this to complain or to be negative, I just want people to understand that things in China are never easy. Extra time and extra patience is required for anything and everything here. Not only are there communication difficulties, there are different cultural expectations from both sides. I have gone back and forth about posting these stories, but ultimately decided that they would be valuable to anyone else who is considering a move or even a trip to China.
After speaking with several people about how to find an apartment, we learned that there are several realty agencies around that can help us, but we were still anxious about communication because most of them speak very limited English. We decided to hire a guide instead from the pool of adoption guides that are experienced with American families and who speak passable English. It didn’t take long to find someone, but the communication errors started to pile up before we even left Ulaanbaatar.
In our initial communication with this guide we told her three things (in detail mind you.)
- We needed to hire a van to bring the Mongolian luggage from our friends house in Shanghai to Nanjing. The plan was to have Eric fly into Shanghai, spend the night at our friends house and then to have the van pick him up and transport him and our 20+ Ikea bags to Nanjing the next day.
- We needed help finding an apartment during the two weeks before Chinese New Year. We expected her to find apartments from local ads or posted signs.
- We needed a pick up from the Nanjing Airport for myself, four girls, 10 duffle bags, and 5 carry on.
Our first indication that there would be trouble was when an exchange about the price of an apartment was mistaken for us complaining about her price as a guide. We had originally told her that our price range for monthly rent was Y6000, but after some discussions with a friend here in Nanjing, we learned that we could rent something for well below Y4000. I sent that information to our guide and she blasted me with an email about how the prices she was charging for our van from Shanghai and for her serves were very reasonable. My first thought was “oh no, communication problems this early could be a problem,” but then I decided to go against my gut and give her the benefit of the doubt. I sent an email explaining the miscommunication and never received a response. At this point I was very worried that she would never show up to pick us up, but I held my breath and hoped that the good things I had heard about her were true and didn’t make other arrangements.
Then our travel saga began. Eric called while I was in St. George and said that Air China had canceled his flight from Nanjing to Beijing on the 9th of January. His flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar was still fine, but he’d miss it by about two hours if he took the flight that they moved him to. So, after several phone calls and several hours on hold, the airline changed his flights to the 10th. The night before he was scheduled to leave Eric decided to call E*xpedia to check on his flights and discovered that the airline canceled the same flights again and had placed him on the same flights that meant that he would miss his connection to Ulaanbaatar. Several more hours and many more phone calls changed the flights so that he could fly into Beijing (from Nanjing) on the 10th, spend the night and fly to Ulaanbaatar on the 11th. (Our original plan had him flying from Nanjing-> Beijing -> Ulaanbaatar in one day.)
On January 5th, Eric arrived at the Ulaanbaatar Airport to catch his flight to Beijing where he would connect to Shanghai on the same day… only to find that the flight had been delayed for 3 hours, causing him to miss his flight to Shanghai. E*xpedia also told him that the airline should pay for a hotel for him in Beijing because it was an was an airline initiated change. E*xpedia attempted to call A*ir C*hina three times and they were hung up on, disconnected and ignored for nearly a hour. In the end, E*xpedia gave him a $50 credit and arranged a hotel for him. It will cost him an addition $30 to stay the night in Beijing. While he was waiting to catch the delayed flight out of Ulaanbaatar, he also called our friends to cancel his transportation from the airport that evening and also called our guide in Nanjing to let her know that he wouldn’t be in Shanghai until later in the morning. As he was talking to her, she insisted that it would be easier for her driver to pick him up at the airport instead of Eric catching a taxi to our friends house. Okay, that works because they understand that we have 20+ bags at our friends house in Shanghai, right? ;o/
Eric pays $70 for overage on his luggage because we forgot that this was C*hina A*ir and that they allow only 20 lbs. person. (Anne’s flight on C*hina E*astern included a luggage allowance of 2 bags person, each weighing 50 lbs for international flights.)
Eric arrives in Beijing on the 5th 3 hours later than planned and after getting the run around for 2 hours finds out that the airline will pay for a hotel room, but only a shared hotel room. His room mate shows up twice, just long enough to stink up the bathroom with a bowel movement and a cigarette and then leaves and never returns. The next morning he flys to Shanghai and finds the driver hired by our guide and heads out. He shows the driver the address of our friends house again (we had sent the address, along with cross streets and a phone number to call incase he can’t find it in our initial correspondence.) The driver acknowledges him with a nod and they get going.
At this point Eric starts checking email and making phone calls, after all, he doesn’t know the way to our friends house. After about 15 minutes (the time it should take) he shows the driver the address again and asks if he is going here. The driver nods and Eric goes back to work on his phone. At about 30 minutes out, the drive makes a U turn and heads back toward the airport. Eric figures he is lost and so he calls our guide. He carefully explains to her (AGAIN) that we have luggage at our friends house and that this is why we hired a driver to get him to Nanjing. At this point she tells Eric that it will cost an extra Y200 for the driver to go to our friends house to pick up the luggage because he is already half way to Nanjing. (He is not because he is obviously lost!) Eric argued the point with her (and argue for Eric is very quiet and kind type of arguing, if you know him you’ll agree.) In the end, he agreed to pay the Y200 because he wanted to get on the road and they left for the house. It took another 1/2 an hour to find the house because the driver had no idea where it is (hello, google maps?) and after asking directions several times they found the house and started loading our belongings.
Eric thought it was over at this point, until two security officers showed up. The driver was asked to stay and we learned later that the security officer called the landlord of our friends house to find out why they were moving! Moving? Why? Apparently they thought all of our belongings that we had stored at the house belonged to our friends and that they were vacating the place before the lease was up. They wanted to know if we were removing any TVs or appliances from the house that would belong to the landlord. The landlord called our friend at work and then he in turn called his wife, who came out of the house and explained to the security officer that the things in the van belonged to us, not them. Well, at least we know now that the security at the gates is worth something! ;o)
The ride to Nanjing was uneventful, but Eric commented several times how beautiful Nanjing is! The girls and I have yet to see any of the country side or parks because we came in at night and we’ve been busy looking for apartments down town and via subway out to the suburbs.
To be continued…