Monday, December 22, 2008

Paying the Rent

Today I paid my rent all by myself. It feels silly to be proud of something so mundane, but I am.

My landlord wants to be paid via bank wire transfer, and the information is laid out in the lease. He uses the same bank that I do, just a different branch.

This afternoon I went to my branch, with a copy of my lease and five figures worth of RMB, in cash. Everything is cash around here, and few places take credit cards that I haven't had to sign my name in public in months, so that isn't a big deal. I showed my bank card, and my lease, and told the bank manager (the only person who didn't giggle uncomfortable or just stare at me when I walked in) that I needed to make a wire transfer. He used my lease to copy the account information onto the transaction slip while I stood by and watched, grateful for his assistance. I'm willing to fill out the slip but I can't read it, and if I tried to write in Chinese characters the bank teller probably wouldn't be able to understand it. After the manager filled out the slip I was given a paper slip with my queue number and went to the waiting area.

When my number was called I handed the paper slip and the large pile of 100 yuan notes to the teller, along with my bank card. He placed the cash in a counting machine to confirm the amount, typed the information into the computer, had me sign a slip confirming the transaction and then gave me the receipt. Fairly simple, really, but still daunting without language skills to facilitate.


The mercury is dipping lower and lower on the thermometer recently. Apartments are warm, often overheated, but so dry that your skin itches unless you slather on moisturizing lotion almost constantly. Someone I know has five humidifiers set up in his room but his skin still hurts.

Yesterday I ventured out into the cold to look at winter coats and the streets were almost empty. Friends are canceling social engagements so as not to have to venture out into the wind.

The blasting cold will only last a few more days before we get some respite. I hope. In the meantime I'm wearing lots of layers and have developed a new appreciation for some of my warmest clothing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Expat Life

This weekend I was at a dance party filled with expats from around the world. One of the DJs is the boyfriend of a friend and the music promised to be good. The dance floor was crowded with people from all over Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. The dance floor was still crowded when my friends and I left, shortly after 4am.

At one point in the evening a friend pointed out that one of the usual expats was missing. He had gone down to Thailand last week for a beach holiday. Usually that's entirely unnoteworthy. However, Thailand has been experiencing a lot of political unrest and the airports were shut down. In an attempt to return to Beijing the man we know took a 14 hour bus ride from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, where he and others who had been stranded in Thailand tried to book tickets on overcrowded flights into China.

He was never in any physical danger, just inconvenienced. Still, his experience is a good reminder to all that we need to be mindful of political realities as we plan our weekend trips and short jaunts to fun places.