Monday, August 26, 2013

What do you mean we don't have Internet?

It’s been 4 days since our last blog entry.  I intended to write more regularly, perhaps as often as once per day.  However, when we arrived at our new apartment, we did not have Internet installed.  Our main contact over here for dealing with “foreign faculty” issues, Liu Chenhui (aka Amy), indicated that she would have the Internet guys come over and install it on Monday (we arrived on Friday).  I began to feel the withdrawals immediately from not being able to access email, Facebook, Netflix,, bank accounts, blogger (of course), and Skype.  We were just totally cut off and knew that our family back home would wonder if we arrived safely and how we were doing.  But, we had no way to reach anyone.   It’s now Monday and we should have Wi-Fi by the end of the day, but it just occurred to me that I don’t actually need the Internet to keep a journal of what has been happening with our family in China.  So, let me describe how things have been going since we left Incheon airport in Seoul.

The flight into Changsha was pretty pleasant and seemed incredibly short compared to the earlier 12 ½ hour flight from Vegas.  When we arrived, we were greeted by Amy (see above) and Sophia, an undergraduate student who has been assigned to be our personal assistant while we are here in China.  She was very sweet and certainly willing to answer any questions that we had.  Her English is very good and the family warmed to her fairly quickly.  We walked to the curb where arriving passengers were to be picked up.  Up pulls a pretty good size bus (although not like the buses Americans would picture).  They clearly called in the cavalry not knowing how much stuff would be brought by this family of seven and the Sorensen’s (our traveling companions) family of three.  We loaded all of the luggage into the front seats of the bus and we all sat toward the back.  Most of the kids sat on the very back seat and we moving around trying to get a good vantage point as we weaved our way through the streets of downtown Changsha.  They don’t really use seatbelts in China (as far as I can tell) and it was a little unnerving to the parents to see the kids jumping around so much in this bus that was swerving in and out of traffic.  But, we survived.  As you can imagine, it was quite fascinating to everyone to look out the window and see everything in Chinese characters.  Only every once in a while would we see anything in English.  It’s a bit disorienting to be thrust into a different culture and not know what anything means.  I just tried to imagine how many written words someone in America sees every day and how many of those words they can actually live without.  When we walk down the street, does it really matter that this is a phone store or that’s a store with musical instruments?  Probably not, so I try to think about that when I see all these Mandarin characters over here.  Some of the sights that the children thought were interesting were the people riding scooters (mopeds) wearing rain ponchos (did I mention it was pouring rain) and a man carrying a bunch of dead ducks on the back of his vehicle.  Evelynn and Lucy were fighting to see the ducks, but Annie was trying to get a picture for her blog, so I think they may have missed out.  They will see plenty of dead birds later, so I wasn’t particularly worried. 

We arrived at our apartment and unloaded our luggage.  We were very anxious to see where we would be staying.  We had anticipated for a long while what the arrangements would be because the Chinese hadn’t told us much about them except that we would probably be in a 3-bedroom apartment and that it would be furnished.  Well, it turns out the apartment exceeded our expectations and we were all initially pleased to have a place that was spacious enough for our needs and relatively clean.  The ally way leading up to our apartment and the stairwell were kind dark and reminded me a little of the movie Saw, but once inside we could see the walls were clean, the floors were tile and wood mostly and that we had beds and couches to sit on.  There were some things that immediately needed some attention before we could be comfortable.  First, one of the bedrooms had two sets of bunk beds.  Sophia kept telling us that this bedroom was for the four little kids and that they second bedroom was just for Annie.  They were kind of insistent that Annie should get her own room.  We found out that Amy and Sophia had spent a great deal of time assembling the bunk beds for us.  They weren’t here when the last foreign teacher occupied this apartment, so we were really flattered that they went to so much effort to make us comfortable.  It was a really nice gesture on their part and made us feel so welcome.  Unfortunately, the bunk beds just had a piece of plywood on each one.  So, we had to figure out how to get mattresses, sheets, blankets, and pillows for everyone before the end of the day.  

In terms of the rest of the apartment, there was a master bedroom and bathroom for Stacie and I, a small kitchen, and an extra bathroom for the kids.  The kitchen does not have a stove or a microwave.  Those things aren’t common in China.  We do have an electric hot plate, which we use to heat up water.  The water here cannot be consumed because of bacteria so everything we ingest has to be boiled or purchased (bottled water).  We bought a big kettle and we use the hot plate to boil water.  Then, we use this water to wash our vegetables, to rinse our dishes, to fill up our drinking water bottles, and to brush our teeth.  We can shower with the Chinese water, but I personally try to make sure my mouth is closed until I get out and dry off.  It can be a complicated process, but we are getting used to it.  Another aspect of the apartment that is a little difficult is having to plug in and turn on the hot water heater every time we want to bath or use hot water.  We have one water heater that runs the kitchen and main bathroom and another for the master bathroom.  So far, the master bathroom water heater doesn’t work and so we haven’t been able to use that bathroom for showering.  Stacie would tell you the most difficult part so far is having a washing machine that is broken.  Amy is sending a maintenance man today to fix it and so we are hopeful that we won’t have to wash our clothes by hand.  We already have to dry them in the sunroom and it would be hard to do everything by hand.  The washer would certainly be a time saver for us. 

Toward the end of the day, I went with Sophia and the Sorensens to Wal-Mart across the Xiangjiang river.  I desperately needed to get bedding for the family and some towels so that we could shower.  The carts at Wal-Mart were about half the size of a cart in America and I was trying to buy six mattress pads (no mattresses unfortunately) and all the bedding.  I gathered everything up (I’m going to skip this part, but it took hours to find everything) and ended up filling four carts.  I needed Jay, Sophia, myself, and a really nice Wal-Mart worker to push this stuff out to the street so I could load it in a taxi.  By the time I shoved it all in the taxi’s trunk, front seat, and back seat, there was barely room for me to squeeze in.  Jay had to ram the door shut just to get me in.  It was crazy trying to do all this with small carts and a taxi.  I’m used to throwing things in the minivan and driving home.  Not too complicated. 

On the second day (Saturday), we all woke up a little jet lagged.  I think Ezra and Nicolas woke up about 3 a.m.  All of us are slowly working our way back to a normal schedule, but so far we seem to be going to bed very early; the kids about 7 p.m., Stacie about 9, and me about 10.  Then, we all wake up early.  We took those herbal jet lag pills during our travel and they are probably helping it to not be worse.  It seems manageable so far.  Anyway, on Saturday we pretty much cleaned our apartment from top to bottom, shopped for little things we needed, and went to lunch at one of my favorite places from my last trip to China.  The restaurant is owned by a wonderful lady named Liu Jie and her husband.  Chance and Brenna (the students I met in China last summer) became really close with Liu Jie and wanted me to deliver a letter with some pictures of their new baby.  So, we went to her restaurant for lunch and she was absolutely delighted to see us.  She took the Sorensen’s baby, Eva, around the restaurant showing her off to everyone and fed us an insane amount of food.  The kids and Stacie loved everything we ate (personal favorite was Guo Ba Rou, which is sweet and sour pork).  When we finished eating, we asked for the bill and Liu Jie refused to let us pay.  We couldn’t believe it.  It was a TON of food.  I told her we would treat her next time and that we really appreciated her generosity.  

Most of our weekend was occupied by organizing our apartment, walking around the streets near our home, and trying to figure out how to feed ourselves every day without having to eat every single meal out at a restaurant.  The kids and Stacie enjoy talking to people on the street.  We are drawing a great deal of attention as we thought we might.  We are quasi-celebrities as people seem to point as us and say things in Chinese.  However, many people actually come up to us to ask us questions.  We can usually understand the main parts of what they are asking and have mastered the art of saying "Wo men you wu ge haizi" (we have 5 children), which elicits expressions of shock.  When, we were in the mall the other day, someone walked past us and started singing "do re mi fa so la ti." The kids have seen the movie, so they know the reference.

 I think everyone would agree that the highlight of our weekend was when we were invited by Martin Tang (the Director of the Office of International Exchange and Cooperation) to dinner with he and his wife.  Martin is the one who initially invited us to come to China and he is an important person on campus.  We had a wonderful conversation with them over dinner and the food was extraordinary.  Some of the dishes that I recall eating are lamb ribs, goose, pork ribs, swordfish, dragon fish, rabbit skewers, soups, breads, and different kinds of green vegetables.  It was pretty exotic compared to what we are used to eating back home.  Martin talked about his various travels, particularly in the United States and we talked at length about our family backgrounds.  It was really interesting.  He had many questions and I found myself not being able to answer many of them.  One of them involved the elevation of the Wasatch Mountains.  I have no idea!  During the course of the dinner, I was trying to be receptive to certain social cues.  I know many of the rules, but still find myself breaking them from time to time.  For example, I did point across the table with my chopsticks.  This is considered to be very rude, but I only did it momentarily (like a baseball batter partially swinging the bat, but pulling back at the last second).   I also mentioned to Martin that I once ate a Chinese food and realized it was a decoration and not edible.  He corrected me by telling me it was edible and quite delicious.  So, I basically told him I thought this Chinese dish was inedible.  Not my finest moment.  I also wore a nicer shirt to dinner because Martin wore a tie last time I visited China and had lunch with him.  This time, he showed up in a polo shirt and shorts.  So, there is a certain flexibility sometimes with the social etiquette.  One rule that doesn’t seem to change is the assigned seating based on hierarchy.  Martin sat at the head of the table, I sat at his right, and Jay Sorensen sat at his left.  Before we ate, I offered Martin and Amy a gift, which is very traditional in China.  We brought them dream catchers, a description of the origins of this Native American symbol, and a few postcards of Utah.  Unlike last time, they did not have a gift in return.  Of course this is not a big deal.  I would rather have a gift for them and be safe than to have them offer me a gift and not have anything in return. 

Today (Monday) was Evelynn’s  6th birthday.  The day was kind of boring for her at first.  I had to meet with Amy to go over my contract and to sign up for a bank account so that they could deposit my paychecks.  I will be paid once per month 6400 RMB (about $960).  I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not that bad.  In the afternoon, we were able to get her a beautiful Chinese cake with whip cream and fruit (kiwi, peaches, strawberries, dragonfruit).  I don’t think she liked it much, but Ezra ate 3 pieces of it and everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  I asked her if she liked the cake and she said, “Yes, but sometimes I’m just full.”  About 20 minutes later, she was eating some other kind of candy.  After the cake, we took the bus across the river and went down what the locals call “the walking street.”  I think it’s one of the older streets in Changsha and has a bunch of really interesting stores and food places.  I had exchanged the children’s money that they had been saving all year for Chinese yuan and they had a ball looking for things to spend it on.  Stacie enjoyed looking at some of the more ornate things and I could see her thinking she might like to come back again and really buy some things.  We didn’t have as much time as we hoped because we had to meet the maintenance man to fix our washer and water heater (which he did).  Hooray for hot showers and clean clothes (even if we have to let them dry for 3 days before we can wear them.  Ok, that’s about it so far.  Tomorrow, I will report on Annie’s birthday adventure.  She wants to get a more chocolatey (is that a word?) cake than Evelynn got and also wants to hike up Yuelu Mountain.  We sure miss everyone and wish you could be here…to take our place. much are we spending?

Lucy loves these tiny watermelons.  And, they are bright red on the inside.  Really delicious.

Cleaning our new apartment.

Just hanging out.

Evelynn in her new bed. 

The four younger kids seem to be doing just fine in the one room. 

Dining area in the main room.  That's the kitchen off to the right and the main bathroom near the front door.  The tv has been moved out of the way altogether since nobody wants to watch China Central television.  I showed the kids the huge tv tower at the top of Yuele Mountain and Annie asked: "Why do they need such a big tower for one channel?"  Good question.

Master bedroom for Stacie and I.

Kitchen.  We use the hot plate in the corner to heat up water in the kettle.  We use that to clean the dishes and to fill our water bottles.

Fancy dinner with Martin.  That's Katie Sorensen on the left trying the soup, Martin Tang's wife (Lucy) in the middle, and Martin's assistant Amy.  That pitcher in the middle is some kind of bean juice (very sweet) and the dish on the left is the goose.  They bring everything out in stages, so we are just beginning our feast here. 

Jay and I aren't wasting any time.

Evelynn is so excited to open her birthday card from Uncle Garrett.

Good shot of the apartment. 

Can't remember what she is carrying, but you see this technique often.

The walk down the ally from the main street toward our apartment. 

Outside of our apartment.  Most places aren't much to look at from the outside. 

View from the entrance to our apartment building going the other way toward the main road (Xingmin Road).

Evelynn and I went for a stroll with her daddy on the morning of her birthday to get her cake.  Behind her is the entrance to Yuelu Mountain and to the left of that is the most wonderful little bakery where we purchased her cake. 

Beautiful...and the cake too.

Close-up shot of the cake.  I bought a candle with a 6, but had nothing to light it with.

Lucy is sporting a look common in China during the summer with their 125% humidity. 

Here we are at the old walking street.

Stacie's first crowded bus ride with the kids.  She was nervous, but it turned out just fine.  You really have to hold on during these rides because the drivers are CRAZY!

Evelynn got some pretty good stuff for her birthday.  There's an umbrella with a Panda face, a mirror with a blue flower on top, an instrument that seems to be a flute piano hybrid, a bracelet, and rabbit pencil, and a small toy shark that grows big if you leave it in water for three days.


  1. So glad you made it there safely and that you are all enjoying yourselves! Happy late birthday to miss Evelyn! Make sure you tell her that Uncle Eric and Aunt Summyr love her :) Eric and I are really looking forward to following your guys' blog to see how things are going over there. I have been so terrible at keeping our blog up to date, but perhaps I will be better once Gabriel makes his debut... or maybe before that... we will see lol. Anyways, we miss and love you guys!

    1. Love you guys too! Looking forward to the new baby! Yes, you must blog or at least post an awesome baby photo album on Facebook.

  2. It is interesting that your apartment and the mass transit look like a lot of the things our family (fitting kids in an apartment) experienced in Portugal.

    1. Did you guys have a subway system in Portugal. That's one thing I wish we had. We can't fit us all into a taxi, so it's either bus or walk.

  3. Kevin it looks wonderful!!!!!! I miss you guys so much already. I'm so excited for you guys though. Are the internet capabilities working as expected?


    1. We miss everyone too. Do you guys have Skype or Facetime capability. Let me know if you do. I have both on my laptop and on my iPad. My Facetime ID is just my email at and my Skype is steinphd. Yes, the internet is about 3 MB, which is just enough to do the netflix and the Dish. So, yes, I've watched them both and it works pretty well. Thank you again! You are so sweet to let us use that!

  4. Kev,
    How is the pollution? You guys aren't wearing those masks that I see all the Chinese people wear in the megalopolis cities around China. How far does $960 go per month?

    1. The pollution is awful. Ezra and Lucy are both starting to develop what they call the "Beijing cough." I hope they get used to it eventually before developing any life threatening diseases and/or mutations.

  5. Replies
    1. It's pretty nice until you realize that nothing works.

  6. I missed Evelyn's birthday this year!! I already found a Korean restaurant in Changsha, haha! - Jee-Young -

    1. We can celebrate when you get here. I saw what looks like a really nice Korean restaurant right across the river from us. We'll have to try it :)

  7. BTW, does Jeanie prefer Evelyn ? ;-)

    1. She goes by both. It doesn't matter. We usually call her Jeanie, but are trying to get her used to Evelynn too. You can call her whatever you want.

  8. Could you go to Walmart and get the kind of water filter I have on my sink it could save you a ton of work it get rid of bacteria metals cyst chemicals I could send you one or get something at rei for a year it's worth it when we where in Mexico it's hard to keep up w and everyone else has different standards at there homes and restraunts too it's called PUR and attaches to the sink even if you just washes with it and boiled what you drink it would be awesome there are straws that are filters you can carry with you too

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