A Travellerspoint blog

Zhexiong's Neighborhood

Living on the 21st floor!


The only thing I can remember from the first night in Guangzhou was what felt like a constant reminder from Skyler that he could not sleep. I drifted in and out of sleep for three hours, and finally had to get up when both kids refused to stay in bed anymore. This made the morning seem long, but also gave me enough time to unpack and get organized.

Zhexiong lives in a gated community that includes three high rise apartment complexes, each with about 23 stories. For each complex, there are four to five vertical columns with separate entrances, each equipped with an elevator that leads to the stories above. The first floor is the lobby with high ceilings that provides two elevators and two stairways. Each floor of each column has 6 apartments. This gives a total of about 13*23*6=1794 apartments. Assuming an average of 4 people living in an apartment, the whole community would have at least 7176 residents. This most likely is an underestimate of the population, as many households consist of three generations. We have not seen many young moms or dads playing with children at the playground. Instead, it is always grandparents who are hushing the kids around. A family who lives a few floors down from Zhexiong has four small children, parents, and two sets of grandparents all living under the same roof. I wonder how they got around the one-child policy.

This is the view of the main entrance from a good-sized square just outside. It is evident from the landscape and the upkeep that the square belongs to the same entity, even though the general public clearly took advantage of the space. There are people sitting around on the benches, kids rollerskating and biking, street vendors selling various snacks and kids toys. What troubles me is the clear economic and social disparity that exists from the view of the other side of the square. In 2008, Michael and I walked into those alleys and saw first hand how different life is there.

View of Zhexiong's community from the big square outside

View of Zhexiong's community from the big square outside

The view of the world just on the other side of the square

The view of the world just on the other side of the square

Closer view of three columns of apartments

Closer view of three columns of apartments

Inside the gate, the grounds are nicely landscaped and kept for the most part, clean, with almost constant sweeping from hired labor. There is a good-sized outdoor swimming pool in the center of courtyard that is dry, with a swirling slide leading to the shallow side that was probably intended as the kids' swimming area. Now the entire swimming pool serves as a running space for the kids.

The dry swimming pool

The dry swimming pool

Skyler posing in front of a man-made pond

Skyler posing in front of a man-made pond

There is one play area with a small play structure on a soft surface servicing the entire community. You can imagine how crowded it can get: sometimes the slides are stacked with kids waiting to go down. This reminds me of the two play structures both within 5-min walking distance from my house in Lansing, which barely ever get used. I wish I could somehow move them here for the kids who don't seem to be able to get enough of it.
A small play structure that is always crowded

A small play structure that is always crowded

Skyler on an exercising machine called "space walker"

Skyler on an exercising machine called "space walker"

Retirees playing Chinese chess in a pavilion next to the play structure

Retirees playing Chinese chess in a pavilion next to the play structure

As the Chinese new year nears, the community is readying itself. Every preparation starts with a deep cleaning, and this is how it is done here. Thank goodness the weather is nice enough for the grounds to dry here in just a few hours. The low temperature here is 65ish, which is higher than the high in Lansing. Looks like we will escape winter this year for the most part. :)
Men washing the walk paths with a moving spraying machine

Men washing the walk paths with a moving spraying machine

Hanging red lantern

Hanging red lantern

Posted by suveri 06:22 Archived in China Tagged community zx Comments (0)

First Day in China

Getting haircuts

semi-overcast 68 °F

We are jet-lagged. Our day began with eating in bed at 5 a.m.:milk and almonds. At 10 a.m., we finally all got organized and decided to go out for haircuts. In China, haircuts offer a bit more than just getting your hair cut. Head and sometimes upper shoulder massages are included in the hair wash in a salon. People sometimes will go to a salon simply getting their hair washed and blow-dried. The main purpose is to relax. Zhexiong thought it would be a nice activity for all the travelers, plus we could all use a hair cut.

At almost 11 a.m. in the morning, business seemed to be slow at the shop we went to, with only a couple of customers. Evidently the business does not normally get going until afternoon, with the peak business time in the evenings. The salon is spacious and reasonably clean with about a dozen chairs. Skyler and Ellie seemed to be really intrigued by the idea of getting their hair washed lying down. Ellie particularly liked being pampered as is evident from this picture.


Here are the two kids waiting for their haircuts after the wash.


When it came time for Skyler to get the haircut, his fear for haircuts overcame the joy the wash brought. He refused to get on the chair. Skyler mostly dislikes the feeling of small pieces of hair getting stuck on his skin, which was unavoidable in his previous experiences (mainly haircuts conducted at home). Eventually I had to bribe him, but it worked. :) The real situation was actually not bad at all. The apron they used had this soft rubber band around the neck that really created a tight seal around the neck. The design is actually quite ingenious. Skyler still frowned and tried to duck down almost the entire time. The young hairdresser was pretty good with kids though. He told jokes that made Skyler laugh and relax as the cut went on.


Ellie, meanwhile, fully enjoyed the experience. She got the head hairdresser of the shop to cut her hair without us knowingly arranging it. I have to admit that he is quite good. Ellie has really fine hair like MIchael. Prior to this hair cut, every morning when she got up, her hair at the back of her head was like a bomb that went off during the night. I even brought to China the small spray bottle we usually used in the mornings to dampen and straighten her hair. The style the hairdresser chose for her is short and thin at the back, longer on the two sides. It not only suited her looks, but also her hair type. I don't think the hair bomb will go off anymore. I am quite pleased with how her hair turned out and was quite happy to pay the extra cost to hire the top guy for the job.


After the hair cuts, we went to a shopping mall to have lunch with several of Zhexiong's friends. Like everything else in China, this shopping center is big. It has a big indoor mall with six floors as well as an outdoor section that surrounds it on three sides. I saw a Walmart, a Starbucks, a Pizza Hut and a McDonalds as we strolled outside for half an hour while waiting for the other parties to arrive. Here are the kids climbing a cart that was not in use. Both Ellie and Skyler were both quite happy with their hair cuts, so much so that Skyler actually wanted to drag me inside the salon for a haircut the next day when we walked by it again. :)


Posted by suveri 05:59 Archived in China Tagged guangzhou haircuts Comments (0)

Finally Arrived

the last stretch of the trip


We got to Hongkong as scheduled, around 7 p.m. local time on Jan 18th. Due to the 13 hour time difference, it is as if we lost an entire day in transit. We went through Hongkong immigration fairly quickly, picked up our luggage. We have a total of 7 checked bags weighing 50 pounds each, 8 carry-on suitcases and 4 backpacks that probably totaled over 350 pounds, plus two strollers. It was a struggle to pack all of our luggage into 3 large luggage carts, and one heavy duty stroller, even with Skyler and Ellie pulling their own suitcases. I think we got a lot of attention just from how much stuff we had, or I was just self conscious about it. I wish I could tell those starers that I was moving my life to China for six months, being a temporary single mother of two small children that required months of supplies of pull-ups!

My brother, Zhexiong, was waiting for us outside the baggage claim. It took two 7-passenger vans to transport our whole crew and luggage to cross the border between mainland China and Hongkong. The border crossing this time is very much like the border between U.S. and Canada. We stayed in the van, and the driver handed over all of our passports to the immigration officer in the booth. The officer peeked through the door of the van, called a name or two, stamped the passports and we drove through. We were in mainland China, in the city of Shenzhen.

This, I suppose, is the most convenient way to cross the border between mainland China and Hongkong. Several transportation companies have counters clustered together at the Hongkong airport. As we walked near the counters, all of them started yelling out at us, advertising their competitive services. The company we wound up using has a number of uniformly shining black Toyota seven-passenger vans. Once we purchased our ticket at HK$150/person, we were each given a sticker to put on and were led to the parking lot where the vans were packed. There, a surplus uniformed drivers/workers loaded the luggage into the vans. Given the volume of our luggage, they asked us to purchased two extra tickets, which we quickly did. Everybody laughed at the densely packed trunk of one van that held our entire collection of luggage. It was quite a sight. They dropped us off at the border once we crossed over to the mainland side.

Luggage in transit

Luggage in transit

Zhexiong rented a 16-passenger van to take us the rest of way to his apartment in Guangzhou. We got here at midnight of Jan 18th, Saturday, Beijing time. The 30-hour journey finally came an end.

Posted by suveri 06:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

In Flight

a 16-hour flight

all seasons in one day

We are finally on our way! A small plane took us from Lansing to Chicago early in the morning. During the 6 hour lay over in ORD, we rested, ate, chatted and readied ourselves for the long haul. We did take turns as we had to watch our massive amount of stuff!!

carry-on luggage at ORD

carry-on luggage at ORD

The next flight we get on is only 10 minutes shy of 16 hours, and it will take us from Chicago to HongKong, China.

Less than four hours into the trip, Skyler said he wanted to go home, he wanted a real bed to sleep on. When I responded by saying we were going to China and we were nowhere near it yet, he asked if we could turn around. At the mean time, Ellie, sitting with grandparents across from us, started saying that she did not want to be in an airplane anymore and she wanted to get off. All the excitement of being in an airplane and traveling is clearly wearing off.


Now, finally both kids are asleep. The price we pay is that two adults are now booted out of their seats as the kids stretched out on the chairs. It seemed that standing and walking around the aisle is a small price to pay for avoiding crying kids. It is probably bad for us anyways, all that sitting.

This 747 is not as comfortable as the plane that I rode last May to China. In the economy cabin, it is 3-4-3 configuration, with a medium-sized screen at the front of each cabin and small screens in the aisle. Instead of having your own little screen embedded in the rear of the seat in front of you and being able to choose what you watch, you are stuck with whatever they care to put on. For a short person like me sitting in the middle of the cabin, watching a movie required constant stretching of my upper body, so I gave up that idea pretty quickly. I had little opportunity anyways, being the constant manager of my two kids, who obviously do not get along. :(

One word to describe the food: awful! Not that I was expecting much, but the fact that they replaced the Haagen-Dazs ice cream by a goodie bag as a mid-flight snack took that last little pleasure away. What is in that goodie bag? A small bag of potato chips that packed 150 calories, a Kit-Kat candy bar, and a small cookie, 80 calories on its own. What is wrong with Americans?? What is with the inability to think of any healthier snack options?

I took a peek at the business class while taking walks in the hall. It is another world. People can actually lie down in their seats to sleep. Even though the size of it is nothing to speak of, given how cramped the rest of us are, it is indeed luxury. What is interesting also is that thin drapery that hangs over the hallway separating the business from economy class. As light and insignificant as it looks, it somehow kept the majority of us regular people from overstepping even an inch when strolling down the hall. I bet my colleagues in the psychology department will have a theory for it.

Final phase

Skyler had a long 6 hour sleep on the plane and that put him in a good mood when waking up. He started working on his 2nd grade workbook. Ellie woke up a couple of times, and was inconsolable for a while, but finally went back to sleep for the last 3 hours of the flight. When they both woke up, they were happy to find out we were landing soon. They seemed to have forgotten all the crying, whining and discomfort they felt for the 15 some hour flight. We are finally in Hongkong!

Posted by suveri 05:13 Tagged flight hongkong Comments (0)

Days of Packing

a daunting task


I have to say one of the perks of having a smart phone is that I can add to my "to pack" list on the phone whenever I thought of something. After the dreadful Christmas break while everybody was sick with flu, my mind finally started gearing up for the big day-Jan 17th. Four adults, two kids, and one infant are flying around the world to China. I am packing for myself, Skyler who is six years old and Ellie who is three.

The airline allowance is fifty pounds per suitcase, one suitcase per person for checked bags. , seven people. Three hundred fifty pounds maximum. For carry-ons, each passenger is allowed a 40-lb suitcase and a personal item. I hope we don't have to max out, but we might have to. The city of Wuhan, where we will spend the majority of our time while in China, experiences very clearly all four seasons. So we will have to pack for winter, spring and summer, given our extension of stay from Jan to July.

I consider myself quite an organized person in general, and good at getting organized quickly. It definitely surprised me how long it actually took to pack my three big suitcases for three of us. It really is days, not hours!

Posted by suveri 04:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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