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Published: April 7th 2008
Several people have asked me how China differs from where we were. Well, in my after dinner reflecting mood, here goes.
Definitely the first thing that stands out is the air quality. Let's get that over with at the beginning. We have got used to it but it is always there. The sun is rarely bright when it is low in the sky; clear blue skies are few and far between but they do occur on occasion. There is always a haze in the air that varies from thick to almost invisible. It doesn't smell, is not really irritating, and is rarely a bother. It is just always present. Having said that, the country itself is quite clean. Because of the incredibly cheap cost of labour, there is an army of people cleaning everything in sight from dawn to dusk. In the early morning, when I first get up and look out the window down onto the street as I am cooking or getting ready for school, the first signs of life already are appearing. Streets and sidewalks are being swept, trash cans are being scrubbed, the place is bustling at 6:00 am.
At school, the saga continues. Day in and day out, the hallways and floors are being swept and mopped. It is a non-stop process. As I walk around the school, I am forever avoiding somebody cleaning. Outside, there has been another group recently repairing broken tiles or patching cracks in the cement. The same is occurring at most malls we go to. Most of these people are working for pennies and are always available. This week, for the first time, we had "professional cleaners" arrive which did a once over on everything. They come in for a day or two and leave. Apparently, they are better trained and are called in every so often to do a thorough job of everything. But......get this.....classrooms are not touched. It is up to the teacher and their students to keep the classrooms clean. That has definitely been a new experience for me! I recently managed to get a mop, broom and dustpan so I am now set to clean for the rest of the year. And while we are on the subject of classrooms...they are the only place with heaters (and air conditioners). During the cold months, the hallways are chilly but once you get into the classrooms everything is fine. I suppose for a climate where for nine months out of the year, it is hot, this sort of makes sense!
The next thing is cost. Cheap, cheap, cheap. That is the only way to describe it. Take any average price in Canada and divide by at least two, and on many occasions, as much as seven and you have the cost here. A great meal for two with beer is often under $10. Nice shoes and boots can be purchased for under $20, Budweiser is $2-3 for a six pack. And anything you buy on the street is even cheaper. Street food, which is always incredible and very popular, is super-cheap. Of course, if you go to Macdonalds or KFC, you end up paying almost the equivalent of North American prices. But the one thing that comes along with everything you buy is service, as I have mentioned in previous entries. People bend over backwards to serve you everywhere you go. They are polite, friendly, and try to figure out exactly what you want and find it for you. It doesn't matter if it is a little one person shop or a department store, service with a smile is always a big part of the equation.
Yesterday we walked down the street to our neighbourhood hair dresser and both got haircuts (and Nancy got a little dye job as well). It was an experience. They apologized because I had to wait for 10 minutes before they could start on my cut. While I waited, someone brought me a glass of hot water (always hot, never cold!!), and a couple of magazines to read. The process started out with a wonderful head massage and wash. Then it was on to the chair for the haircut by another person. He spent a good 45 minutes cutting and checking every little hair with input from a couple of other people. Once the cut was over, it was off to another chair for another rinse and dry. Then there was a final inspection and touch up to any little hairs that were out of place after the final rinse. For all this, I had to fork out the grand sum of about 20 kwai ( the equivalent of maybe $3). And this was a beautiful upscale place in our posh complex. Nancy's dye and cut took over 2 hours and was accompanied by the same service and care the whole way through.
And plants. Wherever there is a square inch of land, there is either a small market garden or wonderful plants. There is no such thing as empty plots. Every roadside, every vacant lot, all space between apartments, is filled with greenery. At least in this area. I cannot speak for anywhere else at this point. People seem to eke out a living by selling any vegetable they can grow in any spot they can find to grow it. You often see people sitting on the sidewalk selling a few onions or cabbage. The only street beggars we have run into so far have been in very bad shape ie quite physically handicapped. It is a very hard-working society at all levels in this area.
And hot...it is very hot where we are but we were warned before we came. We are in one of the "four furnaces" of China. The forecast on the website for the weather channel for Wuhan today was....84 degrees but feels like 88. And that is exactly what it was today. We had a high of 27 or 28 but it felt much warmer with the humidity. This is spring so we can only imagine what it will be like as we approach summer. Apparently, over 40 is normal. And the heat lasts until late fall. But we are not complaining. We have air conditioning at home and at work!! I really don't miss the snow one iota as I look out into our courtyard at all the beautiful flowering shrubs and trees.
Well, enough rambling for now. I was feeling guilty since I hadn't written in here for awhile. We still have to visit other parts of the country but that may wait for next year. We are still busy getting to know this little city.
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