Living in Haikou – First Impressions

IMG_4720Well, I promised video/photos or a rant, and I’m happy to report I have no rant to offer.

We moved in last Friday and have been living in a sort of stasis since. As mentioned, the new place is brand new, and so when we arrived to get the keys last Thursday we were happy to see a bunch of shiny new appliances to match — including a nice (Chinese brand) flat screen TV. As much as you can try to get excited about having a new mattress, washing machine or fridge; getting a brand new bright and big TV sort of takes the cake.

The TV is also a bonus for us, as 100% of our media consumption comes via the computer, and the flat screen displays just like a high def. monitor when hooked to my MacBook. Coupled with a 4Mbit Internet connection and xbmc, it’s on-demand, all the time.

Alright, enough about the TV — more about our new place and thoughts on Haikou in general.

So for the past week we’ve been sitting in an apartment with a lot of new appliances, and very little else. The day we were leaving from our temporary apartment, Maggie called the shippers only to find out our stuff was still in Shanghai. The shipper had told us it would be no problem to store it for free in Haikou should our apartment hunting take longer than expected, but upon finding out that it would cost money to store it in Haikou, he made the executive decision to just leave it in Shanghai until called upon.

Thus, when we called to find out where our stuff was (thinking it was either nearly or already here), we were a bit pissed to learn that it was still a few days drive away. To further ingratiate me to this swell and reputable shipping company, we were then informed we’d also have to pay an extra 200 RMB upon delivery to actually have our stuff moved into the apartment. Apparently, they’ll move it out and onto the truck for free, but you have to pay extra to have them move it in. Pairing that with their liberal weighing methods I mentioned previously, all I can say is — scam, scam, scam!

I know, I promised no rant. To their credit, the stuff did arrive, and we did manage to bargain down the 200 RMB to 100 RMB. Aside from a few dings here and there, and my aquarium stand being mostly de-plastic footed, everything was in one piece — amazingly, considering the shape the boxes were in.

Our New Place

Living in a brand new apartment has a lot of perks, and a couple of downsides. The perks are somewhat obvious — it’s clean, new, virtually all under warranty, there aren’t pounds of other people’s dead skin in your aged mattress, the stains are yours alone, etc.

In the negative column is the fact that every ding, scratch or crack is sort of on you. Gone is our ability to state with absolute confidence: “That was like that when we moved in.”

The other tricky thing with an apartment that’s never been lived in is that when put on the spot for things it needs, it’s hard to remember everything. We quickly hashed together a list for the landlord when we signed the contract, and then nervously called the next day to find out if the place had any sort of water heater (it did, but hadn’t been installed — one of those on-demand ones). Post move-in, and after the landlord was well on his way back to his home on the Mainland, we also realized half the rooms (including the bathrooms) don’t have blinds/curtains, there’s no microwave, no water-cooler thing for bottled water, and a few other relatively trivial things.

All of this is pretty easily solved, but it was just stuff that hadn’t occurred to us upon moving in as we’ve always just sort of moved in and were ready to go.

Minor quibbles aside, the place is great and so is the neighbourhood. It’s nice and quiet, with no road noise at all. We’re less than a block away from the sea — though unfortunately a development (by Li Ka-shing!) is blocking our way to the water. So instead we have to walk an extra 15 minutes down the road — the injustices we’re faced with, really.

We have a pretty diverse and decent outdoor wet market about a 10 minute walk from our apartment that contains all the fresh seafood and tropical fruit we could stuff ourselves with — along with an assortment of meat and veg. It’s surrounded by small shops that sell basic dried goods and essentials, as well as small stalls that do some local street food for quick snacks.

The community, though only at about 40-60% residence (and a portion of that part-time snowbirds/holidaymakers), is loaded with kids and there’s a small playground where Casey has already grown to love the swing. The community also has basketball courts, a small pond with fish and fruit trees everywhere (there is a papaya and a banana tree just behind our apartment).

We’re also walking distance to a great park that I mentioned before and a driving range, though I am guessing by the Beamers and Benzes in the parking lot that it might be a bit pricey.

Here’s a video and some photos from our apartment:

A few notes from the video:

  1. One of our first orders of business is to replace that solid wood bench in our living room with something a bit more … plush.
  2. Amazingly our 190L aquarium survived the journey and will soon be populated by fish — it’s former resident, my turtle, is now the class mascot for a bunch of youngins at the Suzhou Singapore International School. Getting the aquarium out of its wooden shipping crate (the remains of which can be seen on the back balcony) was a test of will and some skillful use of a rubber mallet. Kevin, you still have my real hammer!
  3. Like the wood couch in the living room, the kitchen table will likely be replaced with something a bit nicer. We also have plans to kit out the living room with a rug that Casey can roll around on.
  4. My compulsion to wave at myself in the mirror is not limited to me having a camera in my hand.

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IMG_4714 Mr. Clean

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Thoughts on Haikou in General

So far I’m feeling really good about the move to Haikou. Here are some random thoughts about living here and how it compares to Suzhou (from my albeit 牛b perspective):

  • It’s cheap. We are paying 500 RMB less per month for our new 144 sqm (1550 sq ft) apartment than we did for our black-mold infested 115 sqm place in Suzhou. Even taking out the fact that we lived in a pricey neighbourhood in Suzhou, we’re still paying less (per m/sq) than we did downtown Suzhou.
  • It’s cheap. Yep, it’s cheap. We had thought that living on the island would drive prices up, and for somethings it does (electricity is nearly twice the price as in SZ). However, the day to day stuff is all generally much cheaper. Meat and veg, as an example, are about 25% cheaper. Coupling that with the ease of access to inexpensive fresh fruit and seafood (something that was a challenge to get in land-locked Suzhou), we’re saving money and eating better/healthier.
  • It’s small(er). Haikou is a big city, and it’s roughly 2mil population beats out all but one of Canada’s cities; however, by Chinese standards, it’s a backwater city that was only made into a provincial capital in 1988. This makes it pretty easy to navigate. Additionally, like our old SZ neighbourhood, where we live now is a relatively new area of the city and so well designed (or getting there) and under-congested.
  • It’s clean. This may have more to do with our specific location, but everywhere I’ve previously lived in China had the unfortunate issue of coating the apartment in dirty dust whenever the windows were left open for more than a few minutes. Our windows are open all the time here, and I’ve not noticed the usual layer of soot-like crap on everything yet. Again, this may be because we’re not near any main roads, and I imagine living downtown Haikou would be pretty similar.
  • It’s dirty. Haikou, by and large, is much a more typical Chinese city than Suzhou SIP’s atypicalness. More horking, split-pant babies pissing in the street and garbage lying about than SIP; but I suppose about the same as downtown Suzhou.
  • The people are friendly. When we moved from Dalian to Suzhou we were struck by how soft the manner of the people was. Northerners, and particularly Northeasterners tend to be a gruff bunch that don’t mince words, but the Suzhou ren have a slightly more reserved and even-temperness to them that we had grown used to in our time there. What we’re noticing about the people in Haikou is how genuinely friendly and content most people seem. Eager to help, happy to chat, and just a little bit more laid back about everything. Jah mon. As a comparison, I’ve met more of my neighbours in a week living here than I did in a year living at my old place.
  • The people are stupid. This is more Maggie’s opinion than my own, but having had to listen to her whinging about it for the past two weeks, I’d be remiss for not including it. Maybe it’s just the slower pace of life, or just the change in educational demographics, but Haikou locals seem to operate differently than on the Mainland. From dealing with utilities to get things set up for our apartment, to setting up a bank account, to getting served at a restaurant; each step of the way had Maggie exclaiming, “Totally unprofessional.” Not an indicator of stupidity, but just as an illustration of how things are more casual here, when I went to register at the local police station we were told directly to come after 3pm, as from 12 to 3 the officer would be taking a nap.
  • We have wildlife. Our community is full of trees populated with various birds. We’ve already had a little lizard make his way into the apartment and one on our laundry — both times scaring the crap out of Maggie. Then, the other night our screens became host to a bunch of flying beetles whose asses light up. There is also a large number of rats this size of some Chinese dogs.
  • We miss our friends. We’re fortunate that we’re quickly being adopted by a great group of people here (that’s you Nicki and Erik!), but we really do miss our friends in Suzhou. I’ve made a lot of friends and acquaintances in my time in China, but our little tribe in Suzhou was much more akin to family than just friends. We knew it would be the toughest part of the move, and it continues to be.

By and large, while emotionally and physically taxing, and pretty expensive, we’re very happy with the move and slowly settling into our routine here.

Much more to come about living in Haikou and hopefully a bit of travel around the island when we find time. For now though, after being offline for a week (my longest stretch in half a decade), I have many many e-mails and a whole lot of work to catch up on.

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