As of 5pm Friday Maggie, Casey, Button and I became homeless.
After a hectic few days of packing, we said farewell to our gear Friday morning as it left on a truck destined to eventually (hopefully) meet up with us in Haikou. Judging what the costs would be for shipping our stuff was one part guess work and one part use of a bathroom scale — neither proved to be worth a damn.
We estimated our stuff to weigh in at, the high end, about 1000kg; which at 2.8RMB/kg worked out to just south of 3,000RMB. It caught us by surprise when using the moving company’s scale (the only scale that matters) our stuff hit a mark much closer to 2,000kg, or 5,300 RMB.
I’m only going to say this once and then I’m going to let it, finally, go — the moving company almost certainly ripped us off. I don’t know how they did it, as they let Maggie get on the scale to test its accuracy, and it was accurate with her. However, my amateur weighing abilities aside, there’s just no way that the majority of our flimsy cardboard boxes were comfortably supporting twice Maggie’s weight in our carefully curated possessions.
When all your stuff is on the truck and ready to go, they’ve pretty much got you by the bits. We, with very little reluctance, bent over and paid.
The rest of the day we spent getting our luggage sorted and doing last minute tidying up of our apartment to assure we didn’t arbitrarily cause complications and risk losing our renter’s deposit. Apartment “checkout” went smoothly, and we were able to spend our last night in Suzhou at our good friends’ apartment saying some tough goodbyes with massive burgers and plenty of Wild Turkey.
First thing Saturday morning we were out the door to meet the transportation arranged by the company we hired to ship our dog Button. As a bonus they agreed to take us along with Button to our awaiting flights in Shanghai. The first stop was to the shipping company’s hole-in-the-wall HQ where they weighed Button (which, suspiciously, was bang-on my estimate using the same scale that was nearly 50% wrong with our other stuff — seriously, last time, I’m letting it go).
We said our goodbyes to our pup and the driver took us over to Hong Qiao’s still shiny new Terminal 2. I had never been to the new terminal, and was sufficiently impressed having been through the grimy and cracked Terminal 1 a few years ago (incidentally, also for a Hainan trip).
Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, but the time passed quickly. The flight went relatively smoothly, with a bit of fussiness (that’s loving parent speak for “full on meltdown”) from Casey just prior to take-off and landing.
After landing it took a bit of wandering and a few phone calls to figure out that while Button was on the same flight as us, because she was shipped as cargo she had been brought to the cargo facility about 2km away from the airport. Fortunately our Haikou airport pickup was awesome and he didn’t mind driving us over and picking Button up.
It was a long few minutes as we nervously waited for the cargo warehouse worker to locate Button. Shipping an animal via plane in China isn’t a very complicated process, but as with all things in this country, I can’t help but think there was a decent amount of gamble in the thing. Fortunately, and perhaps obviously, she was fine — if not a bit shaken.
Post-slobbery hellos we all jumped in the SUV and headed to our pre-arranged accommodations. As best I know (and please correct me if you know otherwise) China has a nation-wide policy of not allowing dogs in any hotels. As such, finding a place that would welcome Button was a challenge.
As with the dog shipper and airport pickup (and virtually everything else we purchase), Maggie had found a seller on Taobao that rented out apartments in Haikou for dirt cheap (80RMB or about $12/night) and they didn’t mind our furry one. What we had no way of knowing at the time was the shape of the place.
I’ve lived in some dives in my time in China, and am not unfamiliar with the country’s rougher raw-sewage smelling side. Where we’re staying, and where I’m currently writing this from, has been a new experience though. At the ass-end of an alley I can very nearly touch both sides of, the one-bedroom apartment is jammed into a clusterfuck of buildings whose planning can kindly be described as entirely slapdash.
Taking Button out this a.m. for her morning business led me on a jaunt through the neighbourhood — a collection of ironclad compounds, heaps of garbage and more stray dogs than downtown Athens — I had to walk for 15 minutes just to find a green patch for her to pee (she’s picky like that).
The location is a cultural tourist’s paradise, but I’m sort of over this side of China and even more so after days of packing and travel. That said, what it has done very well is reset my “bar”. Living in Suzhou’s rather ritzy SIP for the last 4 years has softened more than just my waist, and I have been trying to adjust my expectations for living in Haikou since we made the decision to move here. I’ve been, somewhat justifiably, worried that trying to find an apartment in Haikou would leave me comparing it all to the relatively sparkly sheen of things left behind.
The good news is that compared to where we’re staying at the moment, pretty much anything above a tent in a garbage dump would be an improvement. It really is the first place I’ve stayed that I could quite accurately call a slum.
Down by the Sea
Before anyone starts thinking we made a terrible, terrible mistake moving to this “paradise” (and shortly after Maggie started thinking just that); today we headed up to the part of town we are hoping to live in, and began to feel much much better about the move.
The area is called Haidian Island (海甸岛), and is where the only other people we “know” in the city live. It is an island in the northern area of the city, and right on the water (as islands tend to be).
There are a few things we’re looking for in a new neighbourhood — decent access to restaurants, markets and a good park to take Button and Casey to. I’m not sure about the markets, but from first glance it looks like Haidian Island is a good match.
We were warmed to the area by first visiting Baishamen (Ecological?) Park（白沙门生态园). The massive park comes complete with wide open grassy areas, some nice forested areas, a slightly rickety looking amusement park (does China have any other kind?) and a long sandy beach. I’ve been told the sea there isn’t great for swimming (and it’s far too chilly at the moment to attempt it), but for walking down the beach with a dog, it’s perfect.
So, tomorrow we officially begin our apartment hunt. We’ve been up and down Soufun.com and have several agents digging up keys and making appointments with landlords for us. It should be a busy few days, but we’re sort of growing accustomed to that.
And with this, a new chapter begins.
We’re not actually wearing matching hoodies — someone didn’t dress appropriately, and someone else ended up going in their t-shirt most of the afternoon.