Monday 3rd – Today we have a quiet day – Lilly mainly packing – me at the internet place in the basement updating my website etc. Spend a bit of time with the Gramps and then take off by cab to the airport. Lilly is in combative mood and has a bit of a run in with the cab driver who is an unpleasant character – I can’t tell what the exchange is but he is loud and harsh. They patch things up by the time we arrive at the airport about 40 minutes later. Wish Lilly and I could patch things up within 40 minutes! This is holiday week for many and the roads are a bit quieter. A good straight run to the airport. Cab fare about Y80 from memory including Y10 for the freeway toll. We book in early and get seats up towards the front of the plane.
As we go through the security check we are told we can’t take 2 six packs of beer onto the plane. These are gift packs of mixed Aussie cans for Jin and Wei – Lilly argues about it and then puts them in a separate bag and takes them way back to the ticket counter and books them on as luggage.
We wander around some of the airport stores – mostly very expensive stuff even by Western standards. Lilly wants nothing for her birthday – figuring that our flat is this years present to each other. She thinks the family won’t even remember she is 50 tomorrow and argues her birthday is really the 7th anyway. When you get to the 7th she then says it was on the 4th. She doesn’t want a fuss and I have learned over the years that I am not good at selecting birthday presents for her. Almost always they are returned.
As we go through check-in, they are stopping people with the heavy hand luggage and ours is too big. They are sorting them out and are going to load them separately. There are several already set aside and they are providing a receipted sticker. I agree to it, but Lilly is infuriated. All our important flat and other papers are in the bag. She argues. They stick to their guns. She reluctantly complies, opens the bag and takes out the important stuff. We board and she relaxes. It is only an hour to Yantai and Wei and his wife Chin are there to meet us. It is a bit cooler than Beijing and I am glad I wore a jacket.
We head off for Ma’s in Wei’s little van. Ma seems to be in good health. She is just too frugal for her own good. I learn that her electricity and water bill each month is Y5 (about 85 cents). We really must cut back on waste and implement cost saving measures to try and get this back to Y3 a month. I suggest she can make savings by not turning on the power at all and using just rain water! Ma is horrified when we talk about spending 2 or 300 Yuan on putting in a phone line and broadband for a month. I can add value to my website, equivalent to this in a morning’s work! Lilly tells me she is worried about not having enough in her old age and she therefore saves and saves. Lilly has reassured her before about this but there is a deeply entrenched fear in the Chinese of ending up with nothing and not being able to look after themselves. I suppose it is understandable, given what past generations have suffered.
Tuesday 4th – Lilly and I are in the main bedroom upstairs. Ma is now living downstairs. The whole place is very spacious, and really quite nice, with marble floors, white walls and attractive wooden finishings. Only on close inspection do you see that some of the finishing is sub standard. Our bedroom is half as big again as our bedroom at Boscabel. The bed is big and modern but there is no mattress. There are a number of quilts covering the wooden base but it is still hard. I am too soft and don’t sleep all that well.
Jin Pin and Ma have these two places side by side, with a joint wall. Each has a lounge, 4 bedrooms, study, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen and eating room. The bathrooms and kitchens are very basic but the rest is really quite good accommodation and there is plenty of room. Jin’s side of the building has never been occupied or rented.
Unfortunately the whole area is being razed to the ground to make way for high rise. They have already demolished about three quarters of the area and this place will follow shortly. It is a pity really because it was only built 4 or 5 years ago. There were not many buyers. Not very good planning on the part of the local council. Jin and Ma will be compensated by being given flats in the new high rise, but how many flats and of what standard, nobody knows.
Lilly and I go off to the local supermarket and carry back a box of water. This is a different world from Beijing but it is certainly better now than it was a year ago. I then walk off in search of flowers for Lilly’s birthday. I walk quite a long way and see a lot of small retail outlets, most catering to the refurbishment and furnishing of houses. Some people say Hello and I respond with Nee How to smiles and giggles. But forget about the flowers, this is not the area for anything so superfluous or impractical. Lilly does noodles for breakfast, pretty tasty.
After breakfast we wander around again, see the demolition work, buy meat and veg at the local street market and inquire about internet usage (there are several cafes handy) and broadband. Ma sits and studies and writes. She is in a little world of her own. Last night we arrived a bit later than she expected so she lit incense and prayed for our safe arrival.
Jeowsa for lunch, the best yet. Wei and Chin arrive and off we go to the beach.
It is still holiday and there are a lot of people at the beach. It is late afternoon and we are in shirt sleeves. A bit later we put our jumpers on. There is a stretch of sand in the distance but the “beach” where we are, is a huge paved area overlooking the sea. The kids are skating and there are people flying kites, walking, running and fishing. We approach some of the middle-aged guys flying kites and talk to them a bit. It is also a competitive sport and when competitions are held, prizes are awarded for the biggest, the most beautiful, the longest tail, the furtherest out etc etc. They all have a wooden handle arrangement to wind the thin nylon rope in and out and wear gloves. Some have 600 metres of nylon. These are pros. One says it helps to pass the time. Another agrees it is better than watching TV. When I ask one if his wife is pleased it takes him out of the house, he takes me seriously and says his wife flies kites as well. One guy has just bought a kite (Y15) and the nylon twine (Y30) and is assembling it. It is a jig saw puzzle. Wei contributes some engineering expertise and finally it is done. It is a colourful flying eagle with a clever wing movement when airborne.
Many people say Hello – there are not so many westerners here and some want to practice their English. One says in quite good English “welcome to Yantai”. A couple of well dressed guys approach us with a camera and I am surrounded by businessmen for a snap. I get my e r sun (1,2,3) out as the shot is taken and everybody in the photo and around is laughing at my Chinglish.
We walk off to a restaurant for dinner. It is very presentable and the food is great. A focus on seafood and you go into this huge room to select your own fish, all manner of shell fish, prawns, crabs etc. They are all alive for viewing in tanks one minute and 20 minutes later are on your table ready to be eaten. The meal is delicious. Wei’s good friend joins us, he is going through a divorce and it is evidently a very hard time for him. We have met him and his wife a number of times before, including in Sydney. They have a lad at school in Canberra. We have a beer or three and Wei and Chin take us back to their place to try the broadband. It is deadly slow. We see Wei’s huge fish in his aquarium. They take us home.
I go off to an internet café to update my website. I tell Lilly which one I am going to, she will follow shortly. When she does, she can’t find me – she goes in two directions and she gets concerned. Wei and Chin also start searching – in one the operator says no we have no Westerner, come in and see for yourself if you don’t believe me. I am eventually located but the broadband is so slow, it is painful waiting for it. I will try again in the morning.
Wednesday 5th – We take Ma to the hospital for her drip – it takes a couple of hours so I take off to the internet café for updating. The broadband is quicker this morning but still tests the patience. While Lilly is waiting at the hospital she has a young doctor check her heart. They do it in the same way as taking the pulse but do it for several minutes. They can tell a lot more about the heart than just your pulse rate. Lilly has been under stress and the doctor picks it and prescribes medicine. She says she wants him to check me as well when I finish my work. He is happy to do so.
Later when I arrive he is not on duty but his older colleague is there. He checks me out – says everything is OK, reckons I have the physical age of a 40 year old, but I don’t know whether he is kidding or not. Blood pressure 130 over 85, reckons that’s pretty good (Lilly’s is 125 over 80). He sees a bit of discolouration on my skin; sunspots here and there like most people have and asks if I drink. Lilly says yes and that leads to a long diatribe about the dangers of alcohol. I wonder if I was set up in advance. Lilly assures me not. Anyway I solemnly promise never to drink again, at least not in the mornings. He then checks Lilly out and says his younger colleague is too ready to prescribe medicine. Reckon’s Lilly is pretty healthy too. Like me she’s also 40. I diplomatically refrain from pointing out that Lilly doesn’t drink otherwise like me she could be 20 years younger than her real age. Anyway now we are both 40, what better match could there be? Must get this belly off though, ironically China is not helping that cause.
Wei and Chin also arrive at the hospital. Now here is a drinker and this is an opportunity for Lilly to get stuck into him about it. I sympathise in silence, while he squirms.
We look around for who can put the line in so that we can get broadband. Typically the issue is cost rather than convenience and speed. For me the cost is nothing and I can save more than that in a couple of hours by adding value to my website. Nothing demonstrates it more than the Y5 (less than a dollar) monthly electricity bill. Even Lilly is caught up in the frugality with the result that we don’t want to spend $50 or $60 on broadband so that I can add thousands of dollars to the value of my website. It is exasperating for me and reminds me of the first year of the website when Lilly was cantankerous about me spending time and money on it because it was yielding nothing. It has turned out to be quite profitable overall and has potential, only because I have kept the faith in spite of her negativism. If I had taken Lilly’s advice, nothing would have been spent and nothing would have been gained.
Tonight I am again annoyed with Lilly. But I keep the peace. She is negative about my thoughts of setting up a website in China. All she sees is minus, minus, minus. I try to talk to Wei about it. Chin helps with some anecdotal stuff but Lilly is overwhelmingly “forget about it, forget it, you know nothing, you have done no research. You are hopeless.” Wei is also obviously upset with her negativism. To Lilly, research is everything. She will spend her years collecting information about this and that – table cloths, jeans, water purifiers, fruit packaging, home-stay, clonsome, curtains, clothes, you name it and the latest is flowers. But nothing ever happens because she will have to spend money. God forbid. I am resolved to move forward, we can spend our lives on research.
Notwithstanding Lilly’s dogmatic views we have a very pleasant evening with Wei and Chin and Ma. Ma has some beautiful calligraphy and we can have some of it for the study in Beijing.
Thursday 6th – Today I take my laptop to the café and get new IP settings and am on line, hallelujah. The line is a bit quicker today at 7am and I download stuff to work on at home. By 8 o’clock more and more people are arriving and the line slows. It tests the patience because it is often slower than dial-up in NZ.
This morning Lilly and I go off to search for a phone to call Mother – we try one source but the woman doesn’t know the starting code so we wander in the direction of the local Post Office. It is fascinating wandering down the street here. It is not as busy as Beijing and where we are, there are little retail outlets (mainly building and refurbishing materials) all along both sides of the street. The shopkeepers often sit outside waiting for custom. None of them ever seem to have any customers. Behind the shops are apartments of six floors in gated complexes (the complex may have four or five or even 20 separate buildings). The developers can go up to 6 floors without having a lift so many of them are 6 floors. In one place there is quite a large field of maize bordering the road. I call it the local park. In a year or so that will be overtaken by apartments. We are about half an hour from the centre of the city and I suspect we are nearing the outskirts but it is hard to tell. Yantai, sister city to Tauranga, has 1.5 million people although the locals sometimes say 6 million. But that is county or district I think, a much greater area than the city itself.
As we wander along I see a bloke sitting at a little work bench using a wood-plane. He is a woodworker making furniture like lamp stands and stools. Quite nice stuff and he is really an artisan. He invites us into his little store (a dark ramshackle place selling all sorts of hardware and tools). His wife is behind the counter. He insists we sit down on stools and have a chat. Lilly says he has never had a foreigner in here before and wants to make the most of it. Turns out he is my age and we talk about NZ and Australia with Lilly telling him and his wife all about. Lilly is in her element – she is a great conversationalist and keeps everybody spellbound with anecdotes, including my clumsy attempts at Chinese. At one point the wife goes off to the toilet and a customer enters. I move quickly around behind the counter and ask if I can assist. Put a box of something on the counter and ask for jeow kway (Y9). Everybody has a giggle and we part in high spirits.
Wei and Chin draw up in their little van with Ma and off we go into Yantai for lunch. Wei wants me to talk to his daughter Suzy over lunch. Chin goes off to get Suzy from the school. We go to what looks an expensive restaurant serving both Chinese Yum Cha and steaks. Suzy and I have steaks and mainly a question and answer session. Her English pronunciation is good but she struggles to follow mine and I need to speak slowly and simply for her to understand. As with J it would take a year or so to get reasonably up to speed. She is 16 and has a bit more than a year to go at high school, then off to Uni. She doesn’t know what she is going to do at Uni. She is a real sweetie. We drop her back at school and go to Wei’s office.
He seems to be doing OK – he is really an export agent arranging the bottling and canning etc of fruit for the international market. Chin works for him. Sometimes he sources the fruit containers. Other times they are provided. He organises a local factory to fill them and then exports the finished products. Cherries, peaches, pears and apples seem to be the main products. He has a laboratory background in processed fruit so he knows the business well. He also has a great range of contacts and spends a lot of time socializing, essential for business in China. We talk to Mother on the phone. Her back has been giving her a lot of trouble but is better again. I tell her they are all amazed to hear she is still driving at 86 and to get fit for her trip to Beijing. Wei gives us a rundown on what he is doing.
He takes us off to a large new retail complex. It is situated in a poor area and is too expensive. There are very few people around. We wander about looking at some wall hangings, pictures and other gifts etc. Then back home for website updating (tried a different place) tonight and a dinner of shellfish and jeowsa. Wei and Chin stay and a good time is had by all.
Internet cafes are the business to be in. They are full of teenage boys and young men playing computer games. The kids are noisy but at least their addiction keeps them off the streets. Within half a kilometer of where we are, there are at least six internet cafes.
Friday 7th – Ma goes off first thing this morning for her three hour drip, Lilly spring cleans on her 50th birthday (the story of her life) and I get on with my computer work (the story of mine). Lilly collects flowers grown on the side of the street and puts them in vases. She is happy and carefree. We hug and have a few laughs. She asks me I remember our first hug. To my chagrin, I don’t and she gets great delight out of reminding me. Men are from Mars.
We go for a long walk, but the weather looks iffy and we take umbrellas. We walk to the end of the road and take a right. We are entering now what looks more like the centre of the suburb. They are replacing the paving on both sides with brick. About 10% of it is done. We watch them at work, not much different from how we do it.
We enter a market. It is about 5 metres across and half a kilometer long. It is covered by a circular roof, there are shelves and little stores all the way along selling veges and all manner of food. There are more people here and it is noisy and smelly. In between the stores on each side there is a two metre wide track. Competing for space on this track are shoppers on foot, cyclists, scooter riders and vege purveyors (bicycles with wide trays on the back crammed full with fresh veg). It is a fascinating place with every conceivable fruit, veg, animal, bird and insect for sale, either sliced and diced or boiled, fried or raw.
We buy fish and veg and bread and on the way back home it rains. Luckily we have umbrellas. Wei and Chin have arrived with more sea food and we have a good lunch and chat. After lunch Lilly is suddenly cranky about nothing and launches into one of her tirades. This time it is me on the receiving end and it is Wei’s turn to observe in silence. She goes on and on until it becomes embarrassing for everyone and eventually I take off to the internet café to update my website.
Tonight it is slow until about 5:30 and then it is almost as if someone flicks a switch. Suddenly it is red hot like Australia and I can get things done quickly. I compliment them when I book out.
Saturday 8th – You are suffering Dear Diary because I have found yet another love. This time it is decent broadband at 7 am in the morning in the cafe I was in last night. There is a separate room where I can hook up my laptop all by myself. I am paying three times the rate of the other customers (Y3) but 60 cents an hour is not going to send me broke.
I finish at 10 and Lilly and I go for a long walk. We look at furniture places, a nursery and several flowers and clothes shops. She buys a top for Ma. We can’t find an English newspaper but it is fun asking. One guy was asleep and I apologized for waking him. There are very few foreigners seen around here so everybody stops for a look. Lilly is tall and she also gets admiring glances from the blokes and jealous ones from the girls (after they see me!). I am not all that keen on the attention but everyone is friendly and some are even chatty.
The top is too small for Ma when we return so they get the old bike out and Lilly cycles back and gets a bigger size. I work offline now that I have stuff downloaded. A relaxing and peaceful day today. We go to bed early to watch a bit of sport on TV and tackle the ubiquitous mozzie. They keep us awake at night so we try to knock them over beforehand. Tonight we missed some and at 12 were both awake having another go. Little buggers. They know when we are on the rampage and make themselves invisible.
Sunday 9th – I was at the internet café this morning for another go. The broadband is pretty quick (the café is virtually empty) and I can work quietly and efficiently. Get a lot done and I am starting to feel a bit more positive. If I can have a few more sessions like that I will be up to date. Home about mid-morning for more work off-line and I work until about 1pm. Lilly is finding some of her old clothes and modeling them. She poses the question each time, “will you marry me?” If I say yes, the clothes are still acceptable wear. Mainly I say yes but secretly I hope she will find something (not someone) a bit better when we get to the big day.
This afternoon Wei and his friend Mr John take us to visit a local artificial flower producer. The first impression is that the flowers are all 20 years old. There are some nice ones though and we pick out a selection for prices. We see what a couple of his girls are making and then go into the city – we are too late to visit another place so come home to pick up Ma and then go part way back to a seafood restaurant with Wei and Chin. Food OK, beer good.
Monday 10th – Early start at the internet café and continue working offline at home.
Today Wei picks us up early afternoon and we take off to the city and visit an embroidery/tapestry place. Again a lot of the hand-woven framed pictures look fit for another age or in a classic style for the older generation. Some of them are beautiful and there are a couple of large pictures of Chou en Lie and Dung Showe Ping. Both done from photos, they are incredible works. We see the floor where about 15 ladies are designing and preparing the tapestries. They are very quick with their work. We get some prices and off we go to another flower place.
This one is a giant step up-market from the one we saw yesterday. Their display is peeollea (beautiful) and they have some nice lines. I am followed round by the pouting, poncy Sales Manager, Jennifer who has been in the UK for a few years and fancies her English and herself. She asks me questions about flowers and the Australasian market which test my ingenuity. I try to avoid her. Minimum order is 30 dozen of any one line but most of them are less than one US dollar so that we would not be spending more than 500 NZ dollars on any one line. I think buying about $5000 would be a good way to start. If we could find 3 or 4 other giftware products to complement it, we would have a reasonable initial investment, probably involving thirty thousand NZ all up with freight etc. If we buy right, selling should not be a problem.
Back to Wei’s office and out to dinner locally. We walk up a street (food street) lined with restaurants and go to one that is made up in the old countryside manner. The restaurant is called Socialist New Countryside. There are wheelbarrows, scales, feed bins and other accoutrements of a past age. The waitresses wear the armbands of Mao’s Red Guards and they call us Comrades. One dish is called “cultural revolution”. We end up in a small room all to ourselves and the food is good. The wall is covered in writing, all relating to the period of Mao and the cultural revolution. In one place there is a little verse that includes one line saying “Socialism is good” but that particular line has been crossed out. Not everyone agreed! Again plenty of beer, this time drinking out of a shallow dish rather than a glass.
We then go off to a Karaoke joint. We are in a huge padded cell, just the four of us. There is a large TV and a facing couch. There is a wide selection of songs and they all key in what they want to sing in advance. There are two mikes. It is non-stop. Wei is quite a singer and so is Lilly. Chin also sings. I thoroughly enjoy it all. Lilly tackles some of the older passionate Chinese, almost military songs and Chin and Wei go for more modern stuff. We polish off a few more beers. They bring us all the way home again. It is quite a round trip every day and then often again at night and I want us to get a cab. Wei won’t have any of it. They have been unfailingly considerate and kind to us at every turn. It is one o’clock by the time we get home.
Tuesday 11th – Early start again at the internet café. Getting things accomplished even though it is slow this morning. The weather is beautiful – today it is really hot and sunny. The days start early and finish early. The evenings are cool and night closes in quite fast shortly after five. That’s when Lilly and I need a jumper.
We have a quiet day at home today to recharge the batteries. All the food and beer are taking their toll a bit – quite a long nap this afternoon. We went to the market, with me wheeling the old bike so that we could get veges and water. Watched guys gathered around chess boards playing chess. A lot of arguing, suggesting and gesticulating and the play is pretty aggressive with the wooden pieces being slammed down on the wooden board. This is Chinese Chess which is similar in some ways but I think has 81 squares instead of 64 and if anything is more complex. I don’t even begin to understand it.
Talk to Ma about getting her settled in a proper flat (not too big) when this place is demolished. We both think it would be good if she has two places and can be close to Wei here and close to Jin in Don Ying and then can come and spend time with us when we are in Beijing. Her flats should be small two bedroom places on the first or second floor with security doors, fridges, phones, flush toilets, proper shower etc. The basics that we take for granted. It shouldn’t cost too much to find something in the right environment. She lives too much hand to mouth at present and she doesn’t need to. This is not a great environment and she is isolated. At least while Lilly is here she eats properly and is also happy having her daughter with her.
Tonight after dinner we went for a walk up the street to the north. Just around from the hospital we see a gym and some table tennis tables. So we stop there for an hour and have a game. Good fun except I am very frustrated with my game and can’t seem to connect properly at all. The local area is not all that great, but fascinating nonetheless. Lots of small restaurants, some of them pretty dingy and grubby looking. Sorry we won’t be eating there. A lot of it looks rundown. Shops etc are still open in the evening but nobody seems to do much business except for the internet cafes.
Wednesday 12th – Start at the café and then shopping for veges at the local market. Have some exchanges with the locals – they tempt us with hot cornflake pikelets and we buy a few. Everything is extremely cheap at the market for us anyway. Ma tells Lilly the nurses at the hospital get about Y400 a month (does she mean, a week?). Whatever, it is still bugger all. Mind you they ride bicycles, food is cheap, housing may not cost much if anything and electricity and water (at least by Ma’s standards) is ridiculously cheap. Maybe they can save a couple of hundred a month!! I tell Lilly if my time is worth $100 an hour, I am worth about 4000 nurses. She is doubtful. The Rens (previously senior civil servants) told us their combined pension is Y5000 a month and they save Y4000 a month. Not sure what they are all saving for, maybe a brainy day.
Another quiet day, thank goodness. I work a bit and am getting my website back in shape. I have a nap and watch the Chinese basketball team (with the guy that is 4 metres tall) clean up the Lebanese. Lilly and I play another frustrating round of table tennis (slightly improved on yesterday) and I spend about an hour at the internet café. It is busy, I use one of their computers and it is incredibly slow.
Lilly is now on Lesson 926 for Ma. They are making bowtzer (large dumplings) for dinner. I can hear them talking. They have a lot of catching up and Lilly has been saving up her instructions. She is well-intentioned, even if at times she gets a bit dictatorial. She wants to upgrade Ma’s thinking and change her life for the better. Is it too late for that? I think Ma is accepting on one level. But then her background kicks in. I think she will always be extremely frugal and adapt to creature comforts almost reluctantly. But Lilly persists. All the lessons and instructions have been filed away in the pigeon holes of her brain for easy access. In many ways her mind and memory are exceptional. I still think I am her equal in being able to conceptualize but how often do we use that little bit of the grey stuff? When it comes to numbers she is sublime. With words, she has a dozen to my one. With languages she is the linguist. Her ability to create order out of chaos is formidable. And she even thrashes me at table tennis. At least I even things up a bit by being the more accomplished drinker. Yes, tea drinking is where my real talent lies. And eating bowtzers, they are delicious.
Tonight we watch a spectacular Opening Ceremony on TV for the Chinese games. I think they are held annually. Like a mini-Olympics, all the provinces of China get together and compete. A province like Shandong has 100 million people, more than all but a handful of countries. The premier opens the games – the President of the International Olympic Committee is also there. This is a trial run for the Olympics and very well done.
Thursday 13th – Lilly and I wake up discussing business. She wants to bring a container of stuff into Sydney. I had thought we were going to do this for the NZ market. But she writes it off as being too small and the people too poor. Are you crazy, we can’t make money in NZ. She wants to sell via a Trade Fair and direct to the big chain stores like Grace Bros and David Jones. I am not convinced that’s the way to go but at least say that I will support her, whatever she decides. My heart is not in it though. I think we should start in NZ where we live and have space. Buy 4 or 5 giftware lines, source them locally if possible where we have Wei’s support and ship them in time for the Christmas 2006 season (it is far too late for this year). By all means go to a Trade Fair but don’t think money is going to drop out of the sky. It will take time, need marketing, possibly a website and certainly brand identification. Customer goodwill and loyalty is hard to win and retain. We think certain flower lines will go well, but let’s also look at some other lines, then see what is already being sold in NZ. There will be other giftware suppliers in NZ, who are they and what do they do? When we are satisfied we have products with potential, aim to be back in China buying in Feb/Mar next year and start at a Trade Fair in Auckland about mid year. (need to establish when they are held and planned).
The other option is for me to do some research when I first get back, even if just in Sydney and Auckland. Give Lilly my thoughts so that she can buy before she returns. The third option is for me to butt right out of it. Support her with the cheque book in whatever she wants to do but otherwise keep away from it. I have a website to run and also want to start thinking about setting up a website in China. Maybe that’s the best way – we have difficulty discussing anything quietly and logically. I suggest going to the Guangzhou Trade Fair which starts in about 10 days but she doesn’t want to know about it. Here we are in China talking about exporting stuff from here, one of the world’s premier Trade Fairs is on, we are running out of things to do here in Shandong and she doesn’t want to go.
Not much happens today except for the usual sessions at the café etc. Apart from the business thing I am in relax mode.
Friday 14th – Not much happens today except for the usual sessions at the café, table tennis etc. Work about half the time, relax the rest, this is holiday time. Walk through lower class area tonight, lot of people about.
Tonight Lilly and I have a long talk about our business plans. I explain that I am only interested in the importing thing so that feels she has something rewarding and fulfilling to do in NZ and I am hopeful this may be it. We do not need to make lots of money out of it. There is no pressure on her whatsoever. The problem is she puts pressure on herself. We consider the possibility of just buying artificial flowers which she feels confident about. Don’t aim to import a container load initially – think about buying $5 to $10,000 worth and don’t put ourselves under too much pressure to sell it. Take it easy. Try and establish a few outlets over time. Website and expanding product line etc. can come later, depending on how it goes.
Saturday 15th – Wei and Chin come to lunch. We talk about going to Qingdao for a couple of days, me more with a view to sightseeing. But the Chinese don’t understand that. Don’t be flippant. What a waste of money. Only go there if there is a business objective. Ma has never been there, although it is only a three hour bus ride away. I suggest it would be good if we all went, but that involves accommodation and travel and meals and the logistics and expense knock it on the head almost before the words are out of my mouth. Lilly throws a wobbly once again, to everyone’s embarrassment and Ma and Chin head for safety in another room. Wei pours water on troubled waters and I just shut up. Calm is eventually restored. Sometimes I feel straitjacketed by Lilly’s overwhelming preoccupation with not spending money on anything. Is she saving it for Ma or to put it aside for herself in case she runs out later? I am resolved to resolving this problem once and for all.
Wei and Lilly have a long talk (with me observing in silence!) and he wants to take us to see this block of land. It is only quarter of an hour away. About 4 o’clock I remind them we should be going off to see it. So off we go, the four of us. Chin who always stays sober, drives. Lilly, who always stays sober, chats and entertains. We are traveling along this quite major (at least very wide highway) when suddenly there is a heap of rubble right across the road. People on bicycles have made a way around one end of it but it is quite impassable by car. We backtrack and search for another route. Eventually we find a way. Later we get lost and ask directions. We are really in the countryside. The road is up and down a bit, subsistence farming mainly. I really enjoy it, but it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The trip goes on and on. The roads get narrower and narrower, then become gravel. We bounce around a bit inside Wei’s sturdy little van. Everything is covered in dust. It gets dark and we are still persisting. Eventually we come to the land. It has taken us a couple of hours. It slopes to the north (therefore away from the sun) and it looks utterly desolate, even in the moonlight. There is 400 acres to be bought. It is suitable for growing cherries. Water comes from a large lake at the bottom of the property and evidently irrigation is already arranged. You lease from the government for a contracted period of 30 years. The forecasts point to big profits after 5 years. But it needs a lot of money up front. Wei also wants to put a cherry processing factory on it, because he is already arranging the purchase, processing and exporting of cherries. An Italian company is interested in it. I don’t say too much, having been involved in this sort of feasibility process many years earlier in NZ. The land looks rough and barely arable. I would halve the revenue forecasts and double the cost forecasts. I am skeptical. Thankfully so is Lilly.
We travel back into Yantai another way. The road is better. Mr Leong, one of Wei’s friends wants to take us to dinner. They were school mates. A lot of food and beer is again consumed. Mr John, the other big friend arrives half way through the meal. He has obviously already had a bit to drink, but they make him down a couple of quick glasses to catch up with us. It is all very convivial and thoroughly enjoyable. I try some of my limited Chinglish on them but they struggle to understand my accent. Strange. On top of what we had through a long lunch today, Wei and I are getting ever so slightly inebriated. Wei is a happy guy with a big heart. I don’t see him ever aggressive, always mild. Wah leurlah.
Sunday 16th – Wei and Chin have stayed over at Ma’s and this morning Wei goes off with some colleagues to have another look at the land. Later we go into his place with Chin and use their computer to send the mortgage discharge on Wicks back to the solicitors. Wei’s big fish bang the side of the aquarium when we arrive – they are scared. A big piece of glass from the top of the aquarium falls gently to the bottom. Wei and Suzy arrive for lunch. One of Wei’s big fish suddenly leaps straight out of the top of his acquarium and lands on the floor. It is spectacular. It has never happened before. Wei struggles to hold the fish but eventually gets it back into the aquarium and retrieves and replaces the glass.
Chin puts a big bowl of something hot on the solid glass table which also cracks. For the superstitious what does all the breaking glass mean? Mother would find something in it, but the Chinese are not saying, even if they are reading the signs. Anyway the lunch is great and the fish have settled down. I chat to Suzy a bit in English and we have another talk with Wei about the cherry land and land ownership in general (residential land is leased from the government for 70 years with payment up front, industrial land is 50 years and agricultural land 30 years, not sure of terms for the latter two). Wei thinks the government will not reclaim ownership at the end of the period but who knows. The glass is cracked and perhaps we are not seeing things clearly!
We visit two up-market department stores during the late afternoon and look at (and buy) artificial flowers and other giftware. We are getting ideas and Wei is able to extract from the Shop Assistants the supplier of products in each case. Well done. Some more research is necessary but we are making progress. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and we have taken a couple more today. Wei and Chin kindly drive us all the way home, although we want to catch a bus.
Monday 17th – Internet, table tennis, vege shopping, me wheeling the bike with flour and water on the back and veges and meat at front. Take some photos of Ma and her place. Do a Su Do Ku. A quiet day and early night.
Tuesday 18th – The usual again today. The weather is getting cooler, people are starting to wear jumpers. The days are warm and sunny but if there is a breeze it is cool. We are working about half a day and on holiday the rest. It is just too easy and comfortable – miss the newspaper and news a bit though. Lilly watches heavy Chinese family dramas in the evenings and we intersperse it a bit with the Chinese Provincial Games which are on right now. Tonight the human saga was particularly grueling with a lot of crying and weeping on TV and by Lilly.
Wednesday 19th – Same again today. Our days follow a pattern – we eat well and take it easy. Tonight after table tennis we go for a long walk down to the river. There are massive developments completed and taking place. I know China has a lot of people but where are they all going to come from, to fill these apartments and offices. By the time people are ready for them, will the buildings be run-down and dilapidated? Planners are thinking many years ahead, but maybe too far. Funds are allocated to build stuff but at least in some cases it appears there are no funds to secure it and maintain it. The development Ma is in, is a case in point. Somebody has buggered something up really badly. There are a lot of grandiose buildings and parks etc but the average person doesn’t have the savings or income to afford them. A lot of them are unoccupied. There is a large and quite nice park down by the river (tidal even up this far from the sea), big enough for tens of thousands of people but we saw only one person in it. Perhaps because there were millions of mozzies.
Thursday 20th – ditto except that today I had my first game of Chinese Chess. Lilly showed me the basics. It is confusing not just because of the functions of the two jumpers but more because the pieces are all the same except for the Chinese characters on the top of them. The characters all look the same to me, it is only when you inspect closely that you see the differences. And a black pawn (or soldier) has a different description from a white pawn. At least the pieces we have are coloured differently, how they manage on the street (where a lot of chess is played) beats me.
Friday 21st – a long session this morning at the internet café. We emerged into a bright sunny day, but with quite a strong northerly wind and it was bitter. They say it turns from warm to cold overnight – well it is really cold today although if you get out of the wind it is still OK. How lucky we are really. Look at all those poor people cycling north on the main road into the cold wind. It is strong enough to almost blow them backwards. We are cosy, well-fed and spoilt rotten, at least I am.
Saturday 22nd – Today Wei again kindly picked us up at 7 for the inter-city bus depot and off we go to Qingdao. Somebody vacated their seat at the front so Lilly and I could sit together in this small bus seating about 15. A careful woman driver with a young bloke (obviously her boyfriend) doing the organizing. Almost full by the time we left and they make a bit of cash on the side by watching out for passengers along the way. It is about three and half hours to Qingdao, the country is dry and everywhere there is maize and veg and more maize and some apples. We enter Qingdao from the poorer side of the city but it still looks quite interesting. It is up and down a bit and some of the roads are narrower and wind around more like a typical NZ city. Wei’s friend Mr Ren meets us in his Buick (a beautiful car) and off we go to a restaurant for lunch. His wife Angie joins us and we have a delicious seafood lunch. We then go to her office and spend the afternoon inspecting and buying some samples of quilts, placemats etc. She is taking off again on Monday for the Guangshou Trade Fair where she is concentrating on her other line which is bags. She was there last week but flew home for the weekend. Both Mr Ren and Angie are charming people. Angie speaks quite good English – she has mainly European customers. Mr Ren has another business elsewhere – much the same lines but he concentrates on the domestic market. They are obviously well-off. We go to another restaurant for dinner and their seven year old daughter joins us. Her name is Tina and she is a real sweetie. Talks a bit of English, plays the piano, is smart and mature. Again we are not allowed to pay the tab.
After dinner Mr Ren takes us for a drive along the waterfront. What do we have here? This is a beautiful city, with golden beaches and sloping gently to the sunny south. In the modern part of the city, there are huge skyscrapers and you could be in Sydney or any other bustling city. Development has spread along the coastline. There are some really beautiful places. We spend the night at the Hwang Her hotel. Three star about to be renovated and upgraded to four star.
Sunday 23rd – This is the day for Lilly and I to look around Qingdao on our own. We get up early and have a big breakfast before walking down to the beautiful beach. There are a lot of people, mainly elderly, swimming in the cool water (it is late Autumn). Others are playing volley ball or walking/running along the beach. We are pestered to use a surf ski but don’t take up the offer. We take a bus along the coastline in the direction of the old city. We pass a lot of large homes set in spacious grounds, probably a carry over of the German occupation of the city. Elsewhere we see signs of German architecture and design. The homes are being preserved evidently as a reminder of bygone times, but they look abandoned and it is a waste of space in my opinion. Nevertheless the more I see of this city, the more impressed I am.
Close to the old city centre, we walk out on a large pier that juts out into the bay. There are thousands of people on it. It was built at the time of the German occupation in about 1900. It has been partially destroyed by a typhoon once if not twice in the last 105 years. Qingdao gets a major typhoon about once every fifty years and by all accounts it cleans up virtually everything in its way.
We go to a large city department store and have a look at the artificial flowers, then head back in the direction of the hotel by cab. We visit a mini castle where Chiang Kai Shek, the Kuomintang chief, negotiated with the Liberation Army and considered his future in 1949. The American Navy was evidently anchored in the bay and contemplating their options at the time. (Chiang Kai Shek left China shortly after for Taiwan and was never to return to China). The castle was built by a Russian aristocrat in the 1930s. It is still quite grand with five floors and we get a great view from the turret at the top. We then walk through some narrow streets where there are little parks and many wedding couples are having their photos taken.
I am starting to like this place and am seriously thinking of buying a flat here. Lilly isn’t so keen. Later we went booked into another hotel and had a walk along the beachfront.
Monday 24th – Mr Ren picks us up with a friend and they take us to look at some possible properties. At one end of the waterfront area we see a new development where the flats are costing Y30,000 a square meter. We are talking about them being refurbished quite grandly but Y30,000 is over the top. A 300 square meter place will cost about A$1.5m. Further along we see stuff for half that price but it is still too expensive. This is gold rush city. Prices have doubled in the last 2 or 3 years.
It is more expensive than Beijing.
We bid farewell to Mr Ren, then see real estate agents asking about second hand places. We are in the wrong area in my opinion, although everyone keeps telling me there is no real estate for sale in the area I have my eye on. (where the sandy swimming beaches are). Doggedly I pursue my dream. We take off in a cab for the other end of the waterfront and wander around looking at a new development. We spot an agent, but they really don’t have much at that end. Eventually we get another cab and head back in the direction we first came from. When we get almost back to the centre of the new city we spot a Century 21 agent and go in. They take us to see three or four about 5 minutes walk away. This is more what I have in mind, but the prices are still almost double those of a similar standard in Beijing although one in particular has a nice sea view and this is virtually on the waterfront. Still we are looking at $400 to $500,000 to get something reasonable and that is a long way outside the budget. Right on the waterfront there is a free standing new three story town house. It looks beautiful and it has its own piece of land and garden. It is has just been built, is evidently beautifully refurbished and is being sold for Y20,000,000 which is about A$3.2m. This is almost Sydney waterfront prices. In years to come of course what will happen to it price-wise. Maybe prices seem high today but they will be even higher next year. There is an awful lot of property speculation here. Better not join it. What will prick the bubble? I resolve to buy two weeks after the next typhoon.
Wei’s other friend Mr John (who also has a Buick) is in Qingdao on business today so we are lucky as he takes us home. We leave about 4:30 but it is dark at 5:30 and we travel for about an hour and half in the dark. It is crazy stuff. He is quite a good driver and it is four lane highway (2 each way) but there are loony people on the road, many of them without tail lights or for that matter any lights. Somehow we make it back in one piece, traveling sometimes at 140k with absolutely minimal vision. It is a bit frightening.
We finish the day with a boozy meal with Wei, Chin and another friend of Weis, the Deputy Principle of the local TAFE college. Tiny little restaurant but the food is good and the company is jovial. The Deputy Principle and I exchange views on Politics but Lilly is worn out and so we don’t make much sense to each other.
Tuesday 25th – Early start at the Internet Café to catch up on all the activity of the past three days. Ditto for Dear Diary. The day starts really foggy. Crossing the road, dangerous at any time, is doubly so this morning. But the day turns out to be quite nice and warm. The biting wind has gone.
Wednesday 26th – We catch a cab into the city to look at the artificial flowers, then go to Wei’s office to talk about the discolouration of a cherry sample. Then went along to the beach park, taking photos. Dinner with Mr John at quite a nice place. This is where I had Y200 pinched, I am sure of it. In the toilets very small and there were several blokes coming and going as I entered. Home with Wei and Chin and they stay over at Ma’s.
Thursday 27th – Came With Wei and Chin into their place – on the Net in the morning – in the afternoon he takes us for a drive to the south of the city, over a hill, through quite a long tunnel – pleasant outlook – we stop to see a huge athletics/games stadium. Then on to view some apartments, four floors only. Quite nice, spacious, extensive sea views, yet to be refurbished but expensive. Will they be built out? Also view a large apartment development. Dinner with Wei and Chin – fondue pot style.
Friday 28th – With Wei and Chin – on the Net in the morning – in the afternoon we visit the Triumphal City on the waterfront in Yantai – it is a good locality but still not cheap. To buy a decent apartment is going to cost Y2m, but if we don’t what will happen to prices over the next few years? Dinner with Wei and his three musketeers. At last we are permitted to pay. Good evening finished by another chess lesson by the master. Sleep at Wei’s.
Saturday 29th – With Wei and Chin – on the Net in the morning – catching up with diary this morning – struggle to remember all the events of the past few days.
Lilly and Wei get all enthusiastic about a Business Translation Service. This is the way to go. I have reservations about whether I can be employed here for that type of thing. Also wonder who is offering the service and how competitive is it already. Anyway we shall see. Lilly and I argue and then set things straight. I hope she has her second thoughts about things almost immediately following the first. I need to be more tolerant and patient and understanding. Stroke her the right way. She is not well either, with a tummy bug. My beloved has so many wonderful qualities, forgive her a little bit of temper. Resolve to try harder.
Sunday 30th –Forget what happened today. I think we had another look at the Triumphal City, walked around it to see what developments could affect the views. Lilly is not well but we eat out with Wei and Chin at a little place downstairs where we select food.
Monday 31st – Quiet day at home today if I remember rightly.
NOVEMBER Tuesday 1st – Open for business today with four share transactions. Don’t expect much over the next few months. Today we got a cab into the city and looked at new blocks of flats just around the corner from Weis. Not so ambitious as prices are in the 700 to 800 range. Then went to the Yantai Foreign Office to find out the process for me working here – a bit of a process and will take time. Not enough time this trip. We need to have a business which can make me an invitation (or an offer I can’t refuse). Then we go for lunch at Chins, then later to the Company’s Office to see what we need for setting up a company. Then we go to the Yantai Planning Office – very impressive huge displays of developments underway and planned. Then we go shopping for jeans for us both. Home by cab. Lilly still not 100% and fills the air with all manner of noisy ones. I complete a diabolical Su Do Ku.
Wednesday 2nd – Today starts like any other day – off to the Internet Café at 7:30 for a four and a half hour session including conversations via SKPE with David T. Birthday good wishes flow in from all over the globe, George Bush seems to have overlooked it, unforgivable. We are now planning on me going straight back to Beijing on the morning of my flight to Australia. Lilly will stay and go to Don Ying with Ma later and to Beijing with Jing later still. Sensible thinking rather than lugging a lot of luggage about and I have seen Jing this trip anyway.
Tonight we go by cab into the city for dinner with Ma and Wei and Chin. They buy flowers for me and we have a great time at the same restaurant we had our first meal when we arrived in Yantai. Later we come home and burn paper (pressed or imprinted by real money) in order to send something to the ancestors. The thinking is to provide for them and also that they may look after us in this life and give us good luck. This happens twice a year, Autumn and Spring. The Autumn one is held on the Lunar Calendar month of October 1st. (which this year was November 2nd) The Spring one is held sometimes February, sometimes March depending on the Lunar Calendar.
Thursday 3rd – Quiet day at home today – we play table tennis. Today is a beautiful sunny day, with hardly any breeze. It is balmy almost like summer again. Talk to Ma about her Master – turns out she has many of them. She says 300. They talk to her about her physical condition and how to improve her health. They appear to be medical specialists. She may look bent and a bit frail but looks are deceiving. She is fit and strong and does a lot of breathing exercises, stretching and Tai Chi every day. She has been talking to her Masters since she was about 60, so I too expect to hear from them soon. We should be massaging our feet and ears every day because there are numerous pressure points that react with internal organs and stimulate blood flow etc.
Friday 4th – Lilly and I walk to an Open Market about 3km away. It is a huge open market where almost everybody is selling almost anything to almost everyone. The sights and sounds and smells are unbelievable. Goodness knows what it would be like on a cold day or a rainy day. Everything is very cheap, particularly after you haggle. We buy clothes for Ma and other bits and pieces including a new suitcase on wheels which we carry back home. (The motor doesn’t work) Another beautiful day.
Jing arrives today for the weekend. His mind arrives first and he is non-stop for a while. It is great to see him again. We don’t talk much, because we can’t, but the good vibes are there. I go back to the Internet Café in the afternoon because I have a lot to do. Wei and Chin arrive and Jing is entertaining everybody when I get back. We all have dinner together in the evening with Mr John, Mr Leong and Mr Tongue and Mr John’s new girlfriend Miss Liu. The meals out, are a sight to behold, particularly when there is a big group. The dishes just keep coming and mostly the food is delicious. Tonight it includes peking duck wrapped in with shallots and sauce into a sandwich. Very tasty. Copious beer is consumed by the blokes in a ritual of toasts and gumbays. Tonight Mr Leong is late again and he is ribbed about being a womanizer. He firstly has to catch up with the drinking but he is an uncountable number of rounds behind. He also has a sore eye but keeps the good one focused attentively on Miss Liu who sits beside him. Evidently he also chats to Chin on the Net which is a source of annoyance to Wei.
Saturday 5th – Off early to the Internet Café for quite a long session. I am starting to think about what I have to do in Australia and will have limited time. So I need to be right up to date.