Get to work!

Not really much to report today. I met with the real estate agent and signed the lease for my apartment. I'll meet his assistant tomorrow to pick up the keys. I'll say I don't really know what that means, since the apartment door has a keypad for entry - I'll enter my code to get in. Maybe there's a key for the outside door or something.

One thing that's different here is that the electricity is paid in advance, like a prepaid phone card. You put so much money on it, and the power runs until you've used up what you paid. Luckily water is included in the rent (along with TV cable and internet). Frank told me the ayi will warn me when the power meter gets low.

The ayi... That's the housekeeper. She'll come in on Monday and Friday to clean up. That will be strange, having that kind of service. To a middle class American like me, it feels like a huge extravagance, but it seems that pretty much everyone here has one. I did elect to do my own laundry. From what I've read, the dust storms here make it almost impossible to keep things clean, which is one reason everyone hires a maid. It will also feel a little like an invasion of privacy, having someone come into my home.

There's a huge international conference starting soon in Beijing, the China-Africa Summit, and my hotel is hosting many attendees. At breakfast this morning, two men in military dress uniforms festooned with ribbons and medals sat at the next table. After a while, I managed to see a tag that said Afghanistan. In addition to the Russians I've mentioned, there are Swedes, Brits, French, other Americans, and a variety of African guests. I'm pretty sure I saw one of the Afghan generals having a drink in the bar this evening...

Speaking of military, I was waiting in the hotel lobby for my ride to the office, when the cash machine was restocked. The worker with the cash bag was accompanied by two guards armed with machine guns. It was strange seeing that out of the corner of my eye only ten feet away. It seems everywhere you turn here there’s someone in a uniform, be it the national army, the local police, or whatever. I can’t tell all the different entities apart. Some of them seem to be little more than parking lot attendants, but the uniforms look the same. I think some of them are basically there just so they can be employed. Last night I noticed a young man in a green uniform watching the sidewalk around the corner from the hotel. He didn’t look to be more than a teenager, and he was of very slight build, but his uniform was way too big for him. It was cinched up in a big bunch around his waist.

In general, this is a very labor-intensive country. In American restaurants, it seems like under-staffing is the norm, but here every establishment has an army of employees. Last night I was at a Malaysian place, and for the upstairs room (about 20 tables) there were four waitresses, plus a man who brought food out from the kitchen. Downstairs at the entrance, there were two greeters calling out to passers-by to come in and eat. Virtually all restaurants have them. The apartment building has an attendant at every entrance to open the door for you (and probably watch for unauthorized people), and most of the elevators have an attendant to push the button for you. I can’t imagine what it’s like spending 8 or more hours a day in an elevator pushing buttons for people. You see people with brooms and hoses cleaning the sidewalks everywhere, and legions of gardeners tending the grass and flowers around buildings.

This is the entrance to the hotel's parking garage. Note the uniformed guard.

The up side of all this extravagant use of labor is that there are almost no beggars on the streets. Only two or three times have I been approached for change, always by older women.

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