Dispatches from the land of Ewoks

It’s been busy lately at work, so I have no exciting outings to report. And since I can’t really write any details about work, I guess I have nothing at all to write about. OK, bye, everyone.

What? You’re still here? Oh, maybe I can think of something.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with my gas meter. Last week I had to put some more money on my electric meter. In a closet outside my apartment there are three meters, one for each of the units on the twelfth floor of my tower. The display on the right is mine. It just shows three dots until it gets below 200 units. For a couple weeks it had been slowly counting down, from two to five units a day. If it gets to zero you have no power.
The electric card is similar to the gas card. I put ¥200 on it and stuck it in the slot on the meter. Aw, gee, the electric company is an Olympic sponsor.
It clicked up to 461, then went back to dots when I pulled the card out. Isn’t that exciting? Gas and electricity must be paid in advance, like minutes on my cell phone. Water, on the other hand, is actually metered and billed. I don’t know how often they bill for water usage – I’ve been here a full three months and have not got a bill yet. I know from my lease that it’s my responsibility to pay that, not the landlord’s. A maintenance man came by last Monday and (I think) read the meter, so maybe I’ll get it soon.
I’ve started the process of getting a proper Chinese work permit. It required a ridiculous amount of different papers to be filled out, many of which require passport-size photos. I’ve been through one full set of 16 photos, plus almost all of a second 16, between applying for the original entrance visa, moving into the apartment, applying for Olympic credentials (still in the works after more than a full month), and now the work permit. I may go get another set of pictures taken, just in case. Next Monday, I’ll go for my health check. From several of my coworkers who have already gone through it, it’s a pretty minimal sort of exam. I was disappointed to learn I will not have to make a trip to Hong Kong to apply for my permit. Maybe some other time. (And look, I got a bowl to put my fruit in.)

And now some random thoughts, observations, and photos.
I’ve mentioned a few times about the different kinds of taxis you find in Beijing. On most mornings, there’s a whole line of them outside Seasons Park, making it easy to get one to go to the office. This picture was actually taken on a Sunday afternoon, but it’s the basic idea. The first one is a Hyundai, followed by a couple of Citroëns and I think a VW.

I took the camera along with me to the grocery store, and snapped a few shots along the way.
Several things to note in this one… Clothes hanging to dry along the sidewalk are a pretty common sight. Apparently theft is not a problem. A little further along you can see what JW refers to as an Ewok: a small child bundled up so he or she waddles when walking and can’t put the arms down, moving rather like the small furry beings from Return of the Jedi. The shops along here consist of a beauty salon, a cheap little restaurant, and a vice shop (as I call the ubiquitous tobacco and alcohol stores).
Further along the same street is where I buy some of my groceries. April Gourmet carries many European and American goods, and everything is marked in English in addition to Chinese. It’s a little more expensive than the stores that don’t cater to expats, but at least I can get cheese and cereal there if I feel a hankering for something familiar. I’ve also bought meat at the butcher shop next door, and been quite satisfied, though I’ve heard some of their sausages are on the bland side.
On the way home, more laundry out to dry. Note the name on the building in the background. I’ll have to take another picture to provide a more dramatic contrast between the word “Mansion” in its name and the reality of its appearance. The building on the immediate right is empty and has been since I arrived in the neighborhood. No signs of impending construction – don’t know what’s up there.
At various locations all over Beijing you see public exercise equipment like this, which is inside the Seasons Park grounds. I see people using it fairly often. There’s also a proper gym indoors with treadmills, stationary bikes, and other modern machines. I’ve been going there three times a week, trying to keep myself from turning into a complete blob considering all the hours I spend sitting at a computer. I miss playing soccer, but this will have to do, along with all the walking around town. By the way, the building in the background is the one I live in.
Look, it’s a cat! I’ve seen this one around the grounds a few times now. I’m pretty sure it’s a stray, but it’s not starving.
Forgive the blurry nature of this one – it was taken from a moving taxi. This is along Dongzhimennei (Dongzhimen Inner) straight down my street towards downtown. I’m told this street is well-known for its restaurants among locals. Aside from the bank in the center of the picture, I think every single storefront here is a restaurant. Most of these places don’t cater much to foreigners, but I hope to visit some of them over the next couple years.
Another taxi shot. This is where Dongzhimen meets the Second Ring Road (which is actually down below the railing you can see). Just to the left of the middle is a building that tacks traditional Chinese style roofing on top of a modern building.

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