Sunday, February 26, 2012

More Pictures From the Home Finding Trip

It's official, our one-way flights are book for March 7th. The movers are coming on Feb 29th to pack up the house and we'll move in with my folks around that time. That will leave us a few days to finalize all the little things to do before getting on that plane.

Here are some more pictures from our home finding trip.

If I remembered the name of this temple, I would write it here

A look over Jinji Hu Lake

Shayne and Alex entering Shan Tang Street in Suzhou

The canal running parallel to Shan Tang Street.

Our guide didn't recognize the faces on these mugs

Shayne bought a fresh water pearl necklace, but forgot to negotiate.

"The Bund" in Shanghai

The Sherpa didn't deliver silverware, so Clif spooned his stuffed chicken

Shayne's tacos were spicy!

Gate of the Orient, as seen from our hotel room

Gate of the Orient on a more clear day

Rainbow Walk on Jinji Hu Lake, home of the Big 'n Whistle

Look what we found within walking distance of the apartment! Shayne is pretty happy about this.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

One, Two, Three, Cheese!

What is it about driver's licenses, passport pictures and identification badges? I've never taken a good one and the latest is no exception. With the upward perspective of short people, a cheesy grin and extended neck, this one ranks in the top three worst all time. At least these don't resemble a mug shot like my last batch.

Why do they bother counting to three? Just surprise me and get it over with.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What We're Expecting: Combat Shopping

During our home finding trip, the realtor spent an afternoon taking us to local shopping areas. It was kind of interesting to see, but someone needs to tell them that not all Americans buy Versace and Armani.

They showed us the international grocery stores, where we'll be able to buy the common brands from the US and Europe. They also showed us the wet market, where fruits and veggies are cheap. They took us to Walmart, which is similar to ours only in name. They took us to a couple shopping malls.

And when asked where Chinese people shop, they took us to Auchan (pronounced Oh-shawn) where things are cheaper than Walmart.

This is a picture of the check out lanes. If you look closely and squint, they are numbered starting at one and the picture gets fuzzy around twenty. All the way at the other end of the store is lane number 107 and everything in between had a queue. The place was ridiculously crowded and the book bag I had kept getting bumped into. The realtor thinks it wasn't too bad because the time of day, a truly horrifying thought.

Very few products had English written on them, and slightly more than that could be identified with pictures. We'll spend a fare amount of energy avoiding this place, but we also realize it will lure us in from time to time. For example, this is THE place to get our cell phones.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

HHI Suzhou Edition - The Dramatic Conclusion

Viewing a dozen homes in two days was easy. Narrowing the choices down to a top three was easy. Picking an absolute favorite was really difficult.

We'll be getting the awesome clubhouse (which probably deserves it's own post), heated floors and the outdoor laundry room. Previously known as option two in our teaser post, we'll live in a swanky 1800 sq ft apartment in Marina Cove Gardens. I'd mention the price, but such talk is uncivilized - even we weren't allowed to know until the deal was settled.

Here is a link to the apartment complex's site, which you won't be able to read...but click around on the menus to see some other pictures.

Living room

Balcony on the second floor

Dining room, looking into kitchen

Sixty inches of high definition


"That Other Balcony"

Master bathroom, with Japanese toilet

Master bedroom

The bed you will sleep in during your visit

Peanut's room

Floor plan courtesy

As of press time, we have a verbal agreement from all parties on lease terms. The paperwork is being shuffled and we're awaiting a FIRM confirmation from Doris Du at Joanna Real Estate. Doris was very helpful and speaks very good English.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Amazing Size of Chinese Carrots

Seriously, look at those carrots.

Yesterday we went around to a few of the shopping centers in Suzhou. One highlight was the wet market, which is a vegetarian's nirvana. Fruits and vegetables were everywhere...the carrots here are enormous and the eggs are fresh enough to still have "residue."

We were told (and unable to independently verify) it is called a wet market because every night they hose the entire place down, then restock for the next day. Here is a short video Clif took.

It is impossible to walk, talk, look AND take quality video all at the same time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

House Hunters International: Suzhou Edition

Shayne's giant bowl of Chinese "sum-ting-oar-other "

Today we viewed 10 apartments at 4 different complexes, tomorrow we're slated to view some single family homes. We did learn two more facts to prepare for: The Chinese do not heat common areas such as lobbies. Brr....And a can of imported Hormel chili might cost you $5.00.

We think we have narrowed today's choices down to three favorites, here they are in no particular order:

Will they choose the spacious layout with large walk-in closet but lack of community green space?

Or will it be the unit with endless clubhouse amenities, heated floors but an outdoor laundry room?

Maybe they'll choose the well appointed highrise apartment with lovely grounds but a small galley kitchen?

Stay tuned to see what they choose.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Diary of a First Time Suzhou Visitor

Wednesday, February 8th and Thursday, February 9th

Today began with a 3:50 am wake up call to make a 5:45 flight from Peoria to Chicago.  I have taken this flight many times, but I still learned a new lesson: Small planes require most of the weight to be in the back. When the announcement was made we all turned around to see not one person sitting in the back of the plane.  Quickly, we relocated. Phew.

Then comes the big flight.  14 hours and 45 minutes in Economy Plus. 5 extra inches of foot room. Score.  Although,  it was still a little depressing after peeking into first class and having to walk through business class. They get socks to wear in flight.  I will be one of those people one day.  As luck would have it, the plane was not full.  I had two seats to myself, as did Clif.  I will only hope to be so lucky when we fly back. 

We flew over with three of Clif's coworkers, I was warned by Clif and his coworkers not to watch the tracking map of our flight during the duration of the trip.  I couldn't resist.  I regret that decision.  It takes FOREVER to fly through Canada.

Many lessons learned on my first long flight:
1.  I am good for about 8.5 hours and then I begin to loose my cool.  I was happy camper at first.  We got snacks, a meal, and then I settled in to watch 50/50 on my screen.  That was a nice cry.
2.  Around 10 hours in, men begin to not care if they are actually peeing in the toilet. It was not a bumpy ride, pull it together men.
3.  If all you have given me is a baby banana and pastry for 10 hours and the flight attendants are standing in the back laughing and eating food, I get a little emotional.  AND I am pretty sure she was eating cheesecake, we were never offered cheesecake.  I think I need to upgrade my seats.  I have a sneaking suspicious business and first class were given soup, not a pastry.

Lessons learned while driving to Suzhou:
1. Just because they send a driver for you doesn't mean he will know how to get you to your final destination.
2.  You should wear your seat belt.  Maybe two if they are available. Or just vow to not open your eyes for the ride.
3.  Your driver has no problem with pulling over to the side of the road to pee.  I shouldn't even say "side of the road," more like far right lane.
4.  In my 2 hour trip I have no idea where Shanghai stopped and Suzhou began.
5.  In Shanghai they do not separate housing, from industry, from farming.  It is all mixed in together.

Suzhou Industrial Park. Finally! From what I saw it is pretty sweet here.  Very new and modern. Lots and lots of colorful lights. Plus our hotel is pretty swank. After a dinner of room service and a 7:30 pm bedtime, I awoke at 5:30am and ready for our day of apartment viewing!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What We're Expecting: A Baby!

We're going to be parents....WOOHOO!

Last year we made the decision to not put our life on hold just because this whole China thing came into view. As such, we jumped head first into two major life changing events simultaneously. This August we'll become a family of three...if the stress about everything doesn't kill off the father first, thus knocking the tally down to two.

Don't expect a solid answer if you ask about our plans to deliver the baby in China. Right now we are assuming the Chinese know a thing or two about having babies; they seem to do it from time to time. Another option is to load Shayne on a plane for a couple months of "maternity leave" in July. Luckily, we have a few months to figure that out.

One agenda item for the home finding trip (which begins tomorrow - YIKES) is to check out the local hospital scene. We are not experts on gauging the quality of medical care, especially from a cursory tour. We're hoping to at least get enough information to start putting together a plan for our summer.

One more thing, because I simply can't resist:

This baby is Vitale approved

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What We're Expecting: About the SIP

Here is part two in our pre-move data dump informational series on what little we know about our future life in China. These posts are designed to inform our family and friends, as well as get the boring stuff out of the way early. Once on the ground there will not be much time for this'll be all awesome, all the time after the first week of March.

 The Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is not like the industrial parks in America; you've got to get past that to understand it's really a city within a city. The SIP covers about 110 square miles and, according to at least one website, the population is around 600,000 people. The park is also home to many local and international companies.

According to our internet research, the SIP was started in the 1990's. It is a joint venture between the Chinese and Singaporean Governments as an area focusing on economic development. The development model seems to be focused on creating a nice place for people to live and work. "If you build it they will come" is the saying that keeps coming to mind.

Photo courtesy of Alex_1982's Panoramio page

The SIP is located around Jinji Lake, to the east of Suzhou's old city and is still under development. There is ongoing construction at many locations. The above picture is a scale model of the future vision rather than the current state.

The picture below is from the lake side, looking west at the space that will be filled with the white glowing buildings shown above. You can see two tall buildings under construction...once complete in 2013, the two towers will touch at the top and be a single 68 story building known as "Gate of the Orient" (click this link for more info and renderings of the final product.)

During Clif's October trip, he stayed in the SIP at a hotel built to look like a cruise ship. He was thoroughly impressed. The area around his hotel was clearly developed as a high class residential zone with high rise apartment buildings, shopping centers and restaurants. Even a walk down the sidewalk was filled with visual stimuli from beautiful landscaping, flashing lights and sculptures.

In case you haven't guessed it by now, we plan to live in the SIP. The area is a common place for expats to live and hosts a healthy German, Korean and American population. Many from Clif's company have settled here to work at the plants in Wuxi and Suzhou. The expat community in SIP has already begun to reach out to us. We appreciate this support and look forward to the day we're in a position to reach out to others.

 We know there are many western restaurants such as Subway, Burger King and Cold Stone Creamery in the area. For more adventurous nights, there are plenty of eastern cuisine options too. We've been told shopping for typical western prepackaged foods can be expensive, but things like breads, fruits and vegetables are very affordable.

There is even a Walmart in the area, but we're told it's not popular because the prices are too high. Imagine that! The locals prefer a similar place called Auchan (an international brand headquartered in France,) which I've heard can be overwhelmingly busy. The SIP Auchan is the largest in China and second largest in the world. I look forward to taking pictures of that place to share with you.

Map courtesy of GEM Global College

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What We're Expecting: Bunches of People

Here is the first part of a series we are going to publish before the final move. We've done a little internet research about Suzhou and we'll make a home finding trip in February. Clif went on a scouting expedition in October and we've talked to current and former Suzhou expats. The result is information overload. A patchwork of critical and useless information...random facts or ideas.

Things we think we're expecting.

A picture Clif took while lost in the city

Suzhou is definitely a BIG city, not just by our small city standards. Moving from Peoria to any large city will invoke some level of culture shock. Add in the whole "eastern culture" thing and we are in for a thorough shocking of our cultures.

Check out these easily interpreted visual representations of data.

Total population is only part of the story; the city's population density is two and a half times that of Peoria. Even the Suzhou outskirts are more densely populated than Peoria.

With all those people, think we'll have a chance to go unnoticed?