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March 2005


On our second day in Dalian, the people from the school picked us up to take us to our apartment.  Our apartment is on the third floor of a six-story building, which is situated on a terraced hill.  There are 61 steps from the street up to our building, and another 35 to get to our flat.  The stairwell gives one the impression that the building has been abandoned for several years, but luckily our apartment is in much better condition.  However, our flat has a few quirks.  Upon entering the front door (which can only be done with a key since there is simply no door handle on the outside), the shower is immediately to the right.  The toilet is literally in the shower.  Let me emphasize this: We don’t actually have a bathroom at all.  We have a shower with a toilet in it.  They have the same drain.  Furthermore, we found out the hard way that we’re not supposed to flush toilet paper down the toilet (picture me fishing out the never-flushing toilet paper with a spatula).  We’ve since bought a little trashcan with a lid whose brand is “Howfun.”  So now, every time we go to the shower room to use the toilet, we think how fun it is to have to put our toilet paper in a trashcan.

 Past the shower, on the right, there is a little hallway leading to an enclosed, really small balcony or porch (3 feet by 12 feet).  There is a sliding glass door separating the porch from the rest of the flat.  The bottom half of the porch has tile and the upper half has large sliding glass windows.  There is a rack attached outside below the window for drying our clothes.  The porch has no heat, and since it sticks out of the main apartment building, it is really cold.  On many mornings the window panes were covered in ice, which then melted throughout the day, leaving a puddle on the floor.  This porch is also supposed to be our kitchen, but having deemed it unworthy of such a title, we just call it the porch.  At one end of the porch is our only sink, and at the other end, a lone gas burner.  Ovens are unheard of, so there’ll be no homemade cookies, brownies, cakes, pizzas, or casseroles for us over the next year. 

 Since the porch made an inadequate kitchen, we have transformed the hallway leading to the porch into a kitchen.  We bought wooden shelves and put boards on top to make a counter (because there wasn’t one anywhere except under the gas burner on the porch). This hallway also houses a washing machine, a bottled-water dispenser, a microwave and a fridge.  We created a second “sink” by using the washing machine spigot and placing a plastic bowl on a table underneath it.  When the bowl fills up, we dump it down the shower/toilet drain.  This whole area is quite small; our bed is bigger.

 We have two large rooms: the living room and the bedroom.  In the living room, we have a couch that is hard and could only be described as hideous. There is a large bookshelf, a table, and two pink stools.  We also have a pump organ that sounds a lot like an accordion, although we don’t play it very often.  In our bedroom, we have a bed and a wardrobe.  Our apartment also came equipped with two TVs.  One is broken and one works in theory but does not receive any channels.  We have the less-broken one set up in our bedroom and it looks really nice. (I wrote this a while ago, and it has since been fixed.)

 So, our flat can’t quite compare with our 2-shower, 2-bathroom (notice the separation between those two entities!), 6-sink, 4-bedroom house in Namibia, but we’ve managed to make it livable by rearranging and cleaning everything.  The bedroom and living room were clean enough when we arrived, except the windows were disgusting, but the porch, hallway, and shower were incredibly dirty.  I can imagine that you’re wondering who lived here before us.  Well, it was none other than a previous teacher at the school, a guy named Craig from Ohio.  Go figure.

 But don’t despair about our reduced living conditions, for we have a view.  In our bedroom is a large south-facing window, from which we can see the ocean (far away), Xinghai Square (the largest square in Asia, as the locals proudly informed us), a ferris wheel and space shuttle in the Oriana Luxurious Cruise Theme Park, the Dalian Modern Museum, both the new and old convention centers, a stadium, several handsome skyscrapers, a few hills, and many other apartment buildings. 

 Furthermore, our location is great.  At the bottom of our street is the 202 trolley, which we take to school.  There is also a major bus stop with about every bus in Dalian.  We could walk to the sea in about 30 minutes (although we haven’t done it yet because it’s been so cold) and on summer evenings, apparently half of Dalian goes to hang out at Xinghai Square.  There are many nice restaurants down on the main road, and we are only one trolley stop (or a ten minute walk) from a giant 7-story mall.

 But perhaps the best part is our street itself.  So far, on our street, we’ve bought pineapples, strawberries, apples, bananas, roasted sweet potatoes, fried cornbread pancakes, onions, and potatoes.  And that’s just the food we can recognize at the vendor’s stalls.  If we wanted to, we could also buy seafood, seaweed, numerous other fruits and vegetables, Chinese newspapers, shoes, cigarettes, shish-kabobs, dumplings, various forms of fried or steamed breads, lots of cheap plastic stuff, toilet paper, wallets, sunglasses, etc.  There is also a convenience store where we can buy Snickers bars, soap, ramen noodles, chicken feet, juice, and yes, ICE CREAM!  That’s right folks, I live a mere two minutes from ice cream.  So I’d say we’re happy here in China.

click here for more photos of our apartment and neighborhood

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