Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kristin Joins the Peking Opera

Okay, okay, the title is a lie. I didn't join the Peking opera, but I did get made up like I was in it. The school brought in the professional make-up artists and a professional photographer all from the Peking opera. The photographer was so good he could look at an outfit and immediately spot if there was a missing hairpiece, ring, broach etc. He knew each character perfectly. I haven't seen the professional shots yet (I'm excited to see them) so you'll only be able to see the shots made on my cellphone here, but it was so cool. Each character had specific poses and he would put you into those poses and then take the pictures. Some of the poses were really awkward and difficult to hold. After you completed one outfit you changed into another and did it all again.
The process took a really long time and I grew frustrated (I ended up waited 5 hours before they began on me and then my process took a total of 3 hours - some of that was just time waiting). Later they brought in more artists to try to speed up the process. While, I didn't like the wait, it was a really cool experience. Here are the pictures. Enjoy.
First one of the women did my make-up. As you can
see it is really heavy and man it was difficult to wash off!

Next, this guy added the hair pieces. As he did it he
put a strip of cloth around my face that pulled my eyebrows up. Apparently for a lot of people they did even more using
a bunch of strings taped to their face to pull it back.

He used an adhesive made from bark to attach all of this.

My first headpiece is done. Now I'm waiting to get dressed.

I even had to add whitening to my hands. Actually, Peking Opera make-up
is really light and is designed to make people look pale and "beautiful" the make-up
matched my current tan, but was actually darker than areas like where my watch goes that
aren't tanned. If this had been winter, the face make-up would have been making me darker rather than lighter!

The photographer posing me for one of the shots
in my second outfit.

Renting an apartment in Beijing

Before I moved to Los Angeles I thought apartment hunting was easy. Finding an apartment in Los Angeles was a whole new experience, but it was probably a useful one because it was so simple in comparison to finding an apartment in Beijing. Like Los Angeles, finding an apartment in Beijing was complicated by the fact that I don't know they neighborhoods. However, apartment hunting in China is also different in several aspects.
The first part of my search was to decide on a location. Like anywhere unfamiliar this can be difficult. I knew I wanted to be fairly close to school and fairly close to a number of my colleagues, but of course this still allows for a lot of possibilities. Most of the teachers were living in studio apartments in an area called Houying. This was a problem for me. Not only was I not willing to live in a studio, but I also wanted an actual kitchen. The apartments many of my coworkers were living in had nothing more than a hot plate (Chinese kitchens don't have ovens and only have two burner stoves anyway), but I like to cook and I greatly prefer a gas stove. An additional complication to my search was the fact the school only provided five nights hotel accommodation (a fact they neglected to tell me until the morning after my fourth night). The final complication was I started working before I even started looking for an apartment. On Friday night (a couple of weeks ago) I went to the neighborhoods where a couple of my coworkers live and looked at apartments there. My co-worker's wife (who is Chinese) had contacted a real estate agency in the area and told the agent I was looking to rent a one bedroom apartment. The first apartment he showed me was a studio. I told him that wasn't acceptable, but he said he had some two bedroom apartments. I looked at a couple of two bedrooms that were quite nice (and about the same price as the studio), but I had a few concerns. One of the concerns was the location. To get to these apartments I had to take the metro five stops and then take a bus (although I could have gotten a bike and gotten to the station a bit faster that way). Another concern was one of the landlords had changed the price after one of my colleagues had negotiated a deal and this concerned me about what kind of nonsense she might pull as a landlord. The other place still had the owners living in it and they were taking a lot of the furniture with them. They told me that they were replacing it, but of course you never replace the furniture with better things and so I had no idea what the furniture would actually be like. The final strike against that place was I was afraid they would not be out quickly enough for me to move in. Thus, my search moved to another area.
I live on the 15th floor, but there is no 4th,
13th or 14th floors. This is because
4 sounds like death in Chinese
and 13 is unlucky in the west.
This new area was highly recommended by one of my coworkers, but I was concerned because it required changing metro lines twice. However, it wouldn't be too far for a bicycle or would be a fairly cheap Uber ride. So I went to look on Saturday morning. My coworker was supposed to meet me there, but I took the metro from my hotel and she took a car from her house. I beat her there by about an hour and a half because she got stuck in traffic. As a result, she called the agent to meet me and I toured apartments with him by myself. He doesn't speak English so my Chinese got quite a workout. Unfortunately the apartments were not clean enough or large enough or any number of things enough. Having lived in China before I felt I didn't really have high standards, but I struggled with the apartments. After looking for hours we found one that was in a slightly different area. It was actually a little closer to school and would only require one metro transfer. It was a decent size and had an air conditioner in the living room and one in the bedroom, but it had some problems with the furniture. We were able to negotiate for some new furniture and came to a deal. We then had to deal with all kinds of paperwork. I had another issue though. In Beijing, when you rent an apartment you have to pay five months worth of rent up front. It's one month's rent for the agency, usually one month's deposit and you pay rent three months at a time. My apartment was two month's rent as a deposit and then the rent is paid two month's at a time! However, I didn't have five month's worth of rent and it would be rather difficult to get that much from the States. My rent is 4,900 yuan a month and the school provided us with 10,000 yuan as a settling in allowance, but the total I needed to pay was 27,187 yuan (including Internet, cable and a couple of other things. In other words I needed to pay a little over 4,000 USD up front! Luckily, I was getting paid in a few days and they agreed that I would pay for the deposit and two months rent after I got paid.
After all the contracts and paperwork details (which were far more than anything I ever encountered in the States) you would think that was everything, but you would be wrong. I moved into the apartment on Sunday. The furniture came on Monday. The Internet guy arrived on Sunday (I had to pay for the entire year up front). On Monday someone from the agency came with the cards for electricity, reclaimed water (used for the toilet - I think the US may be the only country in the world that uses potable water for the toilet) and gas. I was shown how to pay using an app called Alipay and told that my potable water bill would come taped to the door.
Unfortunately acquiring gas was a very big ordeal. When I was given the gas card I asked where I could buy gas and was told the Ping An Bank (Ping An means peace). I didn't know where this was and couldn't find it. I tried paying with Alipay using the number written on a sticker on the front of the card, but it didn't work. After nearly two weeks I asked a couple of my Chinese coworkers during lunch (on a Friday). They said I could use Alipay, but we once again tried with the number on the card, but it didn't work. So they said well the number would be on a receipt. I gave them the pouch of receipts I was given and said, "well, I can't read the receipts." They looked through the pile and told me none of them were gas. One of them called my agent and asked him. He didn't know, but he texted me the number of someone else. My coworker talked to this person who told her that I needed to go to the Bank of Beijing and let her know it was near the Carrefour near my house (thankfully I knew the Chinese name for Carrefour, because my coworker didn't know the English name). So on Saturday I went to the bank. I found a bank employee near the machine where you take a number (standard practice in China to have a person there to answer questions). I told him I had heard that I could add money to my gas card there. He informed me that was true and asked if I had a debit card. I told him I didn't have a Bank of Beijing card and he said that was fine I could use any card. He told me there was a machine and he'd show me where it was. On the way I informed him that I couldn't read a lot of Chinese (this whole conversation was in Chinese). He said, "no problem, I'll help you."
We got to the machine and went through the whole process until we got to the payment part. He's swiping my card and it isn't working. Then he looks at it and sees that it doesn't have a magnetic strip. He tells me that it only takes cards with magnetic strips. I ask him what I can do. He said, "you only have the one card, don't you?" "Yes, I replied. What can I do?" He tells me there is an ICBC (my bank) around the corner. Go there and ask for a card with a magnetic strip. I find the ICBC and explain the problem to the woman there. She explains it to another woman and then they tell me they only have chipped cards. I ask them what I should do, I need to buy gas. They don't have an answer for me.
I'm now highly frustrated. It's my 14th day in my apartment and I haven't been able to buy gas. I consider opening a bank account at the Bank of Beijing, but then I remember my passport is at the PSB (Police Security Bureau) until the 21st getting my resident permit. I can't open a bank account (or buy train tickets, or do a lot of things). I leave the area defeated.

The view from my apartment.

Good morning Beijing!
That afternoon I text the coworker who helped me the day before because when she was helping me I needed to show her my address and she said she lived in the area. On Sunday she met me at the bank and paid for the gas using a card with a magnetic strip and I paid her back in cash. Unfortunately, neither one of us (the machine had Chinese and English prompts) understood that when it asked for the amount it meant the amount in cubic meters of gas, not the amount of money (which is how most of these cards work) so I ended up buying more than twice as much as I meant to buy and now have gas that will probably last longer than I live in the apartment, but at least I can now cook!