We arrived at the hotel at 2AM (Wednesday morning, December 7), and once we got settled in our room, we realized very quickly that we had no water to give the children to drink (because they started crying and asking for it). I have never had this problem before, and had very stupidly emptied their cups on the plane because I didn’t want them to leak in their bags. Now it was 2 in the morning, with the rest of the country fast asleep, and we had no water. There was a hot water pitcher in the room, so we boiled some water for ten minutes, and then put it on the windowsill of our 4th floor room to cool for the next half hour (and thus said goodbye to one of our cups). Apparently that is just not enough time to cool water enough for a 2 year old to drink it, but they made
Then we settled into our bed (read: king sized rock) with a movie on for the kids who had just slept ten hours and had no desire to sleep anymore, and got a good two hours of sleep before the kids were up and raring to go at 4:30 in the morning. That brought my sleep total, since Saturday morning at 7:00, over a period of 79 hours, to just about 8 hours. Let me tell you, it is FUN to try to keep three antsy kids quiet in a tiny hotel room where you’re pretty sure the walls are paper thin, and you know everyone else is sleeping. This is where we opened quite a few of the presents we’d packed for the trip (since they’d slept through most of the time we thought they’d be impossible on the plane). As early as he could, Brian went out and found something for breakfast, as well as some drinking water, and we both showered in the less-than-comfortable bathroom, packed up our stuff, and Brian lugged it all back downstairs in 3 trips while I sat with the kids in the lobby trying to get them not to run into the other guests, not to knock the tree over, not to climb on the couches with their shoes on, not to yell, and for heaven’s sake, NOT to touch the floor (crawling, knocking each other over, licking things all being integral parts of play time in their former lives in America).
We quickly came to the decision that there was no way we could possibly take the high-speed train to Tianjin from Beijing with all of our luggage, carry-ons and children. We asked the hotel, and they declined keeping any of our children for us, but said we could store our luggage there for 3¥ a day per bag (about $0.50), so we took as much as we could carry, and Brian would make 2 (at about 65¥ a piece) return trips to get the last 5 bags. From there, we set out down the alley (our hotel was down an alley that no taxis would come to, so we had to go find the main road to catch a cab) in search of a taxi. And so we wandered for the next 45 minutes, our first taste of the filthiness that is China, and the spectacle that we are when we are in it. We eventually found the road, Brian pushing a stroller with the heaviest duffel bag in it, while carrying Piper on his shoulders, his backpack and two other bags, and I pushing the stroller with the boys, and carrying the rest of the luggage. It was pretty much a nightmare that people who are jet-lagged should just not have to encounter. We stood at the road for at least 20 more minutes, trying to hail a taxi, but the few that drove by unoccupied did just that, drove by without stopping. We began to think we were never going to make it to the train. Finally, a driver stopped for us, and we somehow managed to fit all of our bags and strollers, and ourselves, into the equivalent of a tiny Kia, and road to the station.
At the station, after much confusion, and being turned away once by the very counter at which he was supposed to purchase the tickets, we got our tickets for the high speed train that would take us to Tianjin. The girls who took the tickets kindly opened up a side gate so that our double stroller could fit through, and we went in two separate trips in an elevator down to meet the train. Once we onto the train (a bit of a challenge, but not unmanageable), we took a deep breath and relaxed a little while, and watched as China whizzed by at 238 km/h. It was a very comfortable train, much cleaner than the Amtrak train that we rode to Ft. Lauderdale, and it moved silently.
We arrived in Tianjin a little more than 30 minutes after we left Beijing (it would have taken 2 hours on a bus), and when we got off the train, we could not go with all of the other passengers up the escalator, because of our strollers and all of our luggage, so one of the attendants had to unlock the elevator–China is not famous for being very accessible to the handicapped (i.e. parents of three-children). After waiting a good ten minutes standing there awkwardly with a few policemen and two of the train attendants (dressed very smartly like flight attendants), the elevator finally came down, and I went in first with the boys and the luggage I was responsible for. A policeman squeezed in with me, and rode up to the next floor, where we got out, and I thought, I really should push the down button so that Brian doesn’t have to wait another 10 minutes for the elevator, but…there’s a policeman here. Surely he’d do that if he knew it was necessary. And I don’t want to go to a Chinese prison on my first day. So I got out and went around the barriers to wait for Brian to come up. Of course, the elevator did not go down, and while we waited for an additional ten minutes for Brian and Piper to come up, a crowd formed around us. With my extremely limited Chinese, I just had to smile and shake my head and shrug my shoulders while they poked the boys, posed their children next to them, and took pictures. This is the kind of crowd I don’t mind in China. The ones that contain the grandmothers that reprimand me for improperly dressing my children are another story, but I had yet to discover those. I was already much happier in Tianjin than I was in Beijing. It felt much more welcoming.
Brian finally came up, stopped so all the Chinese people could be astonished that we have 三个孩子 (three children – Sān gè háizi – san guh high dzuh – we hear “san ge” everywhere we go), and then we tried to find our way out of the train station. And we went the absolutely worst way we could have gone. But we made our way outside, then walked around half the train station, with me saying 出租车 (Chūzū chē), or “taxi,” to every other Chinese person we met. We finally made it to the taxi area, and a woman walked up to us and said she’d take us for 30¥ ($5), and we were so grateful to be done hauling all our luggage on our own that we said yes (we later found out you can take a taxi from the train station to our part of town for about 15¥, but she was very nice, and tolerant of our dirtying our seats, and she helped us with our luggage, and fed the children Chinese zodiac animal crackers and real Mandarin oranges (not the canned kind), so I don’t really have any hard feelings.
We arrived at our hotel quite weary, and with hungry but stir-crazy children, who ran around the lobby in circles while we checked in (which took quite a while). I cannot tell you how nerve-wracking it is to try to keep my three children, in particular, from crawling on the floor when they are not strapped down, or from falling down on purpose. A hotel employee helped me bring the kids and the luggage to our room near the end of the check-in procedure, and the room was small, but it was much cleaner and nicer than our first hotel room. Still very Chinese, but a big step up. Once we were situated, we took the kids back downstairs to the restaurant in the lobby, which turned out to only serve steamed dumplings. Of course our kids won’t eat those (I do not have the slightest idea how to feed my children something new; so far, even starvation doesn’t seem to entice them), but we were just not up for a trip outside the hotel, so we sat down and ate, and promised the kids bread and peanut butter when we got back to the hotel room. We were served big fat dumplings with lots of mysterious pickled things to eat with them, which even a powerful desire to be polite could not induce me to try. We ate the dumplings and then beat a hasty retreat to our room (as I said, the children were insane).
We put the kids to bed and I ran downstairs just in time to meet our relocation agent, Mengchen, a Chinese woman who moved back to China two years ago, after living in UK for five years. We have been communicating via email for the last two months, and it was a relief to meet a somewhat familiar face who could also speak English. We walked from the hotel to look at three apartments nearby (stopping on the way to open a bank account so that we could change the $3000 we brought into RMB to pay the hefty 3 months’ rent in advance plus one month’s rent deposit that is standard when renting an apartment in China). We looked first at the apartment that I have loved since she first showed it to me a month ago, and then at two more that were not even close to as nice as the first, and I, very tired of all the upheaval, told her that we wanted the first one. She said, “Do you want to move in tonight?”
I was so shocked! It seemed too good to be true, but she said, “I will just meet you and your husband at the hotel at 7 tonight and we will go to the apartment and sign the lease with the landlord, and you can move in.” (As our relocation agent, she is present whenever we are with our landlord, to translate, and provides a contract in both English and Chinese, and then acts as our landlord for the duration of our lease (we call her whenever something breaks, and she calls the landlord.) She then took me on a long walk, showing me the things nearby that I might find helpful–a park (half a block from our apartment, but I had no idea how close until we stumbled upon it ourselves the following week, because I was so jetlagged and turned around), schools, a mall with a My Gym, and other things that just started to run together because my jetlag (and possibly the fact that I hadn’t really slept in almost 4 days) was hitting hard. Finally I told her I just needed to go back to the hotel, so she walked me back, just in time to get some supper for the kids (so I thought), pack up our things and move out (without spending even a night in the hotel). I got back and the kids were fast asleep. Piper, always the light sleeper, was up in a flash, but we could not wake the boys for anything (I was about to find out just how hard my boys will sleep when they think it’s night time – I can’t believe I ever made any efforts to try to keep them asleep in the US – I could’ve had a marching band go through their room and they wouldn’t have woken up). So supper did not happen, but we manage to get coats and shoes on the boys and stuck them, still sleeping, in the stroller, and went down to the lobby to wait for Mengchen.
Mengchen arrived, saw all of our things, and ordered a second taxi, and we somehow managed to get two very crabby (because being dumped into the backseat of a taxi is not conducive to sleeping) boys, Piper, and all of our things into the cab and to our new apartment building. Mengchen very kindly brought her step-father to help us with all of our things (he then showed up 2 days later very unexpectedly to show his wife our children, who were sleeping, and neither of them spoke English, so it was just a little awkward). We got out of the taxi, put the boys back in the stroller, and as the taxi pulled away, I realized that one of Teddy’s shoes was still in the cab (I only brought one pair for each of the boys, because they outgrew the shoes I brought for them over the last 2 months). I still feel a lot of regret over not checking their feet when we got out of the cab. I miss those shoes.
We went up to the apartment and the kids ran around and explored while we went through a rather lengthy process of contract signing, ammenity discussing and apartment checking. We handed over the month’s rent deposit and were informed of another 1881¥ we would owe for utilities when the landlord came back to set up the phone. It was hard not to feel like the country as a whole was trying to take everything we had. But I couldn’t quite care that night, because I was so exhausted. I have never felt so incapable of functioning in my life, but we somehow made it through. I actually don’t remember anything else about that night. I think Piper and I fell asleep on the couch as soon as Mengchen left, and Brian stayed up with the boys until they were finally ready for bed at 10 or 11 that night. But we were finally “home” in China, and so relieved not to have to pick up and move our kids again for a long time.
Here is the link to the facebook album of our apartment: