Our China experience begins. 2008

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 I wrote this part of my blog shortly after we first arrived in Suzhou, China and although it is being published outside of the current blog timeline, since it was already written, I thought I may as well include it now so readers can see where this is going eventually and also maybe make a bit more sense of the title.
No….. It’s not our apartment block. Just a local pagoda in Suzhou.
I guess the story starts when I was made redundant in March 2008 for the 3rd time in as many years, by Air Liquide. (Never did like the bloody French!) Back to the job hunting and found this one.UK Product support manager for Knorr-Bremse railway systems (China). Wow, that sounds different. The foreign contract is for at least 3 years but then annually renewable to 5 years….or beyond.
I started with this outfit in May 2008 and after a few weeks training, including another trip to Munich and a week in Suzhou China, I shipped out arriving ‘in country’ on 21st July. I had already identified a suitable apartment during the week I spent here previously and since all the paperwork was in place I decided I may as well move straight in. despite having little more than the clothes I was wearing.The place we are living is Suzhou, Jiangsu province. About 200kms West of Shanghai. It is often called the ‘Venice of China’ because there are loads of canals. Also lots of interesting gardens. We actually live in a very nice apartment complex near a lake. (Jinji Lake) There are plenty of local shops and eating / drinking places close enough to walk to. Obviously part of the process of moving out here involved selling all the major assets. It was probably the worst time in creation to be doing this, but we managed it somehow. The caravan went first, followed by the car (eventually) and Val managed to shift the house in the beginning of December. Our daughter Dawn had already gone to take up her life guard job in Fife.

The gateway to our apartment complex

The rental company were a great help and even took me shopping for essentials….bit like going on cub camp really, one of everything, plus some bedding, pillow, towels etc. having got enough to manage with, I moved in. I was only there for a few days anyway, before I shipped out again, this time to Beijing where I was to be stationed for the whole of the Olympics. A colleague (Stuart) and I got to know the Holiday Inn and most of Beijing really well during the following 7 weeks!

Tianenmen Square during the Olympics

It was most certainly a very interesting time to be there, very busy of course, but since the trains were only available for any necessary work at night we had loads of free time during the day for exploring / sight seeing.

One of Beijing line 10 trains
I needed to return to Suzhou for a few days to get my tourist visa changed to a resident’s visa and to get my work permit. My removals which had been flown out also arrived at this time. It was a real treat to have more than one of everything, even though I was still camping out really using all the equipment which we had taken out of the caravan. Once all was successfully completed, I returned to Beijing in time for the Olympic start. I had one other trip during the Olympics as I was asked to go to Dubai for a week to download some braking software to the new metro trains out there, so that was an interesting break in the sunshine.Stuart and I did manage to get tickets to go to the Olympics one evening. We were actually in the birds nest for the 100m men’s final. The atmosphere was good, but since we were the wrong side of the stadium, I found myself sitting on a very uncomfortable seat watching the event on a huge TV!

Picture from where we were sitting
Once the Olympics and the paraplegic Olympics were over Stuart and I returned to Suzhou. Since by now we had accumulated more than we came with we decided to get the sleeper train back. We actually booked all 4 bunks in a compartment so we had plenty of space for all our bags etc. there is a choice of ‘hard sleeper’ or ‘soft sleeper’. We naturally booked the soft sleeper option……….but it really wasn’t that soft!


Once we got to Suzhou, I took 2 weeks off for the exciting first visit of Val and Dawn who came over for my birthday and to stay until 4th October. We did some sightseeing all together which was great as I realised by now I knew Beijing better than Suzhou!

Val and I had a day of cultural training before I left UK and part of that involved a graph which predicted all the mood swings that could be expected as a new expat. The downward swing most definitely kicked in once they went home. I guess they felt pretty much the same. Val was returning to the battle of the house sale and Dawn was going back to her new life in Scotland. At the time we had no dates in the calendar for when we would next be together.

I now started getting to grips with the job proper, which isn’t easy as nobody, either here or in UK, really knows how this new role is going to pan out. I guess I will write my own job description and terms of reference eventually, but for now, just get on with it………..whatever ‘it’ is.

This process was again punctuated with another trip to Dubai in November……tough life aint it! This time I was there for nearly 2 weeks doing more downloads to newly built / delivered trains. The trains are being built in Japan and then shipped over at the rate of about 4 a month. There will eventually be about 80 but about half that amount by the time it starts running on 9th September 2009. This date coincides with the opening of the tallest building, the Burj Dubai.

Once I got back to China again, the prospect of a buyer for the house in UK was looking pretty concrete now and sure enough we got lucky and it was sold. The escape from Tamworth was complete! Val now went to stay with my parents in Fareham and things went into top gear to get visas and flights in place for Val to join me on a permanent basis after Christmas. Obviously we spent Christmas in Fareham also with Dawn arriving from Scotland on Christmas Eve. It was so nice to be all together again and a really good time was had. Dawn naturally wanted to be back in Scotland for Hogmanay, so it was decided that we would drive her back up in Val’s Fiesta. What Dawn didn’t know at the time was that we were going to leave the car with her. She was obviously delighted with this.

Us all together on Boxing day.

We then returned to Fareham for a few more days before flying back to China on 3rd January 2009. Unfortunately it turned out that ‘Virgin’ was not the best option for this. We spent an hour and a half queuing just to drop our luggage and then had to get straight on the plane where we were sat on different sides and several rows apart. Well done Virgin………can’t wait to use you again…………NOT. Cold day in hell etc!!!

Anyway, we arrived together ok and the car was there to meet us at the airport. I was back to work on the Monday morning of course. Val had to go for her medical for her resident’s visa on Wednesday. All successfully completed, but had to be rushed through so she had her passport back in time to accompany me on my next trip, I had just been told I had to go to Dubai …..again. We flew out of Shanghai on 16th Jan and since the trip coincided with Chinese New Year we decided to extend our stay until all the festivities were over eventually returning on 28th Jan.

One of the new Dubai metro trains

Once we got back Val started to settle in properly, starting her Mandarin lessons in a big way. She decided to take her level one training at the rate of 2 hours, 5 days a week so she soon caught up with me.Val’s shipment from UK arrived around this time also which was a huge thrill. It had taken a while since all this lot had come by ship. (literally a ‘slow boat to China’!) It then had to be cleared through customs and transported to us in Suzhou. A definite spike on the expat mood swing chart!
Val’s birthday was now fast approaching and unbeknown to her, Dawn had decided to spring a surprise visit. This took a fair bit of discrete organisation but finally everything was sorted, visa, flight, transport, present, list of goods unobtainable in China passed and filled. All taken care of. She was ready to go………..unfortunately it was now the turn of Air France to do their worst. ‘Frog air’ had a problem with a plane and this meant that Dawn missed her connection in Paris. This meant she had to spend 24 hours in Paris and arrived the day after Val’s birthday. However, Val was totally unaware and as planned knew nothing until Dawn knocked on the door. One of those ‘priceless’ moments. Brilliant!!!
Having a ‘proper’ Chinese meal …………………………..One of the menu items !!

Although she had lost a day, we had a wonderful week with her, some travelling around and plenty of ‘interesting’ meals were had. I had also organised for a few friends to come round to celebrate Val’s birthday with us. In the finish there was only 2 couples plus my ‘across the landing neighbour’, Liam, but it was a pleasant evening with lots of laughs. At one stage we decided that we were running a bit short of beer so Dawn and I prepared to go to the shop (2 min walk). As we opened the door, BIG SURPRISE!!! There was a crate of beer on the doorstep. Now that’s what I call service. Well we couldn’t risk it being stolen so we brought it in out of the cold…..after we took a picture of it.

The ‘Lonely’ crate of beer

We were still laughing about this event when there was a knock on the door. Standing there looking rather confused was Liam wondering where HIS crate of beer had gone! We had to own up of course, but very funny at the time. Liam was going out later ‘downtown’ where his girlfriend was singing in a club and he asked Dawn to go too, which made a nice outing for her too.

Once Dawn had gone, life pretty much returned to normal, whatever that is, we don’t really know yet. I got sent to Dubai again for another week on 22nd March so Val came along with me again to do MORE shopping. It was our wedding anniversary that week so that was quite special.

No sooner did we get back from Dubai than I immediately went to Beijing for the week. Since the work was not completed, I had to return the following week also, so Val came this time. In between these visits we had a public holiday in China. This was for the ‘tomb sweeping’. This is apparently a time when they go and visit the last resting place of long departed relations and dust Granddad or something. It was just an extra day off for us of course.
Once the job in Beijing was finished we had a few days free to play at tourists. We didn’t do very much but I did take Val to the Olympic stadium of course and we also went to the lake park. Over the weekend before we returned home we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, before going to the shops…. just for a change. For travelling to Beijing we have been using Wuxi (pronounced whooshey) airport which is quite small and a LOT quicker to travel to and from than Shanghai. Only takes about 30mins instead of nearly 2 hours so much better.
Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

Health and safety is sometimes a little lax in China. For example…….How do you get a large sofa to the 15th floor of an apartment block…..easy 6 men and a very long rope…or two!!!

From here………………………………………. 
     Note the safety harnesses………..NOT!!! 
Job done and they all lived to do it all over again another day

They had done the same procedure to the 22nd floor the previous week. That was also the H&S manager’s day off I think!
Many more China experiences to come.