Archive for September 30, 2013

Buying Imported Food Items


A visitor from Dalian commented on a previous post asking about import stores. I’ll share what I know, but others who know more please leave additional information in the comments.

Most of the large supermarkets (Carrefour (jia  le fu), Vanguard (wan da), Spar (mei te hao), Beijing Hualian, and Victory (wei duo li) have import sections that seem to have pasta, some cereal, pasta sauce, cookies, candy, chocolates, wine, drink mixes, and a host of other things that I don’t find particularly useful. Most of those larger stores also have a small selection of cheese in the diary section.

There are many small import shops throughout the city, but most sell things Chinese people would buy as gifts (crackers, cookies, candies, etc) more than products that foreigners want to cook with. Below is baidu’s map of what pulls up when one searches for import stores:

Some worth noting:
-Jenny’s is marked at point F on the above map. It’s the most well-known and has canned goods, cheeses, tortillas, pizza crust, cereal, etc.
-The basement of Wei Duo Li International Plaza (West of Spar) (corner of Xin Hua and Xing An) has an import store also.
-It didn’t map, but there is another small import store on the north/south road on the east side of Wan Da.
-Dong Wa Yao (东瓦窑). This is a wholesale market. There’s more about this market specifically at this post.
Other unverified information that needs help from our lovely readers:
-There was an imports store on the second floor of the big Minzu Supermarket downtown on Zhong Shan Lu. Is it still there? (You had to enter from the west side, not the main door on the south side)
-There was a restaurant supply store on the outskirts of town in a hu tong/ping fang style building on the northwest side of town. Is it still there? I heard it had a very large selection that included turkeys for Thanksgiving.That’s all I know, folks. I hope to have really good news for you all after the holiday about online shopping, but until then, enjoy running around town to find what you need!

more updates and a call for suggestions


I’ve updated the foods page just a bit and I’m working on the main Hohhot  restaurant guide, but it’s a big task and will take awhile. I’m also still working on completing the entertainment page. And as always, I have about ten incomplete blog posts just waiting t be finished. Mostly I’m trying to add maps as requested by a reader, so it takes a but more time.
So, other than those things in the works, what information do you want to see on this site? What questions can I attempt to answer? What content is useful for you? Leave a comment and let us know how we can make the site better.

getting settled-finding a house


The next installment of our “getting settled” series is how to find a house (apartment) to rent. One would think that with the amount of housing complexes being built, finding a house to rent would be easy. However, in my experience that is not the case. Empty apartment does not mean available for rent apartment. (The reasons why there are so many empty apartments deserves its on post). I have lived in China in three different stints, and I’ve found my own place each time. I’ve also assisted a handful of others as they were arriving. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ll share here what I know. If you have other opinions or suggestions, leave them in the comments to help others.

There are four ways I know of to find a place to rent. In my experience all four must be used to find what you’re looking for.
Word of Mouth: You can let friends know you’re looking and see who they know that has a place for rent.
Flyers: Small flyers or notices are often posted on poles or walls near the area where the house for rent is. You can find an area of town you like and look for flyers. With this I will also add that you can ask at a complex’s wu ye zhong xin 物业中心 (management office) but this hasn’t given me good results. They often either don’t know of places to rent or only want to try to sell you vacant properties.
Internet: I have linked to a few of the search engines below where you can search for houses for rent. Some listings are put up by the owner and others by agents. A word of caution: Listings are not always accurate. By this I mean they are often already rented or the details about the property itself may be inaccurate. If a photo is included with the listing it may or may not be a photo of the property listed.
Real Estate Agents: These offices are everywhere. They are called either fang di chan 房地产 or fang wu zhong jie 房屋中介 or some variation of those. They are most often small offices and there seems to be one on nearly every street. I suggest you find one in the area of town you’d like to live in. Even the agents do not have access to all available properties but they are more likely to have listings near their office. They will know the properties their office has listed or they can search on the internet or make calls on your behalf. The standard fee for using an agent seems to be half of one month’s rent and some agencies charge a fee of 30-50 RMB to see a property.

Once you think you’ve found a prospective place, you’ll need to arrange with the owner or agent to see it. I’ve found that it’s much easier to operate on a “Can I see it now?” as opposed to “Can I see it on Tuesday at 3:00?” system.  For those of us from more time-oriented cultures, this process will be frustrating. Landlords (or whoever it is that has the key) will be inevitably be late or not available or something, and it’s easier to know that immediately than to clear your schedule for two days from now and have it fall through.
Some houses will still be occupied by tenants and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to just walk through while they’re there.
Another interesting/strange thing to me as an American is that a few places I have seen or taken others to see is that you wouldn’t have access to the whole property. For example, the listing may be for a three bedroom, but when you get there one bedroom is locked and will remain locked even if you rent it. So, what you’re getting is a two bedroom place. Sometimes it’s a balcony, sometimes a bedroom, or a bathroom, but it seems not uncommon for the landlord to retain a room for his/her own storage.
Don’t expect the houses you see to be clean or “show ready.”

Furnished versus unfurnished: You can find fully furnished, partially furnished, or empty apartments. Some also come with all necessary appliances and others don’t. You’ll need to spell out clearly what you want/expect before you agree on a price and sign a contract. This area is something you can negotiate with the landlord….pay more and have them buy appliances and furniture or pay less and get those things yourself. You’ll want to ask about the hot water situation. If there’s not an installed hot water heater, you probably won’t have hot water. These days most places have an installed hot water heater in the bathroom, but it’s still not common for the kitchen to have hot running water, so if that’s important to you, you’ll need to negotiate for another water heater to be added.

Heating and utilities:  Some landlords will include the heat and wu ye (management) fee in the rent and others will not. This is important in considering the price because depending on the size of the apartment, the presence of an elevator, the size of the grounds, and other factors the total can be 7000-8000 RMB/year. All other utilities are generally the renter’s expense. This area is also something you can negotiate with the landlord.

Prices: Based on my most recent experience helping some friends find a place, I would say that a furnished two bedroom apartment with appliances will be somewhere between 1500-2500 RMB/month and a three bedroom (which is much harder to find) will be about 2500-3200 RMB/month. Prices may be cheaper the farther out of the city center you are.

Signing the contract: If you can’t read Chinese, absolutely take a local friend with you. Make sure you understand the terms, especially for what happens if either party breaks the contract. You’ll also want to save and make copies of the contract. If you have (or want to have) a residence permit, you’ll need a copy of it.
Rent and realtor fees will be due at the time you sign the contract. Most landlords require the rent to be paid for one year. Prices are listed by the month, but payment is expected for a year. Occasionally you may find a landlord who will accept rent in six month increments, but these seem to be more rare recently. You will need to be prepared with the money, which may mean multiple trips to the bank if you have a daily limit on the amount you can withdraw.

I Miss Hohhot


My family and I are still on vacation. Sometimes being in a bigger, more developed city makes one jealous of all things that city has that Hohhot doesn’t. However, it can also bring to light all the things truly wonderful about our city. In this spirit, I present to you the following list:

Things Hong Kong has that Hohhot doesn’t (and that Hohhot doesn’t want!)

1. Mosquitoes.  Lots and lots of them. Biting me, biting my children. These pesky guys aren’t a problem in our beloved HHHT.
2. Humidity. I had forgotten what constant sweat feels like. I’m ready to be home where it’s not only cooler, but also drier…where clothes on the line dry in a reasonable amount of time.
3. Cantonese. Thankfully with either English or some Mandarin, one can get around in Hong Kong because Cantonese has more tones than Putonghua. I’m ready to be able to understand everyone (mostly everyone) again!
4.  High prices. Everything costs more in Hong Kong. I’m ready to be back in the land of taxis that start at 6 RMB and meals I can eat for under 20 RMB.
5. Hurricanes/Typhoons/Tropical storms. Whatever you want to call them, they’re bad news. They’re bad news for the folks who live here and will be truly affected by them, and bad news for those of us who are trying to fly home!

As long as Usagi allows, we hope to be back in the Blue City with you tomorrow! We’ve missed you!

Speak like a local


One great thing about living in Hohhot is that most of Hohhot’s residents speak very standard Mandarin. However, those who don’t really don’t. Below is a handy cartoon with some key phrases/words to get you started in your study of Hohhot’s local dialect (as if standard Mandarin or perhaps Mongolian weren’t enough).

First, some explanation.  Standard Mandarin is referred to in Chinese as pu tong hua 普通话.  Most areas of China also have a local dialect which can be called fang yan 方言. In our city they often call the dialect hu shi hua 呼市话 or cidi hua 此地话. Below are some specific examples of hu shi hua.  Read, enjoy, and learn to use them like a pro!  Leave a comment about the ones you use or hear used most frequently.

getting settled-medical care


Thankfully, for most of the years I’ve lived in Hohhot, I’ve been healthy and therefore haven’t required frequent trips to the hospital.  However, when my husband and I arrived last year, I was pregnant and we wanted to be able to do our prenatal care in this city, which meant it was time for me to familiarize myself with Hohhot’s health care system, something I hadn’t ever had to do before (with the exception of visiting a couple of local friends in the hospital).  Since then, we’ve had to take ourselves, our girls, or accompany friends.  This posted is intended to share what we’ve learned.

Where to go
First, you need to decide if you want to go to a public (government-owned) or private hospital.  There are differing opinions about which is better.

Pros for public:  Most people say the most well-qualified doctors want to work at the older, longer-established, more stable career choice hospitals such as these.

Cons for public: more people. They are the more trusted by locals than private hospitals which means more people go there.  For you, this means longer lines, rarely (never) a private exam, longer waits for test results, and no available staff to help you with personal concerns or even knowing where to go for the next step.

Pros for private:  Very helpful staff (in my experience), private (or mostly private) exams, no lines.  Most of these hospitals are newer so they at least have the appearance of being cleaner and having nicer facilities.

Cons for private: Many locals believe the doctors here are doctors who could not get jobs at public hospitals.  Some fees may be more expensive than at a public hospital.

What to do when you get there
After you decide where you’re going you need to know what to do when you get there.  There is generally a window marked with the words gua hao 挂号。 This means “to take a number.”  You’ll need to present your passport and tell them which department you want to see and they’ll assign you a number to see a doctor in that department.  You also need to tell them if you prefer to see a doctor who specializes in Western medicine or Chinese medicine (or Mongolian medicine if you’re at the Mongolian medicine hospital). You’ll be charged a minimal fee (normally less than 10 RMB)  and be given a credit-card-like card. This card will be used for every fee you need t pay for each test or treatment. You can use it each time you come back to the hospital and it can serve as your medical history (at least a history of what tests and treatments you had) but can’t transfer to another hospital.  Next, you’ll need to make your way to the department you need and wait to see a doctor.  This process seems to vary greatly from hospital to hospital. Some are very orderly with areas to wait in the hall or lobby. At others, everyone just piles into the office and crowds the doctor’s desk until he is ready to see you.
After you explain the reason for your visit, he/she may prescribe treatment, order tests, or prescribe medicine.  Your next step will be to return to the main lobby where you first got your card and pay for the needed treatment, test, or medicine.  It’s generally a different window than where you got the card.
After you’ve paid, take the card and go to the place where the treatment or test is to be performed or to the pharmacy.  If you’re having a test, you’ll need to wait for the results then take them back to the doctor for his/her diagnosis.  After the diagnosis and treatment plan are given or after you’ve picked up your medication, congratulations!  You’ve successfully navigated your trip to the hospital!

Some other things to remember/consider:
-It’s truly better to take a local friend with you not only to communicate but also to help you navigate.
-It’s quite common for the doctor or other patients to be smoking in the hallways, exam rooms, anywhere, really.
-I recommend taking some hand sanitizer along with you. Soap is generally not provided in any of the bathrooms for hand-washing.
-Wheelchairs, crutches, or other devices needed are not provided and are not “standard issue.”  If you need one to get around from place to place you’ll have to send a friend to some department of the hospital to rent one.  Any other equipment needed can be purchased at most pharmacies or medical supply stores near the hospital.

My personal experience/recommendations about specific hospitals:

内蒙古妇幼保健医院 Inner Mongolia Maternal and Child Health Hospital (public):  The only pro I can think of for this one is that you can make an appointment online before you go. My personal list of cons is very long:  bad service, angry doctors, unclear procedures, high (comparatively) fees, long lines, crowded, no privacy whatsoever, and staff even stated they would prefer if foreigners didn’t come to their hospital.

内蒙古自治区人民医院  Inner Mongolia People’s Hospital (public):  I’ve had more good experiences here than bad. It’s probably your best choice for finding staff and doctors who can speak English.  Even those who can’t speak English know English medical terms and can generally write the name of your diagnosis, treatment, or medication in English. This hospital has the reputation for being one of the best in the province.

内蒙古国际蒙医医院  Inner Mongolia International Mongolian Medicine Hospital:  I’ve had mostly good experiences here, minus one unnecessary test being performed. This hospital is relatively new and has better facilities and cleanliness than most. However, it’s also huge so it requires a lot of running aroudn to get what you need. It’s the only hospitals that I’ve seen the doctors wash their hands between seeing each patient. This hospital specializes in Mongolian medicine and even the Western medicine doctors may suggest that you see a doctor in the Mongolian medicine department, but if you’re n0t comfortable with it, just express that and they will drop the issue.

内蒙古伊生泰妇产医院  Yi Sheng Tai Maternity Hospital (private).  I could strongly recommend this hospital for prenatal care. They also have a pediatric department but I would rate it only fair.  The staff are really helpful and even go with you from place to place to pay, get treatments, etc, which is something no other hospital I’ve been to has done. Its location is in Jin Qiao so if you live in the city center or north, it will take some time to get there.  The facilities and equipment seem better than most.  The doctor we saw went out of her way to be accommodating to foreigners.

How about anyone else?  Leave a comment if you’d like to recommend a hospital or one we should avoid.

site updates


I’m on vacation so I haven’t been posting frequently, but I did update the slide show at the bottom of the “around the city” page and I’ll continue to update it as I have time.  And I currently have drafts for 12 other posts I’m working on that I’ll complete sometime soon.  In the meantime, enjoy the new photos.
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