Archive for housing

14 years in (and out of) Hohhot

 

Early September marks the anniversary of my first arrival to Hohhot in 2002. Although I haven’t been here continuously, coming in and out for 14 years I’ve gotten to see some pretty amazing changes in the city. I posted articles in the past from news sources about some of the changes, but this post is my own reflections on what has changed in the Blue City since I first arrived.

Airport Arrival

When I arrived in 2002 the current airport wasn’t in existence yet (the old HET was a few hundred meters to the east of the current location) and the road (Xin Hua) into Hohhot proper wasn’t paved.

Western Food and amenities

There were 4-6 locations of KFC, two locations of Dairy Queen and that was the extent of international establishments. The newest big “thing” was the mall that’s now called Kai De, although it had a different name then.

There was, surprisingly, a decent sit-down Western restaurant that could rival, and arguably upstage, Hohhot’s current Western restaurants.

Currently Kai De mall, the newest large shopping center at that time.

Currently Kai De mall, the newest large shopping center at that time.

Communication

I didn’t have a cell phone. Some foreigners and very few locals I knew did, but they weren’t a necessity. Every convenience store had a red public use phone one could use for a few mao.

This situation meant that one had to know the full Chinese name of one’s local friends because you weren’t calling them directly. The mother, father, roommate, etc might answer the phone and one had to be able to ask for Wang Shao Hong (or whomever).

I also think this made us (foreigners) learn the city better since we had to be able to get to a location without the aid of being able to call multiple times along the way when going to meet someone.

Transportation

EVERYONE with the exception of professional drivers and government officials rode a bicycle. I didn’t even know anyone who owned an electric bike until 2006 and didn’t know anyone who owned a car until 2007. (And I wasn’t a hermit who sat inside and didn’t know people).

The only vehicle on the road were taxis, public buses, deliver vans, and black government cars….and LOTS of bikes. Lots and lots of bikes.

Also, the size of the city was much smaller. The second ring road was an anticipated enigma much like the subway now and places that are now six lane roads were dirt alleys then.

My first bike, purchased on day two or three of my arrival in Hohhot. This one was in my possession less than 36 hours before the transfer of ownership to bike thieves. (Some things never change!)

My first bike, purchased on day two or three of my arrival in Hohhot. This one was in my possession less than 36 hours before the transfer of ownership to bike thieves. (Some things never change!)

Intersection near Manduhai Park circa 2003

Intersection near Manduhai Park circa 2003

Standard of living

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is the standard of living in the average person’s residence. Housing in Hohhot has come a LONG way in 14 years. For the first few years I lived here, one would have to inquire if a home had hot water all the time, or just the standard two days per week. The public water service provided heated water through the pipes at set times, twice per week, and landlords were only just becoming willing to fork over money for a hot water heater if one wanted hot water all the time.

I only knew of one complex of “high rise” apartments (I think it’s called the Metropolitan, west on Da Xue Lu). Otherwise, most lived in 4 or 6 story walk-ups and some in ping fangs.

Not an uncommon sight in 2002

Not an uncommon sight in 2002

Many homes still had plain concrete floors and interior design wasn’t a thing.

BUT, we’re all paying for those upgrades in our rent now. The first two bedroom house I rented was 450 RMB/month. The second one, 4-5 years later was 600 or 700. Even in 2007 I only knew 1-2 people (families with kids) who were paying more than 1000/month.

Interesting enough, though, it was much more common to be invited to someone’s home for a meal, instead of being invited out to eat. My guess is that economics is the reason for this. Meals could be prepared at home much more affordably than eating at a restaurant, which was still a luxury for many.

Entertainment

There was roller skating, bowling at the Xin Cheng, and KTV was big. The squares, particularly Xin Hua, had lots of cool things it doesn’t have now….a camel to ride on and take a photo with, and cars like these, below. They weren’t bumper cars and they weren’t for kids. Just small electric cars for adults to drive around the square.

mayfair 303 mayfair 302

Other old photos

Chang Le Gong

Chang Le Gong and the New York New York Club used to be located in the same building.

I've heard that this was the tallest building in Hohhot until the late 80s or early 90s.

I’ve heard that this was the tallest building in Hohhot until the late 80s or early 90s.

no Friday’s Foreigner

Alternately titled: a stream of unfortunate events

No interview today for a number of reasons.

  1. We just got back from Hong Kong last night and I didn’t plan ahead to have one prepared in advance.
  2. A few people I’ve sent the questions to haven’t sent their answers back yet.
  3. When we came home last night, we came home to no gas. Everything I had planned to have ready for our dinner, I couldn’t cook and we didn’t have heat. (Aside: we apparently need some serious help in regulating our self-regulating floor heating. We blew through about 400 kuai with the temp set really low while we were gone!) ugh.
  4. We also hadn’t realized that we were down to just a few sips of water in our big bottles of water. It was too late to call for new ones so Helpful Husband went outo buy some water. He poured it into the big bottle so it would fit nicely on our dispenser. He placed it nicely on the dispenser and we went to bed. I woke up this morning to the sound of water dripping, and quickly discovered a dining room covered in water. (And discovered with sock-clad feet, of course) ugh. ugh.
  5. This afternoon my oldest yelled from the bathroom, “Mom, the floor is all wet in here!” It was. And the hallway. And the spare bedroom. And into the dining room. The drain for the washing machine had clogged and each cycle was just spilling more water onto the floor while I unknowingly fed a baby in the other room. ugh. ugh. ugh. Interestingly enough, the load of laundry that was in the washer was all my towels so we essentially had nothing to clean up the gallons (liters) of water on the floor. Also interestingly, the last time our water dispenser broke, our washer overflowed on the same day.
  6. After spending most spare moments of the day prepping the first ten week session of homeschool for my daughter, my computer crashed and I lost a good portion of the work.

Here’s the crazy thing: This is not even close to our worst day in China. But, it is one I’m ready to put to rest and start again tomorrow.

 

 

Hohhot Life Hacks, part two: life with kids

This is our second post in a series designed to help you make some everyday aspects of life here cheaper, easier, or more functional. Our first hack post can be found here. We’ll offer five hacks per post. Today’s posts focuses on hacks for kids. Have a Hohhot hack of your own? Leave a comment for us!

SIX: Boxed milk is expensive.

Not as expensive as fresh milk, but still expensive. And yet, the boxes are so convenient to take on-the-go. Anyway, paying 40-60 RMB a case adds up if you do it week after week. Here’s a little trick I’ve learned…
Hack: Check out a smaller grocery store. There is always something half price!

I have found the best prices for the cases of boxes of kid’s milk with straws are the small, local grocery stores, not the big supermarkets. This has been true in both neighborhoods I’ve live in recently. Almost every week, there is something on sale for a buy-one-get-one promotion. Sometimes it’s even the fancy organic milk. Half price is much more affordable!

A side note: I would still read the labels if you’re able. All these boxed milks have pretty high sugar content and some are more like a “milk-like drink” than actual milk. Even the fancy organic milks have sugar listed as an ingredient most of the time.

IMG_20150604_153714

 

SEVEN: Kids’ shoes everywhere?

We have two kids and another on the way and I feel like our doorway area is generally a disaster. Winter is even worse when there are coats and hats and mittens and scarves and layers of clothes. I’ve tried multiple systems for organizing our chaos, and one that is working especially well right now is this one:

Hack: Use a small coat rack (or some other kinds of hooks) installed close to the floor.

keeping kids’ shoes tidy

This method allows my kids to keep their shoes tidy themselves and it cost less 20 RMB. The rack was 15 RMB at a hardware store near our home and the stick- back hooks are about 4-5 RMB for a three pack.

 

EIGHT: Kids waking up too early?

Summer in Hohhot: where it’s daytime bright at 5:00 am. And although I wish I was up and ready to start the day that early, I’m just not. But if it gets that bright in my kids’ room, they will be.

Even though the installed drapes in the room where they sleep are fairly thick, they were still just letting in too much light.

Hack: Black out curtain

They have these silver, sort-of-plastic-y curtains that are made for blocking the sun. But, I’ve looked everywhere I can think of locally and haven’t found any yet. We used this curtain, hung it up inside the window sill with a tension rod. We have since gone all the way redneck and also fashioned black trash bags to the back of it. I’m sure we’re the most loved neighbors in our complex :). This hack cost about 60 RMB. And our girls are sleeping until 7 most mornings now.

IMG_20150412_131609

 

NINE: Diapers are expensive.

I wasn’t aware before we moved back here in 2012 with an almost one year old that diapers are more expensive here than America. In the States we generally bought either Target or some grocery store brand of diapers that cost roughly 1 RMB per diaper when you work out all the math. I don’t think any brand here is that cheap and most cost closer to 2 RMB (or more) per diaper.

I know some people save by ordering from amazon or taobao but I’ve never found significantly better deals there myself. Here’s our solution:

Hack: Use a cloth diaper cover and a “U type” diaper.

IMG_5011 IMG_5012 IMG_5013

Truthfully, I’m not sure how locals use these, but we stick these sticky-backed U shaped diapers into a cloth diaper cover, and it reduces our diaper cost to less than 1 RMB per diaper. This package above is normally 16 RMB for 20 inserts. They hold as much as a typical diaper, they just don’t have anything that wraps around the child’s waist. They have three sections of adhesive which hold them in place inside the cover.

You do have to have cloth diaper covers to make this method effective, but we have plenty of those on hand so it works for us.

 

TEN: Staying in a typical Chinese hotel with more than one child

China’s standard rooms have two twin beds or one large bed. Sometimes you get lucky and the two beds are a little larger that twin size and generally the large bed is big enough that theoretically parents and child could share, but in our family we’re accustomed to our kids having their own bed. Figuring out where to sleep all four of us comfortably in two small or one large bed is a challenge.
Our solution when we have to travel has been:

Hack: Try a three person room

IMG_2320 IMG_2321

IMG_2322

The pictures above are from a hotel in Si Zi Wang Qi/Wu Lan Hua, which is about 2 hours north of Hohhot. This room with three 1.2 meter beds cost us just over 100 RMB per night. The girls can easily share a bed and we can sleep comfortably.

IMG_20150414_183426

If you find yourself in Si Zi Wang Qi, here’s the card for the hotel pictured above. (Si Zi Wang Qi is the kind of the middle point between the two closest grasslands tourist areas, Zhao He/Xilamuren and Gegentala).
Another advantage of this room type is that the rooms are not used as often so there’s a chance they are a bit cleaner.
However, we recently tried the strategy when we went to Tianjin and it didn’t work so well. At the hotel in Tianjin the three person rooms were in a separate building than the standard rooms and they were much lower quality than the standard rooms. In that case, the price we were paying wasn’t a good value for the room we got, but we also weren’t cramped into beds that didn’t suit our family.

 

Hohhot Life Hacks, part one

Today is our first post in a series designed to help you make some everyday aspects of life here cheaper, easier, or more functional. We’ll offer five hacks per post. Have a Hohhot hack of your own? Leave a comment for us!

 

ONE:   Smelly bathroom drain

We wrote about this a long time ago and here is the link to the older post. There are a few solutions for this one. There are drains that can be installed that can open and shut. They open to let water down the drain then shut to keep smells out. They work well, but you have to be able to find them, install them, and pay for them. (You can purchase these drains at almost any bathroom fixture store and they’ll have a guy who can install it for you, but this post is about a simpler solution).

If it’s a drain you never/rarely use, just plug it or cover it. If it’s a drain you use, here is our suggestion.

Hack: Use a ping pong ball

IMG_20131020_082934

Here is a drain in our former residence. Theoretically, the ping pong ball will rise when water needs to go out of the drain and fall back into place to stop the smell when the water goes down.

TWO: Taking lots of stuff on the train

Are you taking the train with lots of stuff? Do you want someone to help you load your things? Or, do you want to help see someone off? Train station security has made it more difficult for non-ticketed passengers to go down to the platform.

Hack: Buy a ticket from one Hohhot station to the other. It’s only a few RMB and then you’ll be able to help a friend or have a friend help you.

Thanks to JS for contributing this one

 

THREE:  Hanging stuff on concrete walls

I know there is more than one solution for this, and the most sturdy is to call a guy with a hammer drill and have him install whatever it is you want to hang up. However, I think the best and most affordable option are the hooks picture below.

Hack: Hardwall hangers

IMG_20150412_131306

We purchased these particular ones at a hardware store in the US, but they can also be found at Ikea, where they come in a set of other wall-hanging items. They’re in a plastic case with other kinds of nails and hooks.

Ikea’s version here

 

The ones from the US hardware store come in 15 pound and larger 25 pound varieties and a package of 6 or so was about $3-4. You simply hammer the three prongs in and can hang whatever you’d like on the hooks. They don’t crack the wall and you can remove them easily when you leave to re-use and they have only put three small pinholes in your landlords wall.

Order hardwall hangers here from amazon

 

FOUR: Shower making the entire bathroom wet

In the years I have been here, I’d say one of the biggest changes is the vast improvement in the overall appearance, comfort, and conveniences of personal residences. I realize the condition of bathroom in homes is improving all the time, but they are generally still not designed very much like American/Western homes.

Sometimes, in fact, they are designed with the shower head directly over the sink or washing machine or something else and makes a big wet mess every time you shower. Other times it’s much better. Of course, sometimes there is a way to hang a shower curtain to contain the spraying. (A shower curtain costs 20-40 RMB at any larger supermarket and a tension rod to hang it costs 40-80 at some of the biggest supermarkets. I haven’t seen them at Vanguard or Spar, but Carrefour and HuaLian both have them).

The purpose of this post is to talk about the water mess on the floor, not the spray mess. Our new house is actually very well-designed compared to the other places we have lived, with a little cove behind the door for the shower. However, the water would still run all over the floor and because it was so close to the door, sometimes in the hallway too.

HACK: A piece of rubber or plastic tubing

Stop water from running all over your bathroom floor.

Stop water from running all over your bathroom floor.

We bought this piece of hose for 10 RMB/meter. The caulk was another 7 RMB and the caulk gun another 10. We caulked on both sides of it and now, with the shower curtain, the water stays where we want it to and doesn’t make the rest of the room wet.

FIVE: Want to use an appliance with a different plug-in type, voltage, or just one that can’t be found here?

Appliances common in the West are getting easier and easier to come by now and so many times it will just be easier to buy it here than to use this hack. However, if you have something from home that’s near and dear to your heart or some brand you just prefer to the Chinese brand or model, here’s how to make it work with the electricity here.

converter IMG_20150413_181704

I’m not an electrical engineer so forgive me if my technical terms aren’t accurate. But basically this box plugs into China’s standard plug and then the appliance, in this case my mixer, can be plugged and without any fear of flipping a breaker or starting a fire or other hazard. These magic converter boxes come in all watts or voltages or whatever and are clearly labeled with what they are converting. If you can find the output of the appliance you want to use take it to any of the big electronics stores (map of the three biggest that I know of is below), they can sell you one of these boxes that will convert it. I think this one cost roughly 50 RMB. Now I can use any standard American small appliance. (Again, you’ll have to consider if it’s worth the luggage space to bring your stuff from America or to just buy the appliance here).

 

 

more useful public service phone numbers

This rather handy, very thorough list of service numbers was hanging in my friend’s apartment complex. I snapped a picture and have translated it below. These numbers more than likely won’t have English-speaking service, but I hope I’ve at least saved you the step of finding the number.
IMG_20150425_112109

 

 

China Mobile

10086

China Unicom

10010

China Telecommunications

10000

Fire

119

Police

110

China Natural Gas

96707

Water

96266

Water something

6924145

Electric Hotline

95598

Electric Company Service number

6947000

Public Heating Company

961655

Weather forecast

12121

Local telephone directory

114116

Post Office Service

11185

Taxation Services Hotline

12366

Telecommunications transactions

3321969

Airport hotline

4941122

City public transportation hotline

4971203

Train station hotline

2243222

EMS

11185

 If this list doesn’t have the number you’re looking for, try one of these previous posts:

Government Offices

Public Services

 

 

Swimming Pools in Hohhot

I haven’t been posting much recently, but I have been responding to the emails receive. The next few posts will be a series of questions I have answered over email, but haven’t yet posted about. Maybe some of the answers will be useful to you

The next question was from a reader wanting information about swimming pools in Hohhot. Below is my reply (with a few additions).

Here are a few “ground rules” about swimming in Hohhot that may be useful to know beforehand.

1. If you read any travel site with hotel reviews from foreigners visiting China, you will see the same complaint over and over and over: the water is too cold. At first I thought maybe I was just being whiny, but when I worked at a local hotel and a guest from Finland complained about the water being cold, I felt a bit more justified. Complaining about the temperature doesn’t help. The staff will tell you that it is kept at the “international standard.” And it might actually be. However I’m sure the “international standard” is the one used for Olympic competitions and such. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not swimming at the intensity Olympic swimmers are, and therefore, the water feels cold to me.

2. You must have proper swimming attire. Perhaps this cultural difference is most starkly contrasted to America, but I’ll include it anyway. Of course this means a swimsuit, but it also means a swim cap and sometimes goggles. Without a cap, you can’t get in. Most of the nicer places have a shop where you can purchase or, get on in advance at any sporting goods store. Male swimmers, be forewarned: I have heard stories of dudes being turned away for wearing swimming trunks. In the minds of Chinese swimming pool workers, appropriate swim wear for men means a speedo and sometimes no manner of convincing them that swim trunks are also swimwear will gain you access. It’s a speedo or no swimming.

3. Lap swimming is chaotic. Look at the traffic situation of our city and apply it to a swimming pool. Lap swimmers swim front to back, side to side, and around the edges in circles all at the same time.

Now, if you can live with the above factors, here are some options about where to go:

Hotels

The Phoenix Hotel has a small one and it’s often empty. The Inner Mongolia Hotel has a bit bigger one, but it’s a bit more crowded. The Xin Cheng Hotel has a more proper one, but even more crowded. I think the Shangri la does too, but I’ve never seen it personally. I think the Zhao Jun also has a pool. (Another reminder here for foreign guests staying at these hotels: Use of the pool is not included in your room charge. Use of the pool will be an additional cost, unless your company has negotiated an unusual perk in your contract rate).

Housing Developments

I know some new pools have been built recently (in the past 5 or so years) in the fancier housing developments, but not many of them allow outsiders in. (I went one time in the East Shore Development and it was the best pool I’ve been to in HH. It had a lap pool (smaller than standard size) and a pool with a slide and some fountains where kids could play.

I’ve recently (in the past few months) seen many flyers for new housing developments that boast swimming pools. Again, I’m just not sure if non-residents can use them.

 

Public Pools, Indoor and Outdoor

I’m afraid I don’t have much up-to-date information on these pools. The ones I used to know about have seemingly all disappeared. I think there may still be one just east of the train station (indoor) and another one on the campus of Nei Da (outdoor).

I heard that after the 2008 Olympics they were building more public pools in order to increase swimming participation in order to have a larger selection of high-level swimmers, but I don’t know where they are if they’ve been completed.

Specialty Children’s Pools

In recent months, a few specialty pools have opened for children or toddlers. I know one is on the south second ring road and another somewhere near gu lou. I haven’t been to one yet because the entrance fees are triple or quadruple the regular pools. But don’t worry, they have membership plans that allow free swimming if you invest 50,000 RMB!

That’s all I know. What about our friendly readers? What advice do you have to those wanting to swim? Where is the best pool in Hohhot in your opinion?

looking for a house (apartment) in Hohhot

Our family is considering a move in the coming months. I wrote a lengthy post on finding a house in Hohhot last year. It’s no fun process, and I can’t imagine trying it without Chinese, so my post today is an offer of help.

If anyone else happens to be looking for a new place right now, leave your desired qualities in the comments and as I scour internet ads, get hounded by realtors, and view homes that aren’t right for us, I can pass those along to you.

Please remember, I’m a mom of two small girls first, so I’m not offering to be your realtor, but if I see something that fits what you’re looking for as we search, I’m happy to pass the contact information to you.

Also, I think that in a year’s time since I wrote the linked post above, rental prices have probably risen 5-10%. I don’t have any official statistics, just my guess from what we’ve already seen.

 

Another Used Furniture Market

I posted last year about the used furniture markets I knew of at the time. You can read that post here.

I found another large used furniture market recently, comparable in size to the second one listed on the post above. Here’s the information:

Xin Jiu Huo Shi Chang

located on Zhan Dong Lu, north of Xin Hua and south of Bei Yuan Jie on the west side of the road. There’s a picture below of their large sign. (It’s terribly out of focus, sorry)

The market has a large parking lot/courtyard area in the middle and is surrounded by separate stalls/vendors. They have mostly second hand goods, but a few new items also.

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learning the city part seven: more place names

The next installment of learning the city involves learning the names and locations of the areas or neighborhoods in Hohhot. I decided to take the list from this website which is a real estate website. I like it because it’s the only one I’ve found that you can search by a smaller area than the city district yet a larger area than the specific xiao qu. Anyway, their list of places is pretty comprehensive, so we’ll use it to familiarize ourselves with the city. For the sake of the length of each post, we’ll do fifteen per post. Some of these places are also bus stops, so knowing these names will help with navigating the bus system as well. Here are today’s areas: I’ll post the characters, pinyin, and explanation, then a map below.

新世纪广场  xīn shìjì guǎngchǎng New Century Square is the small plaza in front of the old museum where Xin Hua and Zhong Shan Lu fork.

学府花园  xué fǔ huāyuán This is a housing development in the south part of the city.

昭君新村 zhāo jūn xīn cūn This is a housing complex between Xin Hua and Bei Yuan Jie on Dong Ying Nan Lu.

南华联 nán huá lián This is the South Hua Lian that is now also called Capital Mall (Kai De).

车站 chēzhàn The train station. The old/main location just north of Xin Hua Square

园艺所  yuányì suǒ The name means something like horticulture center but refers to the area east of Zhan Dong Lu, south of Wu Lan Cha Bu Road and north of the International Mongolian Medicine Hospital.

大召广场 dàzhào guǎngchǎng The area in front of Da Zhao, or the Big Temple.
长乐宫 cháng lè gong The shopping center on the southwest corner of Xin Hua and Dong Ying South Road. It’s distinctive landmark are the six, large red columns along the road on the north side of the building. Sometimes all of Dong Ying South Road is referred to as Chang Le Gong. (Chang Le Gong is across the street from the Mo Er Cheng or Victory City Mall)

如意小区 rúyì xiǎo qū Ru Yi is the development Zone on the East side of the city as well as the name of the plaza/square along the river. Ru YI Xiao Qu is a housing complex on the west side of the river.

桥华世纪村 qiáo huá shìjì cūn This one is hard to map as there are a few housing developments with the same name, all built by the same developer. They are generally south and east of the Shi Da/Nei Da/Nong Da area.

农大附近 nóng dà fùjìn The area surrounding Nong Da (Agriculture University). They have an east and west campus, but the campuses are in close proximity to one another.

三中附近 sān zhōng fùjìn The area around the Number 3 Middle School. When I’m mapping this, it’s pulling up as the same location as Fu Zhong, the middle school affiliated with Shi Da. I haven’t heard it called the Number 3, I only hear it referred to as Fu Zhong, but perhaps they are the same place. Or perhaps I am no help to you in finding the Number 3 School.

鼓楼 gǔ lóu This is the area around the bridge in the center of the city. Gu means drum. I heard that many years ago there was a drum tower in that area, so the area stills carries the name “drum tower” although it no longer exists.

健康街 jiànkāng jiē Healthy Street. This road runs east/west between Hulunbeier Road and Xilingoule Road. There are a number of hospitals (the Red Cross Hospital and Chinese/Mongolian Medicine Hospital) and health product stores (such as sugar free foods for diabetics) along this street.
维多利广场 wéi duō lì guǎngchǎng This is WeiDuoLi’s high-end shopping center on the corner of Xing An and Xin Hua.

map 7

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