Chinese Customs and Immigrations: B+

Way better than expected. I was thinking there would be SARS-related delays of some kind, and took great care to lie on the health forms — my children? Coughing, sneezing, high temperatures? Never! — but the woman who took the forms didn’t even read them, just stuffed them in an overflowing cardboard box and that was that. I was also thinking there would be a hassle involving me traveling on a Peruvian diplomatic passport which states clearly that I am not Peruvian, and the immigrations lady was slightly confused, but then she shrugged, stamped the passport and waved me through.

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My Wife: A++

I have the greatest wife. Ask anybody.

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Our Apartment: B-

With the potential to be an A, I hasten to add, but we’re a long way from that territory just yet. Our first night here, we were all too exhausted to sleep, especially the kids, so being in the apartment was kind of like still being on the airplane, except without the peanuts. The following morning, though, things lined up like this: We live on the 20th floor of an 18-storey building, due to the Chinese dislike of the number 4 (and 14, and so on, apparently because the Chinese word for ‘four’ sounds so much like the Chinese word for ‘death,’ and fair enough), and to the international businessperson fear of the number 13. The building complex is very nice, with an outdoor play area for the kids, and a clubhouse with an indoor play area, a gym, a pool with a sauna, an aerobics room with a ping-pong table, a reading room, a small store, and some other things I’m not totally clear on yet. Our apartment is big and well laid-out, with lots of light, and racquetball-court-style floors. However. In this supposedly fully-furnished and recently-renovated apartment, the air-conditioning doesn’t work, which wouldn’t be a particularly big deal in, say, the middle of winter, but is an awfully big deal, say, right now, and for the next two months or so. Also, there is no phone line. And no hot water. No furniture except one couch, one bed, one extra mattress, one large television. No cable. No curtains. No closets. A surprisingly small refrigerator. No phone jack in what is clearly the home-office space, though there are jacks in every other conceivable place, and several inconceivable ones. Shoddy finish work in various spots. Only a half-door separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom, guaranteeing that one will forever step out of the shower onto an already-wet floor. No shelves or cabinets or closets in either bathroom, and in one bathroom, the toilet sits not over the hole down which stuff will at some point theoretically be flushed, but off to one side, with the hole itself gaping open like some huge horrible pornographic-or-else-medical-school film thingy. When it rains, which is most afternoons, brief thundershowers that I otherwise like very much, water dribbles in through the air conditioners which — did I mention this? — don’t work at all in terms of actually conditioning the air. Obviously we have some things to discuss with our landlord, who is displeased at not having fetched a higher price for the apartment, and determined to take it out on us. She promises much and delivers little, slowly. She enters without knocking, waltzes around, smiles condescendingly, frowns and leaves. Often. This shall change, and soon, or my name is not… Actually, no, I’ll probably wuss out at every available opportunity, but still, this shall change, and soon, or my wife’s name is not Ana Luc’a Nieto de Kesey. Which, by the way, it is.

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Outside of the Apartment: C

Right, so here I’m averaging several partial grades together, none of which have anything to do with the neighborhood as such. In terms of traffic, truth be told, I was expecting it to be much worse. (And of course it is bad — chaotic and congested and extremely… um… flexible as regards the ways different drivers interpret traffic laws — but the thing is, compared to Lima, at least, everyone drives really slowly. I think maybe the presence of so many millions of bicycles just kind of physically forces everyone to slow down, which is really nice when you’ve got kids.) And in terms of air quality, it really depends on the day. Often it sucks, in a thick stinky gray tear-inducing haze kind of way, but that’s only on cloudy days, when I guess the pollution melds with the fog and the clouds and whatever. On sunny days I can see almost all the way to downtown Beijing, assuming I’m looking the right direction, which, I’m still not totally solid in terms of north and south and east and west, but, whatever, I can see a long ways and you’ll just have to trust me on that. Lastly, in terms of how tall I feel when I’m outside walking around, well, this is where the overall grade drops a couple notches. For some reason I was convinced that I was going to be really tall here, maybe not Manute Bol tall, but still, noteworthy, you know? Turns out my height has not changed at all. Well, maybe I’ve grown from average to average-tall, but not even tall-average-tall, more sort of average-average-tall. Bummer.

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Cigarette of the Day (“State Guests”): D-

I bought them for the amusing name, but they’re awful. Full Disclosure: they’re lights, and I would never for the world buy lights on purpose, but somehow I didn’t see the word printed in small letters on the back of the pack, so it’s partly my own fault, but still: really, really awful. This dispatch feature was originally going to be called ‘Cigarette of the Week,’ but there’s no way I’m buying any more of these. Great name, though.