Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Living Spaces and Living On the Road

The subject of this post is:

Living Spaces and Living On the Road

In contrast to Japan, where we rented apartments with nice rooms and a large or small bathroom, and where we actually had contact with a Japanese person, in China we stayed in hotel rooms.


Beijing was probably the most interesting, by virtue of the fact that there was supposedly breakfast offered.

We had two out of eight breakfasts in the hotel. Granted, perhaps two of those days we were not there at the time to have breakfast. But Mom had some interesting escapades in trying to figure out when breakfast was: a notable story being that she went downstairs to ask the desk lady when breakfast was. After a couple of minutes which included asking the cook and then waking up the desk lady again, the desk lady, with her head on a pillow, punched a couple of numbers into her calculator, looked up towards the clock on the wall, and shouted, "BREAKFAST. EIGHT O'CLOCK." There was no use in getting annoyed about the unpredictability of breakfast in our Beijing hotel. We laughed it off more than once— after all, this is China, and we are tourists.

In Xi'an, we lived off of soup and meat bought on the street.

In Xining… we have a high class breakfast that shows up at precise times. We are stared at frequently— not only are we Caucasians, which is practically impossible to find in Xining outside of a billboard, but we have three children. This is practically impossible to have in China.


Disclaimer: None of the conversations have been reproduced exactly. Because I can't remember the exact wording. However, the gist is the same.

One of the interesting things in our Beijing hotel room were the shampoo and liquid soap dispensers. These dispensers were attached to a wall, and you simply pushed a button to dispense the shampoo/soap. 

As we do not have access to a washing machine, all of our washing in China has been done by hand. You wet the clothes, rub shampoo on them vigorously (shampoo makes them softer than liquid soap), and then rinse. And then rinse again, and then twist all the water out of the clothes until they are relatively dry. Afterwards, you wrap them in a towel and twist the towel until you can't twist any more. This makes the clothes simply moist— and cuts drying time by quite a lot.

One of our escapades in Beijing was with washing clothes and the shampoo dispenser. One night, while washing my socks, I realized I actually needed shampoo. I walked over to the shampoo dispenser, the socks on my hands like sock puppets, and pushed the button.
Nothing happened, so I frowned and decided that one needed to push slightly up. BAD IDEA. The shampoo dispenser practically flew off the wall, and only six years of Tae Kwon Do, honing my reflexes allowed me to catch the shampoo dispenser before all of it dripped down into the shower drain.
"HELP!" I said.
"What is it?" Ileana asked.
"Just HELP!"
"I CAN'T! I don't have words!"
Loud grumbling and swearing from Ileana and both my siblings come into the bathroom.
"What happened?" Ioan asked.
"I pushed the dispenser up and it fell and the shampoo is DRIPPING!" I said.
"So you say," Ileana said in a dangerous voice, "the shampoo fell! Honestly!"
"I couldn't! I couldn't think of anything but HELP!"

We laugh this off eventually, and in the end I manage to wash my socks and hang them up to dry, ready to go to bed.

The next night, as Ileana and I are finishing up last minute things, we hear Ioan saying in a small voice from the bathroom, 
"I just did something really stupid."
"What?" I ask.
"You know how Maria dropped the dispenser? I did too. But I didn't catch it."
We laugh for a second and go into the bathroom to inspect the damage. Ioan is staring dismayed at the floor, where practically all the shampoo is going down the drain. I pick the dispenser up and put it back on the wall, then say,
"Okay. General wash up. Take off your underwear and get your socks and wash them."
"But I don't want to wash!" Ileana exclaims,
"I don't care. We can't waste that shampoo." I run out of the bathroom, grab the day's socks, and use them to mop up the shampoo that is still on the floor. At least half of it has already drained down.
"I feel so sorry for our maid tomorrow." Ileana says.
"Yeah," I say, "she'll probably be wondering if all foreigners use this much shampoo."

In Xi'an, the dispenser held something that smelled like over-ripe coconut. It is a disgusting smell in combination with foot sweat. I do not recommend it. However, we still had to wash our clothes. Nothing dried in that hotel room— whereas we could get away with perhaps twelve hours of drying in Beijing, in Xi'an it took at least thirty six.

In Xining, we had a tub. We used the tub mainly to wring out the clothes— in order to get rid of the maximum amount of water, you need two people, or a very determined one person. One person holds one end of the shirt (or pants, or socks), and starts twisting away from herself. The other person twists towards himself, until the shirt starts coiling in on itself. Then you pull in opposing directions. You would be surprised how much water can come out of a shirt you thought you had wrung out properly. And then you twist again, until you really can't get any water out at all. When doing this with one person, you need to hold one end between your knees and twist. It is very painful, like getting Indian burn, and much harder than with two people.

Once you've wrung out all the water you can, you have to wrap it in a towel— the towel absorbs even more water, allowing for much less drying time than usual. The shampoo, by the way, in Xining, smelled delicious. Like actual detergent. We also had a window and a ledge, so we hung our clothes up at the top of the ceiling and thus enjoyed feeling very domestic.

Hotel Rooms

Ileana is very afraid of small moving things such as bugs. Whenever she sees one, she will start squealing at the top of her lungs. Her voice gets high-pitched. She cannot repeat anything but BUG! Or SPIDER! Her eyes get wide. She can't shut up.

I'm not sure when this happened— Ileana used to be extraordinarily brave about this kind of stuff. However, it is somewhat a source of amusement to the rest of us, who laugh somewhat pityingly as we survey what looks to be harmless.

On the first day in Beijing, while writing for NaNoWriMo, there is a very loud, high-pitched scream from Ileana's direction.
"Ileana… calm down." I say to her from my bed, trying to figure out where the bug is. Talking to Ileana at the moment is futile. She is standing up on her pillow, trying to get as far away from the centipede as possible from the centipede that fell down from the ceiling.
"Where?" I ask, getting up and drawing closer, 
"Calm down. You'll freak everyone out. Get on my bed."
Ileana performs a feat of jumping and practically flies from her bed to mine, where she is still screaming.
"SHUT UP!" I shout,
"Ileana, be quiet!" Ioan says, "You'll send everyone up here!"
The centipede is now on the floor, where it is probably wondering why it had to end up in the crazy room of the hotel.
"Here." I say to Ileana, who is practically hyperventilating, "Scream into this if you have to." I toss her her pillow, which she clutches to her chest, staring fixedly at the harmless centipede.
I look at it for a moment, then say, "Get me some toilet paper."
Ioan speedily executes, and I start unrolling enough toilet paper to cover the centipede with.
"DON'T KILL IT!" Ileana squeals.
I shake my head, "I'm not going to kill it." I cover the centipede with the toilet paper, grimace, and then dump it just outside the hotel door.

Half an hour later, there is another squeal from Ileana. "IT'S BACK!"
"SHUT UP." We both say.
"Ioan," I say, "You're going to have to kill it."
"What?" Ioan exclaims, "I don't want to kill it!"
"I took it outside the hotel room." I argue, "If we take it out again, it's going to come back in again. At some time when we can't see very well. And you're the man of the house at the moment. You have to kill it."
Ioan tries some more half hearted arguments, but then he goes and gets some toilet paper, puts it over the centipede, and starts hitting it with his shoe.
"It's not dead." He marvels, "It's still moving!"
"What?" I say.
"What!" Ileana squeals,
"I keep hitting it and it keeps moving! And there's blood coming out of it." Ioan explains.
"You're going to have to kill it." Ioan says, and goes calmly back to his bed.
I approach the centipede and lift up the toilet paper a bit to see. I feel bad for the centipede. I don't want to kill it, but it's probably better to put it out of its misery. With another two hits of a shoe, it's not moving so much any more, and now comes the distasteful business of picking it up and moving a bloody insect. Which is dispatched hastily and followed by vigorous hand washing and a series of shudders from both me and Ileana, who is now relatively calm.

Another thing we are all afraid of is rodents.

In Xining, November 16th, Ileana, who had gone off to the kid's room, is hammering at the parents' door, where we are all enjoying the internet access.
"Who is it?" we ask,
"LET ME IN!" Ileana says, sounding desperate. She comes in with her characteristic bug eyes and says, "There is a rat. In our room."
"What?" we all ask, blankly.
"There's a rat. I went into the bathroom and there was this black thing and it scurried into the bathroom and it's there!"
After figuring out how to say rat in Chinese, Ileana and Dad go down to the receptionist. They come back to our room and say that we are now moving out into 411— one story above us, and that we have to go and pack everything in 311.
After record timing of getting everything out of the hotel room (and realizing just how much we spread ourselves around), we all retire back to the parents' room, where we stay hoping that there will not be another rat anywhere.
"Poor Ileana." Mom says between blowing her nose and sniffling, "To see a rat and not be able to scream."


  1. You chickens. What kind of bugs are you talking about you poor babies. And Johnny the man of the house. Well we have to give that some thought. May be in few more days or weeks when you will be in India after crossing the Himalayas then we shall revisit the topic of Johnny the man of the house. So the laundry topic is next. Now that's work, but I could not help but thinking when I was about Lilly age and I had , because I thought would be a good thing for my mom who was working very long hours, to do the laundry. Like the very old fashioned way. NO I did not go on the Dimbovita's side, dipped the shirts and the other stuff. But I had a big pot of water on the stove (in Romanian aragaz, which is a gas stove almost like the American stove but fed by a propane tank. I had it boiled. Then I had a big long trough like container (in Romanian is ALBIE ) and I washed them one by one. Then rinsed. Then dryed them up by turning them around and around. Then had everything on a clothes line, with sturdy clothespins. Do you get the picture. May be Yes may be NO. So now I am at the part of thanking you kids for a good time. I'll see you again, I mean I'll talk with you soon. Elena Richards (Rochester NY USA)

  2. Hello again. A propos of laundry, in case you are still in Xining China. There is a public laundry right near POST HOTEL in Xinging. That being said, thinking that I have an existential influence on you three and get the meaning of life from this experience, I shall bid you adieu et bonne chance. A bientot. Or SHALOM as I am going to Hebrew classes besides keeping an eye on you as you galivant around GOD'S earth. Cu drag XOXOXOXO Elena Richards Rochester NY USA

  3. Thank you for the comments! We don't have any need of a public laundry any more, but thank you for the heads up!

  4. Dear Maria, Bugs, I can tolerate... but I can definitely relate to the fear of rodents. Eww... don't like them at all! Maybe you need a cat to travel with you? :)

    Mary Ellen

  5. They just got offered a cat to take to the hotel for the day! No way.


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