My last letter from China told of us buying our new home, which was a great relief; finally, we had a place to call our own. In this missive, I want to tell you about the renovations that subsequently followed. For a fuller understanding,
you may wish to refer to the accompanying pictures.
We were in no hurry to move in because our existing apartment still ten months to run on the lease. If we cancelled early there would be a charge of two months rent. We both agreed it would be better to work on the new home before we
moved in. Siu Ying became busy as the days moved into December 2013, looking for a contractor, and also people to take over our rental.
She showed a friend around one day, and the visitor thought the place and rent were a good deal, which they were; Y650, or around £65 per month. The woman returned twice more, those times with her family in tow. On the last occasion
the conversation was cheerful, but extended, they were seriously interested; I did not need a translator to work that one out.
Concurrently, Siu Ying had engaged a main contractor to do the work on our new gaff, but he was very busy. As Christmas approached the contractor told us he would soon be free, and we authorised renovations to begin the next week. We
did not rush the refurbishment, but took out time, first deciding what we wanted to do with our home. I knew what I wanted, but generally deferred to my wife, for marriage is a two-way partnership, and I wanted to see what she could do,
how she would cope. She did great!
We had three and a half problem areas: The kitchen, the master bedroom en suite, partitioning the second and third bedrooms back into two rooms, and the kitchen WC. The half problem was the latter. It was small and very Chinese. Siu
Ying wanted to create large shower enclosure, which meant blocking off the balcony to make something palatial, which there was zero need for. We considered various options, like making Rhiannon's bedroom en suite into a general one, simply
knocking through a doorway where the picture is in the photographs adjacent to the round dining table. There were other options, but none of them seemed to make logical, useable sense. We did not argue about it, but did have a heated
discussion or two. I simply did not see the sense of loosing a second sink and balcony windows, in the kitchen, just because she wanted guests to have a large shower room; Chinese are not like this.
On our next visit I put my foot down and said, “No.” That is the only time I did not agree with her wishes. She admitted, “Dai Lo’s wife said the same thing ‘lo gong’ (Husband). OK.” So that is why we have a curious corner to the kitchen,
but a very useful one, and totally Chinese.
The only other thing was it had a Chinese trap, not a sit on type Western WC. I knew it would be physically possible to fit one, but knew it did not make practicable sense; the room was little more than a closet. We decided to leave
it as it was, but replace the shower that no longer worked, with a modern one that had hot water supplied from Rhiannon's bedroom bathroom, which was the other side of the wall. It was also to have new ceiling tiles to match the kitchen.
Regards our own bedroom’s en suite, I was extremely pleased to note it had a bath, although miniature in size. That was my first glance. On second look I realised the petit bath did not have a plughole; there was just a hole in the acrylic.
I surmised there was a drain beneath, and that bath water, and shower water, would congregate and manifest beneath the bath enclosure. I surmised, correctly, this was because there was not physically enough room beneath the bath for a
normal waste. I held my breath, wondering what pernicious bugs were breeding in the dark beneath. I love a bath, but this was kids’ size, and the overflow was much too low; it had to go. The rest of the room was more or less OK, except
for the deep maroon Western toilet, which we had been told no longer worked. We agreed it would be replaced with a new sit-on toilet, and we had bought one for our last rental.
The WC in our rented apartment had been fitted so it could be easily removed, but Siu Ying was against the idea, giving various reasons. I knew the real reason was that it was a siphonic toilet, one that normally returned some of the
black water back into the bowl as the flush completed. Not good. We quickly agreed on a brand new toilet of normal function. With the bath going, and not enough room for a proper one, I insisted on an overhead monsoon shower. I used to
source these things, and had a very good idea what sort of contraption I wanted. The result was very close, but without body jets or thermostatic control. What appeared eventually is great.
Bedrooms two and three would be reinstated, as the larger combined space wasn't all the useful, and felt a bit odd. I had imagined what would be done, a frame of 4 x 3, 3 x 2 even, and plasterboard cladding. I left it up to Siu Ying,
and she surprised me greatly, more on that later. We needed four bedrooms regardless. The en suite for what would become Rhiannon's room was fine, given a new shower and water heater.
We returned to the kitchen; we had already agreed the cooking cubicle had to go, it was bizarre. We were also agreed on the general new design, mentioning a few specifics, like the angled extractor fan unit. Base units all around, and
I wanted cupboards above, Siu Ying did not see the point. We talked about it over the coming days, and she came on board. Two weeks after we bought the place, we signed a general contractor to make it so.
I gave Siu Ying her head to get on with it, and I was not allowed to go until the place was finished. I liked the intrigue, but could have visited any time I wanted; I had a set of keys, I did not go round. I wanted to see what she would
do, what she was capable of. I was reassured at times, as we discussed details of the project, and what we wanted, and did not want in our to be home.
One of the first things to go was the quaint and useless cooking cubicle. We already knew the ceiling would need to be replaced, for the pod went into it. What we had not bargained for was that that the sink unit went down below floor
tile level, as did all the units of that area. Siu Ying said, “We need to re-tile the floor, what do you think of these…” She handed me a brochure of floor tiles, pointing out her favourites. We narrowed it down to a couple of options,
for she was asking for support, not ‘the man to say which’. Like I stated above, I was determined to let her choose, see what she could do.
I won’t bore you with the minutia, but offer a couple of examples: The base kitchen units would be made out of stone, granite or whatever (? ) I think? This is normal down here, where it gets so very hot most of the time. We looked at
a catalogue, and chose the standard, strong grey for the units, and black with flecks for the worktop, as you will see.
I became aware of a foible of Chinese renovations; although the main contractor did much of the work, he only recommended sub-contractors for more specialised labour. This in turn meant we had teams working on the kitchen and en suite
ceilings, and others doing the electrics, and plumbing.
Having experienced the pleasure of on-tap hot water in out last gaff, for the very first time in her life, (excepting Hong Kong hotels), Siu Ying had decided that all our water outlets would have a hot water option. This led to quite
a few ingenious plumbing solutions, but not as you would recognise them. The way the pipe dips out of the ceiling tiles and through a ventilation window, between Rhiannon's bathroom and the Chinese version still bothers me. Why? There
cannot be a main supporting crossbeam running there. I would have made a small hole for the shower feeder, and run it straight down the corner. It simply does not make any sense. Here is China!
Siu Ying had also opted to have all three bathrooms equipped with electric water heaters. I did not agree, stating that one should be gas, like, in case of a power cut; electricity is very expensive in China, and not just comparatively,
but she had her way without much fuss. The hot water supply was mainly routed through the ceiling, as all Chinese apartments have extremely solid floors, tiles on top of hard cement. Therefore, the plumbers, electricians, and ceiling
teams all sort-of worked together in a mishmash way to make it so. It was not how I would have done it, but it worked.
Siu Ying started bothering me about cupboards, and this was when she came on board with high-level units. She was showing me catalogues of designs, obviously from a Family approved supplier. We agreed on the red, and the next phase began:
Again I was shown glossy brochures, but come on, this design was in my wife's head, so I let her get on with it, albeit prompting her towards the general ideal of what we ended up with. She was also buying the step-plate, threshold if
you prefer, and unlike any other Chinese dwelling, this was set at tile level, not raised up half an inch, so as to trip the unwary. You will notice from the photographs, every other threshold in our home has the typical raised step.
The result is as you see in the nearby photographs, a floor-levelled black divider, and I think it is pretty cool. It is also functional, and works in real life. Hat’s Off, well done Siu Ying!
For comparison, there is a shot of what is usually done in China = a miniscule step, and no, China does not have a ‘sue culture’; you remain personally responsible for where you put your own feet; seems fine to me. Incidentally, I spent
the first few months in China tripping over these strange and unnecessary raises. Peripheral awareness came, and I don't do it any more, subconsciously I am aware, and avoid them by stepping over, without realising.
We were moving closer and closer together as a couple, as trust and mutual understanding grew. But then, I have not related the whole of it yet. I regard the main contractor as not being such, but more of an overseer. Siu Ying physically
sourced everything, from floor and ceiling tiles, to showers, hobs, extractor units, sterilizer unit, hot water heaters, ad infinitum. She went to the suppliers, paid cash, and arranged delivery. The overseer simply made access possible,
and occasionally did some work; but mostly he arranged for the contractors to install.
Meanwhile we were still living in the old gaff. There was a pile of cash hidden inside a red carrier bag, inside a drawer. It started out the best part of £20, 000, and was slowly whittled down. The main contractor needed advances, and
there were the purchases; one day Siu Ying arrived with a kitchen sink. She had travelled to Hoi Peng (Kai Ping), to get it, our dear friend Su'ang driving. It duly arrived and was dumped in the middle of the floor nearest my desk. She
returned to Toisan's sister city several times, telling me she had got the showers sorted, and taps, et cetera. She loved to look at the sink’s washing vegetables sieve, taking it out of the box many times and telling me how great it
was. It has never been used since, and usually hangs out on the balcony railings.
The units … I’ll call then ‘yellow ash’ for easy reference. They were made bespoke: the three beds, tables, my desk, the upper kitchen units, everything that colour was made by another contractor. The overseer simply monitored installation.
This same subby built the excellent division of shelves between bedrooms three and four, something Siu Ying thought of, but not I. Works a treat.
Well, from a technical point of view, there are minor problems, ones I only know of because I used to laminate surfaces for displays at exhibitions of premier global companies. The tables and desk have the surface veneer applied first,
and then the side covering. This will not last, and begs water damage. The side veneer should be applied first, and then the top. This in turn means any water spill will run off, and not work between the joints. In some places, the side
veneer was not properly routered, leaving an edge that can catch = in time the desk and table will delaminate, and also suffer from water damage. I am pretty sure they are covering chipboard, and that stuff loves water. But for now, this
The beds have storage chambers beneath, something we have not needed to use yet, but probably will in time. My wife became very busy, she outsourced people to make the quilts for the beds, and separately the covers, pillows and pillowcases,
and what she thinks are soft mattresses. They are not, but I guess not as hard as the standard Chinese. Our secreted pile of dosh was raided as necessary, and buff envelopes multiplied within the drawers of my desk, as money—cash, was
allocated for this and that.
In any relationship, married or not, people find their spaces, and generally do certain shores. We have never sat down and talked about it, let alone made a list. Siu Ying is good at sweeping floors, mopping, and tidying the kitchen.
She insists on doing all the clothes washing, since once I ruined one of her tops by overloading the washer. Sorry Hon. I tend to hang up the clothes to dry, and put them away. Except for seldom washing-up after I cook, until the next
day—c’mon, the food is hot and I am hungry—or wipe down kitchen surfaces, otherwise I am pretty clean and tidy. Siu Ying tends to dump things, especially clothes and packaging. I tidy up after her. Whatever we have going for us, works
for us as a couple; ‘nuff said.
I mention this; because it has usually been me, alone that has packed everything for past removals. That is a lot of work. I began sorting boxes as soon as the refurbishment contract was awarded. We had enough boxes from before; they
just needed filling. I had a word with my wife, and stated quite bluntly that this time she would also get packing; and in due course, she did, some.
The packing wasn't too bad, we had more than enough time, and as I mentioned previously, a lot of our stuff was still in boxes from our last move. Things fell into place: our new home was finished, the friend was taking over the apartment
we rented = no penalty clause, and we were all but packed. OK, the kettle and coffee were still out, as were a pack of pot noodles, but we were as good as done; you know it I am sure.
The day of our removal was interesting, for all the wrong reasons. Packed we were, removal specialist we did not have. Last time we had a man with a truck, and a team of workers. They took everything down to the street, loaded it all
into a reasonable sized lorry, and drove half a mile roundabouts, to end up less than forty yards from our last gaff. I always thought that was a tad odd, surely it would have been easier to simply walk the stuff directly? No.
This time around we did not have a man with truck, nor any workers. Everybody was busy, their lives had moved on. Now, bear in mind that moving out, and moving in, happen on the same day in China. I answered the door at 7 a.m., and admitted
the new tenant. She had with her a pile of stuff, and I showed her where to put it, if only so it would not get confused with our own.
It was a case of, “We are moving in. You need to move out; quickly.”
For the first time ever, we did not have anyone resembling a professional remover, so Siu Ying headed for the streets. Meanwhile I packed up the final items, and made space for incoming and outgoing. Siu Ying came back with a Mandarin
speaker, who I took an instant dislike to, no reason, but he was a bit shifty somehow, and quoted us an extortionate price. He departed soon after, followed by Siu Ying.
Before she came back the Landlady arrived, closely followed by the new tenants, with yet more baggage, there were now three of them humping bags, plus a couple of primary school kids. If you only understand ‘year’ or ‘grade’ (I do not),
then the boy was about six, and the girl maybe nine years old.
Meanwhile, new rental contract was signed, and the Landlady was in high spirits and fine form. I was involved when needs be, and when I felt like it. Otherwise, I was busy, stupid but important things like taping the fridge/freezer doors
shut, same with my desk drawers, you get the picture.
Siu Ying rocked-up with the local scavenger woman and her monster of a husband, who wanted £40 to move us. That was extortionate, but all we had. She gave me a harassed look, and a shrug. I said. “OK; we needed to be gone, let’s do it.”
I knew there were few other options, we were being ripped off, but only a bit, and at least we knew these people; acquaintances you'd trust before a total stranger, so to speak.
Last move we had a truck and a load of labourers to move less than fifty yards. This time we had ‘Bully beef Han’ and his wife, plus their two foot powered tricycles; and were moving about three-quarters of a mile, and up a slight hill.
The deal was agreed, and everything was going well, until Mr. Han came to the fridge/freezer. Oh, I should add, we had not unpacked it. It was very heavy, and a row ensued, he asking for more money because of the weight. I couldn't blame
him actually, but Siu Ying got into the Chinese wheeler-dealing with gusto, and the cooler was removed, and for the original price. Fortunately the guy was a smaller version of a Sumo wrestler, and he strapped it on, and carried it. It
was all I could manage to move the thing. In our defence, all I will say is that last time the labourers told us to keep the fridge/freezer full = less boxes to carry. Mind you, they were extremely strong.
And so we began; I loitered upon the cusp of the divide, incoming verses outgoing, for the new tenant was back and seriously moving in; Boxes, boxes everywhere, and not a one to blink.
I left with the last of our stuff, handing the Landlady my keys as I departed. Mr and Mrs Han were delivering the first half of our stuff to the new gaff. The rest of it was piled outside on the street, with nobody keeping an eye on
it. Not good. I moved a box off a chair, and sat down to keep an eye on things. Some long time later, the Han’s came back and began loading the rest of our stuff onto their tricycles. Siu Ying reappeared and told me everything was fine,
if a tad expensive, but they were doing a great job. OK.
I also had a job to do, if simply because my life tends to revolve around being connected to the greater world. I toddled off just around the corner to China Telecom, our landline and internet supplier, and informed them of our change
of address. They said it would be three days, maybe two; the fitters arrived next morning, and I was reconnected to the internet before I had even unpacked the computer. People talk about German efficiency, but Chinese efficiency is much
better, if and when it works, although usually it does…
A-hem. Moving along, my first doubt occurred shortly after I exited China Telecom, and our pagan tricyclists waved to me. I realised they were negotiating the major local crossroads, but what horrified me was that our fridge/freezer
was horizontal on its back. As far as I am aware, that is a total no-no, and yet, there it was presented before my eyes. They had also placed it on top of much smaller, more fragile boxes. I hollered to them, and got another gracious
wave and smile by return. I tried to run after then, but they were long-gone. Walking up the seemingly long road to our new home, I spotted repair people, and knew we would soon be sending the appliance to one of them. Then I remembered
the dozen eggs were still in the refrigerator tray.
When I reached the gaff, I met the Han’s leaving, their work done. The man was very happy and pleased to see me, which was oddly disconcerting. Siu Ying and I offered scattered updates, and I went into the kitchen, dreading the worst;
the fridge/freezer was working perfectly. Durrr? It has done ever since, BTW (by the way). The eggs were still in the rack, and not a one was even cracked. I could not believe it.
Trials and Tribulations
We got stuck in, unpacking essentials and tending to immediate jobs. I’ll not bore you with the usual stuff, but Su'ang was with us for much of the afternoon and evening, helping all over the place doing odd jobs. He had loaned us a
pair of tall stepladders, and wiped down the wooden ceiling in the main room. That evening the three of us celebrated moving into our new home, by staying in and having a take-away with a bottle of wine.
Over the days that followed we got the apartment how we wanted it, everything was wiped down, drawers, surfaces, etc. I replaced our 1.5 metre water feed to the washer with a half metre one. Su'ang insisted on helping me try to reroute
the waste pipe of said washer, and I gave up, completing the job when I was on my own. The telecom guys turned up the following day, and the day after, a contractor appeared to fit our cable receiver box.
Siu Ying arrived home with three large and heavy bags. These contained curtains she had had made for the patio door and window, and the two bedrooms. Our room and my office already had roller blinds. Some days later Su'ang arrived with
the cupboard door for the kitchen, and he fitted them himself. I was really impressed with the finished look of the room.
Other than that, we bought new fans, water dispenser, and got remote controls for the two existing air conditioning units. We also got rid of some junk, both acquired with the purchase, and of our own. That may sound stupid, but a lot
of it was in boxes we had never opened. I guess it was about a week before the last box was unpacked, and everything stowed neatly away. Some days following, Su'ang arrived with the seat for the toilet, which had to be specially ordered;
one not coming as part and parcel of the new WC.
More recently we have fitted air conditioning to every room that did not have it, two bedroom units and the big boy in the sitting room. There was a disagreement over this, Siu Ying insisting we did not need heating. I was determined
we units would have heating, as it gets bloody cold in these parts come winter. The difference was about forty quid, c'mon! I got my way.
Siu Ying wanted a new TV, so we now have a large digital one, which Yee Lo helped her buy. It is fine, but nobody understands how to use it. Yes, the buttons are labelled in Chinese, and so are the on-screen prompts, but no one understands
what they mean. Mama and Nonnie both have the annoying habit of hitting the wrong buttons on the remote, and bringing up boxes requiring a decision. I now know which button to press to get rid of them.
The latest addition was a DVD player. I was all for buying a new one, but Su'ang said he would sort it for us. A reconditioned one arrived about one week later, there was no charge, and he said it was a very good one. I was surprised
when neither he nor Yee Lo, who was staying with us at the time, plus Loi Loi his daughter; well neither of them were remotely interested in wiring it up. My usual problem is to stop them assisting, this was most odd.
Su'ang had left three cables in place from when he tested it, so I presumed they were in the right sockets; there were over a dozen in total. I then looked at the back of the TV, and there were five sockets in a row; white, red, green
blue, and yellow. I searched all around, and there was only one set of white, red, yellow; RCA jacks if I remember correctly. The TV had two USB connectors, a PCMCIA connector, a minidisk receptor, and two aerial sockets. Oh, and it also
does Wi-Fi. I still cannot fathom why there were not two red, white and yellow. Hello LG!
The DVD player had a host of connectors also, all older types. The only way to connect the two devices was using the white, red, and yellow. I unplugged the cable decoder, and it worked. That left us with no TV. Extremely stupid LG!
Not to be outwitted, I decided to loose the RCA jacks from the cable box, and use the aerial connector instead. All wired up, and it didn't work. Su'ang showed a little interest, and ended up as confused as I was. He left a short while
later with Yee Lo and the kids.
I did not want to admit defeat, for something that should have been so simple. I got out the TV manual, and it was all in Chinese of course. I spent ages on the LG website, before finding where they had hidden the instruction manual
for our TV. I downloaded it, and it was all in Chinese. I searched their website again, and reading the file download header, knew I had the right one that time. I opened the .pdf, and it was all in Chinese. This time I whizzed through
the thing on my computer, only to discover the English manual started once the Chinese one was finished. Durrr?
I spent a while reading it, and found out how to properly use the remote control. This in turn meant I could get into the TV menu system, and resolve the problem. The first thing I did was change the language to English, and this simplified
things a lot. However, I could not get the TV to accept the aerial connection from the cable box, but I did wire in the blue and green cables, and set this to default, although it sounded just the same to me.
The cable box did not have a destruction (instruction) manual, or the DVD player, so I was stumped. I fitted the DVD to our old TV in the bedroom, which had two sets of RCA connectors. When the kids came back they were both delighted
to be able to watch DVD's, and out of the sight of adults no less. It’s actually worked out fine, but how very stupid LG, and a lot of money also.
I plan to add a satellite dish so I can watch things like F1, cricket, and rugby. Instead of showing Formula One Gran Prix, China TV offers full coverage of every Chinese league football match, highly thrilling not!
I have noted other odd things around the apartment, which I will finish with. A nearby picture will show a washing machine outlet hose coming out of our bathroom wall. I did that, and Siu Ying likes it. You will not the nearby drain,
yes? Common sense dictates the two are interlinked, but nope, Here is China! The plastic hose connects into a metal pipe, that finished half an inched behind the rear of the wall tile. You may wonder where that water used to go to, as
do I. I intent to fit a neat little connector with bend, flowing down to the drain, but have not as yet managed to buy anything the right size. I’ll try the city's biggest plumbing merchant next time I am across town.
You will notice from the second photo, that the new toilet sits proudly in the room, and not flush, or as close as to the wall. Note the brown tiles, they are all new. I would have expected the soil pipe to have a plastic 90-degree on
it, going straight into the waste pipe, close to the wall. I can only surmise this was not possible because the extant soil pipe was cast iron, and had a cast bend already in place. Nothing else makes any sense, and they obviously looked
I was very pleased with the way Siu Ying decided to reconvert bedrooms two and three back into two bedrooms. The shelves are excellent and will become very useful as Nonnie grows up. I did wonder if one could have been turned around
so it fronted the third bedroom, or perhaps have two of similar design made, each protruding into the bedrooms a little way. However, this is what my wife wanted, so who am I to argue. The great thing is that if we ever want to change
it back again, it will be a very simple job, and shelf units are always useful.
There were numerous smaller jobs we had done, wooden fascia strips added to the shoe closet where the dalmatian is, and also to the surrounds of the glass display units. At some point we may extend the units next to the kitchen
sink, although we have enough cupboard space. One thing we lack are kitchen drawers, something Siu Ying is not accustomed to, so this remains a distinct possibility.
You may think we went overboard with air conditioning units, so take a look at the bottom right photograph. This was by no means our hottest day, but an average one. I left the thermometer in she shade for ten minutes, and you can
see the result.
My wife made a home for us, and I love her for that. It was a lot of work on her part, but she insisted on doing it herself. I applaud her; thank you.