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Thursday, October 16, 2008
We ain't here no more. . . Go here
 
 
Monday, October 13, 2008
We're flying HOME today!
 
After two full lovely weeks (we got extended on vacation, can you believe that!?!?) hanging on the beaches of Boracay, Philippines we flew back to Beijing only to find out our work here is finished.
 
Finished.
 
We are coming home!
 
I will put up a new page (once I have internet at home) for our vacation pics for those interested, and after today you can find my pearls of wisdom on our Post from Home page. . .
 
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
There's a Typhoon Warning Under My Door
 
(We're in Hong Kong, even though it says Beijing.  Not sure where to post.  Having identity/location issues)
 
So, I guess I'll go shopping, eh?
 
Suppose to hit us this afternoon, last through tomorrow.  Not sure what to expect except we might not be able to get a ferry back from Lamma.
 
Bummer.  :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008
Okay.  I think we are really leaving. . .
 
Pending a late frantic phone call, our tickets are for 10 AM tomorrow for Hong Kong.
 
We will be at the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay until Thursday.
 
Friday we fly to Boracay, Philippines for a 9 day vacation.
 
It is set in stone.
 
It will be.
 
Hopefully, we will have internet connection dependable enough to post from the beach!
 
Monday, September 15, 2008
My Rememberer Seems Broken
 
Have you ever noticed sometimes when you reminisce with someone about common experiences in the past, you sometimes get two different versions of what happened?  And, obviously, one person is wrong?
 
Lately, that person is me.  And it's driving me crazy!Not that I'm never wrong, it's just so infrequent. . . heehee
 
Or, maybe you remember something that never happened?
 
Scott has arrived (YEAH!) and there's a dude here on another project that Scott knew in Moscow.  So, Scott and I were talking about when he was in Moscow and we were IM'ing about his $25 room service cheeseburgers (which he remembers the $25 cheeseburgers but not necessarily chatting with me about them.  He's not saying he DIDN'T, but $25 cheeseburgers usually come late at night after he's had a *few* drinks).
 
So, in keeping with the conversation with Derek (the other dude) and Scott, I ask when they were in Moscow.  And Scott says 2000.
 
No problem, except I didn't even KNOW Scott in 2000.
 
What good are memories if you can't even remember what ACTUALLY happened and what didn't.
 
Ugh.  I think I'm going nuts.
 
But, we are planning a vacation to Boracay, Phillipines from 9/26 to 10/5.  A lovely beach island about to get hit by a typhoon.
 
But that's okay, I probably won't REMEMBER anyway.
 
 
 
Friday, September 12, 2008
Well HELLO THERE. . .
 
Yes, yes, I know.  I have been neglecting you greatly.  I'm sorry.  And alive.
 
What have I been doing that is so much more important than telling you what the weather is in Beijing and what I've been shoveling into my face?
 
Mostly packing, unpacking, changing our hotel reservations, canceling vacation, canceling hotel reservations, buying airline tickets, changing airline tickets, refunding airline tickets, making hotel reservations.
 
It's been A RIOT.
 
Not.
 
Due to some last minute and haywire schedule changes/proposals, things have gotten a little nuts around here. 
 
But, it looks like things are smoothed out now, and we will be going home on November 8, with a little time off in late September early October.
 
Keep your fingers crossed it doesn't change.  Because I don't think I can handle changing everything AGAIN.
 
Thank you.  Oh, and nice to see you again!

Sunday, September 7, 2008
We are OUT OF HERE
 
Um, yea.  We leave Wednesday.  Very Early.  For Hong Kong.
 
Not too exciting, just four days of work for Mike and then Sunday we are flying HOME.
 
Home to Grand Rapids.  Michigan.  USA!
 
Beijing is almost in our rear view mirror. 
 
Just need to figure our how to get 100 pounds of junk into our two suitcases.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008
What the heck happened to August?
 
Seriously.  I just had it here.  Where did it go?  Did I misplace it?
 
And this past week?  Went by very slowly.  So slowly it almost felt like all of August.  But still.  Where did August GO!?!?
 
I remember spending a lot of it looking for a taxi. 
 
Glad those pesky Olympics are over.
 
Last Wednesday, as a final send-off to Randy, the ticket God, we took him down to the hutong for some real Beijing Duck.  Long time readers will remember we also went there with my brothers and seesters-in-laws.

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Us and the actual owners of Li Qun Roast Duck

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Bunch of ducks a-cooking

   

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If I didn't know this was Beijing, I would guess it was ANYWHERE

After dinner we strolled around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City for about a half an hour to help all that duck get digested.  It was our FIRST time down there at night, very pretty.
 
The rest of the week was pretty uneventful.  We did discover the VERY BEST BURGER in Beijing at a new spot, the Union Bar and Grill and some more really bad pizza at the new Peppe's Pizza (how DO you justify making pizza WITHOUT pizza sauce?).  Seems like I sort of remember a very wild night at Tim's on Friday and a nice relaxing day on Sunday.
 
And, we had three days IN A ROW of beautiful blue skies.  And, almost cool nights.  We had to take a taxi home on Sunday as I was too cold to walk.  Well, not "Michigan too cold to walk", just fall-ish coolness in the air, and we'd been sitting outside having dinner for a couple hours.
 
Monday?  WE GOLFED!  WOOT!  Mike's first time golfing in over two years.  It was a four-person scramble, so we didn't have to play our shots, which worked out pretty good.
 
It was called the Chip and Chug.  Every par 5 you had to drink a full beer before the hole could be called complete.  No problem.
 
Beautiful course, wonderful weather.  Much fun.  We might even go back, despite the expense.

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Our foursome in all it's glory

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Do you see that ball?!?! It's actually in the AIR. Sorta.

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Mike demonstrates how easy this game really is, while TJ takes a lesson

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We are awesomely on our way to bogey here. . .

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I won a 200 RMB to TIm's, our local hangout. Sure he was hoping to rope some new customers in!

Also, I've been getting a lot of emails lately asking us why we aren't home yet.
 
Good question.
 
But we are (obviously) not, and now will be here until 11/8.  With a minor vacation starting 9/20 til 9/30, when Mike will do a little work in Hong Kong before returning back to Beijing. 
 
We are NOT flying all the way home for 8 days of jetlag, instead we are heading for Hainan (the Hawaii of China, whatever that means) for 4-5 days, then on to Hong Kong for some relaxing before work and our return.
 
I'm pretty sure we will actually be home before Christmas!  ;-) 
 
At least pray for that!
 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
                   or
Why a basic understanding of the metric system and the ordering of Canadian Rock Lobster can come in handy
 
Yes, I am cheating, as it is really Wednesday, August 27, 2008 in Beijing, I wanted to post on my birthday.  Technically, it is still my birthday back there in EST, so I have about 1.5 hours to get this done.
 
No problem.
 
First, thanks to all who sent me birthday greetings!  I haven't had time to answer all of them yet, but it's nice to know people, literally, all around the world, where sending me good thoughts yesterday.  From Brazil to Bermuda, London to Hong Kong.  Wow!
 
And Mike thanks those who included his birthday from Saturday into the message.  And vis a vis, as he got some messages on Saturday that mentioned me, as well.  It's fun having birthdays just a few days apart, especially when they fall over a weekend.
 
Did I just say it was fun having birthdays?  I didn't mean it.  I think this is my last for a while.  Maybe 9 years.
 
But in honor of teetering on the brink of 40, Mike brought home this beautiful bouquet of flowers for me (while getting birthday wishes via the telephone from my parents).  Thirty-nine lovely carnations and roses, one for each year of my life.  And the thing?  It weighs a TON.  And he carried it all the way from the flower market even though I was meeting him in 1.5 hours for lunch. 
 
He was sweaty.  And cute.  And he put a card in it with a sweet little poem he wrote, but I can't share it with you because we just had a talk about website/blog limitations.
 
It was nice.

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39 flowers looks like a lot when you start imagining each one represents a year of my life

Admittedly, I didn't do much on my birthday due to the intensive heat of Beijing.  It wore me out just walking to lunch and back.  I was hoping the heat would start abating by now, but alas, no.
 
Last night, though, was MUSSEL NIGHT at Morel's.  We had a few joiners, we were 7 in all, and many bottles of wine and good conversation and much joking around.  And a lot of Mussels.
 
One person in our party decided to order the Canadian Rock Lobster.  When asked to go and pick his dinner from the tank, he chose the largest lobster in the tank, a prehistoric-ly large beast with a front claw as big as his hand.  Seriously.  I so wish I had my camera last night.  When stretched out, he (I'm assuming it was a male lobster, I'm not sure how to tell) was easily at LEAST 20 inches long.
 
It was huge!  When served, they had cut it in half and spread it onto two gigantic platters, which took up most the room on our table.
 
And when the bill came, it cost him $225 (that's US dollars, dudes).  He's still in shock this morning.
 
Mike is lucky I don't have a taste for lobster.
 
But I love me those $17 mussels!
 
And I still have 68 minutes left of my birthday back there in EST. 
 
Dear Mom and Dad:  Thanks for making me!  I'm enjoying this life you gave to me!  And, I'm glad I got you as parents, although if I hadn't, I guess I wouldn't be me, right?
 
Love,
 
Rachelle

Monday, August 25, 2008
AOM's
(Awesome Olympic Moments)
 
Alas, the Olympics are over.  Not only have they provided me with much fodder to talk about here and here, they have given us a much needed diversion to enjoying our stay in Beijing.
 
Let's see.  Shall we recap since the last time we spoke?  Did you see Usain Bolt?  DID YOU!?!?!  THAT was amazing my friends.  Of course, we watched that on TV, although our foray to the Bird's Nest on the 15th gave us this AWESOME preview of things to come.

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What an award winning shot, eh? Too bad the race was run on the other side of the stadium. . .

And, of course, there was Mr. Phelphs' performance, which I haven't said much about.  He's a superstar.  How someone can swim all four strokes with the same ease and proficiency is beyond me.  Swim caps off to Michael and his Olympic medal sweep.
 
Then we had the unfortunate incident of China's 110m hurdler Liu Xiang (who set a world record in Athens in case you've been living on Mars) having to forfeit running due to an ongoing hamstring injury.  I actually saw people crying on the subway because of this ill-fated event.  Listening to the varied responses of the Chinese was interesting. . . .  A lot of the general public was actually angry with him.  Seems we need to remember these are HUMAN BEINGS. . . no matter how much they look like machines.
 
Then, on Saturday, my silly husband went and had ANOTHER birthday.  Now he's officially in his mid-fifties.  Whew. 
 
Sunday dawned with the Men's Marathon, where we watched (on TV) Dathan Ritzenhein from ROCKFORD, MICHIGAN (a mere five miles from our home) place 9th and then the Men's Volleyball Team, whose coach's family had been involved in the "mad knife-wielding Chinese man at the drum tower affair", twisting the gold away from the Brazilian team.
 
But for me?  The highlight of our Olympics came on Sunday when Randy (the ticket GOD) secured us three tickets to watch our own USA Basketball Team take the gold medal against Spain.
 
Did you catch that?  WE WENT TO THE FINAL BASKETBALL GAME!!!  Oh yes we did!
 
Now, I've always been a basketball fan, but I've let my membership slide in the NBA fan club over the last few (ten? twelve?) years, but it hasn't really subtracted from my love of watching the game played well, aggressively, and IN YOUR FACE.
 
Most of the basketball games of these here Olympics have not been that exciting.  We have pretty much dominated every opponent without much problem, including our preliminary game with Spain.
 
But maybe the most interesting part of the Gold Medal battle between USA and Spain is that five of the Spanish players actually PLAY for the NBA.  Did you know that?  In fact, one (Pau Gasol) is Kobe Bryant's teammate (you know who he is, he kinda looks like the caveman on the Geico commercials.  Not Kobe.  Pau.).  And Pau's brother, Marc played for Spain, too, and he's a Memphis Grizzly.
 
And Ricky Rubio is pretty interesting, too.  He's a seventeen year old (he'll be 18 in October), relatively short (6'3" tends to look small when surrounded by giants) professional Spanish basketball player who is an absolute joy to watch.  Definitely a talent to watch for, I'm sure he's heading across the pond to our courts in the near future.
 
Do I sound like I am intrigued with basketball?  I am.
 
The actual game was phenomenal.  It's possible you've seen it by now.  It was excruciatingly nerve wracking, especially right here. . .

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Fourth Quarter, 2 minutes left, only a FOUR POINT LEAD and it's Spain's ball due to some technical

We had incredible seats, although two were on one side of the court and one was on the other, so we did some seat shuffling throughout the game.  It was truly unfortunate, as the lone ticket was in the GE area (as in General Electric, corporate sponsor) and for the entire game this is what my row looked like.

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I can't tell you how mad this made me. . . .

I found this not only insulting to all the ten billion people who would have gladly took these seats (or paid big money for them), but also to our team.  They deserved loyal fans in every seat and the bare bone facts are some corporation comped a bunch of executives over here for the game and they couldn't find the time or desire to attend, and then didn't disperse the tickets to those who would use them.
 
Such arrogance.
 
In fact, there was a dude there from GE who was like the ticket police.  When Mike went and sat there the first half, the dude demanded to see Mike's ticket.  And ALL the seats were empty then.  At the half we swapped, and same dude was pretty rude to me, too.  I just ignored him.  What could he do?  I had a ticket for that seat! 
 
I just wanted to ask someone from GE when I could expect my stock to rebound.  (Get it?  Rebound?  HAHAHAHA)
 
But, possibly the best thing about watching us win the Gold medal in basketball was knowing how this "Redeem Team" was chosen. 
 
Although each member is a superstar in his own right, this years team was chosen on a much different basis than in years past.  They had to commit to three summers of training together.  They had to undergo extensive interviewing.  They were chosen on their ability to play together as a cohesive unit, their desire to win for the USA, not for themselves or their repective teams.  Basically, they had "ego" coached out of them.
 
Man, they looked good. 

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Dwight Howard STUFFS IT!

The game was an absolute treat to watch.  And a 117-107 victory was the icing on the cake.
 
It has been so wonderful to be on the receiving end of Randy's charity.  He says he's just picking up the crumbs off the table, but he's actually sharing the crumbs with us!

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Waiting for their Gold medals - WOOT!

After the game we headed over to Tim's for a big fat Texan BBQ and to watch the Closing Ceremonies.
 
I suppose we will now suffer the Olympic Hangover.  Nothing to watch on TV, the excitement gone from the air.  But, it was worth it, and I'm so glad we were here during the Olympics, mainly because we SCORED SO MANY TICKETS.
 
As far as the Olympics, although it wasn't a grand party, the venues were most impressive, the organization was impeccable and the ceremonies blew us all away.  I know the Olympics will be a lot more fun in London, but they might not have the same flair. 
 
And Randy will leave on Thursday, which is sad, as he's become a good friend and a person we truly enjoy spending time with in Beijing.  Hopefully our paths will cross again.
 
But he's TOTALLY ready to leave.
 
And tomorrow, like my husband did on Saturday, I must regretfully turn a whole full year older, teetering me on that magical age of 4-0.
 
Yuck.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This May Be the Peoples (Republic of China's) but It Sure Ain't The Peoples Games

(Don't Tell the Chinese, though)

 

The PRC (People's Republic of China) is darn good at control. 

 

Unlike past Olympics, access to any of the Olympic Green is only for Olympic ticket holders or people with BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games) badge wearers (which account for about 80% of the foreign presence here, by my count).

 

Now folks, this is an area about three times the size of Central Park (New York).  It’s vast.  It’s HUGE.  It is where about ¼ of the hutongs destroyed for the Olympic Games stood.  It could accommodate hundreds of thousands of people with out a problem.

 

Sponsors have paid big bucks to have representation in the Green to promote their brand name recognition and products to the opening Chinese market.  All for naught, apparently, as foot traffic in the Green has been very low.

 

However, because of perceived security threats by the PRC, it is essentially a closed venue, with security checks that surpass any airport security I’ve ever encountered.

 

The PRC is not big on crowds.  If more than a couple thousand people show up in an area, their feeling is something bad is going to happen.  They’re not good with crowd control, only crowd dispersal.

 

For example, on Opening Night at the Beijing Train Station a big screen was erected for the general public to watch the ceremonies.  After about an hour, around 5000 people assembled.  And the police came and broke up the party, as they perceived it as a security risk.   

 

The fencing around the Green allows pedestrians to pass within about one kilometer from most of the venues, including the iconic Bird’s Nest, which to all Chinese, if not the world, symbolizes this 2008 Olympics.  It is so sad to see all these Chinese folks walk up to the fence, turn around a pose for a picture with the Bird’s Nest in the background, then dejectedly walk away with their one Olympic souvenir. 

 

And foreigners, too.  In fact, without our EXTREME LUCK of Randy handing down tickets from (insert name of huge USA mega media company) we would never had the experience either.

 

But the Chinese people are so pragmatic by nature they just accept this as their government’s right.  There is very little anger amongst them.  They are just taking it in stride.  Besides, with the PRC controlling most of the media they are exposed to, including the internet, they really don't know any different. 

 

I think they should revolt!

 

Another funny thing the Chinese did when designing all the venues we’ve been in is limit the availability of food.  Now, you are not allowed to bring food or drink into the venues (for, again, security reasons), but inside?  Hard to come by.  Drinks are plentiful (5 Kuai BEER!  Let me say that again.  5 Kuai beer!  The cheapest beer we’ve had in Beijing outside of buying it at the party store for 2.5 Kuai).  But food?  About five choices.  Sausage on a stick.  President noodles (whatever that is), ice cream, bread, popcorn and candy bars.  If you were in a venue for hours, these would be your choices. 

 

Besides the inconvenience to the spectators, what a huge loss of revenue for the Chinese.  Think if they were grilling up hamburgers and hot dogs and frying French fries how much money they could have made in just 16 short days.  Or even serving up rice with shredded beef.  Whatever!  Just give us some food!

 

Many times we had to rush off to the stadiums upon Mike’s arrival home from work.  Without dinner.  Every time we waited until 10 PM or later to have something to eat.  Outside the Olympic Park. 

 

Except for Monday night when Randy (the ticket God) called us with diving tickets at the Water Cube.  He could only score two tickets, and he generously gave them to us, as he had already been inside the Cube more than once and it was a preliminary event.  We met him at Souk to pick up the tickets, had a bite and some beer, then (luckily) grabbed a taxi to the Green.  We were late, but we still got to see some diving and experience the inside.  Missing a few heats was fine by us.

 

There is literally nothing to eat in there. 

 

The one area the Chinese did come out ahead was on tickets.  The majority of attendees at every event we’ve went to were Chinese.  And half the events we went to didn’t even have Chinese competitors.  But that doesn’t stop them from sitting their chanting “China! China! China!” over and over.

 

In fairness, a very small percentage of the 1.3 billion Chinese actually got tickets.  But it seems they had a far better chance.  And, they seem to actually SHOW UP when they have tickets.  Unlike the seats that were reserved for IOC members, corporate sponsors and media.

 

Which have been mostly empty.  What a shame to see all these "wasted" seats all over the stadium with tens of thousands, if not hundred of thousands of people right here in Beijing who would love to put their butt in one.

 

The Diving preliminaries were no exception.  The “cheap seats” were crammed with Chinese.  The top two divers were from China, and went on to win Gold and Silver the following night.  But in the A and B seating?  Hardly anyone.  Mike and I sat like an island in a sea of empty seats.

 

Despite it all, we had a good time.  Afterwards we chose to wander around the Green for a while.  Waiting in line for some refreshments (read: 5 kuai beer!) we met three folks from Britain.  Stood around and talked to them for a little while.  And then we found out they were the Mom, Aunt and Uncle of the British diver we just watched compete (who, sadly, did not qualify for Tuesday’s diving). 

 

Crazy.

 

And then we had the most unfortunate experience of it taking TWO HOURS to get home.  In the rain.  With much of the blame on us, but some on the Chinese.  Too intensive to get into, but leave it at when we arrived home we were HIGHLY FRUSTRATED. 

 

And wet.

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See that? Over there? That's where Michael Phelps won all that gold. . . a couple days ago. . .

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This is upstairs looking at the "lobby" area, where the 5 kuai beer is sold

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Required shot of Mike and I in front of the Water Cube

Add your content here

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And this? This is the Chinese diver who took Gold on Tuesday night

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Looking up at one of the big old bubbles

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The pedicure of the Mom of the British 3m Springboard Diver (SERIOUSLY!)

Add your content here

Sunday, August 17, 2008
Bird's Nest is AWESOME up close
 
I'll tell you the stories another day, but here's some pics until I get the time.
 
Today we are going back to the Wall with Mr. Randy, the ticket GOD.

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Just after we breach security

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I find me an Espana athlete to harrass

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Up close and personal, it really is amazing, and beautiful

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Our Olympic Steeplechase Runner makes a jump

   

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Uh, WOW! Loving the moon, the torch, the stadium. It's so neato

Friday, August 15, 2008
On Kobe, On LeBron, On Tayshaun, On Chris.
On Jason, On Carlos, On Carmello, On Chris Paul
On Dwight, On Michael, On Dwayne, On Deron
 
OH YEA!  You guessed it!
 
Last night Mike and I were Randy's guests (see previous entry about Mike's "old" friend who is working in Beijing) to the USA vs Greece Olympic Basketball Game.
 
WOOT!
 
The Dream Team in action.  It absolutely ROCKED.
 
Plus, we got to see them CRUSH Greece, who took the Gold in Athens. 
 
A mild bonus.
 
So better than the women's Russia vs. Belarus game.
 
And, our seats were AWESOME!
 
Thanks NBC, and THANKS RANDY!
 
And tonight? 
 
He's taking us to the BIRD'S NEST for Track & Field.
 
It's nice to have high rolling friends.
 
We have Olympic Fever. . . .

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Carmelo Anthony get the ball while Jason stands around. . . LOL

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Kobe, Kidd and Bosh scramble on defense

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Easy two from Carlos

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After they kicked A$$, 92-67

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Kobe, LeBron and an unknown entity contemplate the sport of basketball

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Bosh takes it to the hole while LeBron supervises

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Anthony sticks one in there

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The Redeem Team on the way out of the venue

   
   

Security was pretty tight, and the lines were very long.  And, of course, we chose the slowest moving line.  The boys got to go right through, as they didn't have bags, but I had to wait and wait.  And wait.
 
When they finally got around to searching my bag, they made me take my lipstick and put it on. 
 
Either they were worried about my appearance or they thought it was some type of poison apparatus I was going to infect the venue with.
 
Strangely, my inhaler caused them no alarm.  Probably more use to seeing asthma medication than lipstick. . . .
 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 (con't)
Do You Know What the Russian Flag Looks Like?
 
Since the fall of the Soviet Union 17 years ago, I've never really considered what their national flag looked like.  Now, I know I've probably seen it somewhere, it just didn't register.
 
So, in case you're wondering, this is what it looks like:
 

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The Russian Flag

And this is what I pulled out of my closet to wear this morning. . . .

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Me inadvertently dressed as the Russian Flag

Our seats were in the ABSOLUTE last row in the upper section.  Complete nose bleed seats.  Most of the seats in the upper tiers were full.  The expensive seats were mostly empty.  I don't know if they were actually unsold (I haven't seen seats available anywhere) or people just didn't show up.
 
The Basketball stadium is next to the Baseball Stadium, both of which are new.  I don't know the architectural story behind it, but it is a strange looking place.  But nice enough.
 
All in all, an interesting morning.

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The Olympic Basketball Stadium

Wednesday, August 13, 2008
We're off to see the Olympics!
 
Last night we scored what we thought were tickets to USA Woman's Basketball.
 
We were at the Goose & Duck and the infamous but yet unseen tickets sellers showed up around 10:30.  After some pushing and shoving, I made it to the front where I said, "USA Basketball?"  And, the dude said, "Yea.  How many?"
 
So now we are off at 8 AM to go see Belarus play Russia. 
 
Not exactly dream tickets, but should be interesting.  Game starts at 9 AM, so for those who care at home, you can probably see Mike, I and the 14 other people who will show up to this event on any game coverage.  Don't know if they will show it at 9 PM today, your time, or 9 AM tomorrow.
 
Oh yea, and they are really cheap seats.  Our taxi fare will cost more than what we paid.
 
Go Belarus?  Go Russia?  Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008
My Olympics are Different than Yours
 

As we are in China, we are getting a little different version of the Olympics than say, NBC Universal would present. 

 

In fact, all our coverage is in Chinese.  Because all we have is CCTV (the State owned television channels).  We can watch CNN and get the medal counts and check the internet for times of events we want to see, but we are basically at the mercy of what the Chinese want to show. 

 

Which largely centers around events they are favored to win.

 

That being said, I’m currently watching Michael Phelps be awarded his THIRD gold medal of these Olympics (in Chinese of course).

 

However, last night we ventured over to Shiller’s for dinner, and they had pulled a television out onto the patio and were showing some Olympic coverage.  Of weightlifting.  In the 62kg category (the lifters, not the weights).  That’s about 136 pounds to non-kilograms peeps. 

 

Not exactly an event I would have set my alarm for.

 

However, it did show some true Olympic spirit.  I’m talking about 28 year old Diego Salazar of Columbia. 

 

I’m not going to pretend I know ANYTHING about weightlifting, including how the whole competition unfolds, as even after watching it for about an hour (say it with me, IN CHINESE), I’m still not sure.  I do know these guys were lifting almost 400 pounds OVER THEIR HEADS at the end.  That’s like three times their body weight!

 

Diego’s first three attempts were faulted by him dropping the bar before even been able to attempt the lift.  Nine times he came out on stage to lift the lightest weight and lost his hold on the bar.  He was in tears (with a Chinese camera shoved right up in his face). 

 

I didn’t know if he was done, or if he would still be competing, but my heart was bleeding for this unknown athlete who came all the way from Columbia with about 10 other countrymen to do one thing.  Lift weights.  His frustration was enormous.  And heart wrenching.

 

Later in the competition he did reappear.  And successfully lifted more weight than anyone but Zhang Xiangxiang (from China).  Winning for him and for Columbia their first medal of the 2008 Games.  A Silver.

 

And he was THRILLED.  So thrilled, in fact, he was flirting and trying to kiss one of the Chinese girls working at the medal ceremony.  So much so they actually had to steer him up onto the platform to get his medal.

 

I like watching the “main events”, but sometimes these little moments exhibit what the Olympics are really more about.  The impossible ability of determination and the human body.

 

You GO Diego Salazar.

Monday, August 11, 2008
An Olympic-y Weekend
 
First of all, those opening ceremonies?  Way over the top.  I was blown away (and a little teary eyed).  I hope you watched them, they were AMAZING.  Literally beyond belief.  What percision!  Dedication!  Showmanship!
 

No matter what the final medal count at the end of these 2008 Olympics, the people of Beijing deserve a gold medal. Each migrant worker who helped build this shining new city, every family evicted from their ancestral home to make way for venues and developments, any taxi driver who mastered the word “Welcome” in preparation for transporting English speaking tourists, all who are so palatably excited about the culmination of enormous effort to host this international event. 

 

No, China is not perfect. Beijing is not my favorite city. But the people’s efforts and enthusiasm should be applauded.
 
But, the Olympics are truly about the athletes, and I have to say, after watching events in sychronized diving, air pistol shooting (can you believe we WATCHED that?), weightlifting and even basketball, one thing keeps coming through (my television).
 
Those Chinese?  They really want to win.  I mean REALLY.  Almost to the point where it appears there is no joy in Mudville. 
 
Recently, I saw a quote about Liu Xiang (perhaps the second most famous Chinese Olympic athlete, he's a hurdler who won Gold in Athens) saying, (and I paraphrase mucho here, as I can't find the original source), "If Liu Xiang doesn't win Gold here in Beijing his win in Athens means nothing."
 
HUH?
 
This guys LEGS are insured for $13.3 Million US Dollars.
 
Of course, the quote was from some important Chinese coach or something, and they were basically saying the most important thing over the next couple weeks is that China wins more gold medals than anyone else.  THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
 
Now, I would love to see the US come out first in medal count, but I salute every individual athlete who has devoted their life to their sport to a level which allows them to compete on an international stage.  What an achievement.
 
But watching the Chinese makes me almost sad.  It's as if they are carrying the entire weight of China on their shoulders.  I don't see them smiling (even when they WIN, which they did in air pistol and synchronized diving).  They look more relieved, as if an execution squad awaited them if they dared to lose.
 
It may not be true, just my observation thus far. 
 
I saw a program on CNN about the training of Olympic gymnasts in China.  Little girls crying while being led through exercises.  Parents whos wishes for their children out-weighed the discontent of the child.  I'm talking three and four year olds here.  It was heart wrenching to watch.
 
But all for the greater communal good of China.
 
In someone's mind.
 
Blech.

Friday, August 8, 2008
or 08-08-08 The Fated Day

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The day is here! It seems like just yesterday it said 147. . .

Beijing has done so much to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics.  From re-facing the entire city, extending and building new subways, strong moves toward cleaner air and even a loosening of internet access (thank you, China!  I finally saw pictures on this website for THE FIRST TIME since we’ve been here.  Amazing!)

 

One thing that is cracking my butt up, though, is the “Etiquette Handbook” issued to Beijing residents on how to interface with foreigners and project a “level of civility” to the world.

 

Although I haven’t got my hands on the actual booklet, and even if I did it would all be in Chinese, we have heard excerpts on the news.

 

Some of my favorite instructions:

 

  • Do not wear more than three colors at one time (I think I disobey this one on a almost daily basis)
  • Do not wear white socks with black shoes (Mike may disobey this one when I’m not watching closely)
  • Do not walk around in your pajamas or underwear (this is WAY more common than you might think)
  • Do not shake hands with foreigners for more than 3 seconds
  • Do not ask foreigners their age or how much money they make
  • Do not “boo” foreign competitors,  Clap for everyone (SIDE NOTE:  They actually invented an Olympic Clap and issued pamphlets and videos on CCTV teaching the Chinese how to clap.  Olympic Clap sounds funny, like a new STD or something)
  • Do not stare at foreigners as it makes them uncomfortable

 

There were many more directives, of course.  No spitting, no shoving onto elevators, busses and subways, smile, say Hello (in English).  But, my all time favorite (especially in 95 degree heat) is this:

 

  • Women – if you suffer from “thick legs”, please wear dark stockings to camouflage this deformity

 

Uh oh.  I am definitely not wearing dark stockings around. 

 

The initiative does seem to be working.  People seem much more friendly lately.  I even had a Chinese lady who was definitely in front of me in line for the subway usher me in first. 

 

And tonight is the night.  We have no definite plans yet.  The venue/bar we were planning on attending didn’t quite get finished in time.  And, we would like to be able to see some of the fireworks without having to suffer the mad crush expected at the streets surrounding the Bird’s Nest and the Forbidden City.  But, more importantly, we would like to be able to sit in air conditioning and drink beer while enjoying all of it. 

 

Decisions, decisions.
 
So, this morning I went over and took the pic of the clock, and then went on to do my Friday morning marketing.  Because I had my camera, I decided to play Glamour Gal and do my own DO and DON'T entry into the fashion world of Beijing. 

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Dude got the memo, and I'll give him a pass even though his socks are blue, they are not WHITE

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No matter the number of colors, this just makes me dizzy

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Call is casual if you must, but there is no doubt this dude is in his underwear

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I guess the pamphlet should have addressed women's sock habits as well. . .

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And even WITHOUT the fake Croc-like footwear, this makes my head want to burst

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This is a LOT more than three colors, setting aside the complete pattern clash

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Closest thing I could find in my half mile walk to tights. . . sans the thick legs

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Definitely something happening at the Post Office, although I have no idea what

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These three gals were just too cute to not ask them for a photo

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Our neighborhood information table, over a half million people volunteered for such jobs

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Some other volunteers LINE UP for the bus!

August 5, 2008
We're Media Groupies
 
We just had dinner with Dan Limbaugh and Brian Sterling.  They are ROCK STARS from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
 
And, besides being rock stars, very nice guys. 
 
I forgot my camera, but we took one with Brian's camera and he's PROMISED to email me the picture.
 
Thanks guys!
 
Oh yea.  We had the mussels. . .  YUM YUM YUM.
 

Saturday, August 2, 2008
Twenty Some Years Ago. . .

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Some devious looking characters

Because Mike is old, he has old friends.  I don't mean biologically old, but friends that have been around for 35+ years. 
 
I, on the other hand, do not have any friends left from when I WAS THREE.
 
Our friends Pat and Molly let us know one of these "old souls" was floating around Beijing, doing some television work for the upcoming games (you know, THE OLYMPICS!?!?).
 
So, we sent him and email and last night he had some free time and we met for dinner and drinks.
 
These two don't really even KNOW when the last time they saw each other was.  Randy moved to Maine sometime in the mid-eighties, so it's been a while.
 
But watching them pick up a friendship neglected for so long was like listening to a comeback tour of The Eagles.
 
Seamless.
 
He has so many friends like this.  People who were very important to him in his early 20's.  Some of them we see regularly (or as regularly as we can) and some of the resurface after many years.  But they still retain the same connections.
 
I think it's amazing. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In Beijing's Defense

 

It's easy to sit around and bash on China.  So much material, so little time.  I've done a bit of it here, and here, and everywhere.

 

But sometimes the media bias overrides my negativity and I sit right up on the couch (this month's version of exercise around this sticky city) and announce (loudly, loud enough for the room bugs to hear me. . . have I mentioned that?  That our rooms? They are BUGGED?  I may have forgot to tell you that),

 

"That's just not fair!"

 

Much publicity has been given to how much razing of ancient housing (hutongs*) has been done in order to prepare the face of Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.  And how it's displaced tens of thousands of residents.  And how it's destroying the very ethnicity of Beijing.

 

There has been much of this, I will not argue.  We've been here long enough to even witness some of it.  And I've seen still standing hutongs (say, directly across from the new US Embassy) that should be razed, just from the sordid smell that emanates above the walls.

 

It's really easy to glorify hutong living.  As long as YOU don't have to live in one. . .

 

Anyway, CNN is reporting on how Beijing is losing a large part of their ancient culture by knocking down these hutongs to make way for the modern day, and playing on sympathies of the outside world for the people who will need to relocate.

 

Now, let’s think about this for a minute.  Many of these hutongs are hundred’s of years old.  Not modern.  Not safe.  And really?  An absolute eyesore.  And those displaced people?  Don’t own their houses.  Never did.  And have been living on the cheap for years.

 

We seem to want to hold China to a higher standard than what we live by.  Oh China, quit burning coal and polluting your lands!  Oh China, keep your ancient heritage intact!

 

Folks, this is a DEVELOPING COUNTRY.  They are only doing what every developed country has done in their own past.  You can’t keep everything in the name of history.  There are plenty of hutongs still standing, protected by the government, and plenty that have been refurbished to modern standards and sold for millions of yuan. 

 

It’s not hard to find people who think this is unfair.  Especially the people who have been living in them.

 

But it’s NOT comparable to having someone come to your door in America, to your house you bought and are paying the bank to own, and saying, “Oh, HI, we’re knocking your house down tomorrow.”

 

Why?

 

Because THEY NEVER OWNED IT.  It belongs to the STATE.  It’s their property. 

 

To idolize living conditions that once may have been “middle-class” (although, until the recent past, this concept didn’t exist in China), but of which many have fallen to a level just above slums, is just silly Western glorification. 

 

Fully one-third of the cities hutongs are still standing, and with the Olympics only 10 days away and all construction shut down to ensure air quality, I don’t think they’ll be knocking any more down in the near future. 

 

And one third might not sound like a lot, but considering the city used to be NOTHING BUT HUTONGS, it’s still a considerable amount of square footage.  Certainly enough for any visitor to experience the “old days” of Beijing.

 

 

*Hutongs are the 700-year-old neighborhoods consisting of tiny, pedestrian alleys scattered throughout Beijing.  They consist of one story buildings built behind walls, mostly private housing, centered around courtyard living.  Most do not have private baths, and some do not have running water.  Individual houses within the hutong were originally built to house one family, but today sometimes house 10-14 people in a very small area, which has led to a lot of "adding on" of precariously built structures to accommodate the people.  During Mao's time, these hutongs became property of the state (and still are today) and allocated to the people as state housing.  Today, the people who live in the hutongs pay some kind of compensation, much like a monthly rental.  I think it averages somewhere around $55/month for a place to live. 

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This is a "protected" hutong, aka, one of the "touristy" ones

Thursday, July 24, 2008
When Smog is Your Friend
 
Yes, I'm almost British in my propensity to talk about the weather.  But, have I mentioned it's HOOOOOT?  And there is no escape?
 
Well, besides the mall, and the movies.  But a girl can only do so much of that, right? 
 
It is more tolerable on a smoggy day.  Much more pleasant to walk around in the shade than in the hot, searing sun. 
 
Today it's "shady" (let's go with that adjective), and walking to the grocery store and back did not dissolve me into a large puddle of putrid sweat.
 
Of that I am thankful.
 
Here's a picture of those scrumptious mussels we've been addicted to since we discovered them at Morel's.  Tuesday I counted them.  Seventy-SIX!  For a mere $17. 
 
And they come with French Fries.  And Horseradish dip.
 

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Lovely, lovely mussels. . . . YUM

We met some wine merchants from Australia at the bar last Friday night.  Tried their wine, played some darts, sat around and chatted.  The usual.
 
Except that somewhere in there I ordered a case of wine to be delivered to the apartment on Monday.
 
A CASE OF WINE.  DELIVERED.  SWEEEEEEEEEEET.
 
I shared it with TJ, he got the Shiraz while I kept the Merlot.
 
And all is good.

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My little pretties. . . .

Monday, July 21, 2008
Olympic Faux Pa
 
Yes, the countdown continues, with only 18 days left until the Opening Cermonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 
 
Let's look at the things Beijing has done "right" in preparation:
  • Banned public spitting (yeah, right)
  • Instituted a national campaign aimed to educate Beijingers on the proper way to stand in a LINE
  • Built lots-o-lots of new hotels
  • Tried to encourage taxi drivers to learn *some* English
  • "Greened" up the town
  • Created "odd/even" days for driving on the roads, according to your license plate number
  • Closed many, if not all, surrounding factories in order to clean up the air
  • Expanded subways, including an airport shuttle

Now, things they haven't quite mastered:

  • DECREASING Air China flights into Beijing
  • INCREASING difficulty of getting a visa for China
  • Making tickets near impossible to aquire for Beijingers and visitors alike

CNN is continously reporting on how the international communicty just doesn't seem to be showing up in the numbers the Chinese government was expecting.

Many authorities and hotel employees blame it on the earthquake, the uprising in Tibet, and security issues.

But, if you want people to show up for an event, shouldn't you make it easier to get here, have more flights to the actual destination and have held some tickets in reserve?

Just asking. . .

Friday, July 18, 2008
Three Days of SUN
 
My Vitamin D reserves have been restored. 
 
And I've been averaging two showers a day (could have been stretched to three yesterday, if I wasn't so lazy and buzzzed from THREE CRANBERRY MARGARITAS, a way overdue invention IMHO). 

Continous blue skies after so many dismal days can dispel a diverse variety of concerns:

  • How many eggs did I hard boil on Monday?  Three?  Four?  How many did I eat?  I hardboiled four, ate three, or so I thought until I banged a definitely non-hardboiled egg on my kitchen counter.  Messy.
  • How can I find clothing in a town of women who are built to resemble stick-bugs to camouflage my increasing growing butt?  (See answer below)
  • Am I actually beginning (continuing) to enjoy my time here in Beijing, or am I just used to the constant chaos?
  • Will we ever go HOME?
  • How many calories WERE there in those lovely CRANBERRY MARGARITAS?  My scale seems to think they had alot. . .
  • Will it rain the entire weekend?  It's raining now. . . and I need to go get some books.  Joy.
  • What is the meaning of the Universe?
  • What is the meaning of my life?
  • Will I ever get to Level 12 on the game I posted for ya'll yesterday?

See?  I don't even care about the answers to these burning questions (well, except maybe the egg one, as I already know that answer and the calories in cranberry margs, as I'll probably need some more of them.  I may have to give up food entirely, which I am already pretty darn close to).

So, in case it's not sunny and blue-skied wherever you are, here are some gratuitous mini-shots of Beijing in Blue (very rare, I might add).

 

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Blue sky at the drum tower . . .

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Along the 3rd Ring Road

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and blue sky on Andingmen street

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above the protective walls. . . .

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and at Lama Temple

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and above the Chinese rooftops. . . Can't tell you what the blue sky does for my mood. . .

Whilst (I'm having a reoccuring love/hate relationship with this word, very unlike my reoccuring Burt Reynolds dream) walking around this great big ole town for the last four point five months, I've encountered these wonderful power boxes.  Despite the predominance of Chinglish everywhere, this one actually makes sense. 
 
Get it? N. R. G.? Cool. 

nrg.jpg
So clever. . . although maybe they come prestamped. Nah. EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD is made HERE!

I returned to one of my fave clothes shopping area (it's not really a secret, but I never see any other round-eyes there and I always find something that fits!) and bought two much needed pairs of shorts, a dress, 2 shirts, and a pair of pants.  They all fit, although that striped shirt looks HUGE and is actually bordering on too small.  I will wear them all while here, and probably leave a few things behind.
 
Why?
 
Total investment?  >$20US.  SWEEET!  Forget Zara's and the mall, this is my new shopping paradise.

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Maybe not the height of fashion, but it was cheap!

Notice I didn't iron these items for the photo. . .
 
Don't worry Mom, I did wash and iron them before putting them away.  All your work in raising me wasn't lost. . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008
A Great Way to Waste Time
 
Although I found this game earlier this year, while we were still parked at home in snowy Michigan, I haven't played it in over four months.
 
Which led to me wasting 1.5 hours this morning trying to get past Level 11. 
 
Seems I'm not quite as geographically suave as I thought. 
 
Give it a go.  I dare you.


presented by TravelPod, the Web's Original Travel Blog ( Member of the TripAdvisor Media Network ) 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Around the Olympic Village and some Chinese Culture
 
It's been a while since I've had a self- guided field trip, mainly due to the weather.  I can't quite motivate myself to go out and take pictures when I can't see my hand in front of my face (or it's raining, or it's just a billion degrees).  But yesterday was clear and sunny and *only* around 85 with a nice breeze. . . so I would have felt too guilty not doing something.
 
Believe it or not, we haven't been down to the Olympic Park (not that you can actually go inside or anything, so it's really not that exciting), only driven past a handful of times (it's kinda far north to be going by on a regular basis enroute to somewhere else), so I went on down to see what progress had been made and if I could get some good pics. 
 
Not being familiar with this part of town, my cab dropped me off right next to the Bird's Nest, but I wasn't really sure where I was in relation to what I did know.  I walked along the fence for a while until realizing I was going the *wrong* way, turned back around and headed along the front of the complex. 
 
I had to try and cram my HUGE lens through the tiny openings in the fence, AND focus, but I got a couple good shots.  The stadium is massive, and although I'm not wholly in love with the architecture, it is quite amazing.

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A good picture, considering, but you can't imagine the SIZE of this place. . . I'll show you later

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This is supposed to look like the Olympic Torch. . . just squint a little

Directly across the eighteen lane highway running in front of the Bird's Nest is the Chinese Nationalities Museum.  We have also seen this many times from moving vehicles.  It's like a Chinese Epcot Center, with all 56 minor ethnic groups represented inside by traditional architecture (and supposedly food and entertainment, but that wasn't really true).  After finding the bridge across the road I couldn't find the entrance.  And again, there were NO SIGNS in English.  It was still very hot but I walked around the complex (well, halfway, and this is 50 ACRES!) and found the entrance.
 
It cost 90 Yuan, which is the highest admission price I've paid to get in anywhere here in Beijing.  And probably the biggest rip-off in town.

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These were big, multi-colored flowers all along the backside of the park, never seen them before. .

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Canoe's from the Li minority (maybe)

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Groovy waterwheels from the Va's (?)

This section of town is DEFINITELY ready for the Olympics.  The sidewalks are wide, the flowers have been planted, the stadiums are finished (complete with western toilets, after a HUGE remodel of the bathrooms), and yesterday, the air even was clear.
 
There were a lot of traffic signs in English, but not many directions to the new and now open Olympic Subway line.  In fact, there were none.  It was quite warm walking around the park, and nowhere to buy water or take a leak, but I'm sure that will change once the fences come down. 
 
There was a TGI Friday's just inside the fence as well.  Obviously, we must have an American hand in everything.
 
I never did find the subway station.  I can imagine it might be inside the fences.

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What it looks like from the outside, and this is a HUGE area

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These dudes from (possibly) the Gaoshan minority

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Everything (almost) is written in Chinese, so I have no idea what these cool dudes represent

The admission price included two maps, one in Chinese only and one in English and Chinese.  It was pretty hard to follow, as it appeared that many things on the map weren't actually in existence.  The park is two different sections on opposite sides of the road, and I explored the North section first.  There were impressive areas and structures, but again, very little information in English about what I was actually looking at.  And, although there may be 56 different ethnic groups, overall the architecture wasn't all that different amongst groups living in close proximity.  A bit redundant.
 
It IS a park, however, and a nice place to spend a very warm day.  There were winding stone paths through the brush, suspension bridges, stone bridges, wooden bridges, and even some hills to climb (little ones). 
 
The park did seem a bit run-down, however.  Not entirely well tended.  A lot of weeds on the pathways and just a general sense of abandonment, which wasn't helped by the absolute lack of fellow tourists.  I think there may have been a total of 100 people inside, not including the gals with the straw brooms sweeping the weed infested pathways and the hawkers selling handicrafts.

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The Dong's like their geese, put them on top of their temples

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Huge display of the Dong minority, and neat to see

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I think this is from the Dai minority, reminescent of Burma (and Cambodia, and Thailand)

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I'm going with the Miao's here, sweet tepee

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I finally stroll into Tibet, at last a culture I can recognize

It took me about two hours to meander through the north section and I thought about calling it a day.  I was literally sopping wet with sweat.  But after climbing the "Tibetan" hill I could glimpse the South Side and it DID look interesting, so I soildered on, knowing I was going to be a mess by the end.

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I like this Dong tower, or maybe I just like typing the word Dong

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And an actual goose hiding out under the Lahu house

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Cute Achang dancers (I'm ALMOST making this up, but I really do think I'm right)

Up on top of a hill, near the end of the North Park circuit is the Tibetan display.  It is by far the biggest section of the North Park, and the most impressive (to me), possibly because I could recognize it. I felt a little like I was walking into Lhasa.

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And a colorful Tibetan Temple

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Entering the South Side was quite impressive.  The first thing you saw after traveling through the Bai Village was a big temple up on a hill.  I, of course, headed straight for it, which led to me getting myself in trouble. 
 
I mentioned there were all types of creative ways to get from point A to B, and halfway up the side of the hill I saw a neat elevated cement walkway through the treetops with rope side.  Instead of backtracking down (which, in fairness, I tried to do but the pathway I tried was flooded), I decided to just climb up a tree and on to the walkway where it was nearest to the tier I was on.  After walking for about five minutes and taking some pictures from above of the park and the Bird's Nest (by far the best view of the day) a security guard started yelling at me from below.
 
Obviously, I wasn't supposed to be up there.  There wasn't anyone else on the walkway, but in my defense, as I mentioned there were very few people in the park.
 
I thought I would probably get evicted once I got down, but I never saw the security guard again, and I had to climb down the same way I got up, as it was overgrown just past where I had gotten up.

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Corridor bridge connecting the She and Gelo communities

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My illegal shot. . . you can get a better sense of it's looming presence from here

Most of this side of the park appeared to be closed.  The "mountain side" I was trying to scale was closed, as were many other exhibitions.  I saw as much as I could, including some goats.
 
This section of the park has been "completed" since 2001, so I'm not sure why there was such limited accessibility.
 
I think it was the Holiday Inn Express' fault!  They are building a HOTEL inside the PARK. 
 
In fairness, they were trying to camouflage the outside to blend in with the park, but still seemed odd.
 
And I never did find the entrance to the Main Exhibition Hall, either.  Would have probably been air conditioned.

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Strange to see a mosque here in China, even here, tucked WAY IN THE BACK of the park

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three different ethniticities and a big tower

Grabbed a cab at the exit and almost caught hypothermia from putting my hot, soaked body into an air conditioned compartment for thirty minutes.  Grabbed a shower, picked up the laundry and greeted my lovely husband at the door looking fresh as a daisy. 
 
Or at least fresh.
 
Then I finally got my mussels and wine. . . YUM.

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Might as well take one of the "white tower" before I scramble down. . . no idea of ethniticity. . .

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Home sweet home for the Mongols, or maybe the Kazaks, or the Ewenki, they all look the same. . . :-)

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oh the corruption, the absolute corruption. . .

So, anyway, now I can chalk the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park off my list of things to do.  Not that it was actually ON the list, but whatever.  Not sure I would recommend it, at least not in hot weather. 
 
It would have been a bit more interesting with more English signage and such.  Could be a real learning opportunity, but instead felt like a wander through a neglected, if not diverse, garden.
 
At least I didn't get arrested for my scrambling up on the walkway.  Might have been a bit hard to explain to Mike and the authorities. . . .

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thank You and Goodbye

 

There's no way to accurately state the amount of migrant workers (workers from outside of Beijing) present in the capital today.  Last years estimate from the government was 5.3 million, almost 30% of the population.  However, many sources say this number is low, as they regularly do not register with the police

 

These migrant workers have been important to the re-construction/de-construction of Beijing since awarded the Olympic bid.  They have single handedly rebuilt this city and provided an income to their more impoverished families out in the hinterlands.

 

They have also been the main recyclers in this self-stated "Green City", which, as of today, has no formal recycling program in effect.  18 Million people + throwing away all their cans, bottles, and glass.  I can't remember how many plastic bottles it takes for them to make one CNY, but something like a thousand.

 

But you see them daily diligently picking through garbage cans and waste bins, piling them on their bicycle-powered carts and hauling them to the recycling center outside of town.

 

And their reward for all their hard work?  A three month vacation starting 7/20.  Anyone without official Beijing residency (READ:  BORN IN BEIJING) must return to their home towns.

 

Migrant workers are commonly blamed for all the "improper" behaviors in Beijing:  the spitting, the littering, the shoving, the inability to stand in a line.  They are also blamed for most the hepatitis and tuberculosis in the city.

 

Now, I'm not saying these people are the most couth or even the most clean residents of Beijing, but I do feel sad that they won't be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors during the Olympic festivities.

 

Not that they could have got tickets or anything. 

 

(To keep in line with my current postings, it turned out to be a beautiful day today, despite the forecast, so I'm going for a long overdue visit to the Bird's Nest Stadium to take some pics.  Of course, I can only stand on the road and do this, but better than the drive-by shots I've taken in the past.  And, for the record, I didn't get my mussel's last night, as Morels is closed on Monday!  Tonight I will feast upon them.  Oh, and I'm going to try and resume posting at my "other site" if you are interested.)

 

Monday, July 14, 2008
Lovely
 
You just can't make me happy.  I cried all weekend about the heat, even with blue sky in evidence.  I woke up this morning to smog, talked to my parents on the phone for an hour, took a shower, looked outside and it appeared that rain was on the way.
 
So I pulled up the weather forecast.  Looks like I'll have lots to whine about for the next ten days.
 
 

10-Day Forecast

High /
Low (°F)
Precip. %
Today
Jul 14
PM T-Storms 75°/67° 60 %
Tue
Jul 15
Rain / Thunder 80°/70° 100 %
Wed
Jul 16
Mostly Cloudy 89°/70° 10 %
Thu
Jul 17
Mostly Cloudy 89°/68° 20 %
Fri
Jul 18
Scattered T-Storms 86°/68° 60 %
Sat
Jul 19
Scattered T-Storms 87°/70° 40 %
Sun
Jul 20
Scattered T-Storms 86°/71° 40 %
Mon
Jul 21
Scattered T-Storms 86°/71° 50 %
Tue
Jul 22
Scattered T-Storms 88°/71° 60 %
Wed
Jul 23
Scattered T-Storms 85°/72° 60 %

But, regardless of the weather, I will dine on mussels from Morel's (and a whole bottle of wine all to myself) this evening.  I swear it.

Do you sometimes think all I talk about is the weather, food, and the Great Wall? 

Me too.

Except when I'm talking about drinking. . .

Saturday, July 12, 2008
Blinded by the Light
 
After a cruise through the Hutong last night, dinner on the rooftop at the Kebab place (the one I threw up after last time), spending a whopping 200 kuai on dinner and drinks (US $28), we woke this morning to. . . . CRISP, BLUE SKIES.  Amazing.  Went up to the roof and took pictures.
 
 

clearskies.jpg
OMG!?!? What is all that BLUE STUFF above Beijing?

The requisite Saturday morning activities were handled:  Lounging around drinking coffee, making Mike a formidable breakfast, lounging some more, Mike doing his expenses, we decided to walk over to the Hilton, get the papers and go to the park.
 
But after the grueling 10 minute walk, we realized it was just too dang hot to go to the park.  That sun is vicious.  So we went to a cafe, drank tea and worked the puzzles.
 
Walked home absolutely glistening.  Well, I was glistening.  I'm pretty sure Mike was just plain sweating.
 
Funny article on the front page of the China Daily this morning, though. . . .

nodog.jpg
No dog for you, Olympic visitors. . .

Tuesday, July 8, 2008
We're all about the Spice!
 
I don't think we will be able to eat much Chinese food when we return to home (WHENEVER THAT MAY BE!).  When I first started really enjoying Chinese food at home (long enough ago we don't need to mention a time frame here), I thought it was "spicy".  Since then, my palate has evolved, and what I used to find spicy I now find bland.
 
I can't remember the last time I ate Chinese food at home and found it spicy. 
 
And while we have been eating at rather touristy Chinese food places here (read:  expensive in comparison to a "local" joint), we've had some rather good food (read:  SPICY!), I've wondered if we were getting some watered down version or Westernized adaptation of REAL Chinese food. 
 
But after bravely wandering into some more off the beaten track type places in the last months, I'm convinced we are getting real Chinese food, even when we are ordering Kung Pao chicken (hey, it ain't General Tso's!).  Although wikipedia claims them both to be equally Chinese-born.
 
Some of my faves include the pepper beef with vegetables on an iron skillet, Beijing dumplings, Mongolian beef, and duck. 
 
Which will never be as good in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Sigh. 
 
HOWEVER, it does appear I have at least 10 more weeks to enjoy our authentic Chinese cuisine.  Once again, are leave date has been pushed.  September 16 is now D-Day. 
 
For now.  And does include a return trip sometime later in the fall.  If we ever actually leave.
 
So, the other day I was making a list of things to write about here and I wrote down this:  Safe $.  Today, two days later, I have no idea what this means.  I'm looking at it scratching my head.  Safe Money?  Save Money?  Safe Dollars?  WTH? 
 
Kinda scary.  It's bad enough to look back at things you wrote in the distant past and wonder "What was I thinking?", but two days ago?  Hmmmm.
 
So needless to say I won't be writing about "safe $" today.
 

But I will tell you about our weekend at the Wall and the Red Capital Ranch at Mutianyu.  I booked us a fairly expensive weekend away ($200/night plus transportation plus food and drinks) in honor of, well, in honor of nothing really.  Just an excuse to get out of town.  The Red Capital Ranch is advertised as quite a posh place and we booked a Weekend Special, which included a private bungalow with a view of the wall, Half-bottle of Moet champagne, horseback riding and a spa visit.

 

The location is great, in a river valley between two mountains with unrestored sections of the wall, accessible by hiking.  It is in a little town where all the residents have a family name of Mao and are direct descendants of The Chairman of the Same Name.

 

But posh?  Not really.  Horseback riding?  Uh, two horses, no place to ride them.  Oversold option.  Private Bungalow?  Check.  View of the Wall from bungalow?  Nope.  Spa visit?  Yes, you may go to the SAUNA for free.  Oh thanks, it's already a SAUNA just standing outside!  Half bottle of Moet?  Check.

bungalow.jpg
Home Sweet Home. Our bungalow was named Thunder. Tj's was Wind. How fitting. . .

Despite the somewhat false advertising, we did have a very nice time at the Ranch, but were somewhat disappointed at the (lack of) activities available to us.  The accommodations were advertised as medieval Manchurian Hunting Lodges, but they were actually constructed (quite nicely) by ruins from places knocked down in Beijing over the last 5 years in preparation for the Olympics. 

 

There were a lot of beautiful carvings and sculptures around the grounds.  And a caged pack of husky-looking dogs.  And ducks.  Felt very rustic and campy and groovy.

 

dailyactivities.jpg
The Tea House where we never did have any tea. . . just malt beverages. . .

placetotieup.jpg
Our "hitching post" outside the bungalow

The manager was highly helpful and very friendly.  The owner was on site for the weekend with his family, but did not speak to anyone despite sharing the dining room on at least three different occasions.  Oh, sorry, on Sunday he did say "Good Morning".

 

The food was fantastic, we ate a lot of it, but the beer supply was lacking.  TJ, Mike and I managed to pretty much drink them out of cold beer over the weekend.  The Tibetan gals who worked there were highly apologetic, but I think they were in awe of our beer consuming abilities. 

 

Sometimes I'm in awe of our beer consuming abilities.

rainyview.jpg
Rainy view of the wall from NEAR our bungalow, I'll show you a sunny picture later. . .

dog.jpg
Local doggie. His owner was trying to explain the red mark to me, in Chinese. . . no idea. . .

beehives.jpg
Lots of honey production in the valley, saw lots of "bee-boxes"

fishingarea.jpg
Despite the rain, lots of locals out and about fishing, eating, drinking. . .beautiful area

Although it was still raining when we returned we decided to scale the mountain up to the first unrestored tower of the Wall.  It was a bit treacherous, wet and slippery, but we made it and had some decent views.  I would have liked to gone all the way to the top, but the day was so dismal we knew we wouldn't be able to see much.  The Wall was cool, though, had trees growing all over it (just like the photos, imagine!) and we took lots of pics (of course). 

 

Back down to the ranch, a shower, a nap, then on to dinner (Mongolian BBQ Lamb Ribs, Spicy Chicken and corn fritters with local honey - YUM!).  Decided to go to Mutainyu Great Wall Park on Sunday, leaving at noon, then back to Beijing.  Arranged our transport with the manager, played cribbage for a while and walked back to our bungalows.  Where we noticed the sky had cleared considerably and there were a Ga-trillion stars in the sky. 

 

It was amazingly beautiful.
 

And we were all sick in the night.  I'm blaming it on the lamb ribs. . . .

towerweclimbedto.jpg
As far as we made it, and dirty and wet when we arrived. Hard work, but only took about 45 minutes

newfriend.jpg
Cool dude came to help us with our cribbage game, but we shooed him off, those claws look dangerous!

sundaymorningviewranch.jpg
So much prettier when the sun is out, glad we stayed an extra night!

wherewewent.jpg
Our new destination, after we messed up on the cable car ride

anotherview.jpg
Such a beautiful day, and such a gorgeous Wall!

mutwall2.jpg
I hope this is a different photo, I got confused on what I called them. . .

werehot.jpg
I am a beauty queen. . . what being sick all night and walking in 90 degrees ON A WALL does to me

The slide ride down could have been a blast, but too many people on it behaving too timidly.  It took about 10 or 12 minutes to ride down in a aluminum tube (think half tube, like a water park) on a little wheeled cart with a brake lever and an accelerator.  Unfortunately, we were trapped in traffic jams and couldn't let her rip.  Worth the 20 kua ($3) and definitely better than walking down.
 
We arrived back in Beijing safe and sound, taking a very scenic route back through lots of farm land until BOOM we were in the city, very close to our house. 
 
It was also a very clear and blue and HOT day in Beijing, but it was late afternoon, and we were in need of showers so waited until the sun went down and went and grabbed a light dinner down the street.
 
Yesterday and today?  YUCK.  Hot, sticky and rainy.  Hence I do not feel so bad I just spent SIX HOURS doing the above. . .
 
Suppose to be the same all week, so be prepared for mega-postings. . . heehee.

bar.jpg
Cute bar where we spent surprisingly little time. . . we drank elsewhere, never fear. . .

sittingout.jpg
Another decent place to have a cold one. . . one of many pavillions around the property

barrestaurant.jpg
Outside of bar and restaurant and War Room (lobby)

owlnightlight.jpg
These old fashioned lights were scattered throughout the ranch, I thought it looked like an owl

We arrived around noon on Friday morning and it was a very hot and sticky overcast day.  Late in the day a thunderstorm swept through the valley, providing us some entertainment into the evening with lightning and thunder and sideways rain.  It did break the heat a bit, however. 

 

Saturday, after breakfast we wandered through the town (in a light rain), through some agriculture areas, saw some bee hives and strolled down the (only) road through some fish farms and ended up at an outdoor fishing and restaurant area full of Chinese people.  A very resort-y type valley, and I'm sure there are thousands of places to stay and enjoy the scenery without spending the money we did, if you can speak Chinese.  There were very few (none) round-eyes around.  Except our hotel which was almost all Americans (odd).

 

The locals seemed very friendly, even with the communication problems and did engage us without the normal gaping and staring we get in Beijing.  Made we wish I spoke Chinese (not just for convenience).

locals.jpg
Some colorful Mao descendants hanging out in the rain

beekeeper.jpg
Friendly beekeeper showing off his bees

valleywithower.jpg
A lone tower perched above our valley

accessibleclimb.jpg
Our rainy day climb, we will be heading for that FIRST level, not the mountain top. . .

wherewedidntclimb.jpg
Would have been hard to walk amongst the trees, but would have done it on a sunny day. . . maybe

We woke up Sunday to a magnificently sunny and clear day, complete with puffy clouds.  Despite all of us not feeling up to par, we decided to muster on to the Wall.  We have been so lucky with the weather on our Wall expeditions.  Although we knew it was going to be HOT HOT HOT, the visibility was going to be awesome.

 

Drove about 40 minutes over the park, left our driver in the parking lot, took the cable cars up and walked for about and hour and fifteen minutes.  We didn't get to do the walk we wanted, we bought tickets on the wrong cable car and didn't realize it until about 1/4 of the way up.  We had booked cable car up, slide down (more about that later), but we really needed to buy tickets for the OTHER cable car up, then slide down.  We made the best of it by walking through a newly opened section, then back to the slide.  It was an adequate walk, not sure we really could have done too much more.

greaywall.jpg
Okay, it IS gray, but STILL, this is the TICKET BOOTH. Need some proofreaders here. . .

lookingup.jpg
Looking up, but still can't see that last tower. . .

fromendpoint.jpg
Looking back along the entire Mutianyu stretch

surroundingsmut.jpg
Not only is the Wall amazing, so are the surroundings

beer.jpg
Mike has the chore of "beer run", followed closely by TJ

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Friday, July 4, 2008
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!
 
It's one of our FIVE PAID HOLIDAYS! 
 
Woot!

Thursday, July 1, 2008
We "HEART" Lamma
 
Our Hong Kong trip turned into a Lamma weekend, which, of course, worked out just fine.  We spent a total of about 3 hours on the big island. . .
 
Seems Lamma is a bit of a black hole for Mike and I.
 
In our defense, we had nothing but downpours from pretty much the moment we arrived on Lamma and just couldn't find the gumption to walk ALL THE WAY to the ferry to walk around HK in the rain.
 
Not like we'd never been there before.
 
Plus, it was soooo relaxing to just lounge around a car-free, noise free, pollution free island (with a drink in hand).  A very pleasant escape from Beijing and its mayhem.
 
We did a quick circuit around Lan Kwai Fong with TJ and Donnie Friday afternoon after (finally) getting into town.  We dropped our bags at their hotel and hit a couple of our ex-regular places, including the Globe, Ebenezer's Kabobs and XTC Gelato (HOT CHOCOLATE!  Chocolate gelato with black pepper.  It ROCKS).
 
When we jumped the 6:40 ferry to Lamma we ran into Louise and Louise, so we had their company on the way over, and after disembarking, fell directly into the Island Bar.  Until 11 PM when we finally went and checked into our hotel.
 
As I mentioned, when we woke Saturday it was raining, so we adjourned to the pub for breakfast and lots-o-coffee and watched the rain.  Went and had haircuts, bloody mary's at the Island Bar (Hi to Kay!), back for a nap then rendevouzed with John and Louise T back at the homestead for snacks and drinks, which led to dinner and drinks and then to drinks with most the crew, again at the Island Bar. 
 
We about wore out the pavement between the two best drinking establishments on Lamma.

boattrip.jpg
The "crew"

junknexttous.jpg
This is the "junk" next to ours, which is what ours looks like, but I didn't take a picture. . .

fisherman.jpg
Fisherman at "our" cove

Despite the weather it was a WONDERFUL weekend.  I can't believe we've been sitting in Beijing for four months without a get away.  It was great.  I didn't hardly take any pictures, though, as I kept thinking, "Gee, I have enough intoxicated pictures of these people right at home on my computer," and lots of pics of Lamma as well.  I should have taken more.
 
Bad me.
 
When we returned to Beijing it was NASTY for two days.  Rainy and sandy and dirty.  Today it cleared off and was just plain HOT.  At 10 AM it said it was 88, felt like 97.  I haven't been back to check it since.  I don't want to know.
 
But we are getting packed up for a lower key weekend at the wall where I promise I'll take plenty of photos.  Maybe even some of familiar drunk people.
 
UPDATE:  We are now scheduled here FOR SURE through the Olympics.  Oh joy.  Good side?  Planning another HK weekend for Labor Day (8/29 - 9/1), hope that works out.  Got a little taste of my fave city, now I'm jonesing to go back.
 
Funny, seems there are a plethora of hotels available for the Olympics.  But no tickets.  Hmmmm.  Bad planning?  Will have to see if I can score some to something. . . my first Olympics and all.

rajenboat.jpg
The "kids" (yes, Rajen, you qualify!)

The highlight of the weekend was Sunday, with a pre-planned "Junk Trip" (thanks John!).  We walked through torrential rain to the ferry dock just as the boat was pulling in, and as the first foot hit the ship, the rain miraculously quit falling. 
 
And stayed quit for an entire 8 hours while we cruised around, swam, drank, ate and generally enjoyed each others company.  Even had a little sunburn action out there.
 
When we docked and moved the party to the Island Bar it immediately started raining again.  Maybe it had something to do with US being on SOIL.  I don't know.

mike.jpg
Mike doing what Mike does best on a boat

bigship.jpg
Weather is not affecting the shipping industry. . . that's a BIG BOAT

windmill.jpg
The famous Lamma Windmill

   

Thursday, June 16, 2008
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US!
 
Eight years ago today on a hot and sweltering afternoon in West Virginia, high above the New River Gorge, I became Mrs. Rachelle Stout.
 
SCARY.  Heeheehee.
 
And, because we dated for FOUR YEARS before getting married, we pretty much knew what we were in for.
 
Serene happiness.  Most the time. 
 
It amazes me that after eight years I can still love him a little more everyday, find out something new about him almost every week, and appreciate him on an hourly basis.
 
I'll get back with you after 20 years. . .
 
I kid.
 
Besides being spoiled rotten with a wonderful husband, I also get to leave for Hong Kong with him for a four day weekend tomorrow AM.  And, when we get back?
 
Three days of work, then another long weekend at the Red Capital Ranch at the Great Wall, Mutianyu where we will have a spa package, horse back riding, and champagne.  With a view from our Manchurain Hunting Lodge bungalow of the Great Wall.
 
My life rocks.
 
It will, however, probably rain the entire time we are in Hong Kong.
 
Pics to come of the weekend (not that there will probably be any new sites in Hong Kong since last year, but whatever!).

Monday, June 23, 2008
I am SO HOT
 

Once again, I must ponder the overwhelming fact that Asian people DO NOT SWEAT.  Seriously.  What is up with that? 

 

Dear Asian Chickadees:  How can it be 95F and humid and you can walk around looking fresh as a daisy?

 

I first encountered this phenomenon in 2001, in Seoul, Korea, my initial Asian spree.  It was an absolutely sweltering day with a humidity level of about 10 billion.  I set out from our apartment to walk to Mike's work place (about a 25 minute stroll) and by the time I arrived I was SOAKED.  Seriously dripping wet. 

 

As I crossed the street at my destination, there was a Korean policewoman standing in the direct sunlight, wearing long sleeves, pants, a police-y looking cap made of WOOL, hardware around her waist that probably weighed more than her, and GLOVES.

 

Looking just like she stepped out of a salon.  Make-up?  Perfect.  Hair?  Well, mostly hidden by said very hot looking hat, but no signs of streaming sweat rolling down the back of the neck.  Not even a glimpse of womanly glistening.

 

While I felt like I just spent the last 25 minutes in a sauna, she looked like she'd been sitting in an icebox.

 

I remember thinking exactly the same thing I'm thinking now.  "What the HELL is UP with THAT?"  Are Asians missing some kind of sweat gene?  Do they just not feel the heat?  Now, unlike other Asiatic places (like Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei, Bali and Burma), Korea actually has FOUR MAJOR SEASONS (in fact Seoul lies on the same longitude as Gaylord, Michigan, home to Mike's Mom), so it cannot be they are inured to the hot.   

 

Anyway.  Enough of the mysteries of the world.

 

Beijing has been fairly polite to us weather-wise.  We knew the ungodly heat was coming, but we’ve been pretty blessed.  I actually recall saying more than once, “Well, if this is as bad as it gets, it’s pretty livable”.  But we have not been looking forward to enduring the hottest month of the year (July) in a humid and polluted city.

 

And this weekend.  Ewww.  It was HOT.  And next weekend?  We are going to Hong Kong where yesterday at 9 AM it was 84 with a heat index of 94, and RAINING.  Woot.

 

I can’t thank the person who invented air conditioning enough.  Then I think of all the billions of people in the world who live in chronically hot and humid locales without air conditioning and I wonder how they survive.   Or in extremely cold areas, without central heating.  Or in developing countries, without running water. 

 

With all our attention focused on the rising cost of oil these days, I worry about the scarcity of water.  Like oil, there is only a finite amount of fresh water on the planet.  Already, one sixth of the world’s population has no access to fresh drinking water.  Today’s fresh water supply in the US is the about same as it was 200 years ago.  However, at present it is the resource for 250 million people instead of 4 million. 

 

Will there be a day when we wake up and realize how much water we waste.  I think about it when I brush my teeth.  No, I do not need to let the water run while I’m brushing.  I think about it in the shower.  One day will I have to pay $4/gallon for water as I shower (which would be a horrific bill, a ten-minute shower equals 20 gallons of water)?  I think about my underground sprinklers (albeit, equipped with a rain sensor), my power washer, my washing machine.  This is in interesting website for estimating how much water you use:  http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/sq3.html.  Mine said about 90 gallons daily.  Whew. 

 

In our lifetimes, will we see air conditioning, daily showers, cars and air travel as advantages for only the very rich, like in the past?  I have to say, with our history of misuse, it’s decidedly probable.  We have a blatant disrespect for such issues until they become insufferable.  While we literally flush gallons and gallons of potable water away on a daily basis there are already people living without any access to fresh water, at any price. 

 

In America, if you want to wash your car, you attach your hose to the spigot, get a bucket of soapy water and go at her.  You know how they do it overseas?  They take two buckets of water, one with soap and one without.  They suds up the car, then rinse.  From those two buckets.  No gallons of water flying through the air, creating pretty prisms in the sun, then running off to rain gutters or sewer systems. 

 

Folks, we have lots to learn (and to teach our children).  Water is more valuable than oil.  Humans lived without aggressively drilling oil until about 200 years ago. 

 

But we cannot live without water.

 

Oops.  I really didn’t mean to rant about this quite so hard, it’s just been on my mind as of late.  Probably because I’m not driving right now so I don’t have $4/gallon gasoline to occupy my every thought.

 

Let me instead tell you the slightly entertaining story of how I acquired our Hong Kong airline tickets from Air China. 

 

Thursday I decided it was time to take getting airline tickets for our group into my own hands, as no one else was doing anything.  I had previously tried to buy them online from Air China, but they don’t take MasterCard and rejected my VISA (what’s up with that!?!?).

 

My only option was to find the Air China ticket office nearest me.  I found the address which appeared closest to us, but it was just “the name of the building” on North 3rd Ring Road.  Of course, I don’t know the names of all the buildings on our street.

 

So I googled the building name and found a website that had PICTURES of buildings in major cities.  And, the building is just across the street from us. 

 

Now, I could have went downstairs, had the front desk call Air China, and then have them tell me where to go, but it was SO MUCH MORE FUN playing Sherlock Holmes on Google.

 

Plus, they took MasterCard there.

 

This morning I walked over to the Hilton (amongst other things, including going to the Bookworm to get books to find the lending library CLOSED!  No fair!  I walked all the way there!) to buy the weekend edition of The Herald Tribune (which we buy Thursday through Monday basically for the crossword).  The young gal who works there knows me by sight and always engages me in a conversation.  Today, we talked about the weather (how HOT it is), and I started saying how many natural disasters there has been this year.  She didn’t even know about the cyclone in Burma or the one that just hit the Philippines.  I wonder just how isolated this people are from news.  Obviously, most Chinese only get the government television channels, and a lot of people who can speak English cannot read it.

 

But, man.  Is it good to keep your people so in the dark about the world?  I can’t think so, especially now when they are such a huge part of the world economy.  It never ceases to amaze me.

 

And now?  It’s late afternoon and has been raining for about two hours.  I hope it cools things down a bit. 
 
Alrightly,  Thanks for sticking with me through that massively meandering missive. 
 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
 
There is a chicky here with long brown hair.  Seriously long.  She hasn't had her hair cut in THIRTEEN YEARS!  She trims it herself, I think.
 
Now, I'm not going to comment on her hair or what I think about growing it for so long, or even on what it actually looks like. 
 
But I will comment on the fact it takes her TWO HOURS EVERYDAY to mess with it.
 
If this was me, at some point in my life I would want those hours BACK.  It's bad enough we have to waste time waiting in line, sitting in traffic, going to meetings and such.  And I do think a certain part of each day should be dedicated to appearance and overall hygiene.
 
But this just seems like having a part time job!
 
I, on the other hand, have been wasting copious amounts of time in the last 10 days.  I've finally investigated selling some of my photos for profit, which ate up about thirty six hours of loading pictures to various "photo warehouses", where well over 90% of what I uploaded has been declined.
 
Okay.
 
And investigating various outlets for creative travel writing on the web for around 48 hours, only to find I should probably write something worthy of submission BEFORE such research.  And also discovering I'm having difficulty coming up with AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT! 
 
Which may be worse than not having anything to submit.
 
I spent another 14 hours being seriously sick from something I ate or drank (TJ had the same time period and sickness, so I think our beer glasses were being inadequately washed or something).
 
Chalk another 40 hours in the last ten days up to dinner and drinking, 70 to sleeping and 5 to my own vanity and I only have about 25 hours I need to account for (which I already know I used for reading, doing crosswords, messing around on the internet, napping).
 
But at least I didn't spend 20 of them on my HAIR!
 
Just letting you know what I've been up to on the far side of the world.
 
NOTHING PRODUCTIVE!
 
We are going to Hong Kong for a long weekend July 27 - 30.  At least I hope we are.  We haven't bought any airline tickets yet.  But our friends have a big Junk Tour planned for the 28th, so that will be fun.  As long as we get there.
 
And last weekend marked the date we were originally suppose to fly home.  Although I haven't expressed any overall love for Beijing everytime I think we are nearing our departure date I get a little nervous.  Seems part of me just doesn't want to leave.  Which leads me to believe there's something here I'm still suppose to do.
 
Which means I better quit wasting so much time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Climbing the Walls

10 Kilometers from Jinshanling to Simitai

 

Last week I booked us a car and driver for Sunday with the sole intention of getting back to the Great Wall.  Although I enjoyed both Badaling and Mutianyu, I haven’t felt like we’ve truly absorbed the Great Wall experience in the same intensity as other “wonders of the world”.  In Egypt, we went to the Pyramids at least three times and saw them on an almost weekly basis while golfing.  Machu Pichu and the surrounding areas were done in a four day weekend.  Angkor Wat in two days.  Petra in one very long day.  We lived and breathed the sights of Rome and Athens daily.

 

Climbing on the Great Wall is strenuous.  It’s NOT flat.  Like a giant dragon, it creeps and winds along the very crest of mountain ranges.  Which are typically NOT FLAT.  The little wall walking we’ve done has been a deterrent to more, not an experience leaving you wanting more.  Well, you may WANT more, but your body is unwilling. 

 

So in deep defiance of the above, we decided we could walk the 10 kilometers from Jinshanling to Simitai. 

 

Most reports say it’s a four hour trek.  There are no organized tours.  If you want to do it, you must arrange for it yourself.  I would imagine this is because once you get started there is no backing out, and not many tour guides are going to be willing or able to carry your exhausted body along the wall if you poop out.  Spouses are not willing either, I found out.

 

When we booked our transportation we still were not certain we were going to walk.  We talked about it all week, I researched it on line.  I wasn’t convinced I/we were in good enough shape to actually make it.  Not a lot of true hiking experience between the three of us.  We also had no idea what the weather would be, and walking in the rain, or in a deep fog did not seem appealing.  We could opt to drive between the two points and experience them separately.

 

Sunday morning came with bright sunshine and some haze.  Our pick-up was at 10 AM, and Jinshanling is about 2.5 hours out of town.  By the time we arrived at the park it was very clear, and very, very hot.  We needed chow and took our driver to the café inside the gates.  Somewhere in the time frame of the drive and before lunch we had decided we were definitely walking.  From the parking lot and café you cannot see the wall.  Or the mountain.  But you can see the mountains.  And we saw plenty of them on the way in.  It looks intimidating. 

 

Lunch was good, although I almost ordered the Dog.  It was on the menu.  Dog   50 Kuai.  I was pointing it out to TJ when our waitress peeked over my shoulder.  I had to assure her in no uncertain terms we were not interested in Dog.  Besides, we weren’t interested in much that might come back at us on the walk sans outhouses.  Something simple and light with enough carbs to power us up and over.  Lots of rice and potato (spicy potato strings, very yummy).  A little chicken, a little beef, some unknown very sweet dish that was suppose to be cucumbers but I’m sure was not.  Bid our driver adieu, told him to send out the PLA if we weren’t in Simitai in 5 hours, and headed over to the cable cars for the initial ascent. 

 

The cable cars were very old and very slow.  Two people per car and the climb took about 20 minutes.  As we crested over the first foothill and saw the Wall meandering above us, complete with massive amounts of stairs and climbing, I thought, “Uh, Oh”.  Did I forget to mention it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit?  Oh dear.

 

No turning back now, however.  Our driver was already in route to Simitai where he would patiently spend the day napping, playing cards, and hopefully not drinking, awaiting our arrival.

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First peek coming up in the cable car

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One of the first of 30 towers we will hike through, this one is very much rebuilt

Immediately, we were “assigned” Mongolian tour guides.  They just follow you.  For a LONG TIME.  Carrying water and souvenirs.  Trailing after you, telling you important facts in broken English.  Like, “This tower has 138 steps.  Next tower 143 steps.”  Not very encouraging.  Any attempt to rebuke them or shoo them away is rebutted.  They ARE going with you until the 15th tower, where you will be forced to buy something in exchange for their company on your walk. 

 

Thirty minutes in, I think I’m going to die.  We are at Tower 5, of the 30 we will pass through on the way to Simitai.  It is punishing.  My legs already feel like concrete each time I attempt to pick one up.  My breath is coming raggedly and the hills just keep on coming.  I’m seriously doubting I will make it.  The damn boys are doing fine, setting a pace I can’t quite keep up with.  And showing very little sympathy.  I blame this on Beijing’s utter flatness.  I have been walking a lot, just not up and down.  And because we don’t use the subway at all I haven’t even been climbing up and down stairs there, which would probably have helped.

 

And the stairs on the wall?  They aren’t your normal stairs.  First of all, many of them simply don’t exist.  And the ones that do are varied in height and depth from 6-12 inches high to 4 to 20 inches deep.  Why would these ancient Chinamen make such big steps?  All I can see is more and more hills.  Definitely questioning my sanity.  Maybe you know, I don’t like heights, either.  In many places the wall has fallen down enough that there is nothing between the edge of the wall and a tumble down the mountain.  So a little vertigo in addition to the stress of watching every footstep on slippery terrain is adding to my fatigue.  Can you say heat exhaustion?  I already have drank two of the three bottles of water I carried.  No worries, though.  Little Mongolian women at each tower selling ice water for 10 kuai.  I would have paid 50. 

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The first of a plethora of photos you will see of the road to Simitai

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Taking a break, these guys are wearing me out. . . lots more up to go before the down

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A lot of the wall is crumbling and the sides are gone and it looks like it just drops off to forever

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And again as we get closer

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Looking northwesterly "behind" us at the road not taken. . . no zip line at the end there!

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More typical condition of the majority of the towers we will pass through

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View of Tower 15, the most dreaded (just kidding, Ihave no idea)

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Looking back, we've made it so far you can't see where we started!

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Another breath-stealing view (in more ways than one)

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In the very middle of the picture you can see a white line going around the mountain. . . zip line

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Some of the declines are just as bad as the inclines

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Sun is setting behind where we've been. . . and the sand is starting to blow a bit

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Squint and you will see a guy dangling precariously on the zip line. . . will I live through that?

And the zip line?  After our arduous path, no big deal.  It looks like a pretty "fly-by-night" operation up here on the hill.  Just a cable, a harness for your butt and a big ole carabinger.  And a ticket taker.  Sit down, shove off and you're there before you know you left.  Almost.
 
TJ has pics of me on the line, but (of course) I don't have them.  But I am smiling, I saw it!
 
Then a short boat ride across the river to the parking lot where more cold beer awaits.
 
The whole ticket thing was entertaining.  We aquired five different tickets.  Fifty kuai to get in Jinshanling park, Thirty kuai for the cable car.  Somewhere around Tower 20 you cross into Simitai park and pay another 40 kuai for a ticket.  When you get to the suspension bridge you must pay 5 kuai to cross.  Then the zip line ticket for 40 kuai (which is a two parter, another ticket attached for the boat).  They got this tourist trap thing down.
 
Just glad my job isn't to walk out to Tower 20 everyday to stand and collect money from hikers.  Wonder what they do if you don't have 40 kuai?  Send you all the way back?
 
No mishaps except Mike took a little slip and scratched his arm up pretty good.
 
The Wall after the zip line looks quite formidable.  You can't really tell from the extremely zoomed up photo following but you can see it in the way distance in some of the other pictures.  Talk about a climb.  And, we could actually make out people doing it.
 
We all agreed it was the highlight of our Beijing trip thus far, a ONCE IN A LIFETIME deal.  Except after being in the car for oh, about 10 minutes, TJ says, "Hey, would you guys consider doing that again?".
 
Hmmm.  Maybe in the fall, when it's cooler and the trees are turning.  And I do some practice on the stair master.
 
Ride back to town was uneventful, except our driver KEPT FALLING ASLEEP.  Had to turn the air on high, the radio up loud and keep slapping him on the back to keep him awake.  And he didn't even WALK 10 kilometers.  I remained ever vigil on the way home.
 
Took showers (third best shower of my life!) and ordered in food and watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (bootleg copy). 
 
And last night?  I fell up the stairs on the WAY INTO THE BAR and gave myself a basketball sized bruise on my hip.  So much for escaping unscathed.

Does it sound like I’m hating on this?  Because, believe it or not, I’m NOT.  Our “guide” even offered us the shortcut, which runs from base of Tower 12 to Tower 25 and only takes an hour.  Do I go?  No. Am I shamed into not going?  A little.  But the views?  They are incredible.  It is so clear and vivid and spectacular.  We are truly getting a Great Wall experience of a lifetime. 

 

After Tower 17 it’s mostly downhill to the zip line.  Did I mention the zip line?  Oh yea, me.  Afraid of heights.  Going to take the zip line down over A RIVER (didn’t know that going in) to the parking lot.  Although we’ve cleared most of the uphill battle and are only 2 hours into our tramp, I’m already starting to freak myself out about the zip line.

 

Seriously, though.  IT IS INCREDIBLE UP HERE ON TOP OF THE WALL!  We are all loving it, and even more so as the end of the line comes into view (albeit way, way off in the distance).  And the walking downhill is helping too.

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Not only is the wall gorgeous, but so is the surrounding area

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Still can't see the end. . .

 
At Tower 15, with the end in sight, I buy the requisite "I Climbed the Great Wall" T-shirt and some chopsticks, TJ purchases a book and gets two hugs from his tour guide and we look east to our destination.  The layer of sand and salty sweat on our bodies has a chance to dry and harden like cement.
 
We stink.
 
As we learned last weekend at Fragrant Hills Park, walking downhill for extended times can be almost as demanding as up, and a lot of it is so steep you could probably sit on your butt and just slide down.  By the time we make it to the suspension bridge (another of my favorite things) we are pooped out.  It has been a magnificent trip, but man.  We are tired.
 
Do the last climb up to the level where the zip line is and drink a cold beer to celebrate.  And also in case we die on the zip.

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I'm starting to believe we (I) might actually make it!

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"All" that's left, cross the bridge, climb up to zip line, ride it home!

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Mike at the end of the zip, he made me go ahead of him, so he could push me if I didn't go!

   
   
   
   
   

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Now the boyz want to go WAY UP THERE. . . we could just barely make out some hardy souls. . .

Thursday, June 5, 2008
Just Another Day

Well, unfortunately (as no one seems to want to remember this day in any historical context) and fortunately (as we don't want a REPEAT of such a day), there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on at Tiananmen Square yesterday.
 
Except for a lot of police vans, trucks and officers at every entrance and cruising around the tourists blandly taking souvenir photos.
 
No public outcry, not even silent sign carriers.  Nor, from what I could see, even quietly grieving parents, siblings or spouses of those senselessly killed here 19 years ago. 
 
A dark day goes unpublicly remembered in Beijing.  However, I'm sure there were Chinese people who consciously marked this day in their minds, even without being able to openly denounce their governments actions toward its people.
 
After cruising the square, I got it in my mind that I would walk home.  So I started a zig zag route, mostly sticking to hutongs I hadn't been through to get home. 
 
Didn't see anything really, really interesting, but was better than walking on the main roads and I got a lot of gaping stares.
 
I only made it to ghost street, which is still pretty far, before the rains set in and sent me scrambling for a taxi home.
 
Today was a "reduced visibility day" and I pretty much stuck to the neighborhood.  A little bookswap at The Bookworm, a little wandering around through a market, nothing too exciting.
 
Oh.  And the official word is we will be here until July 27th, with either a week or a long weekend starting June 27 in Hong Kong. 
 
End to the mystery of "How close to the opening day of the Olympics will we be allowed to stay?".  Also, despite the "hype" of escalating housing costs in July, we are maintaining our apartment for the same rent as previous months.  BONUS!
 

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And the flowers were in full bloom

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This is my first "out in public" monk sighting, don't know if it had anything to do with the date

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Old Jag, have no idea how old, anyone? anyone?

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Must be a huge amount of nesting birds in the gate here, as the sky was full of them and their songs

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Lots of police, but no work for them to perform. . . how can the Chinese be so complacent?

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Sleeping on the job

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Another absolutely hideous wedding gown

   

Here's a photog-montage documentation of a uniquely Beijing fashion faux pas I could live without.  Came into vouge right about the time of the warmer weather. . .
 
Now, I can handle the striped pants with striped shirts and the clashing florals, I've seen those before.  And the silly striped socks, too.  I can even handle the absolute tackiness of white shoes.
 
But this?  Is so painful to look at it makes my head want to crack open and bleed all over the pavement.  And it's so rampant!

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With sandals. . .

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the young

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with heels (and shorts)

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the old(er)

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with tennies and workout clothes

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and everyone else!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
When in Doubt, Deny Deny Deny
 
In all may navel-gazing of the last couple weeks, I forgot to google the anniversary of Tiananmen Square "Incident".  I couldn't remember if it was June or July. 
 
Guess what?  It's today.
 
There will be no flags at half-mast to mourn these dead.  No government outshow of love for her people.  Instead, google blocking and CNN censorship will be the play of the day in Beijing.
 
I think I'll go down there, see what's happening.
 
I'll let you know.
 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I Fought Beijing and Beijing Won
Beijing - 12,436   Rachelle - 7
 
I've tried the frontal assault and lost.  I attempted the sneak attack and failed.  This town is BEATING ME, and I don't like it.  I'm not familiar with this feeling.
 
Any one who knows me has heard my declaration I'm not a "city girl".  I was thinking about this claim the other day and it made me laugh.  After visiting friends and family in large cities, Mike and I always leave and say, "Nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there".  But in reality, we DO live there.  It's just not a specific "there".
 
Over the last eight years we've lived in thirty different places, including 13 capital cities for stints of at least 3 months.  No cars (except Tel Aviv), rarely a common langage, reliant on our own wits and each other for survival.  All the things we say we HATE about big cities.
 
Yet, we love our lives and say we ain't "city folk".
 
That's a dicotomy, kids.
 
And in my ongoing war with Beijing, I'm definitely feeling beat.  After 3 adventure filled months I do not know this city.  I do not know its nooks and crannies, it's hidden gems.  I know some of them, but there are vast areas of this town I've never stepped foot in, districts I've never even heard of, locales I can't begin to pronounce, and thousands of places I will probably never go.
 
And I HATE that.  If someone was coming here and told me they would be living in Xicheng (western section of Beijing) I wouldn't be able to tell them the first thing about their neighborhood.  I wouldn't have any more useful information than a guidebook.
 
Besides telling them to look EVERY way before crossing a street and how to avoid flying phlegm, I really wouldn't be all that much help on how to harmonize oneself with the culture that is Beijing.
 
But despite suffering defeat in my personal battle with Beijing, I am still enjoying myself.  Sometimes surrender is good for the soul. 
 
Speaking of souls, I hate such soul-sucking establishments as McDonalds and Starbucks.  Sure, they serve their purpose in a pinch (i.e. the train station on the way to Xi'an offered KFC or McDonalds as eating venues for western travelers, and McDonalds BATHROOMS can't be beat when out hoofing around town, espeically in squat prevalent Asia.  I don't HATE hate the Starbucks in the bustling Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as it's the only place to get a cup of coffee before early morning flight) but I would never seek either out in any country we've been in.
 
There goes my big mouth again, as I'm now totally dependent on the Starbucks in my neighborhood (well, ONE of them in my neighborhood) for ground coffee.  In a tea drinking society such as this, it's really hard to find ground coffee.  In fact, the nice folks at Starbucks grind it for me.  And, I truly DO hate on Starbucks, not just because I think their coffee, in general, if you don't get all the frou-frou trappings, SUCKS.  I also despise their corporate culture and the audacity to build stores on opposite corners of the same street.  As if anyone couldn't live if they had to go more than thirty feet for a Venti Carmel Macchiato, nonfat mik and sugar free vanilla syrup.  Dudes, that ain't even coffee.
 
But I digress.
 
I'm just saying, in a town where there's a tea store every twenty feet, it's nice to have a place where I can conveniently get a bag of ground, extra bold Sumatra coffee for my home brewing pleasure.
 
Thank you, Starbucks (and I'm gagging on my own tongue here having to say it).
 
So, despite my lack of updating here, which I do have several defenses and excuses for, mainly that I WANT to share pictures with y'all, and it takes me, SERIOUSLY, 10-12 minutes for EVERY photo I post to make it onto the webpage, and by the time I load 8-12 of them I've HAD IT and just walk away from the computer and don't write anything, so there are a bunch of pictures to follow here and I, thanks to my Chinese censor friends, CAN'T EVEN SEE THEM, so I'm not 100% sure what they are after A WEEKS TIME. 
 
A whole 'nother diatrabe, obviously.
 
Regardless, I'm going to attempt to explain what you'll be seeing (or what I'm NOT seeing).  Also, please forgive the BIG BLANK SPACE in the second montage, I have no idea what is causing it, how to delete or fill it, or even what it truly looks like in it's finished form, any help on that matter would be appreciated.
 
Last night, after mediocre food and phenomenal dart playing (by me, at least) at the Goose and Duck (we haven't been there in months!), we came home and stormed the roof.  About a week ago we heard there was access up there, but keep forgetting/not caring enough, to go and check it out.  We grabbed nightcaps and headed up, as it was a pretty clear night.  Not an awesome view of anything but the third ring road (WOOT!), but still a cool place right under the signage.
 

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The "high" light of our night

This past Sunday we headed west (further west than The Summer Palace - much further) to Fragrant Hill Park (Xiangshan - one of those places I can't pronounce) to take the cable cars up to the top of the mountain and stare in wonder and awe at the vista of Beijing laying below our feet.  It was a clear and springlike day (when we left - raining cats and dogs by the time we got back to town) and after a long taxi ride we arrived at the gate of the park. 
 
Strolled around the lower area for a moment, gazed up at the peak and decided to get thee on the cable car.  Which was actually a ski-lift.  Which, with my silly fear of heights, was not quite what I had imagined, but liveable.  It was an extensive ride up the hill, had about three stages.  Everytime we came up on a "landing sight" that wasn't, I thought we were done, then we'd crest over it and see a whole other huge stretch of mountain. 
 
We were very high.  How high?  I have no idea.  High enough it took about twenty minutes on the high blood pressure, nausea inducing, feet dangling chair lift.  Thank GOD taking pictures helped keep my mind off the inevitable crash and burn of the #159 car.

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Pagoda on Spectacle Lake, before the amazing chair lift ride up the mountain

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And the skyline of Beijing is behind us, but we have a long climb ahead

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I literally have no idea what this is, it's not inside the park, I don't think. . . .

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Close up of the Summer Palace. We thought we were on the edge of the wilderness then!

After making it successfully to the top without dying, we wandered around a bit, gazing at the green wilderness and soaring mountains, then consulted our Chinese map (no English map, solly) to find a walking path down. 
 
No dummies here, we RODE UP, WALK DOWN. 
 
Except, did you know walking down almost vertical mountains will make your legs very, very shaky?  I did.  But I forgot. 
 
Anyway, neat little resting places long the way, lots of people out and about (most of them climbing up, so worth the 60 kuai we paid to RIDE). 
 
And, even though Mike sometimes forgets it's about the JOURNEY, not the DESTINATION (READ:  We had to keep yelling at him when we wanted to take sidetrips, as he was about 50 yards ahead all the time, as if the bottom of the hill was some great place) we saw some neat temples and gates and pagodas and what not.

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Various temples and pagodas appear through the trees. . . and keep me from FREAKING OUT!

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But, really, it's just a bunch of beautiful green trees

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the best way to get a perspective on how high up we are. . . it's HIGH

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The city is a LONG way away, but still very visible. . . today

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The other side of the mountain. There is also a nuclear reactor to the south

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Another close up through the trees

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In the fall, these hills turn a fiery red, but other than green we mostly saw these white flowers

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This cat was making the most intricate bamboo animals I've ever seen

Like I mentioned, it was a very clear day (for Beijing), but it was windy.  On our way down the treacherous, shin-splitting path off the mountain we noticed the sky was darkening behind us and the smell of precipitation was in the air (and we also noticed a few WORMS.  ON THE GROUND.  IN MY WAY!  Which led to the inevitable screaming and jumping around of yours truly).
 
But there was no doubt we were about twenty minutes ahead of the rain.  And, we are in the middle of taxi-nowhere.  When the cab dropped us off, my first thought was "How the hell are we going to find a cab home?"  There were none around and all day I had resigned myself to the fact we would have to walk into the town, and maybe through it, in order to find a taxi, or possibly jump on a bus going ANYWHERE THERE MIGHT BE TAXI's. 
 
Upon finally arriving at/near the East Gate, we decided to spend 15 of the 20 minutes we were ahead of the rain having a beer.  As we drank the last dregs from our Beijing drafts, thunder was starting to clap and the hordes were definitely moving in a much more hurried manner toward the gate. 
 
We joined the mass exit.
 
And just as we walked out, a taxi pulled up!  Such luck!  Such providence!  And just as we pulled the last door shut, such RAIN!
 
Speaking of rain (second time I've used that segue this entry - WEAK!), our taxi driver turned out to be the Chinese version of Rainman.
 
Now, I'm all for the taxi drivers of Beijing learning English.  Hello, Goodbye, Where are you going, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Thank You; these would all be helpful phrases for them to know and understand.
 
Our taxi driver, however, had a helpful English language translation tape (probably provided by some taxi governing agency) which was teaching him such things as "I am driving 70 kilometers per hour", which doesn't seem extremely helpful in any way.  And he was obsessed by these statements, with varying speeds.  And kept repeating.  And repeating.  And repeating.  And repeating (you get the point, right?). 
 
Also, he was very interested in teaching us Chinese, like how to say, "This is my first time in Beijing".  Which, really, I had no desire to learn.  Because I was in the front with him and TJ and Mike were pretending to sleep in the back, I was privileged to this onslaught of language learning all by myself.  For AN HOUR.  To Houhai, our hutong hanging paradise. 
 
We had beat the rain through town by about five minutes, with the occasional sprinkle, and were wondering about our decision making process of having the taxi take us 30 minutes away from home to a place we normally hang out outside, but when we arrived there was no rain.  Played it safe and went and ate at the No Name, upstairs, inside.  On our way over to Huxley's it started to spit a little, but by the time we were done imbibing, it had pretty much played out.  A good day. 

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Cool temple plaza deep inside the woods on the way down

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And at the end of the day? HUTONGING IT at Huxley's

   
   

Okay, here's where it starts to get a little foggy, as I don't quite remember what each of these photos are, just that they are from the Temple of Heaven.  One day last week it was very nice, sunny, and WINDY AS HECK, so I made the long trek (in a taxi) across town to revisit these spectacular temples.  I also brought my book, as they are in a large park I left mostly unexplored last time.
 
And they sell ice cream. 
 
I took about 100 photos, mostly of the sky (CLOUDS!  THE WONDER!  THE AWE!), ate ice cream and read my book in the park.
 
Then I took a taxi home.  That's about all I remember.

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Big old Temple of Heaven, gotta love the sky

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It was a "heavenly" day. . . GROAN

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Still loving the clouds. . . so rare a sight

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In the Chinese defense, it IS rather gray, but STILL, this is the TICKET BOOTH!

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A much more subdued colored little temple in the park

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These balloons were just so "Amazing Stories". Wanted one. Or a bubble gun. Couldn't decide.

Let's see.  These pictures must be of last week Sunday, when we were SUPPOSE to go to the Botanical Gardens, but some people in our party were unable to detach themselves from the couch until around 1 PM, then insisted we drive in the opposite way to Steak & Eggs for breakfast (BANANA PANCAKES MAKE ME HAPPY, THOUGH), and the gardens close at 4:30 soooooo we needed a plan B, which was here, at Yuyuantan Park, in southwest Beijing. 
 
I wanted to go as there were suppose to be tulips, but we didn't see any.  In fact, the whole park was mostly lake, which is nice, but not really that interesting.  And we pretty much walked around the lake, watched the locals, then headed for the hutong.  We ate at a new Kabob place up on a rooftop (can't remember the name now) with 8 kuai drafts and lots 'o food, chicken wings in four different sauces, squid, squid tentacles, many salads I can't remember 10 days later (SURPRISE!  But, I do remember the price of beer - I'm amazing). 
 
It was all very good and when we got home I threw it all up.  Nice.

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The bubble boys and girls, this seriously looked like a blast, if you want to feel like a hamster

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This old guy probably lives in that soon to be knocked down hutong

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Love their bridges and causeways. . .

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Sneaking through the hutong east of the lake, caught some folks out enjoying the evening

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Old hutong bordering the park, I'm sure it's on the list to be razed

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Huifeng Temple at the north end of Xihai Lake

   
   

As for everything else and all this missing time in blog entries?  Guess what?  Nothing really stands out (except steak night!) and the weather's been okay on and off, I finally got a haircut (it SUCKS!), Mike is alive and well, job is moving along, it looks like were going to be here a *tad* longer than expected (6 weeks, maybe more).  So, we'll just leave it at this for now and I promise to update more often. 
 
And possibly with less pictures, just for my the sake of my SANITY!
 
Love to all who are still reading!

Friday, May 23, 2008
Random Shots and Random Thoughts
 
If you've ever been to Asia, and you happen to be over 5'5'' or weigh more than 90 pounds, or, like some of us, BOTH, then you know what being in Asia can do to your body image.
 
I've been accused before of focusing/worrying far too much about my weight.  I sure ain't perfect, and I do stress about my weight, but by most accounts and charts, I would fall into that "normal" category.  It's been years and years since anyone called me too skinny, and I probably have a year or two to go before anyone starts referring to me as "Mike's fat wife". 
 
I hope.
 
But, spend a little time in Asia and you will start to feel huge.  Huge, I say.  Even if you're not. 
 
After a bit more than a little time, you sometimes just forget you're WAY larger than the average person on the street.  Until you catch sight of yourself with others in a store window or glass front building.  You start thinking like an Asian and say, "Holy SH!T, look at the size of THAT woman", until you realize THAT woman is YOU.
 
 

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Making the locals look at you in fear? Priceless. . .

Case in point.  That picture was taking over TJ's shoulder while we were at the Summer Palace (I just got the photo from him the other day).  We had been ambling around the park for hours, and I had not given much thought to my size most the day.
 
Sure, we had locals staring and gaping at us, but that's just normal here. 
 
However, we came up behind this old gal, and I said, "TJ, you HAVE to get a photo of me standing next to her". 
 
Oh, we're so sneaky.
 
And, really, you can't tell it so much in the photo, but I am truly a couple steps behind her yet.  She was a cutie, and I'll never be this cute as an old woman. 
 
Or as a middle aged lady fighting the battle of the bulge.
 
Although I haven't updated much all week since the epic epistle of Monday, not much has been happening.  Monday night Mike had to go back into work from 8 pm until midnight, Tuesday was Taco Tuesday at the new Saddle Cantina on Sanlitun Lu, Wednesday we had another miserable experience at Schindler's (it's off the list I tell you, OFF THE LIST.  We will now start going to Schiller's German Restaurant, just next door!).  Thursday I was sick and in bed all day with some type of ear and throat infection that has carried over to today.
 
Sick enough to miss STEAK NIGHT.  Mike walked over to Subway (FIVE DOLLAR FOOT LONG!) and got sandwiches for us, the nice guy he is.  And we finished Season 3 of Lost, so we are almost current with the folks at home.  And TJ.  What a strange show.  It keeps getting stranger.  I'm sure there's some theme or parallel it's following with the Bible or classic literature or something, but I'm too dumb to figure it out.
 
On Wednesday the weather was beautiful so I decided to go on a walkabout west, following the Third Ring Road until I was north of Ditan Park. 
 
As I began my march I thought of many things.  Like securing pledges on how many times I could walk around the 3rd Ring in one day, then donating the money to the China Earthquake fund, or the Burma Cyclone Relief Fund.  Until I had walked for two hours and barely covered the ground I was hoping to do in 45 minutes.  Seems the 3rd Ring is a bit more expansive than simply walking south across town.
 
Then I started thinking of my friend Cindy who has walked many a marathon. 
 
And how nutso it would be to walk 25 miles (and 385 yards).  Whew.  Hats off to Cindy.
 
Anywaddle, here's a few pics from my walk which ended in a late lunch at Pizza Hut (I went to the SALAD BAR, thank you very much), then a quick hop over to Ditan Park, where I took a nap Chinese style on a bench while reading my book before hopping a cab home (which made the distance I walked seem very, very short, dang it!).

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Spring chickens in Beijing

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On break, Beijing style

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Tooling down the 3rd Ring Road, kid in tow

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Big ole altar I had to pay and ADDITIONAL 70 CENTS to see at Ditan Park

The last two days have been about 90F and hazy/smoky/foggy/sandy, but the weather says the weekend will be nice.  No definite plans yet, but I think I'll drag the boys to the Temple of Heaven.  A little culture is good for them.  Plus, half my photos from the first visit didn't turn out so great. 
 
And, if we get really adventurous, maybe I'll make them return to the Great Wall.
 
Oh, and did I mention we will probably be here until the end of July now?  Yep.  That's the rumor, kids.  Which means we will be ready to fly home in August for a while until our projected autumn return to the Pacific Rim.

Monday, May 19, 2008
A Weeks Worth of Catch-Up and Lots of Pics
 
Forgive me for not updating in so long.  Been a combination of slow internet/no internet, busyness and laziness (mostly the last one, although I just spent over THREE HOURS putting pictures up - and watching "Lost" episodes I slept through the other night.  I'm quite the multitasker, ask me how I iron and read at the same time).
 
Firstly, today was an eerie afternoon, as China has declared a three day period of mourning for the estimated 50,000+ who died in the earthquake of last week.  At 2:28 today they had three minutes of "silence", broken by air raid sirens and car horns.  I stood at my apartment window and watched our neighborhood come to a standstill (except the inescapable traffic).  It brought tears to my eyes and chills to my spine to think of all those dead and missing people. 
 
Just today a landslide buried over 200 rescue workers near the epicenter.  It's been a week of unbelievable news coming from the south.  Obviously, my initial report last week of limited damage was much understated.
 
A tragedy.
 
Fortunately, our lives personally have been non-tragic, my slump has abated and we've been off having loads of fun on an almost daily basis.  So much fun in fact, that I had to come home VERY EARLY on Saturday night (9:30!!) and get some rest.  I haven't heard the end of it yet.
 
Last week Thursday I decided to get up close and personal with the Central Business District (the CBD), and what better way than to slip on my new tennies and hoof if all the way across town.  It's probably about 4 miles as the crow flies, and I took most the day to wander around the new, fabulous and mostly empty buildings going up in the area.    They have these HUGE malls, jammed with stores, and no people shopping in them.  It seems the retail boom happened before enough people were here with money.
 
It was an interesting walk, though, even if I probably don't need to go back to anywhere I visited. . .
 
 

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The boat that is The Boat Bar. . . how original, eh?

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I love these pay phones, but I can't help hearing the Jetson's theme song everytime I look at them

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and strange billboards, as well. . .

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Ice rink in the basement of China World Trade Center Mall, next to the Subway sandwich shop - LUNCH!

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These dudes have at least six floors worth of scaffodling down in this hole

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Strange architecture down in the Central Business District (CBD)

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Nothing like pedaling down the road with the equivalent of a welding mask on!

   
   

Thursday night was the much heralded STEAK NIGHT at Morel's, although we (un)fortunately decided to try the mussels as an appetizer.  They were delicious, but now I have to eat a half pound steak AND 27 mussels everytime we go, as they were just that good.  A huge pot of them, almost more than we could eat.  Definitely enough for a meal.  We should have stopped there, but OH NO.  Must get our red meat quota.
 
Next door to Morel's there is a Drive-In theater, and rumor has it there's a bar in there called 2Kolegas.  So being the daring folk we are we ventured into the compound, discovered quite a few bars and restaurants, woke up the staff at 2Kolegas (obviously, we are not the crowd for this place, probably somewhere that gets started around midnight, but they did have a nice lawn area for drinking) and decided to have a drink (or three) on the deck next door.
 
Very nice sitting out area, although we did drink them out of cold beer.  Most unfortunate, but a good sign it was time to go home, full of mussels, red meat and beer.
 
During the aftermath of the earthquake last Monday I met a gal from Australia named Lynn.  She's staying at the Oakwood with her husband who's here on business.  We chatted for a while on Monday and I told her about the train trip to Xi'an and how easy it was to book/take.  Friday I discovered a note in my mailbox as I was leaving to run some errands.  Seems they had booked the trip and she had some questions.  We hooked up for a coffee and then we walked around the neighborhood a bit together, which was nice.   Always good to have English speaking company.
 
Before we arrived in Beijing, I had read about an area of town called "Ghost Street".  Upon our arrival I promptly forgot about it.  Friday afternoon I picked up some of the English rags so predominant in this town and there was an article about some of the eateries on Ghost Street.  So I packed up the boys and we headed on down. 
 
Now, it's only about two blocks off from our Irish pub, Paddy O'Shea's, but the street itself is like entering a different world.  It's all hutong style buildings, it stretches for about a mile on both sides of the street, and is strung up with lanterns of all sizes and shapes.  Ghost Street is home to over 100 restaurants, many even have the luxury of an English menu.  I'm sure that's a fairly new thing.
 
It smelled wonderful, and we had no set destination.  We finally came across a very cool looking Tawainese restaurant, where we were the only round-eyes in the place.  Had a very good meal, especially the squid in garlic and the hot and sour soup. 
 
Being we were only minutes by taxi from one of our other favorite drinking hutongs, Nanlougu Xiang, it seemed only prudent to head on over there for a few.
 
We started at The Reef, just like last time, and after a couple cold Yangjings I started chatting up two Chinese girls in the booth next to us.  They were very well educated and spoke very good English and we talked a bit about the earthquake and they had many questions about America. 
 
Strangely, we started talking about the Three Gorges Dam and the possibility it was harmed in the earthquake.  They were very proud of their countries ability to build such an engineering marvel.  I mentioned how the "rest of the world" was a bit concerned about the dam and the affect it would have on China's southern neighbors who also depend on the Yangtze River for their water supply.
 
Which was met with empty stares.  Now, these girls are not stupid, but it's just an example of how alienated the Chinese still are from the outside world and how their actions (and inactions) are seen in an entirely different light than the average person here sees them.  I was a bit dumbfounded the thought never crossed their minds, however.  Or, no other round eye had ever voiced such concern to them.
 
And then we went drinking some more. . .

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Lantern lit Ghost Street for dinner

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Inside our hutong-y, temple-y choice, good food!

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Later, at the bar, in a different hutong. . .

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Mike and TJ pick the Taiwanese restaurant, and wait patiently while I take pictures

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More cool lanterns. . .

   

Saturday was suppose to be a nice day, but it was NOT, so we camped out in the apartment most of the day, watched a little "Lost".  I also read ANOTHER English mag and learned about a new entertainment venue called The Hidden City.  Home to "many restaurants and bars".  About five we decided to go down and check it out.  Ended up having a beer in the Sugar Bar and Duck de Chine (were we met the owner who gave us a history of the place).  The walled complex used to be a factory which produced blades for hot pot beef slicing (can you say VERY SPECIFIC).  They apparently razed most of the place, then rebuilt it with as much of the original brick and wood as they could, sodded and boardwalked the interior area and generally just made a very nice little area.  More bars and restaurants will open in the next month or two and will probably be more of a destination then, although his Duck restaurant was packed to the gills when we tumbled out about 7:30.
 
Then we went to Pizza Hut.  Can you say TOURISTS?
And, I must say, this was the first Pizza Hut I've ever been to outside the country where the pizza did not taste like Pizza Hut at home.  Very different.  And a wee bit disappointing.  I think the Domino's of a couple weeks ago was actually closer to home.
 
After our fine dining experience we walked across to Paddy O'Sheas were I dumped a beer into Mike's lap and then begged the boys to take me home.  Which they did.
 
Sunday was beautiful, but also very windy.  Our plan was to hit the Beijing Exhibition Hall to see the entire city of Beijing in a to scale model, including every single building to scale, then on to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park and finally, the Drum Tower Hutong and the Lake area for dinner and drinks. 
 
I tried to go to the Exhibition Hall with Denny and Amy on their first day here, but it was closed, so it was nice to finally get down there and see it.  The boys enjoyed it much more than I thought they would and we spent a lot of time locating different sights around town, including the Summer Palace, the West Beijing Train Station and our house.  What wasn't represented with buildings was satellite photos on the floor, so all of greater Beijing was represented. 
 
It was obvious the whole thing used to be a satellite photo which they used as a basis to build the replica city.  It was very intricate and quite a cool concept.  Also a good way to get your bearings if you're a Beijing newbie. . .

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Beijing in miniature. . . it's still pretty big!

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The gold part in the middle is the Forbidden City, in case you didn't know. . .

Cruised south to north through Tiananmen (the boys' first time down here) and then did a power walk through the Forbidden City.  Mike shared my opinion that it is an amazing place, but does get redundant awful fast. 
 
I think the boys were a bit intimidated looking at Coal Mine Hill, but as they are continually climbing stairs at work they did better than me on the climb, barely broke a sweat.  It was also the first time I was up there that the skyline of the city, the Drum Tower and the Hutongs were actually visible/recognizable.
 
Lots and lots of goings on in the park.  Dancing, opera singing, a couple little bands. . . seems Sunday in the park in Beijing involves more than just a picnic.  Good to see so many people out enjoying themselves.  Beijing does a good park!
 
Coming out of the North Gate (Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower are all built on a north to south meridian, exactly lined up with each other) we were just a short walk to Lotus Lane. 
 
Earlier, Lynn and her husband Andrew had called and expressed an interest in meeting up for dinner or a drink.  I called them and they were just outside the Forbidden City so I told them where to take a cab to and within 25 minutes we were all sitting out on the deck at South Silk Road restaurant having ice cold beers.  Little did I know when I called her phone I was actually calling AUSTRALIA and burned up all my minutes. . . oh well.  Restocked up today.
 
Decided on No Name Restaurant for dinner (Yunnan Style Chinese, deep in the hutong) and had a very nice meal.  Then on for more liver punishing at the Drum Tower bar rooftop. 
 
Jumped cabs about 10, as it was a school night.

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This is an odd sight in Tiananmen Square. . . Mike wanted to lie down in front of it. . .

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The day is two-thirds over and we haven't had a drink yet. . .

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but first a stop at the Unity Tree, just to make sure our marriage stays good. . . LOL

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And, now onward, to the Drum Tower and our fave hutong spots!

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Good thing labor is cheap here. . . these folks are scraping up gum from the square. . . fun job!

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Our next destination awaits just outside the North Gate of the Forbidden City, Jinghsan Hill!

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Beijing skyline through the smog from atop the hill (for the FOURTH time)

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A little music to set us on our way. Lots of entertainment in the park!

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The do have beautiful parks here. . . North side of Jingshan Park (Coal Mine Hill)

 
   
   

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Andrew and Lynn. Told you I'd make you famous! heehee

Now it's time to delve into some "ancient history", at least for us. 
 
Last weekend we did a run through Ritan Park (last weekend?  Maybe it was the weekend before. . . ).  Anyway, I took a pic of the new CCTV building so those at home who were fascinated by it and its progress can see how it's coming along.  Plus, it was a really clear day.  And there's TJ throwing gang signs with Mike at the park.  How exciting, I know!

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Progress on the CCTV Tower, everyone finds this building fascinating

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TJ and Mike get out and about in Ritan Park

I'm pretty sure the following pics are from last Tuesday (not that you really CARE, but I honestly can't quite remember).  I decided to go shopping on Andingmen Road, which we had walked down a million years ago after visiting Lama Temple.  I needed some new shirts (well, NEED may be a bit of a strong word) and I heard there were some deals to be had in this section of town.
 
And I heard right.  Got me a pair of capris, two shirts, and Mike a shirt for under $20.  And, my capris are Aberbrombie & Fitch, the first piece of clothing I've ever had with that name on it.  Bought only because they were my size, the right color and CHEAP (can you say $3.50???).  SWEEEEEEET.  Could have probably bought a lot more, but goes back to that whole need thing again. . .
 
Hung a left and made it to the Bell Tower, which I climbed AGAIN, as it was such a clear day, and took some pics, did a bit more shopping and decided to walk the lake north of Qianhai.  Had a BIG walk, saw some new restaurants and bars, got "lost" deep deep deep in a Hutong, and finally emerged into civilization, wondering where I was.
 
Grabbed the first cab I saw, and headed directly east to our house.  Guess I wasn't too bad off, and I saw  city gate that might be worth going back to investigate while in the cab.

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Clear enough to see Coal Mine Hill, I had no idea it was so close!

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Necessary rooftop view of the hutong roofs

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These little motorized cuties are everywhere, I want one!

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The view I was trying to explain to you when we were eating at S'Silk Road, only at night

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Another look at the scenic Bell Tower, down in the Hutong

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An exciting day for the rickshaw drivers. . .

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Also some new boats in the lake, very Chinese-y looking instead of kiddie looking

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Oh YEAH? Well, to you too! LOL

   

I know we've been doing and seeing a bunch of other stuff since we last talked, but I can't seem to grab anything right now.  However, here is a exhilarating photo of our living room, as many people have requested a photo of our digs.  WOO HOO!
 
Now I'm done.

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For those who've requested it. . . for whatever reason

Monday, May 12, 2008
I Feel The Earth. . . QUAKE. . . Under My Feet!
 
I was sitting on my couch, deeply engrossed in my Ken Follett this afternoon, when the earthquake hit.
 
We're on the fifteenth floor, our curtains were shifting, our kitchen utensils were banging, out water cooler was rocking.  The BUILDING was rocking.
 
Like always, when you feel a earthquake, you sit frozen like a deer in the headlights, not quite believing what you're feeling/hearing/seeing.
 
Living in Tokyo for eight months, we felt earthquakes all the time, but apparently they are very rare here in Beijing.  Many people I talked to have never felt one here, unlike in Tokyo where it would be strange to talk to someone who's never felt one.
 
The reports on TV are saying it was 7.5, but the Chinese government is saying 8.0.  There was a second one in the exact same spot twenty minutes later rated at 5.8, but I didn't feel that one, I was on the ground.
 
The epicenter is reporting no damage.  It was located between here and Shanghai.

Thursday, May 8, 2008
Burma, Behavior, Bargaining and Books
 
Alliterative over-reaching today.  Lots of stuff to cover.
 
BURMA (Myanmar)
 
Many of you know we've spent some time in Burma, and have always said these are the nicest, sweetest, kindest people on the planet despite living under a military junta which deprives it's people of the most basic rights. 
 
Like freedom of speech, access to the outside world (there is NO internet in Burma, nor can 99.99% of the population that even owns a phone dial internationally) employment, or the ability to vote (referendums are a joke).  Hence the fact the US still calls it Burma, will not recognize the country of Myanmar or it's government and have sanctioned it since 1988.
 
CNN said this morning they expect the death toll to rise to 100,000 people.  And, although this is only a third of the amount of people killed in the 2005 Tsunami, ALL of these people were local Burmese.  And, mostly farmers in the Irrawaddy River Delta surrounding the capital Rangoon.  Where most of the rice Burma is able to grown comes from
 
So, in addition to the mega death, destruction, disease and homeless problems the region will face immediately (not to mention their inadequate infrasturcture), they will also face ongoing food shortages beyond the pale.  And trust me, these are not the most well fed people in the world.
 
And, although the US has sanctions against Burma, we have done NOTHING in the last 20 years to help these oppressed people.  We were in Burma immediately following the start of the Iraqi war, and our Burmese friends used to whisper in our ears, "I'm glad the US is at war in Iraq, when will you come and save us?".  (Granted, these were the early days, before things really went to hell in Iraq.  Although I don't think we'd have quite the civil war problems in Burma.  They would each grab a stick and fight right along side our Marines.  Now that would be a fun and quick war, I'm sure).
 
Not that most people could actually name the capital of Burma, but it was moved in 2005 from Rangoon to Pyinmana, a more northern, mountain-based area, easier to defend.  Why, you ask? 
 
Well, the Burmese military junta discovered a large deposit of natural gas off the coast (oooh, finally a natural resource!) and was so concerned the US would launch a war (we were/are a bit tied up in the Middle East) against their regime and steal the gas, they MOVED THE CAPITAL.
 
Of course, the international community did not respond to this.  All the Embassies are still in Rangoon, and for the most part, this is still the working capital. 
 
While my heart bleeds and bleeds for this country, it's people, and this horrible tragedy, I can only hope with the disgusting delayed response to UN aid from the military regime (the first UN air aid shipment was only given clearance to fly TODAY), the terribly ineffective, non-existent means they used to warn their own people, and the vast indifference they are holding against getting proper help to those in need will shine a spotlight on this tiny country with a horrific history of genocide and deprivation of it's people.
 
FREE BURMA!
 
Okay, enough political dissent.  Just thought I'd spread the word.
 
BEHAVIOR
 
Sometimes when you spend a lot of time someplace really foreign, listening to strange language pouring out of everyone's mouth, watching people do things you wouldn't do (trying to run you over in the crosswalk, spitting, pushing to the front of a "line"), smelling strange foods, spending odd money, you start to feel a little isolated.
 
And, hard as is to admit, as if you are possibly superior to them, or maybe they are inferior to you.  Or some equally cruel and untrue thought.
 
I've always said travel has helped open my eyes to the same sameness of people everywhere, but these terrible thoughts do cross the best of minds (I'm not including my mind in the "best" category, just in the category the thoughts cross).
 
Fortunately for me, the other night when we were at The Boat Bar my temporary impressions were quickly altered.
 
We were sitting downstairs in the hull, basically alone, playing Spoof* with our waitress (quickly taught game, even without a common language) when a young Chinese couple came down the stairs to use the bathrooms. 
 
Which is why we had went down there.  And there was a little discussion among us.  No Male, Female signs on the doors, no international pictures of a guy in pants or a girl in a dress.  Instead, a silhouette in red of a person squatting and another silhouette in blue of a person with his crotch extended forward (wish I had a picture of this, but alas, didn't have my camera). 
 
Okay.  Not hard to figure out, but took a moment of ciphering on our part (not due to the amounts of alcohol we had drank or anything, I'm sure).
 
ANYWAY, the young couple.  They turned and looked at the doors, and then at each other.  Chatted in Chinese for a moment, in which I'm sure they were saying the same thing we were, "Which one is which?", and then the guy turned to her, put his hands on his hips, stuck his pelvic region forward and said, "Do you PEE LIKE THIS?".  In response, they both laughed vigorously and ran into their respective loos.
 
And, although he didn't really say it in English, we knew that was EXACTLY what he said.
 
Human behavior.  It is what is is, we are who we are. 
 
All of us.
 
BARGAINING
 
Part of my day was spent in the infamous Yashow Market. 
 
And, I have to say, my bargaining skills are not up to snuff.  I'm not getting robbed, I'm just refusing to play the game anymore. 
 
The stall staff RECOGNIZE me.  I need a new market. . . heehee.
 
I've just been grabbing what I want, explaining what I will pay, and waiting for a yes or no.  Usually a no, and I walk away.  They chase me.  Say OK.  I pay.
 
I'm bugging them.  I won't take twenty minutes to spend $4.  And for some reason it's making them mad.
 
However, I bought shoes (!!! I KNOW!!!) today.  I can't bargain for a price before I have a product.  These two girls help me out with my long skinny feet immensely, spending A LOT of time making sure I have the right fit, the right pair, etc.
 
Now, these tennies are nothing special (besides fake Diesel brand), but they are slip-ons, not big and bulky, they fit, and most importantly, DO NOT SMELL LIKE FETA CHEESE like my current tennis shoes (I got the scent in Greece, have done everything to get it out, forgot they smelled like that, it's triggered by me wearing them barefoot, so they got packed for China).
 
I have a slight disadvantage here, as I, of course, have not bought any shoes yet in China.  I do not know how much this pair of shoes should cost.  I must regress to the "What would I pay for these shoes" mode of bargaining.  And seriously, I do not pay a lot for anything.  Anywhere.  I'm CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP.  My current shoes (which smell badly) I bought at Shoe Carnival for $10.  They are Skechers.
 
These shoes are in China.  They are fake branded.  They are definitely not the same quality as my current shoes.
 
My gal speaks very good English, so I tell her I want the shoes, but I want her to give me a very good price, no silly price.  I tell her I will walk away.  She shows me the calculator with 220RMB on it (which is more than $30 US).
 
Honey, I don't think I've paid $30 for a pair of tennis shoes since sometime in the late 80's.
 
I laugh.  Punch in much lower number.  She gets "mad", says, "You tell me no silly number, I give you good, real number and now you want for free!?!?".
 
So, I patiently explain to her that I can buy real shoes at home, where they have many pairs in my size to try, for well less than what she is offering.  And she doesn't believe me.
 
When I was buying Mike's Tommy Bahama shirts, the girl there asked me why Americans were such hard bargainers.  I told her the facts of life, that our money just isn't worth anything anymore, and all the stores at home have huge sales.  And, we buy ALL OUR STUFF from China, so it's easy to get it cheap.  If you wait til the end of the season.
 
I finally get the shoes for about $10 US, which I figure is still way to much, but at least I will be able to take my shoes off in public (or private) without killing anyone.

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All they smell like is NEW SHOES!

BOOKS
 
As you know, books are part of my integral makeup.  I NEED books.  And thanks to The Bookworm lending library, I have a fair amount of books to choose from.  However, they aren't typically recent.
 
But then again, neither are we.  I usually don't know what's happening in the literary world until we get home. 
 
Last fall I noticed Ken Follet's old book "Pillars of the Earth" (which if you haven't read, and you're a reader, you should read) was on the Best Sellers List, and I was confused.  The book is ten years old, and as good as it is, how did it resurface?
 
Oh.  He wrote a sequel!  Cool.  Which was only available in hardcover, and I'm cheap (see above), so I didn't buy it.
 
And yesterday?  I found it at the bookstore! 
 
Then, on the way home I stopped at Jenny Lou's grocery for some staples, and they had my wine on sale, buy two, get one free!
 
A book I've been dying to read and three bottles of wine. . . I'm in heaven, heaven. . .

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I'm SOOOO easy. . .

*Spoof - This is a drinking game we learned in Israel (and promptly forgot until we were sitting somewhat bored in the bar and it took Mike, TJ and I several minutes to even remember the name).  Everyone playing gets three coins.  You then hide both your hands, decide how many coins you are putting into play, then extend your fist to the table with said coins in your closed fist.  Everyone takes turn guessing how many total coins are in everyone's hands.  If no one guesses correctly in a round, you re-load your hands and try again.  First person to guess right "goes out" and everyone else continues to play (with the number of possible coins diminishing with the players).  Last man standing loses (and is suppose to buy a round, but we just call them LOSERS!).  It's fun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008
The Two Month Slump
 
Although my mood is okay and the weather has been palatable and we've been out and about EVERY NIGHT since our guests left (and having fun, to boot) I can feel my energy level for the city of Beijing waning. 
 
It's always the same.  Two months = slump.  Ten weeks = reinvigoration. 
 
But right now, we only have 5 weeks left!  Which feels very strange.  Five weeks isn't very long. Especially if two of them are during my slump.
 
Still don't know what we are doing after we finish up here, either.  I'm sure we'll be home at some point this summer, and I probably should work on changing my return tickies, but I don't have a viable date to change them to!  I KNOW we are going to visit Hong Kong, but other than that?  Hmmmm.
 
Sunday was pretty gorgeous, so TJ, Mike and I grabbed a cab around noon and went to American Steak & Eggs for breakfast (Mike got some corn beef hash that was edible).  Then we decided to walk/pub crawl home.  First stop was Ritan Park, which has bloomed out beautifully.  Walked around a bit, watched the kite flyers, went to the Stone Boat Bar and had a drink (in Mike's defense, he had TEA, how odd). 
 
TJ wasn't so keen on walking home, but no one seemed to have a general direction they wanted to go in, so we just forced him.  He is still under the impression that it's a LONG WAY HOME, but it's not.  Three miles max, according to my precise measurements (thumb on the map).  It was glorious out, traffic volume was low, and I'm sure there are a thousand cooler things we could have been doing, but hey - whatever.
 
Made it to very near the house, at Schindler's, in time for Happy Hour (WOOT!).  So sat down, had a cheese plate and some drinkies.  After four apiece decided we needed more food and ordered some asparagus spinach cheese thing.  Which took FOREVER.
 
Now, we go to Schindler's fairly often.  Usually the service is pretty good.  Sunday?  Not so much.  And this seems to be the case at almost all the repeat venues we go to.  Service is very, very spotty.  There's only a few places we can TOTALLY depend on good service. 
 
Last week we went down to Kro's for pizza, not knowing it was FREE BEER NIGHT (now, how could we have not KNOWN THAT?!?!).  We have only been there once before, so we aren't really "known entities", but our service was pretty good last time.
 
Tuesday?  Nope.  And it wasn't like they were extremely busy or anything, really.  Even with the free beer (which was WARM).  I was ready to kill someone.  Hey, we AREN'T HERE for the FREE BEER.  We WANT TO EAT!
 
So, we may not be going back to Kro's, which is unfortunate, as they have a nice little outside garden.  Although if we did go back, the service would probably be good.  And then bad.  And then good.  LOL.
 
For Cinco de Mayo, we found a Cuban restaurant (located conveniently next to our new Irish Pub, Paddy O'Shea's) called A-Che's.  It was good, but the best thing was the "friendly" Cuban beer, Cristal.  Yum.  AND, they had Baltika 3 (our fave beer) on the menu, but alas, not in stock.
 
We've been pretty successful hitting new places to eat, although nothing has been a real stand out.  Except Morel's steak.
 
Where we are going tomorrow.  Tonight?  I'm cooking!  And we're watching "Lost".  Why?  BECAUSE IT'S RAINING!
 
Argh.
 
Oh, and last night we finally ate at the Greek restaurant, Athena's.  Which was not so good and too expensive.  But afterwards we walked over to the new bar called The Boat.  Which is on a boat.  On the waterway that goes around the third ring road.  Just opened about a week ago, so not crowded, and will be a great, close place to have a beer or ten when the heat ratchets up and Beijing becomes unbearable. 
 
Neat concept bar, good work restoring it, plenty of outdoor seating.
 
Now, I just need to get out of my slump.

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I could take pictures like this everyday, it's so funny

Sunday, May 4, 2008
These Crever Chinese

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These are soooo cute, I just want to, well, EAT THEM!

Not too much to report (sigh), the weather (besides today) has been disgusting, either 90 and smoggy or raining and smoggy.
 
Today, bright sunshines and smoggy.  But not that smoggy.
 
Saturday, we woke up to rain and smog.  I was sitting in the chair with my back to the window, and suddenly I noticed we were sitting in the dark.  I looked outside and it was like night.  Passed in about  twenty minutes, but was a bit eerie.
 
Did have AWESOME steak at Morel's on Thursday night.  Way better than Outback.  WAY.
 
Friday, after too much Tawainese food full of hot, hot peppers, we went BOWLING.  I was inspired by Scott's tales of rolling well in Switzerland, and had a 181 one game, Mike rolled a 200.  We were on fire.  Except TJ.  Although he didn't do THAT bad.
 
Then we went and played cards and drank more at Frank's Place (bar, not friend, we have no friends).
 
Saturday we were slothy slugs, the weather was horrible, we were tired, laid around all the day.  All I wanted was Pizza Hut for dinner; we took a cab up to the Carrefour, where there WAS a Pizza Hut.  But, alas, it was CLOSED.  As in CLOSED DOWN.
 
I was crushed.  Crushed, I say.  We wandered around for a while, popped into a hotel (well, I did), asked them where the nearest Pizza Hut was, they directed us down the street 5 minutes.
 
To a Domino's.
 
Which is what I ate for dinner.  Seriously, I think this is the very first Domino's pizza I've ever ate. 
 
It ain't no Pizza Hut, that's for sure.  Too little GREASE!
 
Might have to get inspired today, go do something.
 
Oh, and I never did get my haircut last week.  But TJ did.

Thursday, May 1, 2008
Off the Reservation
 
Normally, on weeknights, we don't travel too far from home for dinner.  Not only is it time consuming and a tad frustrating dealing with the rush hour traffic, we  have many palatable options available in our neighborhood.
 
Yesterday was one of the warmest days yet this spring, almost 90 degrees.  It started off very, very smoggy, but about 3 PM it just blew out and it was absolutely gorgeous (it is however, Thursday mid-morning right now, and the gunk is heavier than ever).
 
Mike came home, put on his Tommy Bahama shirt and said, "Let's go rock the Hutong's by the lake", or something to that effect.
 
So young TJ, Mike and I spent 15 minutes trying to get a taxi (!) and 30 minutes cruising cross town to our favorite set of Hutongs, by Qianhai Lake and the Drum and Bell Towers.
 
I've posted a few pictures of this area, but not enough to capture it's absolute coolness, if you can block out the two streets of neon-lit tacky ass bars.
 
Our first priority was dinner.  Last time I was down here, they were building a huge deck on the lake in front of the Lotus Lane stretch of restaurants.  Tonight it was open, and we dined al fresco at S'Silk on Yunnan Province Cuisine.  Very cheaply, too, I might add. 
 
Looking over the lake you can see the Drum and Bell Tower's standing guard over the hutongs.  I would love to have a picture of this, but I didn't take one, knowing my camera would be unable to capture the scene; towers too far away, not enough ambient light over the lake, too much light where we were sitting, but take my word, it was AWESOME!
 
After dinner, we hutong crawled through various pubs, ending up on a rooftop between the Drum and Bell Tower.  At midnight.  Possibly having had too much to drink (well, me for sure, so glad I don't have to get up and go to work!).
 
Very China feeling night.  Loved every minute.  Except the three block detour to find a toilet for Mike in a pee emergency.
 
Minor detail. 

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Drum Tower from Hutong rooftop bar

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And again. . .

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And up close. . . The End.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008
SUMMER PALACE, and trials and tribulations of owning a computer. . .
 
So, yea, I know.  I didn't get the pics up yesterday of our Sunday sojourn to the highly acclaimed Summer Palace. 
 
Guess why. 
 
I don't know if it's my computers fault, the internets fault, whatever creepy spybot may have "mysteriously" got installed on my computer, or what, but my CPU is running at about 100% about 100% of the time.  Which causes the computer to just snap off.  And then I have to wait about ten minutes to restart it, if it will restart.
 
Which is very entertaining and loads of fun.  I spent over an hour playing this game yesterday.
 
It's a good thing we discovered the screen on our window, or else it might have gone out.  I did a series of "fixes", and then my McAfee quit.  Which led to an hour and a half download process, which should have only taken about 15 minutes. 
 
Arghh.  So, I went out and drank too much last night to combat my exasperation with this machine.
 
Things aren't much better this morning, but I was able to get the pics on the sight (maybe 30 was a bit overzealous, but just seems I've not been giving you much visual material lately).
 
Okay.  Sunday Mike was still feeling a little "off", but he wanted to go and do something.  HE suggested the Summer Palace, and I was all like, "Dude, that's a huge place, way on the other side of town.  Are you sure you're up for that?"   He was looking a bit peaked.
 
Sunday is a great day to go across town in a cab.  Very little traffic.  Unfortunately, it's also a very BUSY day at the Summer Palace.
 
But first, the taxi ride.
 
Uneventful, except he dropped us off at the gate of Peking University.  We didn't know, looked like a park entrance, but I was thinking, "Hmmm, doesn't seem like the right place, but maybe it's a back gate or something", which does happen. . .
 
Wander in, no ticket window, sign saying NO FOREIGN VISITORS WITHOUT REGISTRATION (Odd, but we breezed right on by that).  Walked into what looked like a park with some nice buildings around. 
 
Hiked along the path for a couple minutes, found the ubiquitous old gal selling maps (and Summer Palace postcards), give her five kuai for a map, unfold it, it's all in Chinese.
 
And it don't look like Summer Palace. 
 
But, of course, I've never been to the Summer Palace, so what do I know (What does Rachelle know?).  Mike is trying to make heads or tails of the map, TJ is photogging flowers, and I'm checking the guide book.  Which also has a map.  That looks a little bit like our map. 
 
However, I'm pretty sure we're not in the right place.
 
Wander over to some young folks sitting on benches, find one that speaks very good English, and ask him where Kunming Lake is.  He looks at me funny and says, "At the Summer Palace."  Right.  "Where are we now?" I inquire.  "Peking University," he replies.
 
Okay.  Find another cab, go up the road another couple miles, get dropped off at the Summer Palace.
 
WTF?  Summer Palace?  Peking University?  No matter, either will do for these silly round eyes.
 
The University looked very nice, though. . . .

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Hmmm, this just doesn't seem right. . .

Definitely at the right place now, I can tell my the MASSIVE AMOUNT of tour busses and foot traffic swarming toward the gate.  I so smart.  Oh, and the buildings of the Summer Palace up on the hill, looming in the distance.
 
Obviously.  Duh.
 
The Summer Palace was built during the Jin Dynasty (just did a google search to provide you with some dates, but it appears there were two Jin Dynasties, and I don't know which one built the Summer Palace, sorry).  As the name implies, it's where the folks who lived in the Forbidden City (the emperor, his concubines, and slaves, and wives, and children and eunuchs) went in the SUMMER.
 
To the east is the sprawl of Beijing.  To the west, nothing but mountains.  And the whole complex is built around and above Kunming Lake.
 
We had beautiful weather, and it was a fairly clear day, not perfect, but a nice respite from the city. 
 
Of course, the first thing I must do is climb the big hill one of the temples is on.  So off we go up the hill, after walking down the Long Corridor which runs along the lake side for, well, a long distance, hence the name.
 

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Ah, this looks more familiar

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One of a mere 14,000 pictures in the Long Corridor

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Looking down at the Temple of Dispelling Clouds and various gates

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Twenty-something armed Hindu floaty thing. . .

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Seems our friends have followed us to the top, as well. Stunning views. . . through their heads!

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Looking back up

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Close up of the roof ends, caught them on the way down the hill. . . I think they've been retouched.

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There's just a few other people out enjoying the day with us. . .

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A little mountain climbing to pass the afternoon. . . from the top, looking at Kunming Lake

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Not part of the Summer Palace, but looming behind us all the day. . . I want to go there!

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Chinese food is agreeing with Mike. . . I don't know what's funnier, his belly or his face!

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I know, they all kind of look the same, but when you are standing under them, they ARE impressive!

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Silly round-eyes hanging out in front of the temple

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I don't know WHY you'd want a marble boat, but I guess when you're emperor, you don't need a reason.

   
   
   

After descending the hill, we continued down the Long Corridor (I'm not kidding, that's its actual name), through the Pavillion of Clear and Carefree (HEEHEE) to the Clear and Peaceful Boat (the Marble Boat). 
 
Now we need to make a decision.  There's a wonderful looking causeway cutting through the southeastern area of the lake, or there are about a billion other temples up behind us we could explore.  The causeway is comprised of a series of neato looking bridges.  The temples?  Well, as we all know, they pretty much all look the same.  So we opted for the causeway walk.
 
Based on the time it took us to get to South Lake Island and the Hall of Embracing the Universe (these names are cracking me up), it was probably about a 3 mile circuit.
 
Very tranquil and beautiful.  And Mike was feeling up to it, I think it actually made him feel better!
 
We walked through the Gate Tower of Cloud Retaining Eaves, crossed the Lake-Divding Bridge, wandered past the Heart Purifying Pavillion and hit the bridges.

   
   

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Mandatory pretty flower shot

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Lots of old, cool bridges in the park

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Climbing up the Jade Belt Bridge (TJ's fave)

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Looking back from the other side of the park at the SUMMER PALACE!

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I should have made the boys paddle me around in a boat. . .

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No walking on the grass or no walking barefoot on the grass?

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Side view of Silk Bridge, pretty neat, eh?

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Oh yes, we crossed that one too!

   
   

Watched the kite flyers on the 17 arch bridge for a while, then decided to hit it back to town.  Which was easier said than done. 
 
The road in front of the palace?  Very deserted.  Finally flagged a cab.  Destination?  Cheers.  It's a pub in Sanlitun Donnie keeps telling us about, but we haven't made it to yet. 
 
Get in the general vacinity, wander about a bit trying to find it, finally locate it hidden on the second floor of a building without a sign outside.  And, it's closed.
 
Stroll back down the alley to a restaurant called Marguerite (french vietnamese fusion) and sit outside with a couple cold ones (Budweiser, can you believe it?) and discuss what we are doing for dinner.
 
Remember when I tried to find Long.com, the big sized shoe store in Nali Mall?  The day I decided to take Beijing in tiny bites?  Well, down that corridor is a Spanish Tapas restaurant, imaginatively called Tapas.  So, we decided so try dining there.
 
Nice place, decent food, not to bad on the ole wallet.  And, we were practically the only peeps in there, so good service to boot.  We started with mixed olives and bread, with asparagus and spinach soup.  Moved on to Steak Tenderloin with blue cheese bruschetta, grilled octopus on potatoes, Pork Lomo, stuffed muchrooms, and spicy potatoes. 
 
Yum.  And plenty of ice cold Tsing Tao to wash it down.
 
Mike and I decided to come home and watch "Lost", our new second fave pastime, and although TJ wanted to go back and check out Cheers, he decided to go home with us.
 
When we left, I discovered a "secret passageway" that must not have been opened last time I was down there, leading to . . . wait for it. . . LONG.COM, the big sized shoe store!  But, I didn't go in, as I had boys waiting impatiently for me.  Alas, another day.
 
And then our "Lost" DVD's started acting up and we got mad and went to bed.  Apparently a disc and a half of the 9 discs that came with season one are not functioning. 
 
But, yesterday, in a fit of resourcefulness and before my computer started acting like a possessed demon, I found where I could watch our missing episodes on line.  For free. 
 
Cool.
 
When my brother Denny arrived home from his visit, he found TWO letters waiting for me.  One from the IRS and one from the Michigan Department of Treasury.  Uh oh.
 
No worries, but it seems they need more info than I provided, so have been trying to deal with all that from afar, as well.  With a misbehaving computer.  Think I have it handled now, though.  Whew.  For now.
 
Last night we ventured over to Paddy O'Sheas Irish Pub.  We discovered it out and about with the kids last week, but had never heard of it.  Not in any of the guidebooks or monthly/weekly free English rags around here, so assumed it was fairly new.  No dart board, but good menu and outdoor seating. 
 
Beats the pants off Durty Nellie's, which I'm currently on strike against.
 
Hopefully, all my minor traumas are over for the week and I can find some time to go back to the BIG GIRLS SHOE STORE!

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We had exceptional service, I can't imagine why. . .

And, as is evident in the above picture of Mike and I at the Summer Palace, I need a haircut.  BAD.  It's been about 2 1/2 months, I think.  YIKES.  For whatever reason, I just am very, very reluctant to walk in to any of the beauty salons in this town.  So unlike me.
 
Maybe I'll put that on my list this week.

Sunday, April 27, 2008
True Confessions. . .
 
Forgive me, internet, for I have sinned.  It's been a long time since my last confession. . .
 
Heehee.
 
This is a comprehensive list of all the "bad" things I've done since Wednesday when our guests left.  Well, MAY-be not completely comprehensive. . .
  • Not took ONE picture
  • Hardly left the neighborhood during the day while Mike worked
  • Possibly only walked about 6 miles. . . in 5 days.  Virtually impossible
  • (This is a bad one) On Friday, had all intentions of eating at Morel's, the best steak in Beijing, in celebration of Donnie finishing his exams.  Got a cab, got down there, and we had no reservations and they were full-up.  So - WE ATE AT OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE.  THE HORROR!
  • Lazed around all day Saturday, even though the weather was lovely.  Ventured out for a drink at the Cavern/Metro Bar (undergoing a change in management), then to Pete's Tex-Mex (disappointing, not what we were looking for), where Mike promptly fell ill (dudes, he didn't even finish his BEER!).  Returned home.
  • Having a hard time conjuring up sympathy for Mike's illnesses, which seem to coincide with THE WEEKEND.  What's up with that!?!?  I'm a bad wife. . . I know.

So, I feel better now.  How many "Hail Beijing's" do I need to do?  I don't know, but probably a few.

In some kind of atonement for my sins, we are venturing off to the Summer Palace (SUMMER PALACE!) this afternoon with young TJ.  Hopefully Mike stays well. . .

In other news, the forecast says it will be NINETY DEGREES two days next week, before starting on another set of rainy days.  Ninety sounds bad.  A taste of things to come.  While the kids were visiting we had a couple 80 degrees days, and they were WARM. 

Ugh.

We are also well past the half-way mark of our projected (which, of course, could change at any moment) time in Beijing.  WOOT!  And, Mike still hasn't seen Tianamen Square or the Forbidden City.

And he doesn't even care.  PSSST.

Summer Palace pics tomorrow, if my camera still works after all the neglect and the internet lets me load them faster than 1 every 18 minutes. . .

Friday, April 25, 2008 (con't)
Don't be Jealous. . .
 
Being out of the country most of the time doesn't lend to us being up with the modern pop culture.
 
But, now we are sort of current.  At least, with 2004.
 
I found box sets of the first 2 seasons of "Lost" at the video store while Denny was buying them out of DVD's.
 
We've never seen one episode.  Possibly the only Americans who haven't.
 
And, the writers were on strike while we were home this past fall, so we couldn't even check one out.
 
So, we watched FIVE of the 52 episodes.  Last night.  In a "Lost" fest.  Four years behind the rest of the world. . .
 
Jealous yet? 
 
Heeheeeheee

Friday, April 25, 2008
Empty Nest Syndrome
 
I'm missing my peeps!
 
And, I think I have a bug.  SOOOOOO tired.
 
Can't believe it's almost May!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Pull Out
 
An early morning up to say good-bye to Chris and Jen.  They left over 17 hours after Denny and Amy, and Denny and Amy were still in the air.  Which, when I mentioned it, made them very sad about their long trip.
 
Heehee.
 
They both wanted to stay, though.  Figured they had "just got the hang of it here". 
 
We sent out winter coats home with Den and Amy, so of course that meant we froze our butts off on Tuesday night going to dinner.  It was back down in the 40's.  Beijing reminds me of Michigan in this respect. . .
 
Here's a couple pictures of my brothers bowling.  It is the first time in my life I've seen either of them bowl.

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He may be over the foul line and lacking perfect form, but this ball was a STRIKE!

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Our most reluctant bowler has a good time, and a few beers. . .

As I mentioned, Sunday was a wet and cold day.  We had planned on going to the Summer Palace (Summer Palace, Summer Palace - inside joke on the postcard sellers in the Hutong) on Monday, but woke up to a fairly yucky morning. 
 
So we decided to go to the zoo/Aquarium.  The Aquarium is a modern, state of the art building and the largest inland aquarium in the world.
 
The zoo?  Eww.  In a land where human rights are easily disputed, it would appear the animals have absolutely none.  We spent very little time in the zoo, as it was just too depressing.  There were five elephants, including a baby, in a space not much bigger than our apartment.  You could see the sadness in all the animals eyes. 
 
They had vicunas there, which was fun to see, even if they were all muddy and dirty.  And sad.
 
At the aquarium we were able to see the dolphin show.  Not exactly Sea World, but always fun to see these sea mammals frolicing.  You can see how much them love us humans.  Probably think we're pretty funny.  The whole show was in Chinese, but we pretty much figured it out. . .
 
And we saw the Panda's.  They ARE getting new digs, but not finished yet.  Where they are kept now is nasty.  For something that is a country's icon image, I expected a bit more pomp.

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The panda's are at least getting a new home. . . poor guys

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That's one big stone tiger my zoo crew is standing under

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They all seemed to be at nap time. . . this one did roll over for us

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I'm not exactly sure who was looking at who here. . . Parrotfish at the Beijing Aquarium

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Quick stop at the gift shop before the show supplied us with these SWEET hats

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This one we just couldn't quite figure out the message. . .

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Flying dolphins

   

Since Denny and Amy arrived he's been talking about going to Li Qun's restaurant down in a Hutong near Tianamen Square for Peking Duck.  It is probably THE most famous place for duck in Beijing, although located deep in a Hutong and noted for it's shabbiness.
 
It also takes a bit of planning.  Especially for 7 people (we took TJ, too).  First, we had to call for reservations, and were informed they would prepare two ducks for us.  Then, we had to call an hour before our reservations and tell them to start making our ducks (?).  THEN, we had to get two detailed sets of directions from the desk in Chinese in order to get us there in separate taxi's through major traffic (it's not close to the house).
 
All went well, however, and we landed outside the street entrance within seconds of each other.  Where we were greeted with an unlit alley with a sign painted on the brick and an arrow.
 
Our group was promptly seated, beers were ordered, and presently, duck and cucumber and pancakes and sauce were delivered.  And some of the best Bok Choy I've ever had.
 
Followed by more beer and a very low, low check.  About $12/person.  AWESOME!
 
It was a great experience.

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Hutong billboard directing us to LiQun's Roast Duck

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When you first enter, you get to see your dinner being prepared

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Seated and awaiting our duck. . . and BEER!

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And, finally, the DUCK. DEE-RISH-US!

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The elaborate door. . .

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We found this sign quite easy to translate, and quite hilarious. Everyone went in to take a picture

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The professional carving of the famous duck

   

The next morning the kids all made an early morning trip down to the Silk Market for last minute souvenirs and for the experience.  They had honed their bargaining skills at the other markets and Hutongs and felt prepared to take on this mammoth beast.
 
I think they did okay.  Returned about noon, and had about an hour and a half for Den and Amy to complete their packing and get in a taxi for the airport.
 
So sad.
 
Jen had caught a pretty good cold in the rain last weekend, and besides a quick trip to Jenny Lou's grocery store, we pretty much laid low the rest of the day.
 
For dinner we decided on Three Guizhou Men, which serves up Chinese food from the Guizhou province.  A fairly nice restaurant down near Worker's Stadium.  It took an HOUR in the cab (just due to traffic, it's not that far), which stunk, but the food was pretty good.  We had Pepper and Beef (VERY, VERY SPICY), Peppers, Sweet Corn, and Pork (tasty), Spring Rolls (different), Smashed Potatoes (there were peanuts in the potatoes!), Bok Choy (smelled like feet, tasted okay), Guizhou's famous Roast Chicken (a little spicy, very good), and Eel on a Stick (tasted like some kind of white fish I'm not fond of).
 
And lots of lukewarm Yanjing to wash it down.
 
Home a little late for people who had to get up at 5:30 to catch a flight, but all worked well.  Chris and Jen needed to buy one of those big, plastic, plaid, zip-top bags which we call "Asian luggage" to pack all their extra's.  I'm not quite sure how many chess sets Chris bought, but I'm guessing eight.  And a lot of books.
 
And everyone is safely home now.
 
Although I can now reclaim my dining area (which we use SO MUCH, HAHAHAHA), I already miss my family and the excitement they brought to Beijing.  I'm certain they all had a wonderful and exotic time, and it was fun having people around during the day to share the experiences with, especially since I love them all so much.
 
But the quiet is nice for a day or two.  I need some REST!

Sunday, April 20, 2008
Five Dollar Foot-LONG!  Party in the Hu-TONG!
 
It has been an experience this week.  Those who know my family know we aren't exactly sane.  When everyone discovered there was a Subway Sandwich Shop across the street from our apartment, they shared the new annoying Subway slogan from home of "Five Dollar Footlong".  So guess what our mantra has been all week.
 
Yep.
 
And every rendition of it.  Thirty-Five Kuai Foot-Long, Party with the Nikon, Sleeping on a Futon. . . etc.
 
And we have a new slogan for a T-shirt.  "What happens in the Hutong stays in the Hutong".
 
We are traveling through town and the markets singing Five Dollar Foot Long.  Getting even stranger looks from the natives.
 
But having fun, as always.  It's been nice having English speaking friends/family to hang out with during the day.
 
Amy told her friends at home she was coming over here to adopt a baby.  Here's a picture of the one she picked out. . .
 
And Denny eating Scorpions on a stick at the night market.

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Amy and her adopted daughter


It taste like popcorn!

So, Jen's big reason for coming to Beijing (besides seeing Mike and I's smiling faces) was to do the overnight train trip to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors.
 
In days of yore, the Emperor's used to bury LIVE soilders with them to protect them in the afterlife, but the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (211 -206 BC) ordered his kingdom to make terracotta warriors instead.  More humane, eh?
 
Nah.  He killed everyone who worked on them.  But still, no one was buried alive.
 
The Terracotta Warriors have been dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World", and were only discovered in 1974, by a farmer digging his well. 
 
China lost face when President Clinton was over here visiting, and he met the farmer and asked him to sign his book.  Which he did with three circles, which is the equivalent of us putting down an X.  So, they taught him how to make three characters for his name and now you can buy books signed by the dude.
 
Which we did.
 
But, of course, before we can go see the warriors, we have to go to the Government Factory where they make the FAKE soilders.
 
Perfect.
 
But, after breezing through there, we headed for the sight.  Really nice set-up, big buildings built over the pits (there are four, we visited three).
 
They have only unearthed a fraction of the Warriors, as they found that the paint color on the soilders dissolves when they hit modern air.  Within 2-3 hours.  So, they are working on the technology, in conjunction with the Germans, the Americans, and French to be able to unearth them without the loss of color. 
 
Which would be cool.
 
The first pit is the most impressive, with the most Warriors and the fewest broken up.
 
Seems there was a peasant uprising at the end of the Qin Dynasty, and they dug up the soilders and stole the real arms the Warriors held, and then started the tombs on fire, which caused many of the roofs to collapse and crush the Warriors.
 
We took the overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an.  We were all a little hesitant, although we had booked the soft-sleeper beds.  I was worried about motion sickness and not being able to sleep, others were worried about just not being able to sleep.
 
We all slept like babies.  Drunk babies.  It worked out just fine, and a great way to travel 22 hours across China.  Except it was dark. 
 
And raining.  It rained the entire time we were in Xi'an (cold, too), and started raining about 10 minutes after we arrived back in Beijing.  Supposed to stick around until at least mid-week.

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Our box for 22 hours

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The terracotta soilders. . . just kidding, these are in the factory, and about 6 inches tall

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And some more warriors. . . Hey, there's 6,000 of them in this room alone!

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I know, I know. . . but I like to share. . .

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First night on the train

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Our first look at the REAL terracotta warriors. . . Amazing!

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Looking across the width of the pit. . . at the warriors, of course. . . :-)

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If you're a VIP (which we obviously ARE NOT) you can walk up here with the warriors

   
   

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Each face is unique, or so they say

Someone tell me if this panorama turned out. . . can't tell how big it is. . . thank you Chinese censors. . . .

The second pit was mostly generals, a lot fewer Warriors.  But largely unearthed.
 
There is some evidence, based on recovered weapons, that the Chinese of the Qin Dynasty had mastered the art of chrome plating (which the Western world didn't do until the 1700's in Europe), but after researching a bit (me), it seems debatable.  However, visits to ancient cities have taught me much technology has been "lost" and then "found" throughout history. 
 
Including the ever popular flush toilet.
 
They also discovered very near by another Emperor's Tomb (how strange, they both picked the same place to be buried, by accident) with a lot of cool remains from the Bronze Age. 
 
Very impressive.
 
There is another site here, at Luoyang, where they've found a cave with over 100,000 stone Buddha's.  Alas, it is a six hour train ride from Xi'an.

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The second pit we saw had mostly general's in it, and mostly headless generals

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This horse only got half unburied, he looks like he was making a hasty retreat

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Brass chariot found near terracotta warriors

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There are more warriors waiting to be unearthed, as soon as technology catches up

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Somehow they preserved the orange color on this dude

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The details inside this chariot was awesome

   

We saw replica Warriors priced from tens of thousands of dollars to $1.25 for a set of six.  Guess which ones we bought on the way out. . . . heehee.
 
After being Warrior-ed out, we stopped for lunch (at the flea market, of course), had a semi-quick stop at the Government Silk Factory (which made Jen think she died and went to heaven and Chris feel like he was on a roller coaster, but he gave up the credit card pretty easy), then off to the Xi'an City Tour.
 
Xi'an is pretty much central west China, and was the capital for thousands of years.  Today, it's a bustling city of 7 million, which is big, but after seven weeks in Beijing it actually felt rather quaint. 
 
It is said that in ancient days, there were four major advanced cities.  Rome, Istanbul, Athens, and Xi'an.  Istanbul, here we come. . .
 
We walked on the 600 year old Ming Dynasty reconstructed wall in the rain, looked at the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower (can you say "Repeat"?), then had an hour of free time.  We ambled in the rain down Islam street, Amy and Denny did some shopping, TJ, Donnie, Mike, Jen, Chris and I found a bar, then it was off to the train station to sit and wait for our ride.

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Dragon topped, lantern hung lamp posts

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Xi'an city Ming Dynasty wall (restored) in the rain

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Islam Street in Xi'an, in the rain. Looked cool, but we were cold and wet

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Tower view through arrow shooting opening

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Umbrella toting tourists climbing the stairs

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The makings of Mutton Soup, Islam Street, Xi'an

Chris has been collecting Chinese Chess boards since his arrival.  I think he has six now, but I may be mistaken.  Jen bought him this cute little traveler set, and about halfway through the day he discovered our guide plays Chinese Chess.
 
At the train station, waiting in the soft seat lounge, sucking beers, Zhau and Chris were finally able to get 2.5 games in.
 
Chris lost.  He's only been playing for a month, so we give him a ton-o credit for trying.  But he's frothing for more chess action.
 
We arrived back in Beijing at 8 am, and after a minor fiasco at the train station (seems you need your train ticket to EXIT the station, which I left on the train, so we made a run back and caught them just as they were starting to clean our room.  Also found Donnie's shirt), our fearless visitors went to the Panjiayuan Antique Market while us Beijing-ers came home.
 
They returned soaked and cold and package laden around noon, laid low most of the afternoon, and went BOWLING at 5 pm at the Holiday Inn Lido (which are visitors were surprisingly good at, Denny even beat me and TJ and Amy one game with an outstanding 140!  And Chris beat Mike!). 
 
Then off to Super Bar Street for dinner and more liquid refreshments and some darts.
 
Still raining.  Yuck.  Talk of going to the Summer Palace tomorrow, but not sure with the weather.  Maybe the Aquarium. . .

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Chris gets his first chess game in (with our tour guide) at the train station, and gets whooped!

Friday, April 18, 2008
Forbidden City and on the way to the Terracotta Soilders
 
My peeps are slowing down a bit, after running around Beijing for six days.
 
Denny's got swollen up ankles and blisters from one end of his feet to the other.  Jen's just a bit sore, Chris is having side and back problems, Amy is just tuckered out from belly troubles and me?
 
I'm just tired.
 
We've all been having fun.  The kids went down to the night market and ate scorpions, snakes, grasshoppers and who knows what else. 
 
Chris found some chess sets and went to the bookstore.
 
We raced go-karts at the ranch after viewing and climbing upon the wall and played some mini-golf to get the kids in shape for Benjamin Pines this summer.
 
Tonight we get on the train to Xi'an for 11 hours, go on a tour and get on the train again tomorrow night to return to Beijing early Sunday morning.
 
WOOT!  The eighth wonder!

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Sibs on the wall

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The cherry blossoms were awesome

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Sibs at the Forbidden City

Thursday, April 17, 2008
Off to the Wall
 
Sorry for the spotty coverage, we've been keeping pretty busy around here. . . .
 
Lots of shopping going on, a little templing, some eating of Yak meat.  Not too much out of the ordinary.
 
Off to see the wall today.  Woot!  A little hazy, though.  Maybe will be better out there. . .

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Proof of life with Confucious

Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Successful Invasion and Happy Birthday to my Bro!
 
Everyone has arrived safely, although Denny and Amy didn't get the star treatment at the airport, ended up having to take TWO taxi's to get close to our apartment, and dragged their bags around for a while.
 
Due to Chris and Jen arriving a day later, we were able to facilitate their pick-up a bit better.  Although all they got was "close", too.
 
Woke up this morning to a sick Amy.  Waiting and seeing if she is going to live.  She's still lying down. 
 
And it's my baby brother's 37th birthday today.  How did he get so old?

Friday, April 11, 2008
Mike's Sick as a Dog
 
He's been a little tired and sluggish lately, but he just thought he was working too hard.
 
Came home this morning and went to bed.  While I was at the gym.  I didn't even know he was home until after an hour, when I went to go take a shower and saw his note.
 
Oops.
 
Fortunately, he was still alive and breathing.  But, he's spent the whole day in bed, aching, feverish, and with some stomach issues.
 
Poor guy.
 
It better not be contagious.
 
 

Thursday, April 10, 2008
A New Perspective
 
TJ's friend and I went to two different markets on Monday and Tuesday.  Monday we went across town near the zoo to Dongwuyan Market, which is not as clean and well lit as most the other markets, but a heck of a lot cheaper and less bothersome.
 
Unfortunately, not so much in my size.  I did manage to find a skirt for $2.
 
Tuesday we returned to Yashow, about 2 miles from our house (or a 20 mimute cab ride), which still bothers the snot out of me, but my size is more available there.
 
Eklas is from Syria.  She is a ruthless bargainer.  All Middle Eastern countries are basically merchant countries.  These people know how to haggle.
 
But being from Syria doesn't mean a THING here.  All they see is rich non-Chinese person.  It don't matter she's from a country who's GNP is considerably less than here.  They assume she's rich. 
 
Which really pissed her off.
 
Even she was disgusted by Yashow.  She is a petite little thing, so she could buy clothes at any market here.  And, she wasn't feeling so good when we went on Tuesday.
 
But, she got some good deals, made a few enemies, and left with an armload of bags.  I just watched and learned.  Oh, and bought a Chinese mask she turned down.  She insisted on 30 Kuai, I bought it for 50.  And the girl was happy.  She started at 275 Kuai.
 
Yea.  That's how it is.  And, it took about 20 minutes.
 
Anyway, when we were leaving, Eklas said, "Now I know how you Americans feel when you say you get ripped of in the bazaar".
 
Straight up. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
A Little Ignorance Goes a Long Way
 
I'm all for protesting.  I'm a protestor.  This lady doth protest too much.
 
I typically protest in private, or to my husband.  I've never marched on the capital or in any parade, participated in any sit-in or whatnot.
 
I have to say though, I'm not in favor of these Western protestors rallying against the Olympic Torch Relays.  Do the Olympic athletes of the countries around the world have no rights to contribute and participate in such a sacred event without rowdy's interfering?
 
It's easy for people to criticize China and her human right's record.  And I ain't defending her. 
 
But do people who have worked their ENTIRE LIVES to compete in Beijing this summer need to take the burden from the Chinese government?
 
I think not.
 
Look.  The Olympics are in Beijing, Summer 2008.  The stadiums are built, the subways are improved, the taxi drivers are learning English (yea, right). 
 
The athletes are ready, the ice is being sterilized and stockpiled, the food. . . well, that's a different issue as of right now.
 
Is any protesting right now going to prevent the Summer Olympics?  Is it going to change the way China governs it's people?  Will it just PISS THEM OFF?
 
Do the people who are demonstrating REALLY understand what the inside story is?  Have they ever even been to China, or Tibet?  Do THEY really care about human rights?
 
The Olympics are a celebration of the ability of the human body.  The human BODY as a whole, throughout the world.  It is NOT a political event, no matter where it is staged.  And America, don't even think if the Olympics were being held in the US this year there wouldn't be thousands of protests around the world in regards to our role in the Iraqi War.
 
I have a friend who hates a predominant female policitian (and I'm all okay with that, but I can't remember if it's Hillary or Condi).  One thing about this gal she cites a lot is when she stood on the Great Wall of China.  Wearing white.
 
My friend is educated enough to know that white is the color of mourning in China.  She can't believe Hillary and her advisors would be so ignorant as to commit this faux pas.
 
And, actually, I always just rolled with the story, thought it was pretty dumb of Hillary or Condi. 
 
After being here in China for 5 whole weeks, I realize white is just another color to wear here.  Like black is our color of mourning, it's not just reserved for somber occasions or funerals.  And, I realize the perpetrating politician in question (darn memory) has people working for her more educated and culturally aware than me or my friend who would not allow such a breach of etiquette.
 
Maybe these protestors are not thinking about how they are hurting the people they are trying to defend.  The average Chinese person on the street is LOOKING FORWARD TO THE OLYMPICS IN BEIJING.  They are thrilled their country/city was selected to host this magnamnous event.  And while they may not always agree with their government (and who the heck does???), they believe it's an honor to have been awarded the Olympics.
 
And while protestors are busy blaming the big guy wrapped in a red flag with 5 yellow stars, maybe they should be focused on their own faux pas.

Sunday, April 6, 2008
Indian Food Saga and a Background on China Media
 
I love Indian food.  Really.  You can Marsala and Tandoori me to death.
 
Mike?  Not so much.  Six months in Calcutta has cured him of Indian food. 
 
He will eat it, and even like it, but not very often.
 
I should learn from him, as I seem to have a bad reaction to Indian food.  I haven't had any real Indian food since 2005, when we went to Siem Reap.
 
And bloated up like a 10 month pregnancy.
 
But, I forget such things, and can't help myself.
 
Last night we ventured to Lido to the Taj Pavillion for the "best Indian food in Beijing".
 
It was really, really good.
 
But I was miserable.  Still seeping curry out my pores today.  I think it's the garlic.  Maybe.  I don't know.
 
We bowled for a bit afterward (THIRD time this week,I'm going on strike). SIDENOTE:  Just proofreading that, and I want to go and put MORE quotation marks around the word strike. . . so unintentional of a pun. . .
 
As predicted, today was rainy, warm and foggy/smoggy.  We walked down to my lending library/bookstore, had a pop (really, a COKE!), walked around a bit, stopped at another branch of Schindler's near our house, had a couple happy hour beers and a cheese platter, decided that was our dinner and came home.
 
Air quality "okay".
 
So, as you know, China is still a communist country, although it's getting harder and harder to tell (so I'm told).  All the media is controlled by the government, even our CNN get's blacked out exactly when they are talking about anything negative toward China, i.e. the riots in Nepal, anything about the air here in relation to the Olympics or world perceptions that Beijing will not be ready for said games.
 
No international papers are available and we are limited to the China Daily, the only English language newspaper in town.
 
It's hilarious.  It's so biased.  And mostly biased against the US.  It's like they are trying to convince any Chinese person able to read English that the US is a crappy place to live compared to China.  They even go so far as to say WE violate human rights more than THEM.
 
WTF?
 
But, I had to laugh.  Thursday they had an article about the scarcity of drinking water for most of China, and then Friday there was a big article about how drinking water REALLY isn't that good for you.
 
They were trying to "distill" "myths" like it flushes out your system, helps you lose weight by filling you up, aids your body in digestion.  Even cited the woman who died from the challenge of drinking X amount of water at one time to win a car (in the US).
 
Just a small example, but the lack of hard news is tough.  Thank God for the internet, as undependable as it can be here, it at least provides us with a perspective unavailable in China.
 
And, it appears the Chinese government is backing McCAIN!!!!  Argghhh.
 
Not that my vote isn't already sealed, but it sure makes it a lot easier. . . .
 
OBAMA!  OBAMA! 

Saturday, April 5, 2008
The Death of Best Laid Plans
 
Yesterday was a BEAUTIFUL day, and to boot, it was a National Holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day), so there was very little traffic on the street.  It was 74 degrees and sunny.
 
Grabbed a cab to Ritan park, bought the China Daily, worked the crossword and read my book.
 
Ubfortunately, like most parks, and me not being a homeless person, I just couldn't get comfortable on the wooden benches.  And I didn't bring anything to allow me to sit on the grass. 
 
But is was sooooo nice.  And made me fear when the weather gets warmer, as I would have sworn it was much, much warmer than 74.
 
Today was suppose to be an exact replica, just a little cooler.  Last night at dinner (Mexican Wave.  Everyone's food was good but MINE.  ARGHH.  Especially Mike's enchiladas, the only thing I tasted that had ANY spice to it) we made huge plans to go and investigate a few things, drink in a few hutongs, have a fun-filled day in the sun.
 
And this morning?  Acid smog that stinks like a paper mill and limited visibility.
 
Our apartment STINKS of it.  And we're not even outside!  I think not.
 
Tomorrow they're calling for rain, which will lead to fsmog, probably.  Actually, the next 10 days are predicted to be nasty.
 
Hunkering down with some movies, I think.

Thursday, April 3, 2008
Shopping, Shopping, Shopping
 
I have some free time on my hands, and after Sunday's temple visits I haven't been to keen on sightseeing this week.  I don't think I've been anywhere new at all.  I've been making the area about 1 mile southwest of us my "home neighborhood".
 
This area is mostly know as the Sanlitun Embassy Area and they aren't kidding.  There are lots of gated walls and guards around, and very quiet streets and tree lined boulevards.  Yesterday I saw the Ghana Embassy, which for some reason tickled me.  It was such an ugly building, I almost felt like I was back in Africa.  Trying to think how a poor country like Ghana can afford to have an Embassy here in China.
 
It's also an area with alot of good restaurants and some "import" style grocery stores, my two faves are Jenny Lou's and April Gourmet (convenienty located right next door to each other).
 
Between walking over there, picking out a few things (including a 40RMB bottle of wine on Tuesday!  That's only like $5.50!  South Australian Cab from Waltzing Vine, drank it tonight, not that great, but CHEAP!), and walking back it usually takes me about an hour. 
 
However, I have to walk right by my neighborhood grocery, and it would be nice if I could just pop in there and pick up a few things (it's a lot cheaper in there), but alas, they make you check your shopping bags, and the line is usually quite long and looks to be quite unorganized and usually I just say forget it and continue home.
 
Which means I have to walk back there after dropping off my first shopping trip goodies. 
 
Right now, I'm using FOUR grocery stores and the party store in my complex for most our stuff (alas, I haven't been back to Walmart at all), but it is becoming a little time consuming.  Plus, I can only find paper towel at the chi-chi grocery store in the basement of the expensive mall.  And I HATE walking over there just for paper towel!
 
And I still can't find cocktail sauce.  I saw something the other day (at an entirely different grocery store) called Shrimp Sauce, but I don't know if it was FOR dipping shrimp in or if it was a sauce that tasted like shrimp (the only English on it was the name).
 
Anyway, last week walking home from Jenny Lou's I detoured a different way just for fun and walked by a market.  I was trucking bags home, so I didn't even peek in, but made a mental note of it's location and headed back there today.
 
Cute little boutique-y type place with no tourists.  Got me a cute skirt and top, after immense amounts of haggling and two "fake" walkaways.  Paid around $20, but I still think I paid too much.  She started at what equivilates (is that a word?) to $65.  The top, eh. . . not so nice, but the skirt is definitely good quality, fit me perfectly, and, unfortunately for me and my bargaining position, I had to have it.
 
And now I do.  I need to go to the wholesale market over by the zoo.  No haggling and cheap prices, supposedly.
 
Last night we went and did some MORE bowling.  Mike has declared Wednesday as bowling night, although it didn't really catch on, as we were the only ones that went.  Which was fine, was nice spending some quality time with my spouse, at the BOWLING ALLEY. 
 
Had dinner at a cute little place called Olive, right across the street from the North Gate of Worker's Stadium.  Artfully presented, slightly overpriced food that tasted pretty good.
 
Then seven games of bowling and lots of liquid refreshments.  We did pretty good, of course Mike better than I, but I did beat him one game with a 171 (2 pins shy of my highest score ever, and I had a TURKEY).
 
But the "highlight" was when I rolled a 108 and won a free washcloth.  They have "lucky numbers", and if you roll that number, you win a prize.
 
I so lucky.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Sometimes, even veterans "forget"
 
I know you've heard this lament from me in the past, but I have BIG FEET.  And in Asia, the land of $5 shoes, this can be a horrific problem.  Seems they export all the big sizes to America, Scandanavia, Russia and Germany, leaving nothing here but size 8 and below.
 
When you ask them if they have "big size" they nod and say 40, which is a US size EIGHT! 
 
And I haven't worn a size eight since 5th grade.  Which is also probably the last time I was 'average Chinese height', too.  But, I may have been taller, I can't remember.
 
Today I had intent to solve my upcoming warm weather shoe woes.  Now, one would think a person of my experience would NOT come to China without the necessary footwear.  But after fitful pawing through my closet(s) at home in search of sandals, in the middle of February, I realized I had none.  NONE.  Not ONE PAIR.  And sandal shopping in Michigan in February?  Well, not going to happen.
 
Oh, I know, I can hear you. . . the internet, right?  Not for me.  It would be the same as ordering PANTS (another long diatribe I don't intend getting into here, at least not today) online.  You see, I can try on 20 pairs of size 10 shoes and maybe find one I think I can truck a mile in.  On a good day, when the planets are aligned and good fortune is in the air. The same mathematical equation for pants, although slightly more algebraic or something making it more complex.
 
(I promise, this is not a post about shoes, although it is strangely looking like one)
 
Yesterday, after much deep research into the depths of shopping in Beijing, I was armed with the names and addresses of shoe stores which might possibly be able to bring joy to the long-toed wonders I call my feet.
 
I set out on foot from the apartment, thinking (hoping) I would be returning with one, nay, TWO pairs of shoes for spring/summer.  Damn the cost, forget the trouble, it was an adventure and I was ready.
 
First stop Nali Mall.  Right off Sanlitun Lu bar street, a location I'm highly familiar with.
 
Except I couldn't find it after three passes through!  I KNOW it's here somewhere, it's on the MAP!  And it's next to a very famous restaurant (which I also couldn't find) called Alameda's (Argentinian Steak House for those who care).
 
On my third pass I found it, a tiny corridor leading off the road to the east, seemingly innoccuous and leading nowhere, it takes a turn and runs parallel to Sanlitun Lu road, but alas the shoe store (Long.com) does not appear to exist anymore.  A couple wannabe swanky boutiques and a children's clothing store and Alameda's and Tapa's (which looks interetsting for dinner some night) and a nail salon (SURPRISE!).
 
And, now, to the point.  Maybe.  I think I have two, actually.
 
Beijing is a big, big place.  And this is a tiny, tiny alley within a neighborhood of one of 13 major sections of town.  And this is where MY shoe store is supposed to be.
 
Okay, that's not the point. . . the point is THIS.
 
After all the time I've spent wandering through big cities, and especially big Asian cities, there's not much that surprises me anymore.  When I'm on a "mission", I head out at quite a pace, and don't bother much to stop and smell the roses anymore.  Sometimes I forget to take in the whole experience, ponder where I am and where I've been.
 
I was investigating a back alley (the wrong one) when I stumbled past a restaurant with a whole window display of plastic food.  I whizzed right by, not thinking a thing about it.
 
After a couple paces, I stopped dead in my tracks and started laughing.  At myself. 
 
Four years ago, when I started this website, we were in Tokyo for six months.  It was our second trip to Tokyo, the first being in 2002 for 2.5 months. 
 
And four years ago I was AMAZED by the plastic food phenomenon.  Thought it was simply hilarious.  Took numerous pictures, even went to the marketplace where they are made and sold (very expensive!). 
 
And now?  Just part of the scenery. 
 
It started me thinking of all the other small wonders I pass on a daily basis that just don't register on my radar anymore.  And it made me feel a little mournful of the days when I was constantly shocked/amazed/entertained with the little things that make each city unique upon itself, or at least unique from hometown America.
 
Including the lack of large sized shoe stores.
 
It would appear I've become a slightly jaded traveler.
 
After the disappointment of my first shoe destination being GONE I decided to stop and have lunch and reconsider my options. 
 
Nibbling on my chicken salad in a lovely courtyard of a passable restaurant called Bocata, I thought about Beijing.  It's hideous traffic, it's not so fresh air (although it's been fantastic since Sunday), it's over abundance of people.  I remember being lost in little neighborhoods here, hardly able to hear the traffic from the Second Ring Road, just ambling through areas that could make you forget you're in a city of over 17 million people.  SEVENTEEN MILLION.
 
That's a lot of people to live in one place.  The sheer enormity of this fact hit me directly in the face.  How civilized we must be to be able to let 17 million people exist in such a relatively small pocket of the world.  One would think with such a vast population there would be garbage everywhere, disorder on the sidewalks, chaos on the roads (well, there IS chaos on the roads, but it's somewhat orderly, kind of courteous chaos).
 
My years of travel have given me the ability to mostly block out the sounds of a city.  Seagulls in Rome in the morning?  Nah, they didn't wake me up after the first week.  Sirens echoing off stucco in Athens?  Adjusted after 10 days.  The rumble of constant traffic on Connaught Road in Hong Kong?  Not even a problem. 
 
But there are places here where it is so quiet I don't even have to put up my defenses.  Where the air actually flows down my windpipe into my alveoli without causing me to cringe or cough.  Where it is actually possible to not think you're in a city of 17 million people.
 
What a blessing.  And probably the reason for the level of civilization that exists amongst it's residents.
 
I still don't have any shoes for summer, but maybe finding some inner peace with Beijing and a deeper appreciation for my life is more important.
 
Maybe.  I'll let you know when I'm walking around barefoot in May.

Monday, March 31, 2008
Big Pizza, Biggest Bowling Alley in the World, Cultural China, Hutong Havoc, and Strange Things on Sticks 
AKA You're Weekend Update
 
One thing I always look for, no matter the country or the city, is a pizza joint that will pass muster.  I love pizza, but I'm a tad finicky about my pie.  It must have thin crust, a not too sweet of a sauce, ample cheese, and a large variety of toppings to choose from, sprinkled in liberal amounts.
 
Rome was a disappointment on the pizza frontier for me.  Although edible, and somtimes even good (if you didn't think about it as pizza), I craved the big round saucers smothered in cheese and the generous amounts of meats and vegetables.
 
Shortly after we arrived, a friend lent me her copy of The Insiders Guide to Beijing.  Inside was a little Chinese girl holding a pizza almost as big as her.  With lots of toppings.  Now, I couldn't tell by the picture the quality of the sauce, but it sure looked good.
 
Checked my resources, only to find the featured restaurant, Kro's Nest, was way across town near the uni's.  So, we hadn't made it that far west yet.  And certainly not just for a pizza (not that desperate yet).
 
However, on my shopping trip last week, I aimlessy wandered by the Worker's Stadium, whose North Gate has been turned into a bit on an entertainment venue, and out of my peripheral vision, lo and behold, and new location of the Kro!
 
Sweet.
 
Also, in my investigations of trying to find something to do in Beijing, i found a listing for Gongti 100, which is supposedly the World's Largest Bowling Alley, with 100 lanes of fun.  And it's right around the corner from the Kro's Nest.
 
Can you say perfect Saturday night?
 
We ordered a large pizza, which was 20", had eight pieces, each as big as my head.  There were four of us, and with a Greek Salad starter (one to share) we couldn't quite get it all down.  Settled on the Spicy Italian, cheese and sauce all good, crust a little thin for the size of the pieces, and could have used a few more toppings, but all in all, very adequate to sate my pizza longings.
 
Funny, because pizza really isn't a mainstay for me at home.  Must just be the craving for something that tastes like home which leads me to try and find the closest representation.
 
 

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This ain't Chinglish, and they ain't kidding around. . .

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Pro dough throwers

After pigging out on pie we walked around the corner to the bowling alley.  I expected 100 lanes, but we only saw 50.  All enquiries as to where the other 50 were answered by blank stares of "what you talking about round eye?".  Never found them but bowled three games (220 RMB/couple, not exactly blue collar prices in China) and drank some big beers (10RMB, that's more like it!).
 
It was Eklas' first time bowling, so that was interesting as well.  She liked it, although she didn't quite excel at the game. 
 
Wandered over to a different bar often listed in the guide books, The Den, which was right next door to Hooters (Welcome!  Hooters!) and had a couple post-bowling drinks and talked about the highlights of our games (not really) and headed home. 
 
We haven't bowled since Cambodia, I think.  That's a LOOOOOONG time.  We did a lot of Wii bowling at home this winter, though, just to stay in condition. . . .
 
Sunday dawned bright and beautiful.  After Mike's essential brunch of bacon, eggs, and toast we decided to go on a bit of a cultural drinking adventure to a couple temples, then walk over to a newer drinking hutong locale not quite as far west as the lake district we checked out a couple weeks ago.  Suppose to be some of the best little bars in Beijing, and we seemed to be the proper judges.
 
First stop, Lama Temple, where Lamaism was founded (whatever the heck lamaism is).  Easily took a cab there by pointing to the Chinese name in my Fodor's guidebook, which so far appears to be about the only thing it's good for.
 
The Lama Temple is home to about a dozen Tibetan monks, and is filled with equal amount worshippers/incense burners and tourists.  Very busy place.  And, although beautiful and ornate in appearance, not a whole lot different than any other temple we've visited.
 
Although they do have an 18 meter (about 60 foot) statue of The Buddha of the Future (?) erected in one of the temples.  It is carved solely from one piece of sandalwood, given to the Emperor in 1750 by the Dali Lama.  It took three years to transport it to Beijing from Nepal.  It doesn't quite look that tall, as half of it is underground.  But it's a big one.
 
You're not suppose to take pictures inside, but because I'm an AMERICAN TOURIST AND CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT, I did.  Discreetly, and without a flash.
 
Troublemaker, I know.
 
We spent about 50 minutes inside, then crossed the street to a Hutong that housed the Confucius Temple.  I always like Confucius and his words of wisdom. 
 
Not a whole lot different in appearance, besides the statue of Confucius and the presence of 198 large stone tablets in the front courtyard with the names of all the Confucian scholars from three dynasty's carved in them.
 
In the back we came across the hall of 189 more stone tablets which have all 13 Confucian classics carved into them.
 
It was very empty here, no worshippers and hardly any tourists, and a nice oasis inside the city for a picnic, a rest, or just some fresh air. 

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Gate to Hutong that Confucious Temple is in, but that's later, first, the Lama Temple

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They sure like their ornamental animals, and so do I!

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The extremely amusing throw your coins on top of the jade house game

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The creative temple through the bare tree shot

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Me holding Mike up so he doesn't collapse of boredom

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These temples just don't seem to vary very much. . . repeat.

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Like all the works of Shaekspeare written on rocks, nice penmanship, though

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The oh so lovely Lama Temple Gate

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The ceremonial burning of the incense

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The winding maze of temples

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The illegal but much prized picture of the big ole buddha in one of the temples

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Mike tries to soak up some Confucian wisdom

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yea, repeat

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This must have been the illustration page

   
   
   
   

So, enough culture already.  Let's get some beers.  We walk about a mile to the recently converted bar street Hutong called Nanlougu Xiang.  Fall into a bar called the Reef bar near the start of the street to consult our guide book and get our bearings (and have some beer!).  Tried a "new to me" Chinese beer called Harbin, as I'm starting to lose my taste for Tsing Tao.  It's just a bit sweet and flat tasting for me, on most days.  I like Beijing Draft, YanJing, and now Harbin for Chinese beers.  They all pretty much taste like Budweiser, though.  Nothing exotic here.
 
It's on about six now, and I'm starting to feel a little peckish (I did NOT eat three eggs, six pieces of bacon and toast for breakfast, thank you very much), so we decide to try and find a restaurant called The Candy Floss. 
 
It's in this area, just off the main drag we are on, behind the drama school.  After a couple failed starts, we find the address, but the whole thing is torn down.  It's obvious this was the place, there are a few rattan chairs and tables in the rubble, and definitely a big courtyard.  Bummer.
 
Back out to the main drag (this is not really a main drag, in fact it's mostly a pedestrian street about 20 feet wide) and hit the Pass By Bar for dinner and a few more drinkies.  Passable Italian food with a stellar Ceasar Salad to start (even had anchovies, Mike was in heaven).

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Hey hey it's the trash man. . .

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Along the Hutong wall

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I love other people's children, in small increments

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Nanlougu Xiang street/Hutong, our eating and drinking destination

   

And then, miraculously, I convinced everyone to take a short taxi ride and a shorter walk to the Donghuamen Night Food Market! 
 
Remember how I was "promised" a trip there about two weeks ago?  Yea.  Never happened.
 
But we made it Sunday night.  Most of the stalls were not open, I do not know why.  But there were plenty of (non)edibles on a stick around.  And a very nasty, permeating smell of bad grease.
 
Which did not stop me from being the only brave one of us four to purchase something on a stick.  I chose the starfish, thinking it would taste like some sea delicacy. 
 
It didn't.  And was mostly prickly.  And so not recommended.  I was just reminiscing through email with a "constant reader" about street food in Bangkok.  This is not Bangkok, friends.  Oh no.
 
But worthy of some photos, albeit I had to elbow my way through hungry patrons and busy workers to get them, so they aren't exactly award winning (but are any of them?  Uh, NO!).

   

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YUMMY!

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Grasshoppers, scorpions and grubs, on MY!

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A tasty morsel to end the day. . . I only took one bite and it stayed with me for hours. . .

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Lizards, and seahorses and snakes on a stick. . .

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Starfish and beetles and larvae or something. . .

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All you can eat for only $4.25! Wonder if that includes beer. . .

In case the starfish decided to come back on us (TJ and Mike both "enjoyed" a bite as well), we packed it up and headed home around 8. 
 
A most fulfilling day in the Beijing sunshine.
 
Today, I mostly grocery shopped, DVD shopped (getting some movies in here) and wandered aimlessly around. 
 
Oh, and went to the gym.  For the third time in five days.  Something must be done.
 
Had dinner in (finally got to cook my asparagus - I love asparagus pee), watched a couple movies (including Ratatouille, JEN - you so need to see this if you haven't) and hit the hay.

Saturday, March 29, 2008 (!!!!)
Another Book Report, Strange E-mail Haps, and Other Trivial Moments
 
Just finished Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants".  I bought this when I bought "Eat, Love, Pray" on my way out of the grand US of A.  And I've been saving it, savoring the thought of reading it.
 
And it totally lived up to it's hype.  She's a new John Irving.  A total classic.  Loved every word, every page, and every picture.  This book is 2 years old, so there's a good chance you've read it, but I intend to read it again! 
 
She has two other books, but they are more focused on her love for horses, and I love horses and all, but not convinced I would like the other two as well.  But maybe.
 
Besides the fact it was a New York Times Bestseller and rave reviews from well respected readers I know, one of the main reasons I was interested in this book is she wrote it during NaNoWriMo, which you will remember I struggled through last November (and also when I found out she wrote it during a NaNoWriMo).  Nice to see someone got something out of it other than 145 pages of drivel.
 
Anyway, read it.  It's good.
 
Seems I've been having some trouble with my email, so if you've been emailing me and not getting responses or just getting blank emails back, it ain't me.  Somehow (!?! gee I wonder) my emails are being deleted.  So apologies to those who haven't got answers back, or blank answers.  It appears to be working now, although I haven't received any new emails in two days, besides basic junk.  Someone try emailing me.
 
It's another foggy Saturday, rained most of the day yesterday, and it's still pretty wet out there today.  And foggy.  I think it's just fog, though.  Doesn't smell too bad.  And, it's cold.  39F.  Think we'll be sticking pretty close to home today.  Weather says the sun will return tomorrow, though.  Maybe an exact repeat of last weekend.
 
I haven't been doing too much the last couple days, mostly walking around the neighborhood, finally getting my bearings on where it is we exactly live in relation to the location of other things.  I made great inroads into this on Wednesday while I was out shopping, but now I feel like the town is shrinking a bit.  It's really not that far to a lot of places, just seems like it when you're sitting in a taxi in traffic. 
 
Plus, I think they are crazy for getting on the ring road when there's plenty of side streets that'll get you there just as quick, or quicker.  Not ready to be a taxi driver in Beijing, though.  Heck, I can't even pronounce the streets!
 
I think tomorrow we'll go out and explore a different area of town, as long as the fog clears out.  It's just to yucky out there to be walking around much.
 
Since we've arrived we've been drinking lots of orange juice and eating lots of fruit.  Trying to keep our bodies full of anti-oxidants to combat the air.  Someone told us that a day in Beijing breathing the air is comparable to smoking 70 cigarettes, which makes me feel a little better about smoking here.  What's another 20 then?  :-)
 
I've been buying the same brand of OJ from our little party store, but it was just yesterday I realized what it actually says on the label.
 
And it cracked me up.  Being from Michigan and all.

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No matter how far you run. . .

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Shopping makes me FEEEEL GOOD!
 
First of all, I have to say, I'm spoiling ya'll, posting like I have been.
 
Second, the weather today was WONDERFUL!  Warm!  Sunny!  No wind!  No smog!
 
And thirdly, as you can see from the title, I went shopping today, so I didn't lug the camera.  No, no pictures today.
 
Walked my legs off, though.
 
I went to two big markets, one very busy, one very empty, bought a blazer, a short sleeve sweater, and a Tommy Bahama (yea sure) Hawaiian (boy that's a lot of vowels together, ain't it) shirt for Mike (the blazer and sweater were for me).  I walked from one market to the other, not having a clue where I was or where I was going. 
 
See, the taxi driver took me to the WRONG PLACE.  SURPRISE!  But that's okay, I wanted to check them both out anyway.
 
I did not, however, find any BIG shoes.  Bummer.
 
From the second market I walked over to the Bookworm and got me a official-dicial membership card ($25 for 6 months, not that we'll be here that long).  It's a LIBRARY.  Full of used books.  SWEET!  You can borrow two at a time.
 
Good thing I know EXACTLY where they are located.
 
From there I walked up through Bar Street to Jenny Lou's.  Jenny's is a fancy-schmancy grocery store with lots of imported stuff.  It was, however, a different branch of Jenny Lou's when I thought I was heading for.  Silly me.
 
But, they had REAL MARLBORO LIGHTS!  And, I know EXACTLY where IT is, too. 
 
And then I took a cab home.
 
Things I saw today that made me crack up:
  • Lots of construction going on, ergo lots of construction workers around.  Three folks sitting on the street, two guys, one gal.  One guy was laying with his head in the lap of the gal and she was cleaning his ear.  With a NAIL.
  • Chinese children are taught potty training by wearing pants that are split up the crotch.  Lots of little butts hanging out today.
  • Two whole markets full of pirated logo merchandise.  And all the same crap I saw in Hong Kong.  And not much else.
  • A huge food court on the top floor of the second market where I had a gigantic plate of freshly made Kung Pao chicken and a Diet Coke for $3.  ROCKING!  And the kind man spoke great English, unlike a lot of the other workers up there yelling "Pizza! Pizza!" at me.

And that's pretty much it.  And I practiced haggling.  I think I did okay.  I could have probably done better, but I just get tired of arguing over a couple bucks.

Went out for middle-Eastern food last night to a place called Souk.  Was horrible.  The worst hummus I ever did eat.  Funny, Monday night Mike and I walked over to a little place near his work for Greekish food, and I had the BEST hummus almost ever.  So, someone in this town does know how to make it, just not at Souk.

It is however, suppose to start raining on Friday, and keep raining until Tuesday.

Rover-ry.  That's Chinese for lovely.  The whole L and R thing, you know.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
But first, the weather
 
Another beautiful morning in Beijing.  Which means I will hate her more when she turns on me.  When it's pretty, it's soooo pretty.  And when it's not, it's so NOT.
 
But last week when I was hating/ignoring on Beijing, time marched on.  Despite the haze and stink and smog, the trees and flowers know it's spring, and evidence is popping up (groan) all over Beijing.  It's going to be so gorgeous when it comes out in full.
 
I took off yesterday for Jingshan Park, which sits majestically behind the Forbidden City and in olden days was called Coal Hill.  Supposedly the large hill there is the dirt dug out of the Forbidden City when it was built.  Okay.  The Forbidden City is pretty much flat, besides the "pedestals" some of the temples are built upon.  So it's pretty cool to see the architecture of Jingshan behind it.
 
I didn't spend a lot of time in the park.  Although the sun was out and the views were good, it was very WINDY and chilly up on top of the hill.  I'll go back and check it out another day, later in the spring, when things are in full bloom.  There are some (what appears to be) nice gardens there as well. 
 
From atop of the hill I could see the White Pagoda Temple (Winter Palace) in Bei Hai Park (the Disneyland of Chinese Temples, if you've been keeping up), so decided to walk over there and finally see that area of the park.

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Temple of something or other on top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park

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Looking back at main entrance, it's like a huge park in the middle of the concrete jungle, nice!

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The Forbidden City from atop Coal Hill, a little hazy, I need a new UV diffuser

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And our next destination on Jade Island inside Bei Hai park

   

Wandered through a Hutong which appeared to be getting a facelift, crossed the bridge and stepped onto Jade Island.
 
It really all is quite picturesque, if not somewhat redundant in architecture.  But it's nice to be in the middle of the city, getting a birds-eye view, being able to BREATH CLEAN AIR, and just ambling around, pretty happily!

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Temple on the corner as you cross onto Jade Island, with FLOWERS!

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RIght underneath it, just need to spend another 2 Yuan to get up there. . .

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I think the view of the Forbidden City is better from here

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The face on the feet of the cermonial urns

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Killer dragon turtle

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Climbing up, looking down on the cute little Chinese-y roofs

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And the bottom part is covered in 100s of adorable little buddha's

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Not lacking for temples here. . . tie these little guys on, make a wish

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It's so nice to see buds and blooms on the trees, this place is going to erupt!

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Looking back at Jade Island from the entrance to the City of Harmony

   
       

Spent quite a bit of time just bimbling about, taking pictures, having a rest, eating my granola bar.  Consulted my map, decided to walk over to a boulevard/park on the east side of the Forbidden City, follow that down to the main shopping area (for foreigners and rich Chinese) called Wangfuling, which is a pedestrian street.  The boulevard park wasn't much, just a strip of grass running between to unbusy streets, but a good walk.
 
I did have to fight off a pedicab dude who just would not leave me alone.  Started following me on his bike, yelling in pretty good English, "Where you go?  Where you go?".  Finally, I just stopped and stared him down until he turned around and beat it.
 
In my defense, I had politely declined his offer for "a ride" about SIX times.  And the five guys who asked me prior, right in front of him.

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Back wall and moat of the Forbidden, with BLOSSOMS!

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And what is this doing here?

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Fu Man Chu meets the 21st Century

Just as I turned onto Wangfuling Street, I saw an old, European style church.  Just sitting there amongst the new highrises and shopping malls.  It seemed so out of place I stopped right in my tracks.  I was snapping pictures when an older Chinese man approached me and started speaking.  Apparently, he is a teacher in the church (it's a Catholic church) and wanted to know if I was Catholic.
 
Nope, but did fill him in I was a Christian.  He invited me inside, but I declined.  More to see and do in this area, my first time here.  Doing recognizance. . .
 
He did ask me if that was a German accent he detected.  Hmmm.  Nope. 
 
Sunday, at the Goose and Duck bar after we had returned to Beijing, I ran for the restroom (beer, busride = pee emergency).  As I undid my belt my camera fell from my waist to the floor (in it's protective case, mind you, and I was in half a squat posture, so it really wasn't that far), and I broke my UV polarized lens cover.  For about the fourth time since I've owned this camera.  One goal I had today was to find a replacement.
 
I had stopped into two camera shops enroute, but they did not have a polarized diffuser.  When I got to Wangfuling, I saw a camera shop and popped in.
 
Now, I had read and heard about the necessity of haggling, but this was a "legitimate" looking store, I really didn't care about getting the "best" price (this item should cost about $10, at most).
 
This cute little girl who speaks perfect English asks me if she can help.  Here's the convo verbatim.
 
Her:  How can I help you today?
Me:  (Removing lens protector) Yes, I need a lens protector just like this, only polarized.
Her:  Sure, we have that (grabs product from stack behind her).
Me:  Great! (reaching for purse) How much is it?
Her:  (grabbing calculator, the main means for conducting transactions here, even though SHE SPEAKS PERFECT ENGLISH. . . uh oh . . . enters in 780 RMB, shows it to me)
Me:  (staring in disbelief) Uh, that's A HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Her:  Yes, a little more.
Me:  WHAT!?!?
Her:  This a very good lens, made in Japan.
Me:  I don't care if Buddha himself made it, you can keep it!  (start packing my stuff back up, making an exit)
Her:  Wait.  We can make a deal.
Me:  There's no deal in the world where you start out at over ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Her:  (as I'm walking out of store) Wait, wait, we make special discount!
Me:  (Trying not to turn around and flip her the bird)
 
So, no.  I didn't get a new lens cover today.  I do have my UV-Haze one on, no worries.
 
I did, however, just buy a set of THREE on Ebay, had them sent to my brother at home, for EIGHTEEN DOLLARS.
 
When I got home, I was in the elevator with a couple British guys.  We were chatting a bit, and one guy asked me if I was German. . .
 
WTH?

Monday, March 24, 2008
Oh what a beautiful MOR-NING. . .
 
It's amazing how much better I feel when I wake up in the morning, look outside, and see THIS:

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This is what it's SUPPOSE to look like

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and this. . .

   

And, that's also what it looked like yesterday, on Easter Sunday in Beijing.  HAPPY EASTER TO US!
 
It seemed the fitting thing to do was GET OUT OF DODGE, so we headed to the Goose and Duck Ranch.  Caught the bus at the bar at 10 AM, arrived there around 11 AM.  And there was AIR.  Clean, wonderful, oxygen rich air.  My body went into overload and tried to shut down.  It was exhausting to process all that pure air!
 
The sun shining down on us was amazing.  As promised, they had bowling and go-carting and mini-golf and FREE BEER.
 
So we partook of the fun, and of course, the beer.
 
And TJ won a bear at the midway carnival. 

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Ahhh, sweet wilderness. . .

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This is what we would look like as little people

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and sweet FREE beer, my favorite kind. . .

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Mike worries about the competition

   

In the spirit of waste not, want not, I'm off to Jingshan Park for stately aerial views of the Forbidden City.

Friday, March 21, 2008
Be Afraid, Be VERY Afraid
 
I suppose it's no secret I'm not loving it here.  Up til this week, it's been basically a time/transportation issue, with a bit of pollution thrown in and some other minor bothers (don't start me on the spitting again).
 
But Monday we woke up to a sand storm in the pollution smog and the wind blowing and I could not breath.  And it pretty much continued until today.
 
When it RAINED.  And now we have a heavy smog filled fog hanging around the town which smells like chemicals and poo-poo mixed together into a lovely tonic.  Or toxic.
 
I base air quality on how much I need to use my asthma inhaler.  Sometimes if it's very cold, I will need it more than once a day.  Now I'm in fear I didn't bring enough over here (I brought FOUR).
 
And, it's not just the air I find myself afraid of.  I'm starting to doubt the construction of the buildings, the ability of the elevators, the soil in which my vegetables are grown, the food my meat has eaten before it hit my table, the people's hands who have touched anything I touch or eat from.
 
Crossing the street is a bit hazardous as well.  Second most hazardous place I've been, coming in slightly short of Cairo.  I can't put much faith in place that doesn't give it's pedestrians right of way.  Somehow the people in the cars and busses take precedence over bodies in the road.  Even when you have the light (at the few intersections there is a light).
 
I was just reading online about the bootleg cigarettes here, and more importantly (as I don't care they're stealing Marlboro's name and trademark) how they are made.  It's enough to make you quit.  Like so many things in China, there is no government control over quality.  I've seen things in my cigarettes that have caused me to throw away an entire carton.
 
I guess if I can't make myself quit, China may do it for me.
 
I wonder about all the other products we are using that are made here.  From plastic bags touching my produce to what's in the shampoo I bought at the drugstore.  Or worse, the Listerine.  It could be anything, kids.  ANYTHING. 
 
And the dirt.  Obviously, we must open our window, as our apartment is still a sauna.  Within seconds the entire place is covered with a film of dust.  Which I'm sure is just clean ol' dirt.
 
There seems to be no escape.  I hate to live in fear and paranoia, but when you read about people dying all over the country from using "counterfeit" goods (sold in every store in the land), it IS a little scary.
 

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Soup. Toxic Soup.

On a little lighter note, I did make it to Wal-Mart the other day.  I must say, I totally prefer the Wal-Mart way to the Carrefour Way.  More organized, less people, easier check-out.  All I went for were air beds and sleeping bags, and a shower curtain rod and curtain (which I forgot to buy rings for, which led to me walking up to the zoo that is the Carrefour today to buy them.  Did you know you CAN'T just buy the rings?  I had to buy a shower curtain that came with rings.  For $1.25). 
 
Missions accomplished on both ends.  Just a lot more tolerable at the Wal-Mart.  And I'm really more of a Target girl, myself.
 
Been watching some movies during the day to pass the time, and reading, too.  Trying to watch the reading, as I don't know yet where my next batch of English language books are coming from.  Maybe I'll make Chris, Jen, Den and Amy fill their bags with books. 
 
And "safer" cigarettes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Hutong Pictures
 
Because I was bragging yesterday about the nice weather, Beijing struck back with a vengence and we had a terrible air quality day today.  I only ventured out because I HAD to (we needed beer and coffee, and maybe some wine, and HEY those cashews are cheap, let's get some of them).
 
Anyhow, I didn't do much today.  I watched "The Kite Runner" which I had finally read in Israel last year.  Very well done.  Hardly even minded all the subtitles.  The book was better, though.  As I always have to say.
 
Tonight we are going to a farewell dinner for a workmate of Mike's at Hooters.  I must have been bad in a past life.
 
Last night we went to Durty Nellie's Irish Pub for St. Paddy's Day and I waited AN HOUR for my food.  Just me, mind you.  Everyone at our table had already eaten.  I was HOT.  And hungry.  And, as you know if you know me, GRUMPY.
 
Enjoy the pics.

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Big ole tower in the Hutong

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A very green mode of transportation in Beijing, and probably as fast as a cab

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Typical architecture in a typical hutong

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Paddling on the lake

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Typical Hutong resident in a non-typical setting

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Pedicabs swarming through the tourists in the Hutong

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The infamous No Name Bar

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The strangest Santa I've seen . .

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My vision wasn't this bad, but the camera's night vision is. . .

Monday, March 17, 2008 (HAPPY ST. PAT'S DAY)

Two Weeks and Two Days

 

My perceptions of Beijing in the last 16 days have run the gamut.  From intense dislike to “let’s move to a Hutong, learn mandarin and start a business”.  Not so unusual for me, this great swing in attitude about a place, and throw a little PMS into the mix, and things get a little more convoluted. 

 

HRAAACKK, PFSSIT is the background sound of our lives, along with horns beeping.  Sometimes you only get the HRAAACK, without the unloading of a generous amount of lung gunk onto the sidewalk.  The spitting is so common, I’ve almost become immune to it.  Almost.  The Chinese also seem to like to blow their noses what I call “farm style”.  Press your finger firmly against one nostril while blowing out the other one.  Onto the street.

 

My taxi driver seemed on the verge of losing a lung while driving me to the Alien’s Street market last week.  He would (while stopped in traffic) actually open his door to spit on the street.  Although spitting is really a misnomer here,   It’s not like they walk around just spitting, they have to first make that deep, lung and sinus clearing HRAAACK, roll the evidence around in the mouth to prepare it for evacuation, then turn head and PFSSIT it out onto the sidewalk. 

 

Besides the absolute unhygienic-ness of such a practice, it’s also a pedestrian obstacle.  As soon as I hear that distinguishing HRAAACK, I quickly turn to see what direction loogies may be flying from.  Donnie actually “caught” a loogie on his back of his coat on the way to work.  Lovely.  When I say I like to immerse myself in local culture, I assure you this is not what I mean.

 

It was especially lovely at the Great Wall, walking shoulder to, well, not shoulder, with the locals, watching them hack out some stuff onto the wall.

 

And, surprisingly, no one seems fazed at all by any of it.  What we would excuse ourself and do in the privacy of a bathroom, they will do in the middle of a conversation.

 

But, then there’s the unexplored avenues I run into on my daily excursions.  Where I’ll turn a corner and (also very Asian) stop dead on the sidewalk and go, “WOW”.  Who put THAT there? 

 

And the Hutong’s, for all their commercialism and rickshaw tours, are simply the best part of Beijing.  When you think about this town being nothing but sprawling hutongs for 100’s of years, it’s amazing.  A Hutong is simply a neighborhood or community, walled, with one entrance and courtyards throughout.  They generally share communal bathrooms (many which are being redone for the Olympic game city shape up project) and promote a feeling of community.  There are about 2000 hutongs left inside the second ring road, but as the state ultimately owns all property in China, they are frequently being knocked down to make way for more “impressive” architecture.  Many are protected (again, though, by the state), but they are the quintessential icon of Beijing.  More than 20% of Beijingers live nestled in these areas, leaving many modern day conveniences (and hassles) behind.    It’s fun just to duck through the gate and wander through the maze-like alleys.  You can’t get lost, most of them lie east to west between two main roads. 

 

Well, let me rephrase that.  You CAN get lost, as I so easily do every time I walk outside.  Yesterday, when we went over to the Houhai Lake District I would have sworn our taxi driver was “taking us for a ride”.  I felt like we were heading for the airport, not the northwest corner of town. 

 

While we were enroute, we passed a veritable plethora of hutongs surrounding the Bell Tower and the Bell and Drum Tower.  The traffic was so formidable we were actually about a five minute walk (we didn’t KNOW that), but sat in traffic for about 10 minutes.  I even practiced my Chinese with the taxi driver opposite us, coming the other direction.  Maybe not “practiced my Chinese”, but I gave him a smile and a friendly “Ni Hao” (Hello).  Finally, our taxi driver shooed us out, told us to just walk, which we gladly did. 

 

For TJ and Mike is was their first feeling of being in Beijing. 

 

We were looking for some local culture, but also for a bar called “No Name Bar”, which caused some confusion at the front desk.  They wanted to call the bar and ask the name.  Couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the bar actually being called “No Name Bar”.  Now, this area of town does NOT lack for bars, but the goal was to find this highly acclaimed location.  Both Lonely Planet and Fodor’s call it a must go, and my Insider’s Guide to Beijing gives it some raves as well.   After wandering around for a while, we realized we had passed it (I had actually stopped and taken a picture of it, thought it was cute), so backtracked and went inside.

 

What a let down.  First off, we weren’t even sure we were in the right place.  I asked some “Westerners” if this was the No Name Bar, and they confirmed.  Waved TJ and Mike in.  A concrete floor, dilapidated rattan furniture, some kitsch that bordered on tacky, no English speaking servers, a HORRIBLE Bloody Mary, TJ never did get a beer, and when I went to pay they had a very hard time breaking a 100 yuan note (about $13, our bill was 55 yuan).  Maybe late Sunday was not the time to hit this place, although I don’t think any of the above would have changed.  In it’s defense, it was the first bar to open in the area, spawning all the copy-cat bars which surround it, but has not given in to the neon and Christmas Tree light tackiness of it’s environ.  It has just retained it’s own tackiness. . .

 

The place had a decent amount of people inside, but I fear for the days it is invaded by Olympic throngs armed with guidebooks.  As I was paying, for whatever reason, I grabbed a card (name cards for places are very important, as they usually have directions in Chinese and a map on them) to show to TJ and Mike, who were still not quite convinced we had found the right place.  On the card was a map!  To another place called the No Name Restaurant.  Well, why not?  It couldn’t be any worse.  Wandered through some back alleys, found it, very nice.  Seated on the rooftop, ordering beers and food with no effort at all.  Lovely menu with gorgeous pictures and ice cold Stella Artois.  Strangely they were out of Tsing Tao beer.

 

The food was presented nicely, but it wasn’t GREAT.  Haven’t had any GREAT food here, yet.  Maybe I need to try the highly advertised “Stir Fried Fish Lips with Rice” or “Eel Strips and Vegetables and Salad” or even the “Salt and Pepper Turning Into Squid” for something truly satisfying. 

 

Or not.

 

We had planned to head to the Donghuamen Night Market, but we never made it.  Instead, we drank our way through a few establishments before falling headfirst into an actual Hutong bar serving 10 yuan bottles of Tsing Tao until about 9:30, when we felt we had “absorbed” enough Hutong culture.  Mike has promised me a trip to the Night Market this week to eyeball all the exotic foods, like scorpions on a stick and snakes on a stick and starfish on a stick and sheep penis on a stick (do you see a theme here?).

 

While in the Hutong bar, I remembered too late one of the most important rules of traveling in a developing country.  ALWAYS PEE WHERE YOU CAN.  And had my first close-up encounter with a Chinese squatter toilet.  Slightly buzzed.  The boys had both used it (obviously much easier for them) and warned me it wasn’t my cup of tea, but there was no arguing with Mother Nature.  Ew.  Not my most pleasant memory of the evening. 

 

Bathrooms are an inherent problem in this bustling city.  To be honest, I haven’t ventured into very many.  I have been known to hold my water for severely punishing lengths of time, and it’s a trait that has been serving me well in Beijing so far.  I quote the Lonely Planet here:  “Travelers on the road relate China toilet tales to each other like soilders comparing old war wounds.”  You MUST travel with your own toilet paper, as well.  Thank God for the influx of KFC and McDonald’s, as they always offer Western style, clean enough facilities. 

 

Grabbing a cab was easy last night, but our poor driver was unable to cipher our map.  There is a Hilton just around the corner from our apartment building (you might remember this is where I ended up my first night here, lost without my husband who was supposed to be at the Hilton, which my cab driver from the airport acted like he had never heard of an exotic and strange place called the Hilton).  Apparently, they all know it as the Sheraton, which is confusing to me as there IS an ACTUAL Sheraton about a mile up the road from the Hilton.  But, if you tell a cab driver here “Sheraton” he will drive you to the Hilton, where we can direct him the rest of the way ourselves (mainly by refusing to get out of his car until he keeps driving forward).  Another insider tip, eh?

 

And, I have to say, my patience is improving riding around in this traffic.  Mike and TJ haven’t had quite the experience with it as I, so they fidget and sigh a lot.  I’m proud of myself; patience isn’t generally one of my best virtues. 

 

Also, the city itself is fairly “aromatic”, to put it nicely.  My husband and TJ tend to be slightly “aromatic” themselves, so sometimes walking around I wonder if we just wandered into a bad air pocket or if I need to be yelling at them.  I’m sure it will be more fragrant as the weather warms up.  Something more to look forward to.

 

I have been doing a little studying of Chinese phrases, but I swear my mouth does not make some of the noises in this language.  Also, my guide let me practice with her on Saturday, and she couldn’t understand most of what I was saying.  I have also been NOT learning how to read pidgin (how we spell Chinese words with our alphabet) and it’s proper pronunciations so I can’t even say the simplest areas/districts of Beijing correctly yet.  Loser.

 

I did master the IP Long Distance Calling Card thing, although I’m sure I overpaid.  All the guidebooks say don’t pay the face value but I valiantly walked up to the newspaper stand and bought one for the asking price.  They’re probably still laughing at me.  I called home today and talked to Mom and Dad for the first time since January 18 (they’ve been in Mexico).  Nice to hear their voices.

 

And lastly, the weather.  In defense of Beijing and the bad rap they get for pollution, we’ve actually had quite a few clear and sunny days.  And some smoggy ones, for sure.  But it has been a pleasant surprise to wake up and see blue skies and clear air.  Not today, alas, although the sun is trying to work through the haze.

 

(SIDENOTE:  WOW!  Anyone still here?  That was a long missive today, in fact it would have fulfilled my daily word count goals during NaNoWriMo.  Hopefully I haven't scared anyone off the website, and I'll put some Hutong pics up tomorrow)

 

Sunday, March 16, 2008
I need a new Bucket List
 
I'm not the type of traveler who carries around a "checklist" of things to do and see.  How can I when most of the time we don't even know where we're going next until we're almost there!  Heck, I'm not even sure I qualify as a traveler.  I mean, obviously, we travel, but I don't get to pick where we're going, or when.  And our primary reason to be in a country is not to run around like crazy tourists trying to see as much as we can in a short time, as we have the luxury of LOOOOOOOOONG TIME. 
 
And Mike has that pesky J-O-B thing. . . LOL.  Although I have been known to run around like a tourist. . .
 
But maybe I do have a "list" in my head.  Since we left Greece and I got to cross the Acropolis off, it's had one lonely little destination left. 
 
And, I think we all know what that is. . .
 
When we found out we were coming to Beijing, I knew my time had come. 
 
I planned our trip easily over the internet with one of the billion tour companies (www.beijingservice.com) on Wednesday, and although this is not necessarily the cheapest or best way to go to the wall (and also goes against my rules), I thought a tour for the first trip was okay.  I went with the private tour, just Mike, TJ and I with an English speaking guide and a driver.  A little more expensive but didn't want to sit on a big bus all day, wanted to opt out of the jade factory, and we don't like traveling in packs so much.
 
We (READ: I) decided we would go to the Wall at Badaling.  It's the closest, most restored and most photogenic segment.  Which means it's a HUGE TOURIST TRAP of course, but that's just the nature of the beast.  And, we're tourists!  At least for today.
 
Great Wall of China background:  It's the longest man-made structure on Earth, alhtough there is much dissension as to how long it actually is.  Best estimates say it's between 3 and 4000 miles.  Sections of the wall were built from the 5th Century BC until the 17th Century AD. 
 
Oh, and it's a MYTH that you can see it from space.  I think.  I've never been to space. . .
 
It was the first Dynasty, the Qin Dynasty (who only reigned for 14 years, from 221-207 BC), ruled by Qin Shi-huang, who started the task of joining sections of the wall into The Great Wall, turning 20% of the population of China into basically slave labor for its construction.  Interestingly enough, it was the same Emperor who commissioned the teracotta soilders in Xi'an, which were buried with him there, only just discovered in 1974.
 
The section we visited is only about an hour outside of the big, bustling city of Beijing, which in those days wasn't even the capital.  And it's surprisingly rural as we left the city.  It's hard to imagine the intensity of the labor required to move stones, brick and men to these remote Mongolian borders.  2200 years ago.
 
We only walked a very short portion of the wall today, but let me tell you, it's a grueling expedition.  Even the boys, who've been climbing stairs like mad men since we arrived, were worn out just climbing to the top of the high tower we ascended to.  It was a series of very steep climbs, followed by lots of narrow little steps.
 
Supposedly there is a cable car around somewhere, but we didn't see it.  And when we first arrived, only one section of the wall was open, as there were some visiting dignitaries around.  So us and about a billion other people started our ascent.
 
Contrary to the weather report, it was a gorgeous day, blue skies, sunshine.  When we first got up on the wall it was chilly and very windy, needed our scarves and mittens, but after about 10 minutes of climbing we started shedding winter wear.  Something about that aerobic activity, I guess. . .
 
And it was amazing to see this edifice winding about as far as you can trace it with your eyes on such an imposing terrain as these mountains of Northern China. 

SIDENOTE:  I keep forgetting to tell you that on VERY clear days you can see the mountains off in the distance from the sidewalks of Beijing.  The first time I saw them I was pretty surprised.
 
Okay, meet me after the pictures and I'll tell you some more. . .

1walloverview.jpg
And brace yourself for a BUNCH of pictures of the Great Wall at Badaling

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View into ancient Mongolia (enemy territory) over the WALL

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Did I mention I'm FINALLY at THE GREAT WALL????????

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PROOF we're at the WALL!

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Where did all these TOURISTS come from???? From the watchtower

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Our cutie tour guide, Juen. . .

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A DEE-RISH-US Chinese-American lunch

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This is from the bus, a place closer to town, but supposedly "fake" wall. I don't know. . .

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Uh, yea, the WALL. I'm AT THE WALL!

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View across gorge at another section of the same wall. . . the backdrop is breathtaking

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This little baby was so cute, but her Mom got mad at me trying to take her picture

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I soooo need a hat like this!

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Not done yet . . .

12wallfromcoffeshop.jpg
OK, we took a coffee here (that's so Italian :-0), and this is the view from the coffee shop

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The requisite souvenier shop stop, that we had OPTED out of

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and another view from the window as we are flying by

   
   
   
   

When we descended from the section we climbed, the other side was open for biz, so we walked a little more, looking back at where we just were.  Decided to have a coffee at one of the MILLION little coffee shacks and enjoy the view.  Sat outside in the sunshine and drank the coffee, drank in the view, drank in the sunshine.  Besides the gazillion other people around, it was ideal. 
 
And while we were having our coffee we got to listen to Glen Campbell sing "Rhinestone Cowboy".  Which was a little odd.
 
With the price of the coffee (exorbitant for China) we were able to use the toilets.  Amen brother.  Worth the price of the coffee ALL DAY.  Not the best facilities, but not squats, and I've surely peed in worse places.
 
Driving to lunch we went by endless stretches of the wall, which all looked very muich rebuilt.  On the way out to Badaling we saw a lot of "real" ruins, laying abandoned on the hill.  These walls we saw from the bus are apparently "fake" walls, Juen our tour guide said, whatever that means, built closer to Beijing for tourists to go to.  But they looked very unbusy.  Or maybe they are not finished yet. 
 
When I booked our trip, I "opted out" of the free stop at the Jade Factory, but apprently our lunch is at a restaurant above a Cloisson Factory.  Wonderful.  But what's a tour without a souvenir stop.  Impossible.  Lunch was adequate, though, and we got a free bottle of "white spirit" (gut rot moonshine). 
 
TJ and I had a little snort, but Mike passed and we "donated" the bottle to our kind and careful tour driver, Mr. Jong, asking him not to please not drink any until he'd safely deposited us back at our apartment.
 
After lunch and a fun-filled shopping experience (SIDENOTE:  I saw the exact same Christmas ornaments I bought in Hong Kong, in the exact same boxes in here for about 80 times what I paid for them last year) we were off to the 13 Ming Tombs.
 
I had mixed feelings about this side trip, but it was only 1:30 and they are only about twenty minutes away.  I've heard it's just an okay place to see, but why not?
 
The 13 Ming Tombs are in a little valley surrounded by three mountains and a river.  It has good "feng shui" and was chosed by the first Ming Emperor for this reason.  It's were 13 of the 16 Ming Dynasty Emperor's are buried, although only three of the tombs are open to the public and we are only going to Chang Ling tomb (there was one called Ding Ling).  Basically, it was a mound of dirt.  And a stone marker.  And some temples with a small musuem inside and The Gate of Hell along Spirit Way.  And, of course, some souvenir stands.
 
It was okay.  I wouldn't go all the way out there just to see it, though.  Only if you're close to the wall.
 
The drive back was in horrific traffic and included a drive-by of the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium and the Water Cube.  I slept most of the way back to town, woke up in time to snap a quick pic of the Bird's Nest.  Not even sure WHERE in town it is (I'm still impossibly lost here).

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The emperor's money, even after he's dead! For 500 years. . .

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This is what surounds the entrance to the tomb

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This is the "Gate of Hell". . . we didn't walk through, just around

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The surounding area was very impressive as well. . . .

   

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Bird's Nest Stadium, still under construction 147 days left. . .

Tomorrow I'll tell you about some of our mishaps and misadventures, and a little more detail about our daily doings.  Right now we're off on a psuedo-pub crawl WAY across town, just for fun, and to check out some Hutongs, and maybe the Night Food Market (think FEAR FACTOR).

Thursday, March 13, 2008
A shopping trip and a wall crawl
 
Woke up today to a beautiful CLEAR sunshiny day, so sitting around on my butt was not an option.  But what to do, what to DO? 
 
My experience with this hustling, bustling city is it's best to be sipped and savored.  I am trying to not get all caught up in the hub and the bub, but just appreciate turning a corner and seeing something odd or beautiful or interesting.  Ignore the smog, the noise, the cab drivers, the Chinese people staring at me like I'm an exotic zoo animal.
 
I decided to go investigate the shopping conclaves buried the deepest in the city (or so I thought).  See if there was anything of interest to our upcoming guests (Both Denny and Amy and Chris and Jen are coming, at pretty much the same time, which is creating a bit of a housing scandal around here, I need to do some fast talking with the Oakwood, it would appear).
 
I had read in my guidebook about a street called Alien Street, where people who are over-endowed in the foot department may have luck buying shoes.  What I didn't realize is it's a Russian conclave!  All the Chinese street hawkers were calling out to me in Russian, which I understand just about as well as Chinese. 
 
And all the signs were in Cyrillic.
 
I went into a "mall" like building.  It was full of tiny little shops with no windows, and all the doorways are covered in a sheet.  It was intimidating as heck.  i didn't dare part the curtain and walk in anywhere.  Plus, I really wasn't looking for anything in particular, just trying to figure out if this was a viable shopping area.  I have no idea if the prices are crazy Russian expensive or Chinese cheap.  I didn't recognize ANY of the brand names, they must all be Russian lines.
 
Saw a lot of old babushka women, young Russian girls, and some thuggy looking Russian dudes out and about.  And bikini stores (ARGHH!), and fur coat stores. 
 
Forty five minutes was all I could do.  Walked down to the subway (I so miss having the subway close to where we live, it is crowded, but it does efficiently dump you out where you want to go without having to deal with language barriers and traffic) and headed over to the southern burb of Chongwen (down near where the Temple of Heaven was). 
 
Came out the subway and was at the most southern end of Tiananmen Square and saw The Front Gate (the one that doesn't look like a temple) and the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. 
 
Now I was torn.  It APPEARED Tiananmen Square was open for biz today, but it wasn't on my primary agenda. . . what to do, what to do?
 
I bagged it and went in search of the shopping street I was after. 
 
I THINK I found it.  It appears they knocked down a bunch of stuff very recently, but what I found was all reconstructed and nice looking.  I'm assuming it was where I was supposed to be, but I could be wrong. 
 
Nothing too out of the ordinary, though.  Jade, pearls, cloths, slippers.  I bought Mike a hat for $2.
 
But I swear I was suppose to take a right when I took a left.  I might have missed it.  Or maybe they tore it down. 
 
Did my requisite looking around, took a seat near where I got off the subway and purused the paper for a little while.  Got cold!  Moving around was the answer today, just cool enough you can't quite sit comfortably out of doors.
 
A little research and I decided to go to the Ming Dynasty City Wall Ruins Park (or something like that).  Jumped back on the subway for a couple stops and did the full wall tour all the way down.  Then climbed up the watchtower.  Then down.
 
Walked up to the closest subway, at the ancient observatory.  Glanced at that baby again, jumped the train a few stops to Goamao, deep in the heart of new buildings.  Unimpressed.  Didn't do much here, wandered around a little.  I heard there was a Wal-Mart around here, but didn't see it until I was in my taxi headed home. 
 
Oh well.  Something to be sipped another day.

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Russia Town in China Town, AKA Alien Street

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Wow! Didn't expect to see this here. . .

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What happens when the government decides it wants YOUR Hutong

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Restored old Chinese Theater

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The Great Old Ming Wall, not exactly the wall I came here to see, will have to wait til Saturday

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Looking back down the wall from the watchtower

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The watchtower/gate thingy

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Wish I could read Chinese, cause these folks were FASCINATED

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across from THAT!

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Turning onto Dazhalan Street. . . I hope

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Another view down the street, it's all under restoration, SCAFFOLDING everywhere, of course

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This looks VERY promising

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Oops, got this one out of order, just liked the shadows on the wall

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The watchman. . . typical government worker, eh?

   
   
   

Mike called as I was just getting to Dazhalan Street.  Apparently him and the boys were going to HOOTERS for lunch.  That should be an interesting story. . .
 
Oh, and here's a picture of the pack of ciggies I bought at the chi-chi grocery store.  Some reason I don't think they came from any duty free store. . . .

ciggies.jpg
Do you think their counterfeit, or they just forgot the "Lights"????

Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I just spent over 1.5 hours loading 15 pictures up here, not to mention the 2 hours yesterday "prepping" them, SO ENJOY!
 
I am absolutely no expert on Chinese history.  I know very little about the Dynasty's, the Emperor's, the customs, etc.
 
The Forbidden City was built by 200,000 workers during the 1400's.  For 550 years it was closed to the public and was the ruling city of China.  The Emperor, his wife, his slaves and concubines, all lived within the walls of The Forbidden City. 
 
Over 24 ruling Emperors lived within these walls, protected by moats and huge wooden doors (the red ones, duh, with all the gold knobs on them, which incidentally are always 9 across and 9 down, as 9 is a very fortuitious number here in China).
 
It was also built according to the rules of Feng Shui.  For anyone who cares about that (JEN!).
 
And it's huge.  There are over 800 buildings and 8000 rooms.  I saw about 75% of it yesterday.  Impossible to take pictures from the ground (although I made about 258 efforts) able to capture the immensity and maze-like quality of the FC.  I was lost for at least the first hour I was inside.
 
But, who cares.  I wandered around aimlessly, looking at all the little things, because the big things are pretty overwhelming.  And, a lot of them are under scaffolding, being repaired for the flood of tourists expected for the Olympics.  Of course, the work was suppose to be done by last year (according to the signs) and there was no sign of workers there yesterday. 
 
But whatever.  Not my biz.  Hopefully they'll get that junk down sometime while were here as it does tend to distract from the whole majesty of the place.
 
SIDE NOTE:  Not only do Mike and I have the ability to make any city we visit change their smoking policies (they are in the middle of trying to change smoking laws here in Beijing, again for the Olympics), we also tend to attract scaffolding.  I've been to Paris numerous times and have never seen Notre Dame without at least part of it being covered in scaffolding.  The Acropolis.  Our APARTMENT BUILDING in Hong Kong. 
 
I decided to use the back door to the FC on this trip (I know I'll be back, I still have 25% more to see, right?).  Usually, the path would be:  1.  Tiananmen Square,  2.  The Forbidden City and, 3.  Jinshan Park behind the FC where you can climb up the hill and get an overview of the FC (and Beijing, I suppose).
 
My reasoning for doing it this way was 1.  I wasn't going to climb the hill, so didn't need to end on the north end, 2.  I wanted to try and re-visit Tiananmen Square, but after the FC, where it would be easier to get a cab or the subway, and 3.  IT'S WHERE MY TAXI DRIVER DITCHED ME OUT.
 
ANOTHER SIDE NOTE:  The taxi's are driving me mad.  It's not so much they don't speak English (although they most surely DO NOT) but their absolute inability to read maps, get you "close" to your destination if you don't have an actual address or an actual address they understand, and the abolute powerless feeling you have sitting in traffic knowing you are going the wrong way or the long way or whatever because YOU CAN'T COMMUNICATE IN ANY NORMAL WAY BESIDES POINTING.  Not that they don't seem polite and all, it just feels like a hugely hopeless situation with very little options available.  And you better have at least TWO THINGS that show your destination in Chinese, on a map, or you are S-O-L.  And many times they just look at whatever piece of communication you are in possession of, and they just shake their head or motion you out of their cab.  Okay.  Enough.
 
Alright.  Where were we?  Yea, The Forbidden City.  It was interesting and took a bunch of pictures.  Lots of museums, one of clocks, one of bronze mirrors, one of jewelry, one of stone drums, one of calligraphy, etc, etc. 
 
And lots of Temples.  With the biggest variation being in size.  They kept getting bigger as I reached the main gate.  And bigger.  AND BIGGER.  And under scaffolding. 
 
I did learn that those little animal dudes I like on the corner's of the buildings?  Well, apparently the more animals lined up, the more important the building is.  Yesterday I counted nine on several Temples (there's that number again), so being that this is the most important place in all of ancient China, this must be the most possible. 
 
Like I said, almost impossible to capture the huge-ness of this place in a picture, so I'm sharing close-ups today.  No immense temples from far away.  Maybe next time. . . when I climb the hill.
 
Right at the exit, there is a place where you can pay 15 RMB (about 2 bucks) and climb up to the top of the gate.  I bought my ticky, then found out you have to surrender your bags and camera's, and the whole reason I wanted to go up was to take a picture or 100, and I just didn't feel like leaving my bag, so I skipped it.  If I can't share it with you, dear internet, than forgettaboutit. . .

1underneatheaves.jpg
A lot of reoccuring themes here in the temple architecture. . . heehee

2elephant.jpg
This guy seems a little more typical

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And endless corridors like this one, with little doorways off into the temples

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I understand all the "No Smoking" signs now. . . This shell was interesting in an architectural way

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Looking through one of the many doors along the corridor