28 November 2012

太冷 Tài lěng

Tai leng...too cold.  It has been below freezing lately with bad air.  Last night the wind kicked in and blew the smog away, but made for a very very cold wait-for-the-bus wait at 7:20 a.m..  

The park lake out my office window is beginning to freeze over.  I remember when we moved here last January this lake was frozen solid.  Lacking a snowy-bank context, I didn't recognize it as frozen and thought I was looking at cement.

Today I say this:

Běijīng tài lěngle. Wǒ zhù zài jiāzhōu.
Beijing is too cold.  I live in California.

4 1/2 weeks.


22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

At the office these days there are three Americans (and three Chinese staff and one Canadian staff, and a handful of interns) so we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving by ordering a turkey, and cooking the sides at the office.  The office is in a two story apartment in a mixed use building so there is a small kitchen.  I had Ayi go get LiLi in a hired car--not a black car--- and bring her over after school.  There were a handful of other kids too.  
After dinner we went to our friends' apartment for more pie.  They just got their moving shipment and the kids were having a great time opening the boxes.  We have so much to be thankful for in this life.  Sometimes you really feel it.  A friend who is a mom at our old San Francisco MI school, and who is often on the same wavelength,  sent this along for Thanksgiving Day.

Like I said:  So much to be thankful for.

21 November 2012


BEIJING    AQI 319    Hazardous


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

12 November 2012

A babbling brook

No, I'm not talking about meditation nature sounds.  This was the sound I discovered in my office this morning where the HEAT WAS ON!!!!!  The radiator made noises--loud ones--all day.  At times it was a relaxing babbling brook and at other times it sounded like someone peeing.  Still, I was thrilled to  not have to wear a sweater and down vest at my desk.  Here's the brook (the color being one of those Beijing mysteries):

10 November 2012

On the phone

One of my American friends told me her daughter said, "hey, Mom, look!  That person is talking on the phone on the sidewalk!"  My friend figured, well, yeah, so does everyone.  But no, her daughter meant on this:

A payphone booth!  Very few of these are left in urban America.
Like this, the cover of my Iphone.  I had lunch with a law professor who was unfamiliar with the image.  Not Andy Warhol's but the phone itself.  "What's that?"

I was recollecting what it used to be like to travel here (and elsewhere in the pre capital-D-Development days) and how "calling home" was a big, big deal.  You could put in a request at the hotel desk and then once the international line had been reached they'd call you downstairs to take your call.  You had to set aside the morning to get it done.   Just a long, slow, static-filled, crackly sounding, underwater voice, "Hi Mom!"  And you had to wait to hear back because if you started saying something when  Mom was responding back, you'd cut her off.  It was a one-way street back then.  And now:  Skype; Facetime; Vonage.  And grandma has an Ipad.  

06 November 2012

Eight Weeks

We have only 8 weeks left in China.  As excited as I am to see my friends at home,  I'm in a funk about leaving.  When feeling blue, make a list:

1.  Work:  Work is interested in keeping me on and I love it even though I need to work for a living and not for fun.  So I need a real job with a real salary.  Also, I need more kid-care kind of help to do the global thing well.  I need an au pair or partner or someone like that.  (Watch this space for my sun-and-moon-and-stars personal assistant ad.  I've written it and had it translated but haven't posted it yet because I'm still not sure.)

2.  School:  LiLi's school is still imperfect and too far away but coming from glowing parent-teacher conference comments last week I'm feeling more charitable toward the sweet, smiling yet brutal Chinese teachers.  Also, our school in San Francisco is imperfect too.  I'm planning to apply to a couple of privates in SF and tour some other schools in Beijing so at least I will have a bigger view.

3.  Home:  our apartment is a 3 br/3 ba and full of furniture we own so selling it or storing it is no small thing.  Someone from ministorage came to give me an estimate on Saturday and it's not cheap to store here, even getting rid of a couple of the larger items.  There's all that life stuff that would be time-consuming and expensive to replace:  dishes, coffee maker, wine bottle opener.  So if we're coming back, maybe in 10 months, or two years, we oughta dump it all.  If we're coming back in two months, we oughta keep it.

4.  Health (um, air):  We can see all our docs and dentists etc when we go back and not have to set those things up in China.  But the air.  Bad.  Bad.  Bad.   So bad that many of the air cleaning plants at home and all of them at work have died.  Dead air cleaning plants.  Bad.

5.  Life ease.  Okay so having:  an Ayi who can shop, cook, clean, do laundry, meet the school bus; a homework helper 4 days a week; a chef teacher; a heiche (black car) driver; a cheap closeby massage place and buddy to go with; a pool downstairs; a dry cleaning service in house; great restaurants and a new Thursdays jazz supper club; enough language to get around, all of that might, just might, make up for the fact that every chore, every single day, every single time we step out the door, is challenging and exhausting.

03 November 2012

Maizidian Community Center

In the Spring I was taking Chinese classes at our local community center.  

We live in the Maizidian area just West of Chaoyang Park.  Each of the little areas in this huge city has a government run community center, health center, several police stations, and more.  

The community center offers many services including childcare classes, preschool, help for old folks, and more.  It's a vibrant and wonderful place.  Since this area includes many of the embassies some of the signs are in Chinese and English!   

The free survival Chinese language classes are for local foreigners.  It's part of the government sponsored "harmonious society" program.  Our class's teacher was from a language school and was an actual professional teacher.  She was awesome and so patient with our diverse group of foreigners, all trying to pronounce Chinese but sounding German, French, Italian, Indonesian, American, etc.  

They also offer free haircuts to neighborhood retirees.  Local hipster hair stylists volunteer periodically to do the elderly trims:  

Here's the park square on the little lane that leads to the district buildings:


Yesterday the air was so bad (hazardous AQI) we could smell it: burned tires.  And taste it:  gritty poison.   We had "playground; cafe; store" on our list to do in the morning but the air was too awful.

When we were sitting in our complex's delightful European cafe (owned and run by an amazing Australian chef), it started to rain.  It poured the rest of the day, off and on.  Our dinner company arrived soaked having walked from the subway stop 10-15 minutes.  We wound up going to sleep very very late after our friend left.  So  I gave LiLi an 8 a.m. "earliest" for Sunday morning.  (On the weekends she'll happily get up at 6 despite that the weekday 6:30 wake up time can be challenging.  Hmmmm.)

This morning she came tearing out of her room and into my room ten minutes early to throw open the curtains and yell, "snow!!!!"

We decided to have coffee/hot cocoa before going outside but it seemed to be raining again so we hurried up to get out there, have a snowball fight and a build a mini-snowperson, urban style:

I love Beijing.  

02 November 2012

Random Beijing

This building is the home of CCTV.  It was completed earlier this year after many years and a few setbacks.  I've almost (almost) gotten over my fear of living in masonry in a seismic zone, but I don't think I'd ever feel comfortable enough for this.  Locally we call it The Pants:

A public and free thing one sees all over the city are these outdoor gyms.  There's even a mini version on the sidewalk near our apartment.  This one is just underneath our office building and is well used inside of Tuanjiehu Park.  But they are all over, squeezed into space wherever. 

Finally, this is the river, aka mosquito breeding ground, next to the 4th Ring Road just south of Chaoyang Park.  You can also see how smoggy that day was.  It's right next to the huge apartment complex called Park Avenue which is next to the one called Palm Springs.  I didn't even look at apartments at these two complexes mostly because they were too large but also because of their names.  

Liu niao

"Liu niao" or "taking your caged bird for a walk" is a familiar sight in Beijing.  It's a very old tradition that carries on today, even seen on my very urban walk to work.  Sometimes I'll see a cloth covered bird cage strapped to the back of a moped, or a old man with a shoulder-borne carrying stick with a cage on either end.