November 2008

November 28, 2008

Our First 48 Hours in China

Categories: China

The last two days have been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. We landed in Beijing and got to our temporary housing around 11:00pm on Wednesday night (the day before Thanksgiving). We're staying in a nice, new three bedroom apartment on the east side of downtown Beijing. It's fully furnished and was ready for us to move in.

Our first challenge was to figure out how to turn down the heat. For some reason, Chinese (and I think Japanese) like their buildings warm. Really warm. Like 22 degrees C (72 degrees F). This is way way too warm for our tastes. Unfortunately, in most buildings, there's pretty limited ability to control the temperature in the rooms so we've had to just turn off the heat in the room and open the windows (which you can do here, even though we're on the 30th floor.) We achieved enough success here to get to sleep, but it's an ongoing problem as the maids turn the heat back on all the time.

In the morning, I set out around 6:00am foraging for coffee and breakfast for the family, not knowing much of anything about the environs. It turns out this part of Beijing is totally dark and closed until at least 7:00 or 8:00am. It was, however, freezing cold and windy outside. I came back to a den of hungry and un-caffeinated family members. We struck out later together and found some grub and did a little grocery shopping at a ridiculously overpriced organic grocery (Lohao City - a chain here).

We then got a tour around the area from the assistant manager of the apartment building, a very charming French guy. Aside from helping us find a less expensive grocery store, he pointed out the good and not-so-good restaurants in the area - a clear plus.

Later in the afternoon, we went to Thanksgiving Dinner at another Microsoft expat's home; the Emighs very graciously invited us to their party (at the suggestion of the Lindheimers whom we met on our last trip), even though we had never met. We enjoyed a great dinner with three other expat families and their kids.  As an extra bonus some of the families had kids who go to the same school the boys will be going to, so they already know a few kids. The expat community here seems pretty supportive (or at least the folks we met are); we feel very fortunate to have already met some nice friends here.

Our second day was about buying the things critical to our life here - power supplies for our Gameboys and Wii, household sundries like coat hangers, as well as cell phone service for Michelle and Andrew (I already have a phone from work). I have to admit, I was surprised how successful we were finding what we needed between Walmart (which deserves its own post) and the Hailong Electronics Mall, despite my spotty Chinese.

After dropping the family back at the apartment, I struck out for China Mobile to get cell service. I wound up in a small, dingy office with fluorescent lights on the fifth floor of some high-rise office tower. I know almost zero words associated with mobile phones, billing plans, and so on, but I smiled a lot and tried hard. I had three very helpful ladies explain the different options (all of them apparently wondering why I was so dumb). I settled on two plans that I think made sense (we'll see after the first month I suppose) and then met a hapless woman who tried to set up our service. Once she confessed to the most helpful of the first three that she had only done this once before, Ms. Helpful pushed Ms. Hapless out of the way and finished the job. Both phones ring and can send text messages, so I guess it was a success.

Everyone was too tired and jetlagged to go out for dinner, so we had delivery from a nearby Italian place (Osteria) which wasn't bad at all and went to bed. It's been a busy two days. Fortunately, the boys have been pretty good, and we're (mostly) getting used to the idea that we're actually living here now. Next week, we start our new life in earnest with school and work.

Posted November 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 26, 2008

On the Flight to Beijing

Categories: China

I'm sitting in Northwest flight 29, seat 6C on the last leg of our move to Beijing; we had a short stop in Tokyo and now have about two hours left before we land. According to the in-flight map, we're somewhere over South Korea.

In many ways this flight has felt pretty normal (aside from the twelve bags we checked in). Both Michelle and I have flown the Seattle to Tokyo Northwest flight a lot this year (some of the flight attendants recognized me today), and the boys are both professional flyers. It wasn't until a few minutes ago when I filled out the immigration paperwork and checked "Settle Down" as the reason for our trip where things really started to sink in – we're moving to China.


There are a few very memorable moments in my life when I've realized I was starting a new chapter – arriving at Stanford for freshman year, flying to Seattle to work at Microsoft, standing on the altar watching Michelle walk up the aisle, meeting my sons for the first time in the delivery room. I have that feeling again now. It's thrilling and terrifying all at once.

[Postscript: Obviously, we're on the ground now, so I can post this. We're in our temp housing getting settled. The adventure begins...]

Posted November 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

November 25, 2008

Super Fun Game: The World of Goo

The boys and I have been fighting over who gets to play this charming and fun game: The World of Goo. It's a little like Lemmings or Cloning Clyde in the sense that you are trying to get a set of dudes from point A to point B, but the game is very clever and well-executed with a construction twist.

You can try the game out first for free. We've played the PC/Mac version and love it. We'll have to try to Wii version once we unpack our Wii...

It' a little hard to tell what the game is about from the video below, but you can see even from here that it's just beautiful. Anyway, give it a whirl!

Posted November 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

We're Finally Moving!

Categories: China

Well, the big day is finally here. We fly out to Beijing in the morning. We've been building up to this for a long time now, so I'm more relieved than anything that it's finally happening. Of course, Michelle did virtually all of the work prepping for the move, so it didn't seem so hard to me. :) In particular, I was gone two of the last four weeks including last week when the movers came (plus Michelle had to sell the Prius since I didn't get the job done before I left.)

Perhaps the hardest part for me was the realization how many friends we're leaving here in Seattle. Of course, we'll be back a lot (especially me), and we're not moving away forever, but I certainly feel silly for not having spent more time seeing friends the 18+ years I lived here. I really enjoyed all of the nice gestures, comments, and gifts our friends gave us in these final few weeks (like the B(ac)on Voyage Party!) So a word of advice to everyone: don't take your friends for granted. Spend time going out, hanging out, doing whatever with your friends. Make a play date today!

As we've talked to friends these past few weeks there have been a few common questions, so here are a few answers to these FAQs:

  • We're planning on being gone three years. More if we like it. Fewer if we don't.
  • We're not selling or renting our house in Bellevue. I'll stay here when I'm home (pretty frequently). Michelle and the boys will spend the summer here. It made moving a lot easier physically and emotionally.
  • Michelle quit her job at Microsoft. Everyone we talked to said it was super helpful to have one spouse not working to help get the family settled. She may work after we're set.
  • The boys will be going to an international school in Beijing. Chinese schools are way too hardcore with lots of rote memorization, plus the boys don't speak enough Chinese to really participate. The school is amazing (way better equipped than their current schools). Classes are conducted in English; they'll have an hour of Chinese language instruction a day.
  • We'll be living in a house in the Shunyi suburb, near the airport. The house is comparable in size to our place in Bellevue. The yard is tiny/non-existent, although there is a clubhouse with nice amenities plus some great restaurants and shops within easy walking distance. The alternatives (apartment in the city) were too far from the boys' school.
  • My commute will be 45-60 minutes each way, but I'll have a driver, so I'll be able to work, read, nap, whatever. This long commute is the tradeoff for living close to the boys' school.
  • We'll be living in temp housing for 30-45 days (or so) until our sea shipment arrives with our furniture. This apartment will be in the city, on the east side of town (sort of near Chaoyang Park, where they played beach volleyball in the Olympics.)
  • I speak Chinese conversationally well, but I don't read/write well at all. Michelle took a few years of Chinese when we were first married; she's a bit rusty now but she has a good ear for it. The boys don't really speak any Chinese at all and will need to learn.
  • We've switched our home phone to Vonage, allowing us to keep our US phone number. This way, our friends and family can make a US call, but the phone will ring in Beijing. Our calls via this line will be US calls as well. Kind of magical and cool, really.
  • Yes, we're concerned about air quality. At the advice of many people we bought IQAir air purifiers for each bedroom and one for the family room. We'll just have to keep an eye on how it affects us.
  • I think we'll be drinking imported milk (from Australia typically) for a while.

Anyway, I'll write more over the next few days. See you on the other side!

Posted November 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 21, 2008

Cool Bruce Lee Ping Pong Video

Categories: Random cool stuff

This is an cool, well-done video of Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchaka; it was apparently done as an ad for Nokia. Love it.

Posted November 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 9, 2008

Playing the Fiddle

Categories: Kids

As we get ready to move, Michelle returned the violin that Michael (8) had rented to start learning how to play this year. While the idea of a Chinese kid playing violin isn't unusual (it's even a bit cliche really), he's the one who suggested it. This was a bit odd since he doesn't really know anyone who plays violin nor do Michelle or I play, but of course, we were supportive.

As it turns out, he wanted to learn to play violin so he could learn to play The Devil Went Down to Georgia. I'm not sure if he was siding with the Devil or Johnny, but there you go. He was a little unhappy when his instructor opted not to start him directly on that song, and he really started to get a little impatient after a few weeks of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I'm sure we can find an instructor in China to pick up his violin lessons, although good rockin' fiddle players might be a bit harder to find.

In any case, somehow, I won't be surprised if a fiddle made of gold shows up in his room someday...

Posted November 9, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

B(ac)on Voyage Party!

Our good friends Chris and Leslie threw a lovely going away party for us last night, themed "B(ac)on Voyage" (Chris lost the party naming with his entry of "Chor-revoir"). Obviously the theme of the evening was bacon. Leslie really outdid herself, making bacon-infused bourbon to power the Bacon Old Fashioned cocktails -- a delicious blend of bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, bitters, and orange. It was meant to be a bit of a joke, but they really turned out well. The bourbon was just a bit smoky and a great match with the maple syrup and bitters. (The real proof of excellence is that Michelle stole my drink after tasting it.)

Bottle of bacon-infused bourbon Leslie with yummy bacon-maple-chocolate chip cookies.

Leslie also made bacon-maple-chocolate chip cookies, which tasted for all the world like chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup and bacon -- yummy -- as well as BLTs (always delicious). There were a whole host of other good foods too, but I admit, I only had eyes for the bacon flavored treats (no surprise).

Once we were fed and watered, the guests rocked out to Rock Band 2 (with the hot new Fender Precision Bass ). This was a surprisingly good group of Rock Banders, especially given the high average age of the party-goers. There are definitely some good songs in RB2, so I think we'll have to get a copy before we go.

All-girl band rocking out to the Go Gos. Joe doing his best Steve Perry impression.

For another view of the evening, here's Leslie's account.

Obviously, huge thanks to Leslie and Chris for hosting the party and to all our friends who shared the evening with us. We're lucky to have such great friends and will certainly miss them once we move to Beijing. Hopefully, we'll see everyone a bunch both in Seattle and Beijing.

Posted November 9, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Not So Subtle Hints

Categories: Kids

I think Michael (8) is trying to tell me something.

Michael: "Dad, you're strong like a bull..."
Me: [smiling]
Michael: "And heavy like a cow." [smiling]
Me: [not smiling]

Time to redouble my workouts...

Posted November 9, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

November 8, 2008

Like There Was Ever a Contest

Categories: Random junk

Colorado prefers Bacon to Fries 63% to 37%.

The wise voters in Colorado's State Senate district 14 favored Bacon over Fries by almost 2:1. Like there was ever a contest... Bacon rulez!

Thanks, Scribbuloso, for the link.

Posted November 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)