December 2008

December 29, 2008

A Restaurant Above Them All: China Grill

Categories: China Food and Drink

For Christmas/Michelle's birthday dinner, we went with our friends Nori and Stacy and their son Jarett to the topmost restaurant in Beijing. Literally. The China Grill is on the 66th floor of the newly opened Park Hyatt Beijing. According to their website, this makes them the highest restaurant in Beijing -- a believable claim.

Table and view from the China Grill in Beijing.

Naturally, the view is stunning: 360 degrees including a view down Changandajie -- the main drag that crosses in between Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We had a pretty good evening as far as air quality goes (better than in the photo from their website above) so the view was nice. Even the heavy traffic looks good 66 floors up. (Unfortunately, the photos from my point-and-shoot weren't as great.)

The food was excellent as well. They serve both Western and Chinese food. We all opted for the Western meals since eating Chinese food here seemed a bit silly in the middle of China, plus we all  wanted steaks. I started out with an excellent martini, and my blue crab cake appetizer was really delicious, perhaps the best crab cakes I've ever had (which is a big deal since crab cakes are plentiful and tasty in Seattle). The ribeye steak was perfectly prepared and the shared sides of creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and buttered asparagus were equally yummy. The other adults seemed to enjoy their meals as much as I did, and Michael (8) and Jarett ate their sushi with gusto (Andrew (11), as always, ate very little). I normally can pass on dessert, but the ones we tried were all great as well.

The service was great with good English from the wait staff. It's actually hard to find world-class quality service in Beijing, even at the best hotels (Michelle was practically run over by the staff at the Ritz Carlton brunch for instance) so this was a hugely welcome discovery. We all noted that it felt like we were in Tokyo -- high praise since the service in Japan is typically excellent.

The only real downside was how hard it was to find the hotel and the entrance. It's a brand new hotel that opened after the Olympics so no one, including our awesome driver, knew where it was. There is virtually no exterior signage marking the driveway (just small dark letters on a dark wall) and the entrance is actually under the building. In case you're looking for it, the entrance is on the south side of the Jintai building, facing Jianwai SOHO. You will still miss the entrance on your first drive-by.

The price was expensive by Beijing standards but not out of line with what you'd pay for similar meals in other top world cities. It's definitely a great place for special occasions. I look forward to going back for drinks or for lunch (and the view during the daytime).

China Grill at the Park Hyatt Beijing, floor 66
2 Jianguomenwai Street,
Chaoyang District, Beijing

Posted December 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Second Christmas

Categories: China

We received our air shipment on Saturday morning, just around a month after arriving. This was an additional set of luggage to arrive ahead of our sea shipment (which contains our big stuff like furniture, my golf clubs, etc.) Unwrapping the boxes was like getting a second Christmas. In addition to a bunch of clothes (very welcome -- I was getting tired of the same things we packed in our suitcases) I got my camera gear (yeah!!) and some gloves (also welcome -- my hands were getting cold!) The boys received their Legos and our xBox 360, so they were delighted as well. Michelle was happy to have some more diversity in her clothes as well in addition to some missing toiletries and such.

Our sea shipment is actually in the country too, but it's still going through Chinese customs. Every so often I get a call asking for detail about something. Some thing are hard to explain. For instance, I had to explain that the Rock Band drum kit wasn't really a set of drums but an input device for a video game. Unfortunately, I don't know how to say video game or input device in Chinese nor do I think the person I was speaking with knew what a video game was. I hope I got my point across. We expect to get our sea shipment in the next few weeks. It'll be nice to have all of our stuff again and to move into our permanent home.

Posted December 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

December 28, 2008

Stopping China Mobile News Text Messages

As soon as we got our China Mobile mobile phone accounts we started getting a lot of Chinese text messages. We initially thought they were all spam text messages, but it turns out some are daily news messages from China Mobile. I'm sure if I could read Chinese this would be a nice service, but since I'm illiterate, it's not so useful.

Fortunately, my colleague John sent me the instructions for turning off the news messages. Just send a text message to 10658000 with QXCXP in the message body. You should get two text messages back.

Now, if there were only an easy way to stop the other SMS spam messages. It's really bad here.

Posted December 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 27, 2008

The World's Best Dan Ta (Egg Tarts)

This is a long overdue post. Last month, just before we moved, I was in Hong Kong for an offsite. Since I had arrived early from the US, I followed up on a tip from a foodie buddy, Meng, who said I just HAD TO go try the dan ta at Tai Cheong Bakery (the website is much more fancy than the bakery). This hole-in-the-wall bakery is famous for these sweet desserts - thick egg custard in a pastry pie crust. Chris Patten, the former British Governor of Hong Kong, was apparently a big fan of the place.

So I trekked up the Central-Mid-Level escalators and looked around for the place. (As an aside, why do they have the escalators going down but not up in the morning? I don't care if there are more people going down. The damn hill is steep!) Although I was completely unable to follow a map that morning, I eventually found Tai Cheong and ventured in.

Tai Cheong Bakery storefront

I bought the last two dan ta and some sugar puffs (blobby donuts covered in sugar). They were all still warm and fresh smelling. I took the bag and ate the goodies right on the street, across from the bakery.

OMFG, I had never had anything like these dan ta. The crust was tasty and flaky (apparently they use lard -- further evidence that pigs are proof of a kind and loving God) and the custard was rich, eggy, and densely flavorful. (My mouth is watering again as I write this six weeks later).

Yummy Tai Cheong dan ta (egg tart)

After I scarfed these two tarts down, I ate the sugar puff; this might have been even better than the dan ta. It was kind of like a warm brioche covered in sugar. If I hadn't bought the last two tarts, I might have gone back in for more. These were heaven on earth. What's more, they were cheap. I love Hong Kong. If you are in HK, be sure to go.

Tai Cheong Bakery
35, Lyndhurst Terrace
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (+852) 2544 3475

Other info:

  • In Cantonese, they say "daan taat" instead of the Mandarin "dan ta".
  • The Tai Cheong website
  • A nice write-up
  • Ignore articles you find on the web saying the bakery is closed. They apparently did or almost did, but they're still around. I almost didn't go thinking the place was closed.
Posted December 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 26, 2008

First Haircuts

Categories: China

Earlier this week, I got my first haircut in China. I'm always a bit scared getting my hair cut in foreign countries since I barely understand what I'm asking for in English, let alone another language. I have all sorts of anxiety about miscommunication or misunderstanding (i.e. what if their clippers are metric?)

I've had exactly three other haircuts in other countries in my life,: Taiwan in 1980, Taiwan in 1986, and Belgium in 1996. While I survived all of these cuts, this wasn't exactly a huge base of experience to work from. Worse, looking at the Chinese guys walking on the street here, it is apparently very easy to get a bad cut. But, since we're going to live here a few years, this was clearly something I had to master.

So, although you can get a cut for a few kuai here (< US$1) I fell back on Michelle's favorite strategy of paying more with the hope and expectation of getting a better result. I went to Bangs Hair Salon, a higher end salon in our complex with Japanese hair stylists that some of our new friends recommended (Michelle had a cut and color there recently with much success as well). After doing my pantomime and English explanation of what I wanted to the very nice Japanese-speaking stylist, I settled back for a very thorough and pleasant hair washing and said a little prayer during my cut.

The result was quite nice, I think. It's a little longer on top than I usually have, but I like it. Perhaps more importantly, Michelle likes it, so I guess it passes the test.

My first haircut in China

We took Andrew (11) and Michael (8) there for their cuts a few days later. Michael wasn't sure about the whole thing and was especially unsettled by the hair washing. However, within a few minutes he discovered he quite liked to have his hair washed and is now dying to go back again.

Michael enjoying getting his hair washed.

We had to talk Andrew out of getting a queue; he had seen it in a kung-fu movie and wanted to whip it around during his wushu classes. Both boys got the best cuts of their lives and are looking especially dashing now.

Anyway, it feels good to have gotten this monkey off my back. Of course, Michael is already asking when he can go back, so I think we'll have no more problems getting his hair cut.

Posted December 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Danger of Overconfidence

Categories: China

Today marks the one month anniversary of our arrival in Beijing. It has certainly been one of the more interesting months of our lives. In many ways things are going well. We're especially happy to have made so many new friends (and eaten so much good food!) We have had a very smooth transition into China and have largely avoided the horror stories of other expats. We were getting pretty smug about it, thinking we had passed the critical first month painlessly.

Then today we had a brush with the complexity of living here. Late this afternoon, I ran into Carol, the woman who has been helping us with our relocation. She was in a bit of a panic saying that she had just spoken to the owner of the house we will be renting. Apparently the power and gas were off at the house, and the pipes were in danger of freezing. She told us we had to go immediately pay for more gas and electricity. The only thing was, I didn't really know how to do this.

First, it's worth explaining that gas, water, and electricity are pre-paid here. You have cards like a Starbucks gift card that you charge up with money somewhere and then put it into your gas, power, or water meter to keep the goods flowing. We received the cards with our house keys and were told we could charge them at the management office of our neighborhood.

So, I loaded up the family and starting trucking over to the house at 4:00pm, the start of evening rush hour, when I received a call from Carol saying that she had just called the management office and learned we couldn't do it there. We'd have to go to the Bank of Beijing to add money to the gas card and to the Bank of China to add money to the electricity card (because of course it couldn't be the same bank...). What's more, we'd need to open a bank account at the Bank of Beijing before we could add money. I knew we'd need our passports to do this, so we turned around back to the apartment to get Michelle's passport (mine is with the customs people who are inspecting our air and sea shipments.) I was nervous that the banks might close at 5:00pm, preventing us from adding money to our cards and potentially risking burst pipes at the house. A quick call confirmed that both banks would close at 5:00.

At 4:40pm I had the passports, and we raced over to the nearby Jianwai SOHO (a huge tower/office/shopping complex) where there were branches of both banks. As our masterful driver (more on him in another post) twisted and squeaked our way through the traffic, I asked Carol to meet us at the Bank of Beijing. As soon as we arrived at 4:55, I ran to the Bank of China while Michelle drove a few buildings over to the Bank of Beijing.

I burst into the bank and grabbed a number; while I was waiting I noticed a sign over a machine saying I could pay my electricity bill there (thank God the sign had English on it!) I asked the young guard if I really could pay my bill there (apologizing like I always do that my Chinese is bad and that I can't read). He took pity on my and very kindly helped me walk through the Chinese menus on the keypad. With his help, I was done quickly and on my way over to meet Michelle and Carol after asking the guards to raise the metal bar screen they were were lowering over the doors.

When I found them they were finishing at the bank counter and headed over to a machine. Apparently, we didn't need to create an account (and hence didn't need our passports), but you have to go to a machine to get the status of the card, then go to a teller and pay for the additional credits, then go back out to the machine to put the credits on the card. Even though the machine is outside the building and says "self-service" on it, there's apparently no way to add credits to your card without going inside and talking to a teller. Hm.

Anyway, we headed out to the house next and were confronted with a dark, cold house. After I fumbled through the bag of keys we received (we got something like 45 keys to the house -- multiple copies of keys for the front door, side door, gate, bathroom, bedroom, mailbox, etc.) by the light of my cellphone, I unlocked the door to our house for the first time and clicked on the lights. Or at least I tried to. The house was completely powerless.

I went to the box in front of the house and put the power card in. Michelle went back in but no luck. Just then, a maintenance guy from the complex came over and started talking at me in a very thick Beijing accent. He looked in the box, the lights came on, and he started yelling something at me. I didn't make out much besides his condescending tone (I think he said something like the Chinese equivalent of "Of course it doesn't work if you do that, you dumbass..."), but whatever, the lights were on. I'm not really convinced he did anything; I think it just took a minute for everything to register.

A much nicer guy came over to show me where to charge up the gas meter inside. We then turned on the heat in the freezing house (the thermostats read 0 degrees C.) The water all ran fine so we're hopeful everything is OK.

We finished off the evening at a German restaurant near our house. This was a bit of a surreal (but fun) experience. We were the only ones in the restaurant, trying to order German food in Chinese (easier in German than Chinese as it turns out), and then singing Hotel California and Sweet Home Alabama with the Filipino band. We're definitely not in Bellevue anymore...

Posted December 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 25, 2008

Shengdan Kuai Le! (Merry Christmas!)

Categories: China Random junk

Merry Christmas from Beijing! It's a lovely Christmas Day here in Beijing -- sunny and warm (at least by the window where I just took a nap like a cat...) The boys are playing with their Christmas loot -- Legos, K'NEX, video games, and books while I blog and Michelle hangs out. Nice lazy Christmas.

Here's a little Christmas photo of the family:

Andrew, Michael, and Michelle at The Place.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are a lot of lights up and people enjoying the trappings of Christmas here. The crazy shot below is from The Place (世贸天阶 shi4 mao4 tian1 jie1) last night (Christmas Eve). This is a shopping mall across the street from our temp apartment. It has a multi-block long display panel over the courtyard that plays different scenes and shows at night; in winter, there's also an outdoor ice skating rink (which we may try out this afternoon.) Like every other shopping mall here, they blare Christmas music too. Unfortunately, I think they only have three songs that they loop repeatedly (Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, and All I Want for Christmas is You). At least The Place has recordings sung by native English speakers; another nearby mall is blaring music sung by Chinese singers in English. It's a bit odd to hear the songs with heavy Chinese accents. Oh well.

Anyway, here's wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Posted December 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

December 14, 2008

Christmas in Beijing

Categories: China

Christmas is clearly not a traditional Chinese holiday; we don't even get the day off from work. But like many cultures around the world, the Chinese (at least here in Beijing) have adopted some of the trappings of Christmas, especially around big shopping malls (even though I don't think there's really a gift giving tradition yet for this time of the year). Every mall and big many big commercial buildings have Christmas lights up, big "Merry Xmas" signs and so on; these all tend to be on the Santa Claus/Christmas tree side of the house and not the "A Savior is Born" type. Linus would be disappointed.

While you can find some real Christmas trees here (boy, are they scruffy compared to the ones in Seattle!), we decided to take a more local approach. We picked a living bamboo plant and decorated it with some lights and a few ornaments. We figured it was kind of funny, and we could keep the plant afterwards. I think Michelle did a nice job decorating it, but it does make our apartment look a bit like we're opening a Chinese restaurant.

Our Christmas bamboo plant, complete with lights and a red bow.

The management of our apartment building also threw a lovely and pretty lavish Christmas party/brunch this weekend. It was very nice to meet some of our neighbors, and the boys came back with some nice presents from Santa. (We also won the third prize drawing of two massages at a nearby spa and a box of assorted juices. Guess which one of us will get the massages and which will get the juice? Mmm, I'm looking forward to that juice...)

I know that no one has really seen Santa and that I'm a product of Judo-Christian Eurocentric brainwashing broadcast through the blanking interval on my TV, but our very sincere local Santa didn't quite have the right look to me. (No, it's not me playing Santa in this photo). Still, we all enjoyed the party very much.

Andrew and Michael with Santa.

The holidays are where the heart is, of course, so I'm sure we'll have a nice Christmas here. It's definitely interesting to see these traditions played back through new eyes though.

Posted December 14, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Some Beijing Restaurants We Like So Far

Categories: China Food and Drink

We've been sampling a lot of restaurants around our apartment and in the nearby environs, so I thought I'd share some of the places we especially like so far (and write them down so we remember.)

[Note: I've included the Chinese names where I have them. If you see a bunch of boxes in the post, it's because you don't have Chinese fonts installed. If see a bunch of non-Chinese looking characters, try changing your encoding to Unicode UTF-8. In IE, go the View menu and choose Encoding and then find Unicode (UTF-8).]

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰丰 - ding3 tai4 feng1): This is a well-known Shanghai-style chain from Taiwan known for their insanely good and juicy dumplings. We love this place and have been several times. The ones here in Beijing are much nicer than the one I went to in Taipei. In case you're looking for one, they also have branches in Los Angeles, Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Jakarta. There are two branches in Beijing. The older one seems to be everyone's favorite (quieter, more private rooms), but the one at Shin Kong Place was fine too.

Guo Tie Zhou Pu (锅贴粥铺 -- guo1 tie1 zhou1 pu1): How can a place named "Potsticker Congee Spread" be bad? As the name implies, they specialize in potstickers and congee. They have a wide variety of fillings for the potstickers; we stuffed our faces with three different kinds of potstickers: pork and chive, pork and pickled vegetables, and egg and spinach. We didn't even get to the lamb or seafood parts of the menu. The noodles in the zhajiangmein (a Beijing specialty) were home made and lovely too. This is definitely a locals restaurant at local prices; we spent 50 RMB- US$7.31 for all four of us!! The most expensive part was probably the liter bottle of Sprite they brought out (it was the only size). Even better, they had English menus so we could more easily order. This is a winner; we'll be back. Address: 朝阳门南小街,金宝街西南口,向南100米 (从长安街国际饭店往北走)
Chaoyangmen Nanxiaojie, Jinbao jie xinankou, xiang nan 100 mi (cong Changan Jie, Guo Ji Fan Dian wang bei zhou). Thanks to Savour Asia for the find (they have a bunch of other places listed too. Must go try them as well.)

Isshin (日本料理 - ri4 ben3 liao4 li3): Isshin is a very good Japanese restaurant. The tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) I had was better than most of the tonkatsu I'd had in Japan this summer -- tender and juicy meat with a very crisp coating. Michelle's tempura was good too, and Andrew (11) and Michael (8) ate a ton of tamago (this sort of scrambled egg thing, normally served as sushi but here they had just the egg) and tekka maki (tuna sushi rolls). Even the edamame (boiled soybeans) were better than average. To top it all off, they were very friendly - even giving Transformer toys to the boys after dinner as a gift. We went to the branch in Jianwai SOHO. It's in building 15 on the western half of this huge complex -- make sure you go to the correct part. The cab dropped us off on the eastern part, so we had a long hike in the cold and wind to get to the right place. There are at least three other branches in Beijing in the northwest part (closer to my office!  Yippee!)

Meeting Point: This is a  very decent family Italian restaurant in the basement of "The Place" shopping mall. Their pasta is all freshly made and served with tasty sauces (I almost stole half of Andrew's carbonara). The thin crust pizza was good as well as was the Montepulciano by the glass Michelle ordered. Perhaps the most amazing thing, however, was the hot chocolate the kids ordered. It wasn't the hot chocolate drink we expected (although it was on the beverage menu and served in a mug); it was more like a hot chocolate pudding with just the right level of sweet and bitter chocolate flavor. The boys didn't like it much, but Michelle and I gladly finished the rest. Unfortunately, the salads were disappointing. More room for hot chocolate! The Italian owner is very nice too.

Xiao Wang Fu (小王府 - xiao3 wang2 fu3): Yum, yum, yum! Very tasty Beijing-style food: good duck, killer jiaozi (dumplings), to-die-for salt and pepper ribs, and the list goes on. The one we went to on Guanghua Lu (near the Kerry Centre behind Guomao) was decidedly not fancy, but let me say again -- yum. The Ritan Park location is apparently much nicer (and more expensive) with a patio. We were especially thrilled to learn they deliver to our apartment (with a delivery fee of only 1 RMB - about US$.14 -- yes, fourteen cents -- per dish.) Xiao Wang Fu was also pretty cheap; we spent 172 RMB (US$25) for six dishes. Finally, they have what I consider the perfect menu -- Chinese, English, Pinyin, and photos. Address: 朝阳区光华路东里2号, Cháoyángqū Guānghuá Lùdōng Lǐ 2 Hào, GuoMao.

Paulaner Brauhaus: The famous German brewery has a microbrewery/restaurant in Beijing where they make their own beer. Michelle and I had a nice, authentic lunch there -- good wurst, pretzels, and beer. Only the onion soup was bleh. Except for the Chinese waitstaff, we could have been in Germany. It's in the Kempinski Hotel near Lufthansa Center.

Pekotan Butcher and Deli: This is a great shop in our neighborhood with amazingly good bread (especially the baguettes); it just smells like a French bakery when you walk in. They have some attractive set menu lunches for 28 RMB (US$4) that we still need to try plus a good selection wine for purchase. After 9:00pm the baked goods are half off (and they're not expensive to begin with); I've braved the cold a few times already to get the still-yummy bread for half price (it's so dry here that the stuff doesn't really get stale.) Address: Central Park Apartments, Tower 12.

Yonghe King (永和大王 - yong3 he2 da4 wang2): This is a huge fast food chain with hundreds of outlets across China. Fortunately for me, there's a branch just a short walk away from the office. They're clean, open 24 hours a day, cheap, and delicious. I've had breakfast there several times and dinner once. The congee is very good as are the dan bing you tiao (kind of an egg coated flaky tortilla around a fried non-sweet donut -- hard to explain, but trust me, it's great.) The beef noodle soup is good too. They have a few set menus with photos on the board, so I can order something; I need to translate more of the non-photo items to try more stuff out. This is cheap too; I spend I think 10 or 12 RMB for breakfast (about US$1.50).

Yotsuba (四叶 - si4 ye4): This is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) sushi joints in Beijing; we saw no reason to dispute that view. They fly their fish in daily from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market, so everything is very fresh and oishii (Japanese for delicious). The first one is in Chaoyang; we went to the one in Shunyi at Lake View Place (near Dragon Bay Villas); this is walking distance from our house!

Posted December 14, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 9, 2008

Michael Learns Chinese

Categories: Kids

Up until this move, Michael (8) didn't really speak any Chinese. In his school here, he's started taking Chinese class. It's been fun to hear him start to use a few words here and there.

Today in the car on the way home from school, he lit into Andrew (11) with a set of Chinese insults. He started with some common Chinese insults (like "stupid egg", "silly melon", and such) and then started improvising by combining words he had learned (e.g. "apple head", "butt head", etc.) He then starting improvising sentences with insults (e.g. "You are an apple head.")

I think something like 75% of the Chinese words he knows are insults or can be combined into insults. He's surprisingly fluent for a guy with a week of Chinese class under his belt (although I suspect he is not learning these words in class.) Our driver, normally pretty stoic, almost exploded laughing.

Everyone learns in their own way; I think the "salty seaman" approach is Michael's.

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

Going Native

Categories: China

I crossed a significant personal China boundary the other day: I started brushing my teeth with tap water.

The tap water here in China is not safe for drinking (I understand it is safe in some big int'l hotels), so I've always used bottled water for my brushing. I even rinsed my toothbrush in bottled water. On my previous short trips, I never wanted to risk getting sick over something so preventable.

However, this practice is somewhat burdensome now that we live here. Michelle (and many others) always thought I was being a bit prissy about this anyway, so I went cold turkey and started brushing, swishing, and rinsing in tap water. So far so good.

I know you were all wondering about my personal dental care habits, so now you know. You can sleep easy tonight. :)

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

December 7, 2008

Another Message from Michael

Categories: Kids

The other day, Michael (8) came in singing a little ditty to the tune of We Are Family:

We are family,
[Looking directly at me, smiling] Even though you're fatter than me,
We are family...

After his last comment, I really think I need to start working out in earnest again.

Posted December 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Our First Week in China

Categories: China

It's hard to believe we've only been in a China for a little over a week. In many ways we're settling in to a rhythm and starting to feel more comfortable here.

On Monday, the boys started school. It was a little traumatic at first (especially since they dropped Michael (8) into the middle of a Chinese language class that was too advanced for him -- he was totally lost) but by the time they came home the first afternoon, they were relaxed and had enjoyed school. Since then they've started taking the bus to and from school and have some friends (Andrew  (11) came back with a bunch of phone numbers and is already texting away.)

I had two days of training to learn how I can successfully manage Chinese employees as an expat. While this sounds a bit ironic since I'm Chinese, it was pretty useful to understand the market conditions and recent Chinese history that affects the labor market as well as more on Chinese culture that affects employee expectations. As usual, one of the more valuable parts of the class was meeting senior managers from other teams -- some people I knew and a lot that were new to me. Anyway, after that I had two days of real work in the office finally. It's nice to finally be here working.

The other expat wives (affectionately known as tai tais after the Chinese word for wife) have been very welcoming and helpful to Michelle, taking her to different markets and restaurants during the day. In fact we've been very pleasantly surprised how great the expat community has been. We've met so many nice people who have been very generous and helpful. It seems like a very nice community.

Last weekend we also explored around town a bit. We checked out Ritan Park near our apartment; this was formerly used by the Emperor as a place to sacrifice animals to the Sun God, but now it's a nice park to walk around and has a small amusement park for kids. It's also near the embassy district; I think the Russian Embassy must be nearby since there were a lot of Russian shops and restaurants nearby.

Andrew and Michael shooting rifles at an amusement park.
The boys demonstrating their revolutionary zeal at Ritan Park.


Sign at Ritan Park pointing to animal Sacrifice altar and mini golf course.
It's not often you find animal sacrifice near a golf course this explicitly. Maybe it would help my game.

We also visited the 798 Art Zone. This is an artist enclave housed in a former military electronics factory area (Factory 798, hence the name). The old factory structures have been remodeled as hip galleries and restaurants. I'm not sure how much real art happens here, but there were some very cool galleries and exhibitions. I'd love to go back here to explore some more.

Andrew and Michael jumping in front of 798 Art Zone sign 
Michael and Andrew jumping for joy at 798.


Andrew next to a statue of workers holding up 100 RMB notes.
Andrew helps the workers prop up the Chinese Renminbi.

While I think things have been going very well so far, there have been some challenges no doubt. It's been super dry and cold (below freezing and windy). This is always hard but especially so given the overly warm apartment (which has been more like 80 degrees F if we're not managing it well). While we bought a bunch of humidifiers, they can't keep up since we have to keep the windows open to keep from dying of heat exhaustion inside. It's been hard to get a great night's sleep since the air is so dry. I hope my body just starts to adjust or something.

We've also had to figure out a bunch of household things. The first time we tried to cook a meal, we couldn't get the stove to light; it turns out the gas meter was out of money. In China I guess you pay first by charging the gas meter from a pre-paid card; once we knew this, we called the apartment manager to charge the meter and everything was OK, but there was a some consternation leading up to this (Is the gas on? Do they add the smell to the gas so you can tell if it's on or are we about to die? etc.) Our washer only has Chinese labels too so Michelle had to find an English copy of the manual and make a key. Anyway, small things, but they all add up to things taking longer than expected. Part of the fun of the new adventure I guess.

Posted December 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

December 2, 2008

No Point Arguing

Categories: Kids

Overheard from the back of the van the other day:

Michael (8): "I'm not even going to argue with you."

Andrew (11): "Why?"

Michael (8): "Because you're wrong."

I wonder if I can use that line at work...

Posted December 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)