I've written twice before, comparing Western and Chinese news coverage of the same story (Obama visit to China and Internet registration). In both cases, it was interesting to see how the reports read very differently despite presenting the same basic facts; differences in tone, emphasis, and inclusion/omission of other facts can really change how the story comes across.
Today, I was reading about how Beijing will start reporting a new air pollution measure - PM 2.5 (2.5 micron particulate matter). I've written before several times about the gross Beijing air. We relied on the US Embassy's air quality Twitter feed that showed what we thought was a more accurate view of what we were seeing outside; Chinese official reports measured the larger PM10 particles and would say we were having only minor air pollution even when we couldn't see outside.
The report from China Daily acknowledges the dangers of PM2.5 and how the government is responding to "public criticism". They describe the effort as similar to what other cities in China have been doing and that the government is already taking action to clean up Beijing air. There is no mention of the US Embassy's Twitter feed. There is also a story (higher on the front page) describing how Beijing's PM 2.5 count is down. The story paints a picture of the government taking action and listening to the people. "Beijing to release PM 2.5 data".
The similar story from the New York Times described the actions as a response to "public outcry", "public's anger", and bloggers who "sharply criticized" the government. NYT puts a lot more emphasis on the effect of the US Embassy Twitter feed as well as mentioning how Twitter is blocked in China, and talks about the Chinese complained about the feed as "confusing" and "insulting". This story leaves the reader thinking the people are mad at the government and that the gov't needs outside pressure to change. "China to Release More Data on Air Pollution in Beijing".
Again, both of these stories seem factually correct, and perhaps the "right" interpretation is somewhere in the middle. You'll never know unless you read multiple news sources.
Of course, it's ridiculous to think you can understand China, the history, culture, and economy in even ten years, but this video does a pretty good job in ten minutes (with lots of gross generalizations, etc...)
This is a funny example illustrating why the tones (rising/falling pitches) in Chinese are so important.
These two example sentences are pronounced the same way, as you can see from the Pinyin (English pronunciation guide), but the tones are different.
The first sentence says, "Miss, how much does it cost for a bowl of dumplings?"
The second sentence says, "Miss, how much does it cost to sleep [together] for a night?"
Very different meanings...
This week I’m back in Beijing for the first time since we moved back to the US. It just so happens that I walked past the Apple Store in the posh Sanlitun Village shopping mall last night, the night of the iPad2 availability in China. There was a huge line at least 100+ people deep sitting outside the store. Inside, there were big curtains up so people couldn’t see into the store. Here’s the end of the line. The big white circle of light at the top is actually the Apple logo. The line extends under that sign and around the corner to the left.
It's hard to believe that it's already been 2.5 years since I announced we were moving to China. I'm sitting in a hotel room in Beijing right now on my last night here, ready to fly in the morning. Michelle and the kids went back to Bellevue a few weeks ago so the boys could start school at the beginning of a new semester as I finished packing up in Beijing.
I've learned a lot during our time in China. I definitely have a more nuanced view of China through this experience. And, as is always the case when you travel overseas, I think I've learned more about my own country. I'll probably reflect and write more on these in the next few weeks.
I'm happy to have made a lot of friends while here. It's always hard to leave friends, but I'm fortunate that most of my friends will come to Seattle regularly, plus I expect to travel back to Beijing occasionally on business.
While I will miss my friends and many things about China, I'm really looking forward to being home again. At the end of the day, I'm American, and Seattle is home.
When you order a steak in China (typically at a Western steak house), they will often not understand what you mean by "medium-rare", etc. Aside from the language issues, they use a different , numerically based system here.
Baidu, the largest search engine in China, has started an English language blog called Baidu Beat (beat.baidu.com) to comment on Internet trends in China, expanding on their top queries (top.baidu.com). Here’s a link to a good recent post on top internet phenomenon.
If you’re interested, other good English-language sites that comment on the Chinese internet industry and trends are chinaSmack, China Hush, and TechRice. TechRice has a good list of other China tech news sources too.
We spotted this store in the Kerry Centre Mall, near our apartment in Beijing. The women inside didn't seem to match the named target audience.
It looks like the idea of dyeing dogs to look like pandas is still going strong. Here's a much smaller dog than the one in my previous post (see link above) waiting in our neighborhood doggie salon for his owner to get him.
It's definitely winter in Beijing now. With the cold weather comes a typical Beijing treat -- tang hu lu (糖葫芦). These are Chinese hawthorn fruits on a stick that are candied in a sugar glaze. The fruit is cut in half and pitted, then put back together on the stick. It's really a great combination with the sugary goodness balancing the tart hawthorn. I think they're quite lovely too. You can now get other fruit like kiwis and strawberries done this way sometimes, but hawthorns are the real deal.
In addition to shops and stalls, you'll see people selling tang hu lu off the back of a bike. Regardless, they're always poked into a round stand like below.
Here's Michael (10) enjoying his tang hu lu this evening (artsy photo courtesy of More Lomo, an iPhone app.)
The Place shopping mall is just across the street from our apartment in Beijing. It has a huge, block-long video roof that normally plays random animations. However, I guess for the right price, you can do whatever you want with the screen. One guy decided to play video games on the display. I have to make sure the kids don't see this, or they'll want to play Halo Reach on it...
It's been a little over two years since the epic 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Of course, after the Games, there's the question of what to do with everything that they built for the Olympics. Some things have been repurposed; for instance the Water Cube (where Michael Phelps broke all those swimming records) reopened this year as a water park. They're still figuring out what to do with the stunning Birds Nest Stadium since there aren't any professional sports teams in Beijing that could fill the place.
And, then some things, people have just discarded. This Olympic sign was hanging on an overpass near our apartment complex. The management just tossed it to the side by an old truck now that it's not useful anymore. Kind of sad.
Apparently, it's not just our Chinese family name that gets used around town. There's a whole set of "Tony" branded shops in Beijing.
What's more, there's a line of "Chor" branded clothes in Beijing and Shenzhen too.
I am clearly among my people here...
(Thanks to my friend Phil for the second photo.
Apparently last Friday, Beijing set a dubious new record for the greatest number of congested streets -- 140, even more than the 90 congested streets during a heavy snow last year.
I don't know about the number, but my commute was 1.5 hours; usually I get home in 45-60 minutes. My driver was super aggressive, dashing into holes, driving on the shoulder, taking back streets, etc. so it could have been worse. But at one point, even he got out of the car to look around and see what was going on since we were stopped.
Worse, that aside from a little rain and maybe because we're coming up on a holiday, there was no obvious reason for such a colossal slowdown.
However, the scariest part is that I imagine this will only get worse as more people buy cars.
More on ChinaSmack (I lifted this photo from them too...)
Dyeing dogs has become pretty popular in Beijing. CNN just ran a story that talks about this phenomenon; they even highlighted this dog from our neighborhood! We see this dog pretty frequently. The owners' ayi (maid) is too embarrassed to walk the dog except in the early morning (when she also apparently doesn't feel the need to scoop up after him).
I think the shop they mention in the story is in the shopping center across the street from us. I've seen a dog painted like a tiger or more simple ones with just rainbow colored highlights.
I went with my friends Imran and Misha today to a Canon expo at the 798 Art District. This was a free event put on by Canon to showcase some of their new products like the EOS 60D and 300mm f2/8L IS II lens.
The event was in an old water or oil tank. The space was actually pretty cool.
Inside, they had a almost their whole line-up of gear to lust over.
One of the nice freebies they offered was sensor and lens cleaning. Through this process, I learned my beloved (but battered) 70-200 2.8L lens has some moisture residue inside and the barrel is loose. Time for a repair.
Around the edges they had set up mini-studios with their gear to shoot plus models in different environments to shoot in. In the middle they were printing peoples' photos on the various Canon printers. They also had a stage for presentations and a little theater to show movies shot with the Canon DSLRs.
Unfortunately, I think the models were a bit bored and let it show.
Still, the event was fun and worth every penny. :) I really appreciate Canon putting these kinds of events on to let the community try stuff out.
Last week, the senior leaders on my team at work and I went offsite for two days to discuss our future plans. After staying for an evening at the lovely Commune by the Great Wall (super cool resort -- worth checking out their site), we went to Longqing Xia for some "hiking" (really a ton of stair-climbing). This lovely gorge is about fifty miles north of Beijing, past the Great Wall at Badaling. The mountains rise up almost straight up from a beautiful (and clean!) lake formed by a big dam.
For some reason I still don't understand, instead of taking the gondolas halfway up the mountain before starting our climb to the top, we elected to hike up from the bottom. You can see how far the gondolas go up here.
We just kept climbing up and up the stairs. I was dying most of the time. Not only was I really out of shape, but I was also carrying a big camera bag full of gear including my big 70-200 2.8L lens. Still the view at the top was worth it.
Here's are me and my colleagues at the top.
As you may be able to tell from the photos, we had a beautiful day for our outing. It was a little warm but not bad for Beijing, and the air quality was good since we were outside of the city. My only regret was not getting a chance to take a boat ride down the lake. I hope to go back soon to do that with my family.
This is a first for me.
Note the time -- it's only 10am, and it's already 93 degrees. What's more, it looks like the temperatures will keep rising and the AQI will keep dropping. Wow.
Even though iPads aren't officially available in China yet, there's no problem using them here, even the 3G versions, since (unlike US iPhones), the iPads are not SIM-locked to AT&T.
You first need to get a China Unicom 3G SIM with a data-only plan. You cannot use the 3G from China Telecom or China Mobile because they use different (read: incompatible) 3G standards. There's more information here on what to get.
Next, since the iPad only takes the new microsim size cards, you need to cut the China Unicom SIM card to the right size. This is pretty simple. I used the template on this site and had no real issues. Just remember to measure twice and cut once.
Once you insert the SIM into the iPad, go to Settings and turn on Cellular Data. Your iPad should find China Unicom right away. You need to set the APN settings; "3GNET" is the APN, username, and password.
Tada! You should now be surfing at a pretty fast speed, anywhere there's coverage!
I played golf yesterday with a bunch of my teammates. Since we didn't have two full foursomes, two of us were paired with some other Chinese golfers. They were nice enough and soon we got into the typical "where are you from, what do you do" banter. As soon as I said I was American, one guy looked at me and immediately replied, "You look like an American." My buddy Tim asked, "What does that mean?" The other guy replied, "You have skinny legs and a big belly."
My big belly and I went on to kick his skinny butt in golf.
Here's a nice infographic of the sixty Chinese cities with populations in excess of 1M. By comparison, Wikipedia states that the Seattle metro area is around 4M with 600,000 in the city. It really sets the massive population of China in perspective when cities most Americans have never heard of (even people who have been to China) are bigger than places like Munich or Amsterdam.
I noticed a bunch of signs like this lately saying "Zuojiazhuang". The first word "zuo" is my family name ("Chor" was transliterated from Cantonese; the Mandarin pronunciation is "zuo".) The phrase "Zuojianzhuang" means "Chor Family Village". It turns out there's a section in northeast Beijing, between the Second and Third Ring Roads (just north of Sanlitun, if you know Beijing) that is called Zuojiazhuang. My driver thinks there must have been a rich family named Zuo that used to live there a long time ago. I'll have to see what else I can learn about this.
You can see the location here in Chinese Bing maps.
We have these lovely blossoms growing in front of my team's building in Beijing (it's called the Sigma Building). Nice that nature found a way to brighten up normally dreary Beijing.
Chinese people in China (vs. overseas Chinese) seem to have a love affair with wearing pajamas in public, despite government pressure to stop. Someone once explained to me that only richer people can afford pajamas, so they're kind of a sign of affluence. Anyway, I saw this guy today playing badminton in a hutong (old alley neighborhoods) in his pajamas. Maybe his neighbors think he's cool, but I think he looks silly.
I've regularly seen covers like this protecting wheels on parked cars in Beijing, but I've never known what they were for.
Today, my friend Stacy pointed out to me that they're to keep dogs from peeing on the wheels! Sure enough, a high percentage of uncovered wheels looked like this on the street we were on today. Who lets their dog pee on cars? Gross.
Saw this restaurant sign today in a hutong (traditional alley/neighborhood) in Beijing. I don't think they really serve dog (as a meal), but the sign is a bit confusing. The Chinese words don't shed any additional clues (it just says "Small Love").
One of these things is not like the others...
We've been eagerly awaiting the opening of Fatburger in Beijing for sometime. Last night, we saw the restaurant -- it opens tomorrow! It's been hard to find a good burger in Beijing, so we're looking forward to their opening.
Location: Grand Summit in the Liangmaqiao Diplomatic Residence Compound, across from the Kempinski Hotel (and right next to the Liangmaqiao subway stop!)
Here's a sign near our apartment in Beijing. Apparently, the construction project behind this sign isn't really the best.
I saw this ad near our apartment in Beijing. Not quite sure what they're really advertising, but it looks like the robot had a tough night of drinking and is not talking on the porcelain telephone to God. ("Oh God, <cough cough> oh God...")
As you've all undoubtedly heard by now, Google has decided to (someday) to stop filtering search results for sensitive content in China. They're apparently trying to help people in China circumvent the firewall through the ads they show too. As you can see below, there's an ad in the China Daily for a VPN (virtual private network -- a way to "tunnel" your internet connection out of China through another country). Even better, the ad was shown on an article about this spat between Google and the Chinese gov't (which the Chinese gov't doesn't seem to care too much about.)
Although I thought winter had past (we had a few warm days already), we got a bunch of icy snow last night. After the snow here, armies of people set out to clear the sidewalks using shovels and brooms. Here's a shot of the action in front of my office building this morning. You can see the big brooms made of clumps of twigs tied together. Not many people use sand and salt on sidewalks because of the cost. (The crews who clear the roads use snowplows, sand, and salt -- more like the crews in the US.) I saw this scene repeated dozens of times in front of shops and office buildings on my way into work this morning.
As I've pointed out before, it’s interesting to see how Western media (Australia, in this case) and Chinese media portray the same issue. Here are two articles on the same event – new changes in how individuals can register websites in China.
The Age shows this as a new restriction in the Chinese internet while the China Daily shows this as a loosening of a previously tightened rule. Both seem factually correct, but the tone and interpretation are different.
As I mentioned before, it's probably best to read multiple news sources and form your own opinions.
China launches strict new Internet controls
February 23, 2010 - 9:35PM
China's technology ministry moved to tighten controls on Internet use Tuesday, saying individuals who want to operate Web sites must first meet in person with regulators.
The state-sanctioned group that registers domain names in China froze registrations for new individual Web sites in December after state media complained that not enough was being done to check whether sites provided pornographic content.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that ban was being lifted, but would-be operators would now have submit their identity cards and photos of themselves as well as meet in person with regulators and representatives of service providers before their sites could be registered.
It said the rule was aimed at cracking down on pornography.
China has the world's biggest online population, with 384 million Internet users. The government operates the world's most extensive system of Web monitoring and filtering, blocking pornographic sites as well as those seen as subversive to communist rule.
The new regulations come as the government is in talks with Google Inc. about whether the U.S.-based Internet giant will be allowed to continue operating in China after saying in January it would no longer cooperate with the country's Web censorship. The two sides have given no details of the status of their discussions.
Chinese authorities have launched repeated crackdowns on online pornography and the government says nearly 5,400 people were detained last year.
China resumes individuals' website registrations
By Zhao Chunzhe (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-02-23 14:12
Individuals in China are now allowed to apply for websites, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, but applicants are requested to hand in a full-color photo, cnr.cn reported today.
The administration said both companies and individuals are allowed to register a website. Authorities will evaluate an applicant’s information in 20 weekdays and keep the information secret, the report said.
Individuals' domain name registration was called off December 14, 2009 in fighting against pornographic websites.
I saw this on one of my co-worker's Facebook profile. It caught me a bit by surprise, although I guess it shouldn't.
Happy Tiger New Year! (Oh, and Happy Valentines Day too!) We spent New Year's Eve in our apartment in Beijing this year. The fireworks were absolutely crazy. They started around 6:00pm and kept going until well past 2:00am, non-stop.
There are no "official" fireworks shows like you'd think of them in the US. These are just random people who buy fireworks at the million fireworks tents that pop-up around Beijing near CNY. They drag their load onto random street corners and then light them off. As you can see from the photos and video below, these are often pretty serious shows, very close to buildings. You can buy a "show-in-a-box" for around $75-150 USD or maybe even higher; light one fuse and the step back.
I imagine the scene was repeated on virtually every block in Beijing (if not more, since we live in an area with lots of expats and hotels.) Spring Festival lasts two weeks, so we have a lot more fireworks to go...
This was probably the coolest set of the night, next to our apartment.
We were pretty much right underneath this one.
Here's Michael (9) playing with a sparkler.
Here's video I shot from our apartment at midnight. You can hear a roar in the background; that's from fireworks going off all around us. The big dark spot in the scene is a construction pit, so we have an even better view of the mayhem near by. The light colored building in the middle of the scene is the Shangri-La Kerry Centre Hotel.
Last night, Michelle, our good friend Stacy, and I went to Apothecary, a hot new-ish bar in Beijing. It's in Nali Patio (next to Mosto) in the expat-friendly Sanlitun area.
The place has a clean feel with good service and nice jazz and standards filling the air. The drinks are definitely the highlight, with a strong emphasis on classic drinks made well. The menu is a delight, with nice explanations of the drinks. I had a great Manhattan, a stellar Old Fashioned (with Old Overholt -- kind of a nice twist) over one of the now-ubiquitous hand-shaved round ice balls, and an equally great something else or another (now lost to the drink haze). The ladies' drinks were equally well made and perfect.
The food was a bit mixed. Stacy and I shared a really delicious pork pate po boy (Michelle doesn't like pate) -- it was well-balanced with just enough pickled veggies to add a little bite to the pate. The beef sliders were probably the best burgers we've had in Beijing so far; we ordered a second plate of these -- great beef on sweet potato buns. Again, nicely balanced with a perfect proportion of meat and bun with just enough pickley stuff to kick it up a bit. Unfortunately, the gumbo and red beans and rice were terrible; they were bland, blended smooth like baby food, and served as almost a veneer or topping on too much rice. I'm biased towards Michelle's stellar Southern cooking, no doubt, but this was not good.
Fortunately, the drinks more than made up for the spotty food. We'll definitely go back for drinks and snacks.
3/F, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Beilu, Sanlitun
(Note: they open at 7pm. We thought they opened at 6:00 and wound up milling around for a while.)
I'm a big fan of the Bird's Nest Stadium (even though they're not quite sure what to do with it now.) I think it's a lovely piece of architecture, especially from inside the shell. Here are a few shots I took earlier.
Last year, I wrote about the icy fun Beijingers enjoy on the frozen lakes here. This year, we decided to try it out ourselves. We had a rare combination of a warm (for a Beijing winter anyway) sunny day with clear skies (read: little pollution) -- perfect for day of riding ice chairs at Houhai (a lake near the Forbidden City). It's a picturesque area surrounded by old Chinese buildings including the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower (see in the pix below.)
Our driver gave us a great tip -- avoid the first two skating areas (first one is too small/crowded, the second is primarily for ice skaters) -- so we headed straight for the third and last skating area. We bought three tickets for 10RMB (about USD$1.50) to get on the ice and another 40RMB for unlimited use of two ice chairs (plus a deposit of 80RMB each to make sure we returned the chairs.)
As you can see from the photos below, the chairs are pretty rudimentary -- just a welded steel frame with two seats covered with a little scrap of carpet.
After you pick out your chair, you choose the poles you'll use to propel yourself on the ice. These are literally just screwdrivers welded to sharpened steel shafts. It's something of a miracle that none of us came back with new holes in our body.
As it turns out, you can really get going on the ice on one of these chairs. Obviously, this is super fun. Our driver explained that they all used to do this because they didn't have money to buy skates before.
Andrew (12) quickly figured out how to do spins on his chair and started doing 720s. Invariably, Michael (9) decided that ramming Andrew was more fun.
There was really quite a scene on the ice. There were vendors right out on ice selling drinks, cotton candy, kebabs (chua'r), and such plus midway-style games even including the electronic free throw basketball games.
Trains of ice chair riders were pretty popular. Somehow, it seemed pretty nuts to have so many with sharp sticks in such close proximity.
There were other ways of getting around on the ice. Ice bikes were a popular rental. These looked pretty fun and got moving pretty fast too, although sometimes the wheel would just spin.
There was also a guy with a sleigh pulled by some animal (alpaca?). I didn't see anyone riding the sleigh.
You could even rent an electric powered cart. These were clearly repurposed bumper cars. I only saw fat, smug boys riding these.
I have to say, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. There were families, couples, old folks, young folks, and piles of friends all having a great time. People were all smiling, pretty polite (even apologizing if they crashed into you), and clearly having fun. Even the vendors were nice (the cotton candy guy even offered me a cigarette). This was pretty different from our usual experience in Beijing and was evidence that at it's best, Beijing is an awesome place. We'll undoubtedly go back to Houhai for more ice play again.
I saw this sign at the entrance of a neighborhood near our place in Beijing. Not sure what they're banning. Car bombs? Burning cars? Couples arguing in the car? Whatever it is, I don't want it in my neighborhood either. Seems like an important sign...
Here are a few shots from my office window in Beijing of yesterday's eclipse. I've never seen an eclipse like this before. Amazing.
At first, I thought it was a Chinese Death Star coming to blow Google China off the map, but it was just an eclipse.
Here's something you don't see the US too often, but it seems relatively common here in China -- sheep grazing by the side of the road. I snapped this photo near our (now old) house in Shunyi, a suburb of Beijing.
I really needed a burger the other day in a deep way. The only place near my office that I know of to get a burger is the McDonalds around the corner so I headed out.
The store would be instantly recognizable to any American, but their menu is a blend of familiar with new/modified items. Fortunately for me, in China, they have these plastic menu placemats with English so I can point to what I want. In addition to the Big Mac, Double Cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets, and Filet-o-Fish sandwich we see in the US, you can get a "Mala Grilled Chicken Sandwich" or a "Mala Crispy Pork Sandwich" (Mala means something like "spicy" in Chinese.) They also have fried chicken wings on the menu, and apparently corn is a popular side instead of fries. For dessert, instead of an apple pie, you can have a pineapple or taro pie. Their breakfast menu has the familiar (and delectable) McMuffin sandwiches; they also offer a "Egg & Ham McPuff".
(One side of the menu card - click to see the bigger version - semi-bad shot from my phone...)
The extra value desserts (< US$1):
There are some definitely advantages to the Chinese McDonalds. First, prices are pretty low compared to the US (about US$3 for a Big Mac meal -burger, fries, and Coke). Second, they deliver and are often open 24 hours a day. Finally, their spicy stuff is actually spicy. (And fried chicken is a great side for every meal.)
Delivery dude on his electric moped -- he's wearing a huge, hard, plastic backpack with the food in it. When he gets off the bike, he can carry the food right up. We've done this for lunch meetings before.
I ordered a "Big N' Beefy" sandwich. It was not big and only vaguely beefy. It's basically a Quarter Pounder with cucumber slices, lettuce, and spicy Thousand Island Dressing. (I think it was called a "McCucumber" when I first arrived in China.) It's actually not too bad, for a McDonalds burger. I also had some chicken wings (because who can pass up fried chicken?) They're a little spicy and not bad either (although not as good as KFC in China).
McDonalds is simultaneously the same everywhere in the world and intelligently local. Their success may be due to this mix of global brand and consistency with local product. I think we all (including Microsoft) could learn something from this (albeit at a higher quality.)
Today is the first anniversary of our arrival in Beijing. It's amazing how quickly this year has gone. I'm already feeling a bit panicked about how little time there is left in our planned three year tour-of-duty here. As you've seen in this blog, we've had amazing adventures, learned a lot, and eaten much good food.
I don't know if we'll ever feel truly at home in such a different and really foreign place where we can't read the signs and are visibly not local, but we definitely know our way around and have a quite comfortable life. Most important, we've made good friends here and the boys are thriving at their amazing international school. (Oh, my job is great too...)
In some ways we've come full circle. I'm sitting in a hotel room tonight because we're in the middle of a move back to the same downtown apartment complex we stayed in temporarily when we first arrived in China last year. While our house and life in the suburbs had benefits (e.g. close to school), it was just too far away and inconvenient. A lot of the places we like are close to this new apartment, and the very good subway system is easily accessible. The kids even like the longer bus ride to school since they can mess around with their friends on the ride.
Anyway, while I miss Seattle a lot, I'm super glad virtually every day that we made this move. It's been a great adventure so far, and I'm sure the next year will be even better as we get to know this amazing place and people even more.
Here's a mail from the US Embassy to the Americans living in China about President Obama's visit. I think it's pretty cool that our government is doing so much to share the content of the visit and is reaching out to the American community in China. I only wish I received an invite for a beer with the President.
From: Labarge, Sandra A (Beijing) [mailto:LabargeSA@state.gov]
Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 12:39 PM
Subject: Shanghai Town Hall
Greetings from Embassy Beijing,
The White House has a travel blog dedicated to the President’s trip through Asia. You can follow the President’s trip, including live streaming of the town hall meeting with Chinese youth in Shanghai, on the blog. Please feel free to share this information with your friends and contacts. Below is an excerpt from the blog giving details of today’s Shanghai event:
Posted by Katie Stanton on November 15, 2009 at 06:29 AM EST
Ed. Note: Keep up with the President on our page dedicated to his trip through Asia.
Tomorrow, November 16, President Obama will have a town hall meeting with Chinese youth in Shanghai, China. Holding the event in Shanghai is symbolic as the Shanghai Communique was announced here and helped pave the way for normalization and the first 30 years of formal diplomatic relations.
At the meeting, the President will interact with young Chinese and discuss the relationship between our two countries in the years ahead. Attendees of the event will come from several Universities in the Shanghai area. During this event, the President will take questions from the live audience, as well as from the online Chinese community. The online community in China has been submitting questions on a variety of websites includingXinhuanet, Sohu and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing’s website.
The Town Hall will be livestreamed on Whitehouse.gov/live. You can also join us on the official White House page on Facebook or the Embassy's website to view and participate in a live discussion during the event.
The event is planned to start Monday at 12:45pm local time in Shanghai which means late Sunday night in Washington, DC at 11:45pm EST.
This blog post has been translated into Chinese:
President Obama is visiting China this week. It's a good opportunity for me as a news junkie to compare and contrast how the US and Chinese press cover the same story.
When the President arrived in Shanghai, he had a town hall meeting with students from Fudan University and Tongji University. The article from the China Daily emphasized Obama's support and curiosity about China.
"The main purpose of my trip is to deepen my understanding of China and its vision of the future..."
"We do not seek to impose any form of government on any other nation..."
"The rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations..."
The article in the New York Times covering the same meeting focused on the brief discussion about internet censorship in China and how Twitter is blocked.
"I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time...because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear."
The China Daily merely said "[Obama] noting access to information and political participation are universal rights" about the presumably same topic.
The Times also had two paragraphs about how the Q&A session was not broadcast live across China and how it was being carried by the White House website live. They also noted how the students were members of the Communist Youth League.
Interestingly, I don't think either story was unbiased or told a complete story. As expected, the China Daily had a very pro-China, on-message story; however the Times writer was clearly trying to emphasize the control the Chinese government has vs. just reporting on the meeting.
I guess as in all things in life, you need to get your information from multiple sources, note the point-of-view of the source, and then make your own judgments.
When I first encountered the amazing art photos of Liu Bolin (刘勃麟) hanging at a resort outside of Beijing, I did a double-take, not sure what I was seeing. I spent quite a bit of time studying the pictures and marveling at the attention Mr. Liu paid to getting the details right. (I especially like the first photo below.)
See more of his amazing art on his site: http://www.liubolinart.com/
Here's a video of how he makes these cool shots.
We had about six inches of fluffy snow last night in Beijing. Unlike Seattle, Beijing didn't shut down, although the commute was definitely slower this morning. Beijing definitely looks nicer under a cover of white.
China is an amazing place in so many ways. One concept I'm especially fascinated with is shanzhai products. Translated directly, this means "mountain village" products, but they're really knockoffs of famous brands. There are shanzhai cars (ones that look like BMW X5s, etc.), shanzhai restaurants (Starbucks or McDonalds copies, etc.) and so on. There are even shanzhai celebrity performances where celebrity imitators will come perform for people who can't afford the real person. People have started using the term to refer to community generated content too (e.g. fan-videos, etc.)
This is a bit different that outright counterfeits (like crap liquor poured into Hennessy cognac bottles); these products don't claim to be the original. They are usually much less expensive but can be very good copies, with even more features than the original.
My favorite category of shanzhai products are the iPhone knockoffs. Products like the HiPhone (or CiPhone as shown here) physically look and feel great -- very close to the original. The software even looks like iPhone software (almost exactly, down to the Highway 280 icon on the maps, even though that has no meaning in China). The one I played with a year ago was just a titch thicker than a real iPhone, but unless you compared them side-by-side, you wouldn't have known it.
The software itself was much slower and clunkier than Apple's, once again reaffirming that the hard part is software. And, of course, it doesn't actually run Apple's OS, so the iPhone App Store apps don't run on it, negating much of the appeal of an iPhone.
Still, the prices are cheap (starting at around USD$70 on my friend's website, lightinthebox.com). What's more, these phones have unique features like dual SIM support, different colors (want a pink iPhone?), different form factors (I saw a HiPhone Nano -- even Apple hasn't shipped one), and even a HiPhone running Windows Mobile 6.1!
While I'm obviously disappointed there's so much copying of valuable IP here, I can't help but be impressed by how quickly and frankly well in some cases the companies here are making shanzhai products. I hope this energy will be applied to more creative endeavors someday.
More on Shanzhai:
Today we have pretty much the worst air quality possible; here's the view from my office window. The AQI scale only goes to 500; the average for the day is 500. (Bellevue, WA's AQI today is 10, by comparison.)
You can really visibly see the difference between the various scores:
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
Here's a great t-shirt I saw this weekend (I should have bought one). I mean, who doesn't love Beijing? :)
This weekend, we were out for a walk through some of Beijing's older neighborhoods. I spotted this lovely older woman sitting in the sun and noticed her feet; they're very small, leading me to believe they were bound. Foot binding was a terrible practice in China of breaking and tying girls' feet so they would be very small and shaped in a particular way. It ended in the early part of the 20th century, apparently not soon enough for this woman.
Michelle and I recently saw these lovely drawings by a talented artist named Kuang Han (况晗). Mr. Kuang captures pencil drawings of the Beijing hutongs, old neighborhoods that are rapidly dwindling in the face of Beijing's growth and modernization. We plan to go back to the gallery and find the perfect one (or ones) to buy. (I especially like the blocky looking drawings like the first one below.)
Here's what I saw today at home in Beijing when I tried to access the Wikipedia article on internet censorship in China:
This October 1st will be the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China ("liberation" as it's affectionately known as here in China.) To celebrate, the government is having an old-school parade down Chang An Avenue (the big road that runs between Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City), complete with floats, tanks, soldiers, missiles, and aircraft flyovers. Nothing beats seeing tanks cruising the streets of Beijing.
The media here has been showing a lot of photos of the massive preparations for the event. I thought they were pretty cool and worth sharing.
They want nice straight lines and tall soldiers like this. (Actually, I think these are the armed police, not the army, but whatever.)
So, they use string to make sure everyone is lined up at the right height. (I'm sure this guy will be in trouble for smiling, but it's a great photo.)
A few pins in the right places to make sure everyone stands up straight.
They're marching so much, their battered boots are taking a beating.
The female soldiers get much cooler looking boots.
My good friend from Stanford fraternity days, Ari Lehavi, was in Beijing this week, so Michelle and I met with him for dinner and drinks. Since Ari had expressed some interest in more "interesting" food, we took him for a stroll around Wangfujing Street and the Donghuamen Night Market where there food stalls with everything you can imagine on a stick.
Ari in front of scorpions (live!) and seahorses on sticks. (They're grilled and covered in spicy powder before you eat them.)
Ari chomping down on a scorpion. He considered these to be quite good.
Ari finishing off his seahorse.
Ari holding a stick of grilled silkworms and a stick of cicadas (I think). The cicadas were OK. The silkworms were a little more earthy, according to Ari. (I skipped the big silkworms.)
Mmm, love those silkworms...
Ari about to tuck into a grilled starfish. To eat these you break off an arm, peel back the tough outer skin, and eat the meaty inside. It looks a bit like cooked finely ground beef but tastes seafoody. Not terrible.
Yesterday, we were hanging out in the lovely Beihai Park (near the Forbidden City) when we saw a line of military aircraft making a pass along Chang An Avenue (this is the big road that passes between the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square - famous for a particular photo of a gentleman standing with some tanks). They were rehearsing for the upcoming celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China where there will be a big military parade replete with tanks, missiles, high-stepping troops, and (apparently) military aircraft).
After we saw the fighters, helicopters, bombers, and an airborne warning plane go over, Andrew (12) asked, "Are those American fighters?" I replied, "No, if those were American fighters over Beijing, we'd be in big trouble."
(Separately, it was interesting that the planes flew over in a well-spaced single file line. I think American forces would have come by in tight formation. Just a difference in style or some concern over their ability to fly close together over government officials and population?)
One of the most unique and enjoyable features in Bing is the custom homepage image we have each day. The photos are usually beautiful and have hotspots that link to interesting web info. (You can check out some of the previous images on the Bing Image Archive.)
Recently, my team in Beijing and Tokyo started doing images and hotspots specific to the Chinese and Japanese markets. I'm especially proud of image we posted today. The school in this photo is in Sichuan province (home of spicy food); it was destroyed in the horrible earthquake last year and rebuilt with the help of MSN China's Rainbow Action effort. Over the next few days we'll use the Bing home page and a series of new photos to drive more attention the survivors of the Sichuan earthquake and encourage people to help them recover. (On a technical note, this is the first time we've commissioned a photo for the Bing homepage; we normally use stock photos.)
Anyway, I encourage you to check it out at cn.bing.com and to donate to this effort on the Rainbow Action site (available in English and donations can be made through PayPal.) I'm often proud of the work we do technically, but it makes me even more happy when I can be proud of what Microsoft does for the community.
[Update: 2009-09-01 Apparently the MSN/PayPal collections for this phase are closed for now. It's still worth donating via other means.]
[Update: 2009-09-06 Shrunk the image down to fit on more screens.]
Unlike US drivers licenses, Chinese drivers licenses don't list the holder's hair or eye color. This makes total sense since most Chinese (at least the majority Han Chinese) have black hair and dark brown eyes, but it still surprised me.
Hm, I didn't think even the Chinese gov't would want kids playing with nuclear beach balls. (Seen at the Beijing airport.)
I saw this awesome poster up at a cool bar/restaurant near our house. One of the cool things in China is that many restaurants have a kids' playroom. This one is just cooler than most. Everyone wins: parents, kids, and restaurant. Seems like a good idea for an XBox marketing campaign...
(taken with crappy camera phone)
I saw this poster up around the shops near our house in Beijing and felt it really spoke to me. I too "am crazy for drink tonight" and of course, who doesn't want "continuous excitements" and "non-stop gifts"?
Wahoo! The wind has been blowing all day, so the air is getting clearer pretty quickly. Look at the difference between this morning (182), early this afternoon (129), and late this afternoon (74). You can really see how these different AQI scores look.
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
Things are much more clear than this morning. At 129, looking out my window, it doesn't feel heavily polluted (although it's still worse than most cities in the US on a bad day.)
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
Today is pretty good relative to my last update on air quality: 182.
Here's what 182 looks like. If you compare it to the 213 from the other day, you can see a little further, but not much.
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
During our recent trip to Xian we mostly focused on seeing the Terracotta Warriors. However, we did get to see a little of the city. It has a very different vibe from Beijing. In many ways it's more of what I expected from China. Xian has some obvious historical artifacts still standing, most notably the city wall encircling the inner city. The streets are really full of people (Beijing is sprawling and hardly ever feels as packed as Tokyo or Hong Kong.) Perhaps scarier, the driving is even more chaotic than Beijing. It's definitely a little more raw than the more staid Beijing.
A few brief facts about Xian: It was the capital of China several times including during the Qin Dynasty that unified China (and produced the Terracotta Warriors). It was the end of the Silk Road, and for a few hundred years from about the 7th to 10th centuries, it was the largest city in the world. While Han Chinese represent most of the population, there is a sizable Muslim population and a famous mosque, The Great Mosque of Xian. The night market between the Drum Tower and the Great Mosque was absolutely packed with people enjoying a warm Saturday night.
The Bell Tower in the middle of the city
The Drum Tower near the Bell Tower
The busy night market near the Great Mosque and Drum Tower. (I wish I had better photos, but I had to hold onto the kids to make sure we didn't lose them in the massive crowd.)
I’ve Twittered and Facebooked the air quality indicator (AQI) measure a few times, but I don't think the numbers mean much without visuals. So, every so often, I'll post a photo from my office with the AQI score. I'm getting my data from the US Embassy's Twitter feed. (Note, the US Embassy is on the other side of Beijing from my office, but I trust the data more than the official Chinese gov't info.)
Here's what 213 looks like. (Average for the day is 199). The AQI in Bellevue, WA is 24 currently.
We were in Ritan Park this weekend and saw this ripped dude doing a hardcore high bar routine. He had strapped his hands to the bar, probably both to protect himself from the friction and to keep from flying off the bar onto the concrete and hard dirt below. He then started doing full-on giant swings. And, like I observed in Ditan Park, he wasn't wearing any particular workout clothing. He had taken his shirt off, but he was wearing grey wool-looking dress slacks and sneakers. I love seeing all the cool stuff people do in the parks. Apparently Michelle and our friend Stacy didn't mind watching him either; they seemed to linger over our buff friend for a bit...
(Unfortunately, I only had my camera phone with me, so the shots are crappy.)
Behind my office building in Beijing, I saw the sign for this company AdSage. They're a search engine marketing company who apparently doesn't want to offend Google, MSN, or Yahoo so they incorporated bits of all our logos into theirs. Or, like many things in China, they just lifted bits of IP from different places. Anyway, I thought it was funny.
As many of you know, my lovely wife Michelle is Caucasian, and I am not. Interracial marriages (esp. Asian/Caucasian) are not at all uncommon on the West Coast of the US, although ones where the husband is non-white are less common. In Seattle, we occasionally bump into surprises where people don't think Michelle looks like a "Chor" or don't guess we're together, but by and large it's not a big deal. In other parts of the US, we draw stares occasionally but it's not a big deal these days (twenty years ago it was a little different with open staring when we were outside the West Coast.)
Here in China, however, while the white dude/Chinese wife combo is not odd, our particular combination is very rare. This has lead to a surprisingly common phenomenon: everyone thinks I'm Michelle's driver. I guess this isn't surprising since it's not an uncommon sight to see a Caucasian expat woman out shopping with her Chinese driver (who translates, carries bags, etc. – much the same as my responsibilities when we go shopping).
Still, it caught us by surprise the first time a shopkeeper asked if I was her driver. People often think Michelle is kidding when she replies (in Chinese) that I'm her husband. Even kids think this; at the kids' international school, one of their classmates asked if I was their driver. ("Only in the US" was the right reply.)
Most recently, however, I was invited into the Chinese driver club. When we were in Xian last weekend (to see the Terracotta Warriors), our family and two friends took a pair of cabs from the airport. Just outside the airport they pulled over, and the other driver came over to our car. He leaned in and said, "Shifu, let's make a deal…" ("Shifu" means master; it's the title used for drivers.) He went on to say (in Chinese of course), "Hey, we're all drivers here. We want to turn off the meter so our boss doesn’t see this fare. We'll give you a good deal, and we get to keep some money." It took me a second to realize what was going on. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough on my feet. As Michelle suggested later, I should have asked for a cut.
Of course, I shouldn't complain. Until 1967, anti-miscegeny laws (laws prohibiting interracial marriage and/or sexual relations) were still in effect in sixteen US states; worse, it took until 1998 and 2000 before the last two states (South Carolina and Alabama, respectively) removed the last such provisions from their state constitutions (and then barely in Alabama). I guess these cases of mistaken identity beat not being married to Michelle or having the police barge into our bedroom (like they did with the Lovings, whose case resulted in the US Supreme Court ended all anti-miscegeny laws in the US. It seems like there are parallel lessons that should be applied today to other cases. We're so dumb sometimes.
Anyway, Michelle and the kids think this whole thing is hysterical and have started calling me "Shifu". I'll have to start smoking by the car to complete the picture, I suppose.
The family and I plus my colleagues Steve and John took the 1.5 hour flight to Xian this weekend to see the sights. On the top of the list, of course, was the famous Terracotta Army, so we headed out on a muggy, hot day to check it out.
After fending off the numerous offers in the parking lot for a tour guide, we walked through a long shopping plaza to get to the entrance. (Tip: it’s probably worth the 5 RMB to take the electric tram to the entrance. Bonus tip: hang on to your tickets – you’ll have show them to various guards several times.)
It might have been worth getting a tour guide for 100 RMB (about USD$15). As they warned me in English and Chinese, the site is not well marked. We figured out where pit #1 was and headed over to the building to see Qin Shi Huang’s army.
The building housing pit #1:
Inside this building was the largest of the excavated pits. It was really breathtaking. It’s huge. If you look in this photo, you can see the tourists gathered around the edges of the pit. The soldiers were arranged in “rooms” divided by rammed earth walls that are apparently as hard as concrete. The rooms were covered with logs, grass mats, and dirt, forming a roof.
Note the original entrance used to populate the rooms; the doors were later sealed.
There’s still a lot of work to be done at the sites. Here is a platoon in various states of re-assembly.
In fact, there are many parts of the site that archaeologists have yet to unearth. They’re going slowly, apparently to limit the environmental damage from pollution, moisture (including that from the breath and sweat of the all the tourists), and mold that are beginning to take a toll on the ones already exposed.
The detail of each of the soldiers was really amazing. While the faces are all unique, the soldiers were apparently mass produced. The faces came from a set of base patterns and then were “personalized” to add expressions and different features. The different body parts were fired separately and then assembled. The pieces were all originally painted, but the color has faded over the years. This was a bit of a surprise to me since I’ve always seen the in the familiar brown color. They all originally had bronze weapons, but these were looted. However, the ones they recovered were still sharp due to the advanced chrome plating process used – thousands of years ahead of similar plating technology in the west.
In addition to the terracotta figures, they had two bronze chariots on display. These were smaller than real life (I think half sized), but still amazingly detailed and beautiful.
There was one weird thing. Ahead of the Olympics last year, they (not sure who “they” really is) built a huge terracotta solider marionette that held hands and danced with a Western-doll marionette. The two were just creepy.
Overall, the artifacts were really amazing as was the scale of the display. I just had no idea it was so huge (also, only about 1000 of the estimated 8000 soldiers has been excavated so far). Perhaps even more tantalizing are the reports of huge, 22 square mile (56 sq. km) necropolis nearby with a map of all of China. The old records say the ceiling is studded with pearls, simulating the night sky, and mercury was pumped to simulate river flows. To unearth the entire site, twelve villages and several factories would have to be moved. Almost none of the site has been uncovered and the entrance to the tomb has not been found yet. However, the soil apparently has high concentrations of mercury. It’s staggering to think of this level of accomplishment in 210 BC.
The only real downsides were the mobs of pushy tourists and the heat. It was difficult to really look at the statues and take in everything with so many people around (often thoughtlessly shoving, talking loudly, and bumping into us); in particular, it took some effort to stay connected with the kids. We were also just hot the whole time, even though the buildings were somewhat air conditioned. Michelle also wound up with a bottle of faux Perrier at a coffee shop outside the complex (this kind of real-looking packaging with fake contents is unfortunately too common in China.)
Still, the site was incredible to see, and we’re glad we went. Definitely worth a visit.
I saw this sign at the Terracotta Warrior museum. I guess with all of the tourists there, stampeding is a real risk...
During my visit last Saturday to Ditan Park, one of the coolest martial arts I saw was shuai jiao. This is a type of Chinese wrestling. Based on my observations, a wrestler scores by making his opponent fall; no need to pin.
There was a wrestling ring raked into the dirt. On one side of the arena there was a table set up with the guys who were clearly the elders of the Ditan Park shuai jiao scene.
They kept laughing, yelling advice, and shaking their heads during the matches. This guy in particular was clearly the head dude. After many of the falls, he would jump into the ring and show one of the wrestlers how to fix some mistake he had just made.
There were a few rounds, starting with the beginners. By the mid round the wrestlers had a little more swagger and were clearly better, moving faster and having better technique.
The highlight, though, came when the local champ (in red below) arrived. (The whole match seemed to be waiting for him to show up.) His opponent was no slouch, having been Beijing's representative in the national shuai jiao competition.
Of course, this being China, the champ interrupted the match to receive a cellphone call.
After his call, he put down his phone and proceed to kick the other dude's butt. He launched himself at the smaller guy and just flattened him.
It was a very friendly atmosphere with lots of smiling and laughing between the contestants and coaches. They clearly were having fun and respected one another. There didn't seem to be any of the real hostility than can come with fighting sports. The large crowd seemed to enjoy it too. I did.
During my visit to Ditan Park last Saturday morning, my friend Kevin and I saw Beijingers practicing a wide range of martial arts styles. It was especially great to have Kevin explaining things to me; he's studied taiji (tai chi) for over ten years and was well versed in a lot of the different styles.
Some people were in the park practicing on their own. I couldn't stop watching this woman. Even though she is clearly older, she was absolutely fantastic. She had deep poses and had rock solid balance. I only wish I had been standing two feet to the right when I took this shot so the tree wasn't in the way.
There were people practicing with weapons too, like these spear and sword guys.
Others practiced with schools. During the week the schools practice in buildings, but during the weekends they come out to the parks. They apparently have their territory staked out. They indicate their school with banners they hang out.
You can really see the difference in some of the forms. This is a northern style that emphasizes straight line attacks. They even practice along straight paths.
By contrast this guy is practicing on a ring of bricks. He stepped brick to brick as he practiced his forms.
There was a guy practicing bagua over and over again, forming a circle in the dirt. I'm only sorry I didn't get a photo of the dude too.
There were some beginners too. This is a well-known taiqi master working with a set of beginners.
Unlike martial arts classes in the US, there were no fancy uniforms or belts. People were practicing in leather shoes, sneakers, jeans, shorts, whatever. It was really cool to see this all in one place. I'll have to find a class and come out.
On weekends, Beijingers flood into local parks to hang out and partake in all manner of activities -- martial arts, dancing, chess, opera, you name it. Last Saturday, my friend and colleague Kevin took me to a big park in the middle of Beijing, Ditan Park, to see the action.
Ditan is especially known for their martial arts, but there's lot more going on. Here are a few of of the non-martial arts activities. I'll post some martial arts photos next.
There were a bunch of people practicing Chinese calligraphy with 2.5 foot long brushes dipped in water. They'd use these write on the ground. There's something a little sad about the beautiful calligraphy fading into nothingness as the water dries.
There were a lot of dancers -- from lines of women doing traditional Chinese dances to ballroom dancers like the folks below learning tango. (The couple in the middle were the instructors.)
There were folks playing different sports like badminton (which is hardcore in China). These guys were playing menqiu or gateball, a simplified version of croquet.
Not everything was old or classically Chinese. There were kids inventing the new China too.
[2009-07-18 Added missing photo and alt tags.]
This is so cool. The US Embassy (I think) is Twittering Beijing air quality stats. In addition to the sheer coolness of it, there have been some concerns that official local sources may not always have accurate numbers. Of course, I feel worse now about how bad the air really is. The average yesterday was 201 (very unhealthy) while I was hiking around town.
Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre (known as the "June 4 incident" or just "6-4" here in China). I was a junior getting ready for finals at Stanford during the period leading up to that sad day. I remember very well trying to follow what was going on; there was no Internet, just newsgroups, at the time so I spent every spare moment in the computer lab reading the rumors and news bits that were dribbling out of China via fax and other means.
When the news of the shootings came out, I sobbed, uncontrollably for a while. Honestly, this reaction surprised me. It was really the first time I felt any connection to the people in China. Prior to this time, I had always viewed the people in China as different from those of us who supported "Free China" (Taiwan). But, these were college students like me, my peers. They simply wanted what I already had. We were the same. I was Chinese too.
So, fast-forward twenty years: I live in China now. On a day-to-day basis, it doesn't feel like I'm living in the same country that we saw in the news reports twenty years ago. In many ways it's not. But, every so often there's a reminder. When the about-to-open Mandarin Oriental Hotel burned down, there was no news coverage of the event (there's no live news coverage in China) and the incident was downplayed. I actually learned about it via friends' posts on Facebook. Then, this week, the service I work on, Bing (Microsoft's newly re-branded and greatly improved search service) was blocked in China along with Live Spaces, Twitter, and FlickR and some other sites; the government wanted to suppress access to controversial content.
Interestingly and perhaps non-intuitively to many outside of China, this day is not viewed as a particularly memorable or important date to many Chinese, at least the ones I talked with about it. Since it's not discussed or taught here, my guess is that most young people simply don't know much about it.
For older folks, I have some speculation. During the lifetime of everyone alive today and even before, China has suffered greatly from humiliation by foreign powers, Japanese atrocities, civil war, the Cultural Revolution, famine, poverty, and so on. First, while terrible, the events in Tiananmen and Beijing twenty years ago may not be any more significant than dozens or even hundreds of other incidents in modern Chinese history. These last twenty years have been increasingly stable and prosperous; people are proud of what China has become (culminating in the awesome Olympics last year) and satisfied that they are better off than the generations that preceded them. They're also optimistic about the future. There's simply little reason in their minds to make a big deal about this or to rock the boat.
I struggle with the question of whether we're helping or hurting things by living here. I certainly don't support the lack of freedoms here. (You can see a brief view of my political beliefs in my short-lived 2004 presidential campaign...) But, ultimately, I think constructive engagement is the best way to influence other countries. Still, just writing this article and thinking about that horrible day twenty years ago gives me pause.
Here are some signs I saw recently near the Olympic venues. I thought these were lovely; much nicer than "Stay off the grass."
As you probably know, there are no fortune cookies after meals in restaurants in China; those are definitely an American innovation. However, there are lots of enigmatic expressions posted everywhere. Here are a few on big billboards near our house, advertising our villa district (neighborhood).
Note, they're no better in Chinese.
Based on these, I'm feeling pretty successful...
Chinese bathrooms are generally kind of gross, even in nice places. That said, there's definitely been a huge improvement even in the few years since I've been visiting Beijing. Here's a funny sign on top of a urinal that shows the effort to make things better.
The message is basically something to the effect of:
One small step forward
A big step forward for civilization
(mai chu yi xiao bu, wen min yi da bu)
OK, it was funny to me. More places could use this sign, even in the US.
Although we've had Green T. House on our list for a while, Michelle and I stumbled upon it one afternoon as we were exploring a village near our house. This striking, all-white, airy restaurant is set at the back of an industrial-area-turned-art district near Hegezhuang Village in Shunyi (the suburby/farmy area east of Beijing where we live.) It's hidden behind all-white walls and centered in a field of white pebbles; the sidewalk to the building skirts the outside edge of this field.
The food is innovative Chinese with European fusion elements. For instance, we had an amazing baked eggplant dish topped with Parmesan cheese (a great match, actually) and colorful steamed man tou (buns) with a pesto dipping sauce (also lovely). The names of some of the dishes are fun too, like "Have you been in contact with fowl in the last seven days?" (a great dish with spicy chicken bits in deep fried tea leaves.) The wine list is also good (if pricey); the cocktails were OK. Service is very good and the staff speak English well. The menus are in English and Chinese.
They're building a bathhouse (spa?) behind the restaurant and will soon start to have tea tastings as well, which should be good. There's a Green T. House in Chaoyang too, which is apparently all black. We'll have to get over there too.
Address: No. 318 Cuige Zhuang Xiang, Hege Zhuang Cun, Chaoyang, Beijing +86-10-6434-2519
This is Daniel Boulud's latest restaurant and the first outside the US. The restaurant is in the old American Embassy in the newly renovated and very upscale Legation Quarter (it's also called the Ch'ien Men 23 area), once the location of foreign embassies, just off the east side of Tiananmen Square. (Here's the Wikipedia article on the historical Legation Quarter.)
As you would expect from a Boulud restaurant, the food was perfectly prepared and the service almost spot on (one waitress had to call another person over to understand my "dirty martini" order). Like at the China Grill, it almost didn't feel like we were in China. My tasting menu with wine pairings was excellent (and they kept refilling my glass -- a nice plus). It's a great place to dress up and get away from the commotion of China. It's maybe the perfect place before taking in a symphony or opera at the National Centre for the Performance Arts (aka "the Egg") nearby. They have English menus and speak English well.
We walked around the Legation Quarter after dinner and checked out some of the other bars and restaurants. They're mostly just opening up now (lots of soft openings) so the managers were happy to show us around. Looks like there will be some fun places.
Address: Number 23 Qianmen Dong Da Jie. +86-010-6559-9200
In the past few weeks, we've been to a few really amazing restaurants set in very different but beautiful locations. This is the first of three posts describing the restaurants. The others are Maison Boulud a Pekin and Green T. House Living.
This may be my favorite restaurant in Beijing now and is certainly the best Beijing duck place (IMHO). This gorgeous restaurant is part of the 1949 Hidden City complex -- a set of very cool bar/restaurants in an old factory complex in Chaoyang. The area has my favorite balance of swish yet comfortable.
I had the good fortune to meet the manager and chef on one visit; they gave us a tour of the kitchen and explained their process. They have very strict quality standards, using a particular kind of duck, fed a particular way, and harvested at exactly 39 days. The cook the ducks over a wood fire (and the wood is aged, etc.) and even make their own hoisin sauce. The chef is from Hong Kong, so he brings the more delicate Cantonese style to their Beijing cuisine. (Their slogan is the cheeky "One Duck, Two Systems" borrowed from the phrase that China uses to describe how they rule Hong Kong, "One Country, Two Systems".) The duck was lightly smoky, not dry at all and yet not fatty or oily. They presented slices of crispy skin-only, skin with meat, and just meat so each diner could choose their own balance. Simply perfection. The other dishes were well-prepared also. One mixed veggie dish is a good example. While it seemed simple, each of the different vegetables was perfectly done (even though they had different cooking times) and coated with exactly the right amount of the sauce; there was no extra sauce pooling on the bottom of the dish nor was anything under-covered.
According to Michelle, their lunchtime dim sum is among the very best dim sum she's ever had (and we've had some damn good dim sum before). The restaurant also has a good (if expensive) wine list, makes good cocktails (hard to find in Beijing), and has the first Bollinger champagne bar in Beijing. They have English menus, and the staff can manage some English. There are a few other places in the 1949 Hidden City I want to try including a noodle bar and taverna. They also have a private club called the 49 Club; we looked into it, but it was just an expensive way to get private dining rooms. Maybe good for people who do a lot of business entertaining, but not worth it for us. In any case, 1949 and Duck de Chine are definitely worth visiting.
We went to an Easter party at our neighborhood's club house yesterday. There was a well-intentioned Easter egg hunt plus other activities and booths. While were were there, the boys and I were interviewed by a reporter from the China Daily. Some of our quotes were included in the article in today's edition. The other family in the story lives down the street and have become good friends recently too. Kind of fun...
By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-13 09:34
Families in Beijing's Shunyi district put all their eggs in one basket to celebrate Easter together yesterday - but they had to find them first.
The egg hunt organized by Beijing Dragon Bay Villa was accompanied by appearances by the Easter Bunny - both in the forms of a villa staff member clad in a giant pink rabbit suit and live baby bunnies - face painting and egg decorating.
"This is a family time, and children love (it)," says the villa's property manager Zheng Min.
Finding the hidden eggs and candy helped alleviate homesickness for 11-year-old Andrew Chor and his 8-year-old brother, whose family moved from the US to Beijing four months ago.
"We used to do this a lot at home, and at first, I thought we wouldn't be doing it in China," Andrew says, holding up his sack of eggs, candy and toothpaste. He proudly announces he found six eggs, and his brother found five.
The boys' father Tony says he's happy the kids were able to join the fun. "The kids were kind of unsure about moving to China overall, and something like this makes the transition easier," he says.
Scot Julie Hansen, whose family moved to China four months ago, believes joining the party helped keep her family's Easter traditions alive.
Hansen brought sons Patrick, 10, and Thomas, 6, to join the fun. "It helps us meet some of our neighbors and bring some European traditions to China," she says.
Everyone knows China is a big place, but how's this for a little perspective. Hainan (location of our recent vacation) is the smallest province in China. Even then, it's the size of Belgium, with a population that's only 20% less (8.18 million in Hainan vs. 10.7 miliion in Belgium). Crazy.
Last weekend, we took advantage of the boys' short spring break (two days off school -- shorter than normal this year because of the late start due after the Olympics) to take a quick jaunt down to Sanya, a city on the south coast of Hainan Island. Hainan is on the south coast of China in the South China Sea near Vietnam; it's often referred to as the "Hawaii of China." It's a popular resort destination for Chinese and expats, plus it's apparently a big draw for visitors from Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. More interestingly, it's a huge favorite for Russian tourists. On our drive from the airport, we saw a lot of signs with Russian on them.
Contrary to my normal vacation mode where I want to see a lot things at our destination, this time we just wanted to sit around, soak up the warmth, and relax. To that end, we chose to stay at the Banyan Tree Resort in Sanya. The resort is away from the bustle of the more popular hotel areas, in a quiet section on Luhuitou Bay. We spent a lot of our time in and around the private pool in our two bedroom villa, going to the beach to play in the sand and warm water in the mornings when it was a bit cooler. The boys thought the midnight swims were especially cool.
(This is a Photosynth view of our villa. It's a composite image of a few hundred photos. You may need to install Photosynth first. BTW, Photosynth is a super cool technology by the big brain guys at Microsoft Live Labs. Worth checking out.)
I managed to sneak out to Luhuitou Golf Club for my first round in eighteen months. It turns out that not playing for a while doesn't help your game. Fortunately, I was playing alone save for my caddie, who was polite enough not to laugh, and the course was impeccably maintained with perfect greens (not that I could make a putt to save my life.)
The facilities were undeniably lovely and the service was very good (particularly by Chinese standards). The only real downer (and probably the thing that would encourage us to to try someplace else next time) was the food. It was very inconsistent, ranging from great to fair, and the menu was pretty limited. By the end of our fourth day, we were pretty bored with the selection. (Although I did have a pretty good Hainan Chicken Rice - always good to try a dish in the place of its origin.)
Still, it was great to get away from the dusty grey and brown air and ground of Beijing for warm, humid, clean air and lush tropical environs of Sanya. We all had a very enjoyable and relaxing time.
Given the swirling mass of cars, bikes, and scooters here, I guess it was bound to happen; I was in my first little car accident in China today. It was a totally minor thing where another car changed lanes into my car; we were stopped and the other car was moving about three miles per hour -- just enough to put a little dent in my left passenger door.
The more interesting thing was what happened next. After we got out of traffic, my driver and the other driver started chatting (mostly amicably). The other driver was new as was his car -- no plates or insurance yet (the plastic was still on his seats). A policeman who was directing traffic nearby came over. As I sat in the car, I watched some more chatting, a few phone calls, then the other driver handed my driver 400 RMB (about $60 USD). We then drove off.
Since the other driver didn't have insurance, everyone agreed to an on-the-spot cash payment. The estimate for our damage was about 300 RMB (about $45 USD) so my driver asked for 400 RMB to be sure. (It's amazing how cheap car repair is here. The same damage would easy have been $400 USD in the US and maybe more.)
I have to admit, it was pretty cool how quickly everything was resolved. There were no police forms, insurance claims guys, etc. Apparently, this kind of resolution is pretty common.
This is a picture of the gas station next to my office. Michelle pointed out the "fire equipment" at the station: three shovels and two buckets. I'm not sure how useful those shovels and buckets will be if that tanker truck goes up.
Today marks our 100th day since we moved to China. It's been a fun, if not always smooth ride so far. I alternate between how-did-we-wind-up-in-China days and I-totally-belong-here days. I think the vast majority are the latter, but sometimes it still feels like we're here on some kind of long vacation.
I think we were pretty well-prepared when we came, but of course there were still lots of little surprises. I thought I'd share a few of those surprises (in no particular order).
Well, that's enough for now. I'm sure in a year or so, all of this stuff will just seem normal, but for now, I'm enjoying the differentness.
It's March 1 and spring is in the air (or is that just coal smoke?). One of the surprises for me about Beijing was how cold it really gets, especially since Beijing and San Francisco are roughly at the same latitude. Unlike in SF (or even Seattle), in Beijing, the lakes and rivers freeze over, and Beijingers head out onto the ice.
One popular place to play is Houhai, the lakes behind the Forbidden City. In addition to ice skating, the locals have other ways to enjoy the ice. One popular older form is to sit on ice chairs and propel themselves with sharp poles. According to our driver, they did this originally because many people couldn't afford skates.
A newer toy is the ice bike. I think the back wheel must have studs on it.
Nearby, vendors sold animals (usually ones from the Chinese zodiac) blown from blobs of sugary dough. (The art is called nie1 mian4 捏面 in Chinese, meaning "knead or pinch dough".) These were super cool, but they kind of sagged and melted when brought into the warm house. I've seen some people eat these, but I don't think that's advisable since the dude worked the dough with his hands and then blew into it the blob.
It was definitely a popular place and, like all fun things in Beijing, crowded. (The big tower in behind the lake is the Gulou or Drum Tower.)
We weren't dressed to play that day at Houhai, so I took the boys skating at a rink near our house. Well, Andrew (11) skated and Michael (8) ran around on the ice.
Eventually, Andrew dropped his skates and started ice bowling (with himself as the ball).
I can't remember the last time I skated or even walked on a frozen lake. It's definitely been 25-30 years (crap, I hate the way that sounds). Skating on the bumpy, grooved ice is definitely a different experience than smooth arena ice (go, Zamboni!) but we all had a great time.
While I'm looking forward to spring, I'm sad we didn't enjoy the ice more while we had it. We'll have to play more next winter.
Last night we went to a delicious and fun restaurant called The Noodle Loft. This restaurant is Shanxi-style and reflects that's province's fascination with noodles. They make a vast assortment of noodles there, all by hand, using a variety of techniques -- pulling, pinching, throwing, shaving with a knife, whacking off with a chopstick, and so on. We had four different types and barely scratched the surface.
One really cool preparation is where they make an entire serving of pasta from one very long noodle. The chef stands about 4-5 feet from the boiling water, pulls the dough from behind him and throws the single strand into the pot. He repeats this motion, pulling more yardage of noodle from the dough and throwing it. It's hard to describe but fun to watch. Here's a (bad) photo of the action. You can kind of see the long green noodle in motion.
On top of their good food, they had a show kitchen so you could see all the action. It had a bar around one edge with seats for a close-up view. The boys enjoyed watching everything and then got in on a the dough handling when one of the cooks gave them each a blob of dough. Andrew (11) declared that he might want to work there someday. (He's deciding between noodle chef, US Marine sniper, and Microsoft game developer. Pretty wide range.)
The Chinese name (面酷 - mian4 ku4) is way better than Noodle Loft. I think it can be translated as "Cool Noodles", "Extreme Noodles" or even "Cruel Noodles". Either way, it's a great place that we'll be headed back to.
(I've included a scan of both sides of their business card to help you find it. I'll try to do this going forward when the card has a map or other useful info.)
It's probably no surprise that fireworks are a big part of Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations (they were invented here in China after all). But, I was (and still am) surprised at the quantity and duration of the fireworks. Every night (and pretty much during the day too) from about a week before CNY people have been letting loose with a vast assortment of pyrotechnics, from sparklers (although they're much bigger here than in the US) to full-on aerial starbursts. I'm told this will go on until fifteen days after CNY with a final hurrah on that last day. There's a constant booming like distant artillery pretty much all the time out here in the suburbs; I'm told in the city it can get so loud that you can't hear the TV. Some evenings we can smell the burnt gunpowder in the air.
Before the CNY holiday, fireworks stands started popping up all over the place, like latte stands in Seattle. The big boxes in front of the tent below contains the big aerial shells you see at public Fourth of July events. They go for about 1000 RMB (about USD$145) -- very pricey, especially for people making Chinese wages. A huge string of firecrackers way bigger than anything I've seen in the US (they look like machine gun ammo belts) goes for 20 RMB (less than USD$3) by comparison.
Our ayi (the woman who helps us around the house with cleaning and such) runs a fireworks stand during this time of year where she says she makes the equivalent of six months of ayi pay in a week. She was kind enough to bring us a bag of what she called "safe for kids" fireworks -- sparklers, Roman candles, fountains, spinners, and a small rocket multi-pack.
We set out to the designated fireworks area in our neighborhood with some friends after dinner. After struggling with crappy lighters (we were rescued by a kind neighbor), we started out with the Roman candles. The kids quickly figured out the Roman candles were like magic wands and started yelling spells from Harry Potter. True to form, Andrew (11) sent stunning and disarming spells while Michael went directly for avada kedavra -- the killing curse. Here's me helping Michael (8).
We then moved to the 2.5 foot long sparklers. Here's Andrew in front of the rest of the family and our friends waving two sparklers around. Notice all the firecracker paper on the ground.
A van pulled up and some serious looking guys came out with some really serious fireworks. They started out with a few long strings of firecrackers. You can see Andrew and Michael below waving their relatively pathetic sparklers as they watch the three strings of firecrackers going off.
Then they brought out the big guns. We were almost literally under these huge shells with paper (and in one case a ball of flame) falling on our heads until we backed off a little. I was probably fifty feet at most from the launch point in the shot below. This went on for a good fifteen minutes. They had clearly spent a fortune and were enjoying themselves. We were happy to enjoy the show too. Our hearing recovered surprisingly quickly.
This scene was repeated in thousands of places around the city. Here's Andrew on a pile of firecracker paper in front of a restaurant where we had breakfast one morning. People clean up the mess the next morning and then start all over again.
I kind of wish we'd been downtown on New Year's Eve to see the mayhem. We plan to get a hotel downtown next CNY to really immerse ourselves in this fun custom of our new home.
Sorry for not posting last week. We finally moved from our temp housing downtown to the suburb of Shunyi. This was really a multi-part process. On Thursday the week before the movers took our things from the apartment; this was the stuff we carried on the plane, our air shipment, and the few things we had bought to date. Then, on Friday, we received our sea shipment with our furniture and the balance of our stuff. We were excited by the prospect of finally having all of our things in one place.
Unfortunately, our new house was not ready to move into. There were still workmen inside patching up a few things, the place was very dusty and dirty (with sand and bugs in our bathtubs for instance), and (as we discovered later) many systems not ready for prime time.
As we started cleaning and unpacking, we had to debug these systems one-by-one: getting the heat turned on in every room, getting hot water to come on in the master shower, turning on the dishwasher, and so on. Pretty much each of these problems involved one or more visits from our neighborhood maintenance staff. Thank goodness for these guys. I can't think of a analogy in an American neighborhood; I suppose it's more like the kind of thing you might have in an apartment. You call the office with a problem and sometime that day, the guys come over and try to fix your problem. They were largely successful despite my weak Chinese explanations; I hope I understood their responses too...
Now, a week later we have most systems working pretty well, and we're liking the house a lot (this was not the case during some parts of the past week). The biggest remaining issue is that the phone and CAT-5 wiring in the house is messed up in many locations. I had beat my head against the wall until two or three in the morning trying to get the network working one night; when the maintenance guys came over, they found a bunch of the jacks were miswired and others were not passing any signal at all. I've got wireless working on the first floor now and have bridged to another wireless adapter on the second floor (although this is a slow/spotty connection). It will take some more doing to get this last part fixed.
In the US, I doubt the house would have passed the bank inspection, but I understand this level of construction quality is normal in China. It seems like people settle for "good enough" quickly here; even the maintenance guys seemed confused why I wanted more heat in the house, implying that I was expecting too much to be in short sleeves in my house in January. This is somewhat understandable I suppose since the house is so much nicer than how 99.99% of the country lives, but it will still take some getting used to.
I'll post some photos soon...
One of the seemingly attractive things in China is that it's relatively inexpensive to hire people to do service work like cleaning. Given how dusty and polluted the air in Beijing is, you always have to be cleaning here. These two facts seem to match each other well.
However, based on our limited sample size to date, the low price may not actually be much of a value. The quality of the cleaning jobs we've seen in our temporary apartment, the new house we're moving into, and even good hotels like the Grand Hyatt has been pretty uniformly poor. According to Michelle, who has been in the apartment while housekeeping was cleaning up, the housekeeper goes through the motions of cleaning but isn't especially particular about actually getting anything clean. She would move the vacuum cleaner around the floor but not hit each spot on the rug, for instance. After the housekeeper leaves, the place is neat but not clean. She seems to be optimizing on following the process without regard to the results.
As with any population, I'm sure this one has a curve with good, average, and incompetent cleaners. I don't know where these folks were on the curve, but I'm not optimistic. We'll have to be very selective about who we work with going forward, but I suspect that once again, we may get what we pay for.
I snapped this shot last week near Houhai (the old Beijing lakes area behind the Forbidden City.)
It's Saturday night here in Beijing, and I'm getting ready to go to work tomorrow. Now, for a lot of Microsoft folks (and others in our industry to be fair) working on the weekend isn't unusual (unfortunately). Tomorrow, however, is an official work day in China.
Here's my understanding: The Chinese government realized it was a good thing to give people three day weekends; it's good for the economy since people will travel more. However, when a holiday like New Year's Day falls on a Thursday, what do you do? Easy -- give everyone Thursday and Friday off and then have them work on Sunday! This way, there's a three day weekend and there's no lost day of work!
I give the Chinese government high marks for creative thinking here. Definitely out-of-the-box.
The pollution is Beijing is certainly well-known and well-discussed; the term Greyjing has emerged to describe it (even making the New York Times 2008 Buzzwords list -- worth a read, btw.) You've all probably seen the photos of the horrible air, but here's something that surprised even me. There's so much dust in the air, even indoors, that our printer is covered in dust every day.
Michelle cleaned this printer less than a day ago. You can see how it's covered in dust again. I'm guessing the dry air isn't helping -- lots of static electricity. We're living in a brand new apartment on the 30th floor, so it's not like this is a drafty old building near the dirt.
I can only imagine what it's doing to our lungs. I'm looking forward to receiving our air purifiers in our sea shipment soon.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. :)
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.
The boys demonstrating their revolutionary zeal at Ritan Park.
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.
Michael and Andrew jumping for joy at 798.
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.
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.
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...]
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:
Anyway, I'll write more over the next few days. See you on the other side!
Last week, we went back to Beijing to finalize stuff for our move there. We also spent two days at the very lovely Commune by the Great Wall resort (more on that later). This resort is just downhill from an unrestored section of the Great Wall (the section is called Shuiguan). Andrew (10) and I made the quarter mile hike up to the wall and then walked along the quarter mile section that was open (a fence at the end prevented hikers from getting to the really dangerous collapsed sections.
The unrestored sections of the Wall are very different from the restored parts. These "wild" parts have trees and grass growing on top, the walls and towers are partially crumbled, and the walking surface is broken up. There are only a few places where they've installed safety measures like a hand rail on very steep sections. I actually quite like these parts of the Wall better.
Although the sky was hazy, it was still very picturesque given the mountainous terrain and the fall foliage. Andrew and I really enjoyed it.
Here are a few photos for your enjoyment.
Beautiful fall foliage and the Great Wall.
Trees, grass, and shrubs growing on top of the Great Wall.
Andrew on top of a guard tower with a collapsed roof.
Andrew about to climb a very steep section of the Great Wall.
Dear readers, I wanted to let everyone know I've accepted a new position as the Group Program Manager for Live Search in Beijing, China.
There are a lot of reasons for this change. Since we were first married, Michelle and I have wanted to live overseas. We both enjoy the broader perspective that working and traveling internationally brings and wanted to really experience that more fully. (Frankly, I think all Americans could benefit from a more worldly view.) I've also been eager to explore my heritage and speak/read Chinese more fluently, as I resolved in my new year's post. I'm also excited to have Andrew (11) and Michael (8) learn more about the world, their heritage, and another language well. I think it will be extra valuable for all of us to have more insight and skills with respect to China for the future.
Professionally, I think Search is a fascinating and important product to unlock the Internet. As good as Live and even Google are today, it's still too hard for most users to get what they're looking for in many cases. It's a critical business for Microsoft to get right; we're obviously way behind here.
I also think that Microsoft needs to master distributed development; there are simply not enough smart engineers who want to live near Redmond to do all of the cool things we want to do. I also think we'd benefit from more local development and more geographic diversity. In particular, I think Microsoft needs to really do a good job in China as that country now has the highest number of internet users and is set to surpass the US in PC users next year.
The combination of our desire, the kids' age, and the great opportunity with Search lead us to consider the move seriously. After our Japan trip this summer, we tacked on a few days to visit China to see houses and schools. I had been to Beijing many times before but had never seen how expats live; Michelle and the boys had never been to Beijing at all. What we saw was acceptable, so we decided to proceed. (In case you're wondering, I couldn't really talk about this stuff earlier and didn't have enough touristy photos of China since we were house hunting, so I didn't post about what we did in China.)
All that said, it's difficult to leave IE. I love the product and the team. I'm incredibly proud of how far we've come since restarting the team five years ago -- from a security nightmare to XPSP2 to IE7 and now the great reviews of IE8 beta 2. The team is more capable and more fun than ever. I definitely feel I'm leaving on a high note and am confident the team will do great things without me.
So, I'll be transitioning to the Live Search team in a few weeks. Then, once our paperwork and visas clear, we'll move to Beijing -- probably around November. This is a three year assignment -- longer if we like it and shorter if we don't, but we do plan to move back. We'll be keeping our house since Michelle and the boys will likely spend summers here, and I'll be back frequently. The kids aren't crazy about the idea yet (what kid wants to move?) but I'm sure they'll have a great time.
I'll blog more about what we're learning about China and how things proceed as we go along. It should be an exciting new experience!