Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fun with defrosting

There is a time for all things and we recently came to the time for defrosting the freezer. So we emptied it all out and put a towel down on the floor when we noticed how much water was being created by all of the melting ice. Then we walked away because watching a freezer defrost is really just not all that exciting – or so we thought…
When we next looked into the kitchen we discovered that melting ice was in fact fascinating beyond belief even if it required sitting on a really wet towel.

Turns out that the only thing more interesting than watching ice melt is watching a kitty watch the ice melt. Although we didn't use a stop watch, we can tell you that the time she spent watching this process could be measured in hours rather than minutes.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Cable is Down

There was an earthquake in Taiwan today. Luckily few people were killed and there was no associated tidal wave. Now for one of the more amusing results of this particular natural disaster - it knocked out all non-China internet to mainland China.
Well apparently all non-Chinese based website information comes across one - count 'em, one - cable that comes into mainland China via Taiwan. And the earthquake took the cable out. This means that sites like blogger and Google, which have China servers apparently, are still accessible, but yahoo as well as all news servers in North American and Europe are inaccessible. Of course Chinese sites can also be reached, but as these mostly written in Chinese, they are of somewhat limited use. (Michael asked the status of other Asian sites but we have not checked if we can get onto them. We also do not understand why Europe sites are hard to reach as we would expect these to come across the mainland.)

One of the funny things was the initial aggravation with the internet while ex-pat users across China thought, 'Why is China blocking this site, gosh darn it!' After all, what on earth could Babys-R-Us possibly have that is sooo controversial? It was actually comforting to know that this was not a government decision (this time).

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How much warning do you need?

When driving around Beijing, one of the things we have noticed with some concern is that warning signs are just not considered all that important. For instance, we might be driving down the street and there appears before us an orange cone. Just as we notice the cone and wonder why it might be there, we see a head pop up about 3 feet behind the cone from the open man hole.

We thought that was about as unsettling as it could get, but driving home the other night, as Cara was turning into the access road to our parking garage, she noticed a man standing in the middle of the one-way road. (In dark clothes of course.) From the 5 feet distance at which he was visible, she slowed down a little and beeped - which is the normal way of dealing with pedestrians standing in the middle of the road. (Actually, slowing down is a little excessive. Beeping is all that is really required.) But instead of stepping back onto the sidewalk and away from the car that slowly closing in on him, the gentleman held up his hand and then pointed down next to his feet... where there was an open man hole at which point some guy stuck his head out.

Those crazy American's just take caution way too far.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas - not just for Christians

China really gets into Christmas, which is strange considering how few Chinese are Christians. Wikipedia claims the number to be around 5%. Apparently the local government is encouraging the holiday as a form of mass consumerism and it is definitely catching on. What is funny is the dissociation between the Christmas holiday and the Christian religion. If we respond to the question, 'what are you doing for Christmas?' with the answer, 'nothing, we're Jewish ', we are met with completely blank stares. 'What has that got to do with anything?' you can hear them think.

As for celebrating the holiday, well lights and reindeer and Santas are up everywhere you look. And for Christmas Eve and Christmas the big thing to do is to go out for a huge dinner at a restaurant and eat special Christmas meals. Not quite the celebration that one might see back in the States. We even heard that last year during a midnight mass, Santa Claus made a star appearance at the height of the service.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Face Changing

Remember that Bar Mitzvah we attended back over Thanksgiving weekend here in Beijing. The evening party was held at the Beijing Opera House and we have finally edited down some video of the face changer to share with everyone. The video is below or you can see it here.

This slight of hand trick is just amazing to watch in person.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

That was odd

Turns out that Blogger thought that since the new computer was set up in China, I would want all the pages showing Chinese text. It was a little disconcerting especially as Chinese text recognition was not loaded yet onto this machine so just a bunch of blank boxes were showing up instead of words. I couldn't even figure out what was going on until I happen to add "Chinese" to the text options. Then, ah yes, then it all came clear and after many deep discussions and much clicking of random Chinese characters I accidentally managed to convince Blogger that I would really prefer English.
And I though arguing with Chinese taxi drivers was rough..

baby cam works

Just did a first check of the cam - and the good news it works. Yay!
This is pretty exciting stuff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Computer

Cara's new laptop arrived today. This means we now have twice the capability to produce (very few) blogs. One of the many cool things about this new gizmo is that it comes with a built in webcam which we think we might find a use for in the coming year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Strange American Food: Saltines

One of the things that has been recommended for helping supress nausea (babies are fun!) is the eating of saltine crackers, so we went and tried to find us some. We ended up with two packages of "salty crackers". The labels had pictures of very saltine-y looking crackers. But not just plain old salty flavor - oh no - these ones have all sorts of flavors! We bought one vegtable and one onion flavored package. There was also a sesame option, but since Cara is not a particular fan of sesames, we didn't try that one. Here's the catch - the crackers were not salty! They were more like slighty flavored oyster crackers. It was very dissapointing to say the least. Luckily they came in packages of about 15 crackers as opposed to the box of 100 that we are use to.

It turns out that if you go to the right ex-pat stores, there is something that is sort of like a saltine but a little softer, not quite as salty, and ever so slightly sweet. We were told that the wheat flavor was the best one to try (we have not yet examined the other flavor options for that brand). So we are not completely out of luck, but who would have thought that saltines could be an exotic food?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Coming of Age in China

We had the pleasure of attending a local Bar Mitzvah here in Beijing recently, and it was quite an experience! The photos shown here, however, are from the banquet that evening, held at an opera house on the eastern side of the Forbidden City, just north of a beautiful canal park.

To get there, we hopped on the subway at our place and rode it a handful of stops due west, exiting at the Tiananmen East subway station. From there, we entered the park. Given that it is winter, and Beijing is a northern city, this unlit park was pretty shadowy by the time we arrived for the evening's banquet. The stone walkway, however, reflected the meager light available and we were able to make our way along. Soon thereafter, we saw two young Chinese women in traditional red silk dresses, each one holding a paper lantern at the end of a pole. We walked over to ask if they knew where the opera house was, and they gently informed us that they were lantern-bearers for guests of the opera house.

They proceeded to escort us back into a courtyard, over to another pair of lantern-bearers, who then traded off escort duties and walked us to the next set. And so on. Eventually, we found ourselves at the main entrance to the opera house. In the picture at the top of this blog entry, you can see the back of a lantern-bearer, as viewed from an antechamber just inside the main building. On the far side of this young woman was another lantern-bearer. Guests passed between them and climbed the short steps on the left to enter the opera house.

We could drone on and on about the opera house (and we have some more photos, so eventually we will probably post again about this), but we wanted to share with you one of the experiences that made this party unique in our experience. In the photo on the left, you can see our friend Sen eating his New York Cheesecake with chopsticks. As for us, not being quite so civilized, we simply picked the cake up with our fingers and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Yum!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Our Other Excuse

The other reason we've been so distracted from our blogging obligations of late is that Cara is pregnant! (Fair warning to our faithful readers: we expect that this blog will contain a lot more baby stuff than it has in the past.)

As many of you already knew, this happy event is something we had been working toward and, with the help of a book titled Taking Charge of Your Fertility, a lot of the doubt and randomness typically associated with starting a family didn't plague us so much. Now we've moved on to try digesting the wealth of information available on pregnancy and baby-raising. For those of you with favorite references to recommend, we'd love to hear about them!

Because we've already had a few days on our own to digest this news before announcing it on the blog, we've also had time to anticipate some of your questions. In no particular order, then, are some of our answers:

1. The due date is July 31, 2007.
2. The venue for the arrival of ShamrockJewBaby is Beijing, China.
3. The medical facility of choice is Beijing United Family Hospital, a nearby medical facility run by an American who founded the hospital after discovering that Beijing didn't have modern facilities for delivering children. Check out her story here, it's a good one.
4. The baby will not be eligible for Chinese citizenship. Our baby will be American, and will be entitled to its very own diplomatic passport.
5. We do not know when we will next be in the United States.
6. We opted to announce the pregnancy at this early stage because we saw no reason to wait until after all the major miscarriage hurdles have been crossed. Miscarriage is a common reality of pregancy and, while we desperately hope to make it to term, we do not believe we would be best served by keeping all our friends and family in the dark about such a major event should the worst come to pass.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Getting a little busy

You may have noticed that our blog postings have slowed a little bit. We have a number of excuses for this. Today we will discuss excuse number 1 - MBA. That' s right. Cara has signed up for an Executive Masters of Business Administration program here in Beijing. It is run by the University of Maryland who actually sends professors out here once a month for 4 10-hour days of intense learning. The first class is next week, so this week Cara has been busy getting ready (and completing her application). The program is suppose to finish up about a month before we leave China. Great timing.

The downside is that since Cara is our primary blogger, having her distracted has had a noticeable impact on our posts. This will likely become some useful supply/demand model that she can use in her class.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can you hear me now?

This photo (with blue tint added to the sky for the sake of contrast; in reality it was a slate gray sky and pretty monotonous to look at, so please forgive our diddling with reality) was intended to capture the prolific display of television aerials scattered across this Beijing housing community. Note the cluster of satellite dishes toward the right-hand side of the photo. We're guessing cable TV hasn't arrived to this part of town yet. Although many parts of Beijing look as modern as any city in America, walking through neighborhoods where the "middle class" lives makes it clear that there is a LOT of basic infrastructure that we Americans take for granted (such as bathrooms in one's own home; the residents of the neighborhood pictured here must use public toilets).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Kitty Monday and Quinn! (updated)

We know we missed kitty Friday, but since its Matt's birthday (well, tomorrow) and he put in the original request for kitty updates, we decided to go with Kitty Monday!

You may recall that one of our guests was 2 year old Quinn. Well, Quinn likes those cool interactive toys and made very nice with Cyrano. For our part, we were relieved to see that Cyrano also played nice with Quinn.

In a related note, Quinn's mom Sarah brought the pecan and pumpkin pies. (Also good for breakfast!)

Our other delicious desserts included

  • Two chocolate cakes with a banana pudding frosting courtesy of Natalie
  • A nut bread from Bec
  • Berry flavored and chocolate flavored homemade ice cream from Josh

You were right Niki, we can talk about the desserts and the kitties :)

We received some notes that the video was not working. We think this is fixed now.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Traditional Thanksgiving Samosas

In case you were not able to figure it out from the title, we are going with Thanksgiving menu for today's posting.

Now, it maybe that you have never heard of an Indian flavored Thanksgiving meals, but just talk to Michael and he can tell you all about it :)
(Before continuing we wish to clear up a possible mix up that might exist in your mind. Indian, as used in this blog refers to the food from the country of India and not to Native American cuisine, although the second option does seem appropriate for this holiday.)

So the run down:
Appetizers - nuts in their shells and fruits which included:
  • Roasted walnuts still in the shell - a startling delicious option that we bought purely by accident. If you have never had roasted walnut you should try them.
  • Hazelnuts - adequate but not be a repeat performer next year
  • Pistachios - a sure winner everywhere you go
  • Longans - a fruit with a tough outer skin that makes them look like a nut. They are about the size of a large red grape and have a gelatinous pale flesh around a hard stone. Very fun
  • Dried hawthorn bits
  • Dried figs - mmmmm


  • Fresh baked bread (of course)
  • Middle Eastern Squash and Couscous Soup which we made with pumpkins, rice, and lotus roots (which stay crunchy even in soup) - thanks Pam!
  • A HUGE turkey - We ordered a 14 pound bird but the folks at the embassy food locker who brought in turkeys apparently decided that bigger is better and we ended up with something around 22 lbs. It was by shear force of will and extraordinary use of his amazing mental powers that Michael was able to squeeze the thing into the oven. The fact that it actually came out tasty was simply astounding.
  • Turkey gravy in a real gravy boat!
  • Hawthorn chutney because you can not get cranberries in Beijing. Just in case you were thinking of trying it, it turns out that jujubes do not work in chutneys at all which was surprising since they make such a popular candy!
  • Ganbian sijidou (Dry-fried Green Beans) - This is actually a Chinese dish, but its one of our favorites though we had Li Ayi make the none pork option.
  • Palak with egg tofu - Li Ayi pointed out to Michael that this dish is usually made with a very soft cheese called paneer. But paneer is hard to come by so we asked her to make it with the tofu instead. She said that was okay since some Indian people like it that way also. Phew, close call.
  • Samosas - after all, they have potatoes in them :)
  • Mango chutney - cause you need it for the samosas
  • Mashed potatoes (from Chip and Sarah because otherwise it just would not be Thanksgiving)
  • Sweet potatoes with a brown sugar/apple crusty topping because Josh could not find marshmallows to put on top (Josh's comment about why we needed this dish was surprisingly similar to Chip and Sarah's comment above.)
  • Salad with those fresh greens from those monks. We also added some feta cheese which is a treat.

Dessert - well, there is a lot more to add to this, so desserts will just have to wait for another day. We can tell you that they were good enough that we both had double servings of pie today :)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mmmm... Tryptophan*

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
The cast starting at the bottom left of the table
(and we have included how we met them)
Cara is taking the photo
Quinn (work)
Sarah (work)
Adam (Natalie's friend)
Natalie (synagogue)
Jonathon (synagogue)
Philip (Frank's friend)
Sean (Natalie's friend)
Bec (synagogue)
Frank (work)
Chip (work)
Kim (work)
Josh (work)

Tomorrow - The menu!
(or maybe silly kitties - we'll have to see)

*tryptophan Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is that really necessary?

When Ben was staying at his hotel in Beijing, this one of the things he found in his closet. It was about the size of a shoe box.

Doesn't exactly give you a warm fuzzy does it? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Let me take care of that child for you

We have mentioned before about how complete strangers will help care for small children, whether or not you want them to. Well, when we were out for dinner the other night, we were able to acquire proof of this phenomenon. Our group was comprised of 5 adults and one small 2-year-old child. We managed to hold the wait staff at bay until about 3/4 through the meal when the little guy was trying desperately to get out of his seat and we did not attend him quickly enough. One of waitresses saw the opening in our line of defense and moved in. She quickly had Quinn (the little guy) distracted by talking to him and washing his hands. (Check out the first picture.)
Then she helped him out of his seat and took him over to the stage where the night’s show had not yet started and encouraged him to not only run around, but maybe try to use the sound equipment. We were not so sure this was a great idea, but hey – who were we to stop her?

Eventually she got called away (maybe to wait on one of her tables) but that was okay, because the rest of the wait staff was happy to pick up where she left out. You can see the waitress in the last picture is not the same one as the woman in the first 3 pictures.

What we didn't get, was a picture of the 6 men at the table next to us who tried to play with Quinn all through their meal. This was particularly shocking as Quinn was being a little fussy and yet every time he made a loud noise, the men would try tickling his feet or hands or otherwise distracting him. They were quite enthralled as opposed to a similar situation in the States where they would have shot us dirty looks and made snide comments under their breath.

This is definitely a culture that values community! Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chinese chopper copies a clone

So here's the odd progression from American iron to the streets of Beijing: Harley-Davidson made bank on a motorcycle image, and then Honda copied the basic design and named it the "American Classic Edition" of the Honda Shadow. Now, some Chinese company has decided to copy the copy of the original, as their version even mimicks Honda's gas tank logo. Too funny. Note that the Chinese motorcycle, however, only has one cylinder. We're not sure why it is, but the vast majority of motorcycles in Beijing only have one cylinder. Those that have two cylinders are typically lugging a sidecar and are therefore three-wheeled vehicles. We suspect that this might be a regulation of some kind, though we've seen at least four tricked-out Harleys (with full V-twin motors) here in town, so if there's a rule, there's also an exception (or four).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Guests at the Airport - Also called Bye Bye Ben

Despite our best efforts, Ben did make it to the airport today and headed back to the states.

It is just as well too, because it turned out that we were slowly killing him through the devious and difficult to thwart method of cat. That's right, Ben was very, very allergic to our dear kitties. The kitties were most apologetic for causing such a reaction and constantly tried to make it up to Ben by following him around the house and trying to climb into his lap at every possible opportunity.

While we don't have a picture of the kitties stalking Ben, we do have this video clip of the kitties. We wanted to show you the kitties in action, so we were trying to catch them chasing after the hair elastics they love so much. That didn't work so well, but before we could turn off the camera, Cyrano randomly went into action. Crazy spaz cat.

We tried to imbed the clip into this blog below but if that doesn't work, you can find the clip here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Guests at the Beijing City Planning Center

So today Ben and Cara (really I do work sometimes, I swear) checked out the Beijing City Planning Center (BCPC) whose primary claim to fame is a model of the city of Beijing as planned by the year 2008. This picture shows the apartments where we live and also shows all the buildings people are planning on building around us. (We live in the very tiny looking matching towers about midway down on the left hand side of the image.) To give you a sense of scale (which according to Ben is universally lacking in all Beijing maps):

Actual size - our apartment buildings are about 30 stories tall
BCPC model - our apartment buildings are about 4 inches tall

This model has an entire section of the building devoted to it.

To round out the day, we also went and got Ben his first massage. Sadly no photos were taken to commemorate the event.
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Guests at the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is something that every tourist must see, so today Ben and Cara went looking for it. The directions were terrible, the signs were in Chinese, and the maps were non-existent, but eventually we made it to a really spectacular section of the wall and it was all worth while. What made today an especially nice wall visit was
a) The company (i.e. Ben the guest)
b) The absolutely glorious Beijing weather that is continuing in spite of everything that we have claimed about it being terrible in the past
c) The fact that we went to a section of the wall that is so difficult to get to there are NO OTHER TOURISTS and NO VENDORS. If you have never visited China's Great Wall you may not appreciate this last aspect enough, but trust us, it is a VERY big deal.

This is a shot of the section of the wall to which we decided to climb.

This is us on the wall (in case that was not obvious). You may notice that we are trying to direct your attention to the magnificent wall stretching out behind us.

This section of the wall is not restored so there are many trees trying to reclaim it as there own. This picture is of the top of the wall as we walked along it.

And the top of the nearest guard house in this picture is where we ate lunch while enjoying the scenery. What a great day! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Guests at the Temple of Heaven

That's right - someone was foolish enough to come out and stay with us even after Mari's warnings from way back in the spring. Actually Ben came out here for a conference and we are just sort of an added delightful bonus :)

Today, Cara left work early and went and visited the Temple of Heaven with Ben. (If you look very carefully, you can see Ben in front of the building in the first shot.)
Given that we have a lot on the slate for tomorrow and need to get to bed in order to be up for it all (especially those tiring foot massages), there won't be a lot of commentary about the Temple of Heaven park right now, but we will include a few shots of the inside of the building.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what the cows are all about. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 13, 2006

If the One Child Policy didn't convince you to get neutered, perhaps this bus sign will give you that nudge you need...

This photo was taken of a sign at a bus stop in downtown Beijing. Onceupon a time, Westerners painted a picture of Asians as inscrutably subtle in their expressions. It turns out 57 years of merciless propaganda campaigns and Communist Party sloganizing has pretty much beaten Chinese subtlety to death.

Curious, we checked out their website (listed on a part of the sign not pictured here), and discovered that it isn't just a place to unplug your babymaker, it's a fertility clinic that happens to do quite a bit of business helping locals comply with China's mandated birth control program.

For those of you who have checked out their website from the link providing in this blog post, the English looks a little funny because it was done automagically by Google, rather than by a human translator.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Chinese math

Our good friends Will and Olivia asked us if we wouldn't mind sharing a professionally-cooked meal with them and two of their friends. The catch? We has to let the chef use our kitchen to prepare the food. What a deal! Naturally, after wiping the drool from our chins, we agreed to offer up our pad for the party.

Here's where the Chinese math comes in to play: the meal was a set deal, dinner for six. Unsurprisingly, Will and Olivia organized a group of six hungry people to sit down and enjoy this meal. As you can see from the photo, however, there was enough food to easily feed ten half-starved teenagers, let alone six normally-metabolic adults.

You will note that there are seven dishes laid out: rice with vegetables, sweet-and-sour chicken, seasoned flank steak, braised fish, stewed lamb ribs with potatoes and onoins, egg-battered tofu, and steamed vegetables. You will also note that this photo was taken after everyone had eaten through their first servings. By the way, the chef whipped all this stuff out in under four hours, including time spent cleaning the kitchen after he finished; not only that, but he brought everything he needed to create this spread in two small handbags). The guy was a machine, and clearly has an enviable work efficiency in the kitchen. We were suitably awed and hope to match his performance after another twenty or thirty years of practice. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Christmas or Sino-African Summit?

About 2 weeks ago while coming home from work, Cara noticed that the local municipality had put up their Christmas trees and lights.

Even though we definitely noticed how much Beijing liked dressing up the city for Christmas last year, the last week of October still seems kind of early.

Turns out all the lights and tree decorations were for the China-African summit. And the lights and such were pretty easy to enjoy since all factory work inside the 5th ring rode was shut down to help make the weather clearer. (While this seems very likely and we had it from a good source who shall remain nameless, unfortunately we cannot find a collaborating source to which to direct you.) It was perhaps the nicest two week period that we have ever seen here - especially this time of year.  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

css posting

So China has once again decided that Blogger is bad for the common good and has re-blocked not only blogspot viewings, which means we once again can't view what we post, but also blogspot postings which means we can't even log on to let you know what we are doing. This is new. We tried to send you our exciting life story by email, but that was rejected. So now we are using a sophisticated proxy (Cara's mom) just to help us put up this one post so that we might explain our absence. We apologize of any inconvenience.

Friday, November 03, 2006

As requested - Kitty Friday!

We had no idea that Roxanne was so exercise conscientious, but it turns out that use of the home gym is very important to her and she tries to get in at least 30 minutes on it every day.

Exhibit A: Home Gym

Exhibit B: Roxanne on the home gym (as stated above)

Exhibit C: Not content with a single exercise, Roxanne tries to use at least a few different features of the gym equipment.

Exhibit D: And this is the result.

Sure she looks cute and fuzzy and soft but its all a ruse to cover up her 6 pack abs and mad clawing capabilities!

(ps - mom, i'm really sorry but i just can't make her eyes blue like they are in real life. Maybe next time.) Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 02, 2006

We mentioned before that we are now getting vegetables every week from some Buddhists with some green thumbs and a few green houses to go with them. One of the fun things with the vegetable delivery service is that the Buddhists simply give you a selection of whatever happen to ripen that week so not only are we getting a nice selection of really fresh vegetables, we are also receiving a selection of things that we would probably never think to buy on our own. In the last batch we got a red winter radish (which is actually white and green on the outside), some wee little white radishes and these teeny tiny green bell peppers. We only managed to catch the bell peppers in a picture because the other items were cooked and consumed before we could round them up for a group photo – they’re really quick these fresh veggies. One of the other nice things is that the growers deliver a list (in Chinese AND English) of all the vegetables that they grow along with the bag of assorted stuff. This list really helps in the identification process. Just goes to show, these Buddhists are really thoughtful and considerate folks. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Trick or treat? Where do you think you are?

Ah, yes. Hallowe'en. That magical holiday of monsters, mayhem, and enough candy to make every 7-year-old in America thoroughly ill. And that, dear readers, is where we run into a little problem. No, not the getting sick part. The "in America" part. Hallowe'en isn't exactly a widely-observed festival. In Beijing, it is only observed in small pockets of houses out in the suburbs, in places that have an unusually high number of American families.

We went out to just such a suburb in time to watch some brave bands of trick-or-treaters making their rounds, when we were struck by the true horror of it all: these poor kids were being handed a lot of Chinese candy. Oh, sure, a few dedicated families went through the trouble to track down candy bars and the like, but - tragically - the huge shipment of Hallowe'en candy that was due to arrive for sale at the U.S. Embassy's AEA Locker store got held up in Chinese customs and hasn't been approved for entry into the country as of this writing. The result is that a number of families in Beijing were forced to (gasp!) buy candy on the local economy.

Normally, we're all in favor of pumping money into the cash-strapped Chinese economy. But if you've ever had Chinese candy, we think you will agree with us that it is more trick than treat.

On the bright side, the end result (or so we've been told) is that kids tend to not eat all of their haul in the first 48 hours after trick-or-treating. One parent even told us that she found candy still sitting in the bottom of her daughter's collection bag when she dug it out of the closet for this year's event.

For those of you who don't understand how any country can produce 1.3 billion people without a single great candy bar to show for it, we wish to point out that while Chinese cooks recognize sugar and salt, they aren't particularly comfortable using them in concert. Thus, Chinese sweets tend to have no salt whatsoever, an imbalance that renders the final confection (or cake, or whatever) sweet without being remotely satisfying.

So, Happy Hallowe'en to all you back in the 'States; and while we'll gladly remind you that October is indeed the finest month of the year in which to visit Beijing, you might want to schedule yourself to be back in the safe cocoon of candy coma that is America by the end of the month. Until next time, then, good night and sweet dreams.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Of all the possible American influences to see in China....

Not exactly a pleasant representation of American free speech, but there are a few things that are worth noting here. First, we covered up a few letters, because we still like to pretend from time to time that this is a clean blog. Stop snickering. Every once in a while, it is clean.

The second thing to notice is that these photos were taken near one of the new-ish diplomatic sections of town - not far from where the new U.S. Embassy is being built, in fact. In short, a lot of old neighborhoods in this area - to include the one directly opposite this wall (behind the camera) - are being destroyed to make room for the new, up-scale development that is coming. Gentrification in Beijing usually begins with a sledgehammer and a non-negotiable notice for residents to clear out before the roof comes down on them.

The third point is that the commentary is not accompanied by any Chinese characters. Perhaps the thugs in question ("gangsta" and "thug" are synonyms, right?) thinks the barbed nature of the grafitti will escape notice by Chinese police due to the language barrier, but we think this unlikely. The f-bomb is one of the most globally-recognized English words. More likely, perhaps, is that the Yumeng Gangstas identify with American gangsta rappers, and those guys rarely use Chinese when verbally abusing authority figures.

The fourth point is (for Michael, anyway) the most interesting: when searching for a way to express anger at authority, these wallpainters decided to draw upon American culture to do so. More to the point, they drew upon angry Black American youth as their cultural inspiration. We'd be curious to know your thoughts on the issue.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Proper Horn Etiquette

Honking is handled differently here in Beijing. You don’t just honk to tell people to get out of your way, you also honk or beep or ring your bike-bell to let people know that you are behind them and that they shouldn’t suddenly jump in front of you and force you to hit them. Sometimes cars will honk even when you are walking on the sidewalk – this is the Chinese form of cautious driving. Cars will also honk to let you know that they are not about to slow down to give you time to cut them off so you had just better think twice there kiddie before stepping in front of them! The sad, yet not unexpected, result is that after a while everyone stops paying attention to honking cars because we hear them CONSTANLY.

In reaction to just that phenomena, we present you with the following song:
(Think "I Just Called To Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder)

chorus tune
I just honked to say I see you
I just beeped to let you know I’m there
I just honked to say I’m passing,
and I really hope that you stay in your lane…

verse tune
No right of way
No stops on red
No ones even heard of safe-following-distance

No helmet laws
Just ‘make way for the bus’
Its funny how quickly you grow to love the chaos

Everyone together now - Back to the chorus!

Friday, October 27, 2006

So you think you're eating bean curds

We have been a little amazed by the varieties of soy bean products available here. Not only is there the basic soft versus firm tofu, there is also fresh or packaged, different sizes and textures, and whole rows of assorted flavors and pre-made dishes.
What's a little hard on us though, is that we can't always read the package (looks like Chinese to me) so sometimes we end up with a bit of a surprise.

Take this picture for example.
Can you see the yellowish tinge and shiny/glossy finish to the pieces? We thought we were getting some plain, white, firm tofu but there you go.

Actually this worked out quite well though because we were trying to make a saag paneer and while we didn't have any paneer, this stuff was much closer than tradional tofu.

Turns out it tasted pretty good too. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Where did all the Godless Communists go?

This photo was simply irresistable. Unlike the church on Wangfujing in one of downtown Beijing's swankier shopping areas, this church looks so...ordinary. It looks like the photo could almost have been taken anywhere in Big City, USA. Assuming, that is, you don't get too distracted by the glowing yellow haze of a polluted Beijing sunset backlighting the structure.

While we will admit that this photo will not seem as jarringly odd to those of you who see this kind of sight every day, for a Laowai in China, it is a shocker. Posted by Picasa