Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Necessary Clothing

As we have mentioned before, Harbin was a little chilly. To give you a better sense of what we meant, here is what Cara wore when going outside.* While she did get cold sometimes, this outfit kept her mostly comfortable.

1) Heavy leather winter coat with additional zip-in lining
2) Thick button up shirt with fleece lining
3&4) Silk undershirts
5) Turtleneck
6) Scarf
7) Balaclava
8) Knit hat
9) Microfleece hat
10&11) Gloves
12) Leggings
13) Wool socks
14) Tights
15) Silk long johns
16) Pants
17) Wool socks
(*Shoes not shown, though due to the 2 layers of wool socks, Cara wore a pair of Michael's shoes the entire weekend.)

And yes - she could still move.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy Chinese New Years!

Or, Happy Spring Festival!
The first thing we noticed were all the firecrackers and assorted civilian explosives. We are not quite sure if it is actually legal to set them off in the city, but legal or not, they are going off everywhere. From our balcony we can see actual, big color, 4th of July type fireworks in every direction. Some were being lit off in the area that is being demolished right next to our apartment and coming up about as high as our apartment, and we are more than 20 stories up.

Apparently the noise from fireworks is to help drive away evil spirits. And apparently there are some really evil spirits at 5:30am, so just to be safe the locals keep concussing the air night and day. Thanks to his time in the Army, Michael sleeps like a baby through the Chinese celebrations - though Cara is still trying to adjust to the sudden flashes of light and subsequent booms at 3am.

You can go here to learn more.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Big Ice City Part 2

Not all the pictures would fit into one post, so here is part 2. We'll start with vehicles.

Okay, the big ship we understood. But where does this thing come into play?

Then again, you can probably go pretty darn fast on the ice..

The tank was Michael's favorite vehicle of course.

And the last mode of transportation we found was this poor guy. Yup, he's real, though he was breathing... very.... slowly.

We're not sure where exactly the Snoopy appeal comes from, but he is definitely a big winner.

Not quite the same as the equine sculptures in Rome at the Emanuele monument, but you work with what you have. And it was still pretty impressive.

And lastly..

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Big Ice City

This is the entrance way you go through to enter the Ice City.

Kind of a funny thing, the entrance fee for the 5 of us (5x 110 yuan ~$60) was more than 3 hotel rooms for one night (3x150 yuan ~$48).

These next two are views of the 'city' from on top of one of the palaces. The scale of the place is amazing

Commercialism is alive and well. (Notice the Godzilla size juice cans.)

This was a functioning bar. A snow fort at its best!
Inside the ice seats had a bit of fur on them to make them more comfortable.

Emma, Jenny, and Anthony cleverly disguised as very cold people.

As you can tell just by looking at the big pink Buddha - it was cold out there.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ice Ice Baby

So the big attraction in the freezing cold of Harbin is all the ice. There are many things to do on the ice though the options change somewhat depending on the time of day.

The following are a selection of daytime ice activities:

Here was one of our favorites. Everyone tried the ice slide! Imagine bob sledding but with less control and no helmets. We had to block images from the crashes in 'Cool Runnings' as we made our way down.

You can go surprisingly fast on these things.

This next image demonstrates 2 distinctly Chinese items.

This picture displays the fundementals of S&M. The woman's 'ice pick' heels are common everywhere we go, even on ice as it turns out. Not our first (ahem) pick for appropriate footwear in this case, but who are we to judge?

Daintily held in our dominatrix's hand is the Harbin whip used to "encourage" that little steel top seen skittering across the ice (in fear perhaps?)

Although we were unable to figure out what that snowman is doing with the broom, clearly Harbiners take their tanks seriously, making sure that all the little kiddies get a chance to practice their tactics in the finest Guderian tradition. Michael was disappointed to see that they didn't have any models in his size.

This is a popular little seat/sled. You can see the poles you use to push yourself along.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Harbin Lesson #2 - Train Tickets

We needed to show our tickets to get on the train, well, everyone other than Emma that is. (Check the previous post if you don't know what we're talking about.) Eventually the train conductors came by and, though they looked into our room, they didn't check our tickets or our passports. Odd. Aw well. Often things work differently then we expect.

We arrived in Harbin and got in line to leave the station. That was when we realized that here they check your ticket as you leave the station. Um... We quickly scrambled to find our tickets which those of us with not much China experience hadn't thought to keep careful track of. After all - we had already gotten to our destination.

Alas, not all of the tickets were to be found.

There was much discussion and searching of pockets, and bags, and pockets, pants, jackets. Eventually (1 hr? and 1 brand spanking new ticket later) we received permission to leave the station. On our way out we learned that all you really need to do is waive something vaguely ticket sized with approximately the right color in the doorman's line of vision and he will let you through.

Live and learn.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Beating the Clock

We took a soft sleeper from Beijing to Harbin and back. A soft sleeper has 4 beds per room and, you guessed it, you can sleep on your way to your destination. Our train left at 8:30pm and arrived about 7am going both directions. Jenny and Anthony were kind enough to both book and pick up the tickets for our entire group.

This is one side of a soft sleeper.

We were meeting at 7:30 at the train station. Anthony and Jenny got there first and they called us as we walked up to them at 7:40. We had all taken the subway. Emma called to say she was less than 2 miles away in a cab. Due to the lovely Beijing traffic 15 minutes later she was no closer. We decided that at 8 we had to go to the train gate and when we found it at 8:15 the gate people told us we had to board IMMEDIATELY!

But we had no Emma! And to make matters worse, we had her ticket!
The crew was adamant - we needed to get on board now!

We explained that we had another friend coming who was stuck in traffic and that we had her ticket and that she was also a foreigner and that she had red hair and that really the whole trip was kind of for her because she was going back to the states the next week and we really wanted to wait for her and...

And we got on the train.

Jenny and Michael stayed at the train door hoping to see Emma come onto the platform. We tried to call her cell phone to give her the latest update but nobody could get through. Then the lady at the train door very apologetically informed Michael and Jenny that she was very sorry but they had to get in the train because the train was moving.

Just then Jenny saw a small group of people rush from the station onto the train. Maybe Emma was part of the group even if everyone in it looked like a Chinese man and Emma, being tall and red-headed, is rather difficult to mistake for a Chinese man.

Crestfallen, Jenny and Michael came back to our sleeper car as we moved out of the station. It just didn't seem possible that we were leaving Emma behind - she had been so close!

I tried calling her again and realized, as she answered the phone, that I didn't want to be the one to tell her we had already left.

(sigh) 'hi emma'
'Hi! I'm on the train! What car are you in!'

Apparently that last group of people had been students returning to Harbin. They had talked the gate keepers into re-opening the door for them and Emma had come through with them. Then, the attendant had noticed her hair and put her right on the train with the students just behind her.

She had answered her phone just after she had shared a spontaneous victory dance with the Harbin students.

It was quite the start to our weekend of adventures.

This picture is when Emma made it down to our car and we had visual confirmation that she really was on our train.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What A Great Weekend

Harbin rocks!
From left to right: Jenny, Anthony, Emma, Michael, Cara.
This picture was taken after looking at ice sculptures for a few hours after dark in -27 deg F weather. What fun!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Heading to Harbin

Along with at least a couple of thousand Chinese folks, we are heading to Harbin this weekend. Well.... not all of the locals are going this weekend. Many are going over the next 2 weekends. Why is this? Its time for Harbin's winter ice festival of course. And in the next few weeks the Chinese spring festival will be starting so all sorts of people are taking vacations.

The one thing we are told repeatedly is that it is cold up there. Very, very cold. You-can't pack-too-much-extra-long-underwear-because-you-will-end-up-wearing-all-of-it cold. We were getting kind of scared until some of our Canadian family pointed out an easy comparison seen below.

Winnipeg: High: 6° Low: -6°
Harbin: High: 7° Low: -14°

Well then, no worries. If we've survived Winnipeg, we can survive anything.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Living in China is like an RPG

hehe. Just had to share.
Living in China is like an RPG

For those people who are not part of this particular community, RPG = Role Playing Game. Dungeons and Dragons falls into this category.

We don't know the owner of the blog above, we just heard about it through Will's site.

Dashanzi Art District

There is a really neat art district in the north east of the city in an old factory area - and some of the factories are still going. This is what part of the area looks like.

Jenny and I checked out some of the 20 odd galleries last week. You can see Jenny's comments here. I've listed my favorite 2 shows below. I've also attached links to some of their work. FYI there are nude images at both of their sites.

At Wei Dong's show we saw many of the images you see at the right side of his page if you click on his name. You can read about the specific exhibition we saw here.

We actually met the Gao Brothers when we were at their studio. Some of my favorite pieces involved a structure that looked like a half completed parking garage. They had this to say about the building from an interview in That's Beijing

thatÂ’s: What was it about the abandoned building and construction project that attracted you?

GB: The building was started some ten years ago, a multi-story concrete frame larger than 10,000 square meters was completed, and it then was abandoned for lack of funding. It is a symbol unique to China, which is also like a forever-unfinished construction site.

Unfortunately, there are no pictures of my favoritepiecess on their site though you can see the structure in "The Passage of Time". Their use of nude figures is particularly surprising considering all of the regulations that China places on viewing naked bodies.

And lastly:
Here is installation we saw in a different exhibit. It felt surprisinglypeacefull when we came across it and at first I had a strong desire to walk over the imported dark sand (with clear footprints from many different shoes) and sit down on the bench. Then Jenny pointed out the sign.

Maybe it was a typo, but suddenly I didn't feel like going in and sitting down on anything.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Squirbit Follow-up

A few months ago we ran an expose on the squirrels of Coal Park. There was much discussion generated at the time, but not all of it made it to our blog. Upon reading 'Beijing Needs a Giant Monster Attack' written by our new pal Will, we realized that we had a duty to bring the rest of our Squirbit knowledge to the public.

The following document is an excerpt from an expose that, much to our chagrin, has not been accepted for publication by any of the global news media. After reading this fine draft, I am sure you will agree with our suspicions of a great plot to quash the truth.

We have yet to encounter bunzilla oursleves, but today we are going on a scouting mission to ensure the safety of greater Beijing. We have already loaded our Bunnzerator™ 9005-7ZLOX2 and we are packing our cottentail generator for additional security. Michael is looking a little scared but Cara is confident that we will bring this monster down

This message has only been cleared under DDDY (double dog dare ya security protocols) which, under newly-expanded homeland security regulations, now includes everyone except that creepy guy we saw on the south end of Rendingmen Park. (You know who you are.)

Michael's stint as a bureaucratic flunkie is mearly a ruse to plactate the locals. As a former tank gunner, his true mission is to eliminate gargantuan rodents across the northern plains of China, with special attention to population centers (hence, our current stint in Beijing).
If it was known that Michael was not merely a desk jockey, the locals would ask, 'Why do we have to import a foreign tanker? Aren't ours good enough?'
The sad, sad truth for China is that Chinese tankers are not (yet) up to snuff for a mission of this scale, with millions of people and several thousand construction cranes at risk.

The average Chinese citizen lacks the cold-hearted focus needed to deal with those cute brown eyes, bushy tails, and big bushy ears. Michael doesn't spare a tear for the "I'm so cute, feed me a peanut" look, nor does he fall for the "it's a bunny, it's a squirrel" tail and ear disguises. He's all business when it comes to epic bunny eradication, and maintains his "expert" rating in all Bunzerator-class weapons to that end.

You might be wondering why this is a 3 year assignment. After all, how long can it take to track, hunt down, and neuter a 14-story bunny? (Please note that China is all about population control, with a one-bunny policy in wide effect for any species over ten meters in height, and so sterilization trumps termination in such cases.) Unfortunately, we are not at liberty to discuss the scale of the Rodentia Giganticus outbreak that might or might not be present here in Asia. Don't believe the propaganda from CNN. China is keeping a tight lid on this situation, lest it cause panic among carrot-farmers around the world and drive prices through the roof. The United Nations applauds China's discretion in this regard and has dispatched the experts it keeps in reserve for just these occasions. This relatively unknown unit of special forces, the Rabbit Rangers, cut their teeth by taking on overgrown prairie dogs in the wilds of Wyoming. (Have you ever wondered why the population density of Wyoming is the lowest in the United States? Wonder no longer, my friend. But at least those dang giant prairie dogs will never see the light of Montana, by God.) Once the Rabbit Rangers have earned their lucky rabbit-foot keychains, weighing no less than 7 lbs, they are certified ready to fly to any corner of the world in search of pests with an appetite for skyscrapers. Consider yourself briefed. Do not expect further updates on this situation. Michael assures me that all is under control here, and the less people know, the happier everyone will be.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

More Cows

Because of all of the cow related questions we have received, we have decided to bring you more of these fascinating and secretive creatures. We still don't know what they are doing or why they are all walking away from the Alter Mound at Ritan Park, but we hope to someday understand our strange cow friends and bring their story to light.

And then there were two!

That's right - we now have two, count 'em, TWO Beijing drivers in this household.

Cara took her first drive around Beijing and on her own. Admittedly the drive that should have taken 20 minutes was almost 2 hours, but it was a learning experience, so its all good.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ritan Park Sign

There is a lovely little park near the US Embassy that is only about a 20 minute walk from our apartment.

Ritan Park (pronounced Ur-tahn) contains an altar to the sun. Nowadays it also contains lots of walking paths with nice trees.

The sign you see at the left was meant to help explorers make their way through the park.

The cows from 2 posts ago were at the west end of the 'Ritan Circular Mound Altar'; the 'Slaughter Pavilion' was mostly an open area (not a cow in sight); and the 'Pleasure Ground for Children' was closed because most of the swings and slides had snow all over them.


We had actual, sticks-on-the-ground and has-to-be-shoveled snow yesterday! Actually, sweeping the snow away is more popular than shoveling, but still - you get the idea.

This little guy made the two snowmen you can see in the picture. The big one was maybe 2 feet high

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Some cows are more equal than other cows

We got a dash of snow in Beijing today - our first solid snow of the season. One of Michael's teachers told him that her husband works at the Chinese Weather Bureau and they predicted dry weather today (which is a safe bet generally, since Beijing hardly gets any precipitation all winter long). At any rate, Cara took a photo of some oddly-painted concrete bulls in Ritan Park, and it should be noted that the photo of the Big Red Bull here was not retouched for artistic effect; the contrast is simply that stark.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Making Progress

Nobody is supposed to drink the water here in Beijing. Instead we have bottles of water that are delivered to us by the building. Today Cara called down to the concierge desk and asked for the new bottle - in CHINESE - and the people at the desk didn't switch over to English when responding! Even better, the bottle of water we thought we were asking for was actually delivered to our door.

"Wei, ni hao. Wo yao yi ping shui."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Following Signs

This is a sign that you pass just before turning onto a major road/highway by our apartment - the 3rd ring road.

This is the very next thing you see once you start walking down the 3rd ring road.

For further amusement: note that the bike is going the wrong way down the highway.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Few Words About Shopping

Chinese super stores do exist, but it can be a little more involved shopping there than you plan.

Let's pretend that you are looking for wood glue - simple, yellow, Elmer's wood glue.

Now let's pretend that you head out to your local B&Q (think Lowe's or Home Depot, only everyone speaks Chinese.)

So you find the adhesive aisle because those lovely signs are also in English (yay!) And there is superglue, some 2 part mixes, silicones... no wood glue? You walk up and down the aisle a few times hoping that maybe, just maybe, you just missed seeing it, but nope, its not there.

Okay, now for plan B. You know the Chinese words for 'glue' and 'wood'. And there are about 4 store assistants waiting in the adhesive aisle alone. (It is amazing how much staff most places employ.) You approach one of the nice people and ask for glue that can be used with wood (you think). She smiles, nods and leads you to a different aisle... at the other end of the store... in the lumber section.. and here are large, industrial,5 gallon adhesive tubs. Not quite what you wanted.

After looking around and confirming that indeed this is not the stuff you wanted, you go back to the adhesive aisle and try again.

This time the new assistant tries to give you the superglue.

One last time. This time you are directed to a small tub (about a quarts worth) of something. There are even a few blocks of wood glued together to show how it works. Well, why not - you take the small tub.

We felt like we had accomplished something.

Then yesterday we used the stuff. It appears to be Elmer's glue - regular white Elmer's glue, like the kind that kindergarteners get to use. So close....

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Grocery Prices

On of the nice things about shopping here is how cheap many things are. For example: last week we made dinner for roughly 10 people including snacks, soup, and a chicken dish. It was a large haul from the grocery store and cost us about 300 yuan. In case you forget, that translates to about 38 dollars.
We like cooking here.

Apples are expensive right now, about 3 yuan a piece - maybe 40 cents.
This is the same price that Michael paid for lunch at school on Friday.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rule by Law

Following are some excerpts from the December 31st New York Times criminal justice article about China's death penalty and a Gansu migrant worker's case, Wang Binyin.

You can go here for the full article in the New York Times.

For three weeks, the brutal murders Mr. Wang committed after failing to collect unpaid wages were weighed on the Internet and in Chinese newspapers against the brutal treatment he had endured as a migrant worker. Public opinion shouted for mercy; lawyers debated the fairness of his death sentence. Others saw the case as a bloody symptom of the harsh inequities of Chinese life. But then, in late September, the furor disappeared as suddenly as it had begun. Online discussion was censored and news media coverage was almost completely banned. Mr. Wang's final appeal was rushed to court. His father, never notified, learned about the hearing only by accident. His chosen defense lawyer was forbidden from participating.

China executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined. In 2004, Amnesty International documented at least 3,400 executions - out of 3,797 worldwide that year. The government's relentless death penalty machine has long been its harshest tool for maintaining political control and curbing crime and corruption.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bowl Games

We do have ESPN Star Asia here in our apartment. Generally, when we turn it on, we see golf, soccer, tennis, ping pong, and occasionally - very occasionally - some American football. Unfortunately these football games are usually live, so the 3pm EST games are on at 4am. Not so useful.

This week though, Michael was able to enjoy 2 games, one Sunday and one Monday. He was very excited. And today Cara is watching Penn State's bowl game while typing this post. Wheeeee

There are a few things that are different when watching football in China, though:

1) The "ESPN live" in the corner of the screen is always on, even when they are showing clips from ESPN Classic.

2) During the breaks in the game, there are explanations called ESPN Live Rules! These include things like
'A quarterback's job is to...'
'The line of scrimmage is...'
'The difference between a passing play and a running play is...'
Clearly ESPN Asia has little faith in the football accumen of its viewers.

3) There are no beer commercials.

Come to think of it, there are no commercials at all, but the lack of beer commercials is what really stands out. In place of commercials, ESPN throws in supplementary filler, primarily ads for ESPN's other programming (whoever thought the drama of Premier League "Football," shown over and over and over and over - not unlike beer ads in other parts of the world - could be so captivating?).