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.