Friday, August 13, 2010

A Different Kind Of Wake Up Call

All summer long, there has not been much of a need for an alarm clock. You see, if we sleep with the windows open, at precisely 6am we are woken by the sounds of badminton. Yes, badminton...

Way down below our apartment, there are some lines for a badminton court drawn on the ground. There are also two posts for setting up a net. With all of that in place, every morning (again, right at 6am on the nose) four to eight people show up and kick into spirited games. There is yelling. There is laughter. And it all goes on for about an hour each day (literally, seven days a week), a fact that we have become aware of because all of the friendly ruckus echoes up the adjacent buildings and comes right into our apartment, loud and clear.

For me, it is yet another reason to sleep with the windows open. As for Desi, ask her about the mosquitoes...

~Steve

Who Is Xiao Didi?

You may remember Xiao Didi from some of our previous posts (like this one from earlier this summer and this other one from last year). Well, who exactly is Xiao Didi? Actually, we don't know for sure. We thought we knew, until very recently.

For years now, we have thought that Xiao Didi was part of the Pang Shifu family. He spends a lot of time in and around the restaurant, this was obvious to us.

Then, however, we found out that Xiao Didi has all of his possessions in another house in the same alleyway. It is the place (seen in the accompanying photograph) where I have been going to get my haircut this summer. The man and the woman who cut hair in the front room of this house look very much like Xiao Didi, but so do the people who operate Pang Shifu.

Here are the possible relations...

(1) Xiao Didi is the son of the Pang Shifu family and is also related to the hair cutting family.

(2) Xiao Didi is the son of the hair cutting family and is also related to the Pang Shifu family.

(3) Xiao Didi is the son of the Pang Shifu family and is not related to the hair cutting family.

(4) Xiao Didi is the son of the hair cutting family and is not related to the Pang Shifu family.

My current guess is that option two is the most likely. I just think it is funny how you can go two years thinking one thing about someone and then for it to all change.

Here's why I think option two is the most likely...

The room where Xiao Didi's things are is behind the front room where the hair cutting family has their business. The front room, in other words, is for work and the back room is where the three of them sleep, eat, and watch TV.

Now, we have seen the Pang Shifu family go in and out of the hair cutting house, both with and without Xiao Didi. This hints that the two families are related. Also, the two families take turns watching Xiao Didi in their shops.

From what they have told us, the two families moved to Saoziying at about the same time, so this suggests they might have come together.

Xiao Didi calls the woman from the hair cutting place "Mom." So this gives an edge to the hair cutting family.

Finally, the one-child policy makes it more likely that Xiao Didi is the son of the hair cutting family rather than the second child of the Pang Shifu family.

Based on these facts and observations, I have formed my hypothesis. I'll let you know if I find out anything else...

~Z

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Classic Kang

Earlier, we posted about the on-the-floor kangs that are favored in this part of the world, especially areas populated by people of Korean descent. What you are looking at here is the brick platform kang that is used by an elderly woman who lives in a small village in rural Hebei Province. In the winter time, the bricks are heated from beneath via a simple ventilation system.

~Steve

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds For A Living

How do China's peasant farmers make a living these days? Well, they grow any kind of crop that they can, including sunflowers. Seeds of all kinds (including from watermelons) are all the rage among China's working classes. So what you can do to make a bit of money is grow sunflowers, harvest the flowers, and use sticks to literally pound the seeds out. Spread the seeds out on your roof for drying, and you are ready to take them to market.

~Steve

PS: With most men of working age absent from small villages (they are in big cities, working in relatively more lucrative jobs like construction), the bulk of this work falls to women of all ages and their children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chinese Train Travel, Old School

When you ride the hard-seat train five hours out into rural Hebei Province, you take your sleep any way you can get it...

~Steve

PS: Note the girl in the upper right-hand corner...

A Different Type Of Beijing Pollution

One of the unpleasantries that bombards your eyes as you walk the streets of Beijing are these small stickers that are on the ground seemingly everywhere. These stickers are about the size of a credit card and are covered with a cell phone number and accompanying advertisement.

How do these stickers get there? Well, young people (it is usually guys) walk down the street pulling the stickers off adhesive rolls and slapping them on the ground, literally every couple of feet. When a roll is completed, the adhesive backing is unceremoniously discarded as trash right on the street.

All of this is in the name of spreading the word about illegal businesses that can set you up with fake diplomas and identification cards, whatever kinds of credentials you might need. (It is a joke among young people that if you make me mad, I will slap stickers with your cell phone number on them all over the city.)

The heroes and heroines in all of this are the older men and women who walk down the street with these scraping devices, one-by-one removing the eyesores from the pavement. It seems to be a losing battle, though...

~Steve

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Breakfast Of Champions...

...At your local neighborhood Chinese Dairy Queen.

~Steve

Riding The Canal

In the past, Beijing's water bodies have been notoriously smelly and polluted. But as the city has developed, especially during the run up to the Olympic Games, there has been a concerted effort to clean things up. Hearing that it might now be possible to ride a boat along a canal from near our house out to the Summer Palace, we set out on foot one afternoon in search of a new Beijing experience.

As usual, we had our own incompetences and Beijing's vagaries to deal with first. We saw boats plying up and down the canal, but could not figure out where to get on board. We headed east, until we eventually came to a public security officer who informed us that we could go no further. (For those of you familiar with the ease with which you can go pretty much anywhere in the United States, suffice it to say that things are not quite the same here in China.)

We then turned around and walked west for about a mile, until we came to a boat moored to a small dock. "Can we go to the Summer Palace on this boat?" we asked. "Sure!" came the reply. So we paid our fee and got on board, the boat to ourselves. (Certain passages, we have found over the years, are much easier in China than the United States.)

Then, suddenly, we saw a telltale flag flying high in front of a group of several dozen people. Spying this fast approaching tour group, we quickly grabbed what we judged to the the best seats and braced for the end of peace and quiet.

What happened next was a lovely (and, yes, noisy) half hour cruise up to the south gate of the Summer Palace. As we pulled into the dock there, we were greeted by the sight of men, children, and dogs frolicking in the canal...

~Steve

Monday, August 09, 2010

Then And Now: The New Peking University Law School

The top picture is one of my quirky favorites from our last time living in China. As an accompaniment, the bottom photo shows how things look a year-plus later. Just one little glimpse into the kinds of scenes that are continually unfolding all across this city (and country).

~Steve

An Unusual Local Cuisine

Here's a great way to milk visiting Chinese and South Korean tourists out of a few renminbi...Sell eggs boiled in water from the local hot springs.

~Steve

PS: The lone Americans on Changbaishan also fell into the trap...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Add Yanji-To-Changbaishan To My List...

...Of most beautiful drives.

It's right up there with...

Boca Prins-To-Baby Beach (A gorgeous dune-lined beach drive in Aruba.)

Plantation Drive (A short ride through the Spanish Moss-laden live oaks on Hilton Head Island.)

Pacific Coast Highway (Along the sapphire-colored waters of the Pacific in California.)

Wushan-To-Chongqing (Through the fields of yellow rapeseed in full bloom.)

Yanji-To-Changbaishan (Hundreds of kilometers of mountains transformed by the work of human hands into fertile farmland. Crops of corn, rice, and an occasional orchard fill the landscape with varied shapes and hues of green. Unceasing beauty for two hours.)

~Desi