Saturday, July 02, 2011


When you move into a new house, there are things that you have to do that you are not used to. You are in a new environment with different requirements, such as hanging clothes out to dry or washing the dishes by hand.

One of these tasks that we found especially strange is using the squeegee. The shower in our apartment is in a glass cubicle, so it gets steamy and wet. The woman who lived in the apartment before us told us that she would clean the glass after shower so it wouldn't get water spots on it and asked us to do the same. She showed us what we now call "the squeegee."

The squeegee is the head of one of those window cleaners that you use at the gas station. We are all very excited to use the squeegee because it is unusual and fun. So now, the last person to take a shower is on squeegee duty. But I often find that when I get in the shower, the glass has already been squeegeed...


Friday, July 01, 2011

How To Use Our Toilet

Our bathroom looks very nice, doesn't it? All of the modern conveniences, including a Western toilet. But now let me share with you a note that the previous tenant left for us regarding how to use, and, just as importantly, how to not use, this important piece of equipment...

For some reason number two's dont flush, management cant seem to find the cause of the problem!!! Although its a hassle, using the red thing (I forget its name) helps it to go down. It might take a few times/flushes! Good luck!

Dont put tissue down the toilet!

In case you haven't figured it out, the red thing is a plunger, and, yes, we have been making copious use of it. And "tissue" is toilet paper. So, yes, our instructions are to place used toilet paper in the waste basket next to the toilet. This is a warning that we have not taken heed of. So, needless to say, we have been plunging our brains out over here!

And we thought our toilet back in DC suffers from a lack of water pressure...



One of our favorite places to eat in Beijing is a Muslim-style restaurant. We order kabobs, stews, cooked breads, and other Muslim specialties. Being the picky eater in the family, I have some kabobs and bread, and leave the rest for everyone else.

Since I do not eat the different stews, I don’t take part in the drama of accidentally eating a spice or eating a piece of lotus while thinking it was a potato. However, the looks on Mom, Dad, and Julie’s faces when they accidentally eat lotus did get me curious about its taste.

But it didn't get me curious enough to eat one...

After I voiced my curiosity, Julie offered me 200RMB to eat a whole piece of lotus. Mom and Dad followed suit, both adding another 200RMB to the bet. With 600RMB, the equivalent of about $100, on the line, I was being put to the test. Could I eat a piece of lotus without being allowed to drink or spit it out?

After finishing my food, I picked up the lotus and, to everyone’s disbelief, I popped it in my mouth. I chewed and swallowed and, just like that, it was over. I still don’t understand what the big deal is with lotus. It didn't make me throw up or even gag. I thought it was pretty tasteless.

The pluses to eating it: I walked away with 600RMB, and I got to watch Mom and Julie gag as I ate the lotus. Overall, not a bad meal!


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Another Big Day In China

In this country of ubiquitous anniversaries, July 1, 2011 is the latest milestone to get heavy nationwide attention. You see, it was 90 years ago on this day that the Chinese Communist Party was founded, in a meeting that took place down in Shanghai.

In the lead up to the celebration, Beijing has been festooned with all kinds of red banners and other large statements of support and admiration for the Party. This particular banner you are looking at spans the tian qiao that crosses Zhongguancun Lu, right at the Peking University School of Government (my Chinese academic home base for the past three years). Despite the grand appearance, it's really nothing fancy, basically wishing the Chinese Communist Party well on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of its founding.

Stay tuned, as we plan on reporting from the scene down at Tian'anmen Square...


Midnight Cab Capers

Usually, fitting four people in a Beijing taxi is no problem. In fact, that's the maximum number of passengers allowed in a cab, and very few drivers will bend the rules.

But when those four people have four suitcases, four carry-ons, and four personal items (Oh, sorry Steve...Make that five suitcases, three carry-ons, and four personal items!), there's not a taxi in town that will attempt that load.

So there we were at midnight in Terminal 3, with several hundred of our closest airport buddies, when it was time to coordinate two cabs.

Yeah, right.

You see, it was our plan to have two cabs stay together to get us to our new abode. (We had an idea of where it was, but in Beijing addresses are never a sure promise of location.) We had discussed that Julie and I would get in one cab with half the bags, while Steve and Z would take the rest of the bags in the other cab. We would ask Julie and my driver to follow Steve and Z's driver, figuring that at midnight this would be no problem.

Obviously, we forgot what Beijing taxi drivers are like!

As we loaded the bags, Julie put one of the big ones in the back of our cab. The driver said "OK" and began to close the trunk. "No," Julie said, "there are more," and motioned to Steve to bring the 70-pounder over. "No!" said the driver as he waved Steve off. Apparently, he was put off by the size of the suitcase and so we had to adjust and move some of the bags from the other cab instead. (To add insult to injury, Julie and my driver also added a kuai dianr!, which means "Hurry up!") Fortunately, Steve and Z's driver was more amenable to the big suitcase, so we were able to fit everything in.

Then it was time to coordinate.

Apparently, Beijing taxi drivers don't coordinate.

Our driver took off (almost before I had my foot in the door!) and headed out of the airport before I could even get the word "coordinate" out. And so we were off to a part of Beijing that we had been to but did not know very well.

Oh...and did I mention it was midnight!?

Oh...and did I mention that we were not quite sure of our apartment's location!?

Oh...and did I happen to explain that our Chinese-use cell phones were not yet ready to be used? After sitting in the drawer for 10 months, they had lost their charge because the plugs are made for Chinese outlets.

So there was a lot of tension in the back seat. (I put Julie in the front seat since she would speak much better with the driver...Or maybe not, as he spent the entire time on his cellphone, while weaving and horning other drivers.) We had a special meeting place just in case, but even a well-known bridge could be a bit scary during late night hours.

All worry was for naught, as Julie and the driver negotiated the streets of Beijing to Xueyuanpai, Building B. While entry was tricky, since you had to go all around the building to get there, we made it, and the boys joined us two minutes later!

In any case, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride has nothing on this one!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Domodedovo Airport

In contrast to Beijing's massive Terminal 3, which briefly held the title of "World's Largest Airport Terminal," Domodedovo Airport in Moscow is a study in compactness...and congestion. Designed so that passengers who are lining up to board flights stand right in the midst of passengers sitting down waiting for boarding calls, who it turn are right next to passengers eating at restaurants (including an Italian pizza joint and an Irish pub), Domodedovo is an unusual mish-mash of humanity in this day and age of the sterile airport environment.

Although I like the chaos in principle, given our jet lag, heavy eyes, and figidity legs, I really could have gone for an airport with more room for personal space and a bit of peace and quiet.

That said, the pizza wasn't half bad! (For those of you keeping score at home...Yes, Desi missed an opportunity to eat borscht while in the land of meat and potatoes.)


Red, White, Or Water?

When it comes to dinner, Transaero has my vote!

While the food is standard fare, I could not believe it when the flight attendant rolled up with the cart, handed me my pepper steak, roll, and mixed veggies, and asked me about my choice of beverage. Soft drinks were not on the menu, as my choices included Merlot, Chardonnay, and water. Of course, I was thinking about the surcharge, but was pleased to find that this was the standard dinner selection.

By the way, Julie and Z were offered the same beverage choices, and both opted for water. As for Steve and me, Merlot helped the flight go just a little smoother.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leg Room!

Before we headed out, a colleague of mine who had just returned from Beijing remarked that his upgrade to Economy Plus was well worth the extra cash during such a long flight.

How right he was!

Actually, I wish I could say that I purposely booked us in the section of the Boeing 777 with extra leg room. But, in reality, I have no idea how we ended up there on both legs of our journey. Did I somehow upgrade without realizing it? Not likely, as even though Transaero is a Russian airline, my online reservation transaction took place all in English. On top of that, the reason I chose the itinerary in the first place was its low price tag (several hundred dollars per ticket cheaper than the Chinese and American competition).

In the end, I guess I don't need to explain how it all transpired. All that matters is that the extra leg room rocked!


The Power Of The Purse

Packed and ready to embark on our long journey around the world, the four of us left Bird Ave. in a Station Cab at 10am on a Wednesday morning with 8 suitcases in tow. At JFK Airport, we unloaded the van onto two carts and made our way to the Transaero check-in counter. Daddy handed the Russian lady our passports and turned around to see how the rest of us were doing. The woman then noticed Daddy's backpack...

Sir, is that your carry-on bag?

No, this suitcase is. The backpack is my personal item.

Our airline allows one piece of checked baggage and one carry-on bag. That backpack is too big to be your personal item.

OK...Then can we check an extra bag?

Yes...That will be $50.

Luckily, this mini-crisis was averted, even if it was a costly solution. But, of course the rest of us were worried now about our own personal items. After Daddy's bags were all taken care of, Mommy was up for inspection. Her regular size purse and pink suitcase passed without even a second glance. Next was Z, carrying a slightly smaller backpack than Daddy, although it was packed much tighter. The woman carefully inspected the backpack and came to the conclusion that it could pass if she put a Transaero sticker on it.

Finally, it was my turn, and I was really nervous. I mean, not only was my purse stuffed, it was actually bigger than Daddy's backpack, and no doubt it weighed more. First, the woman weighed my checked bag, then my carry-on. Then Daddy said, "And she has that purse."

Barely looking up from my passport, the woman replied, "Purses are no problem."

And, sure enough, this proved true, as we spent the rest of the day observing how every woman on that plane has a purse as big as Texas.


PS: The first time we went to the supermarket in Beijing, the man at the lockers on the way in made Daddy check his backpack, while Mommy, Z, and I got through just fine with our bags.

PPS: More experimentation to come on the power of the purse...

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Late Night, But Welcoming Arrival

As we will go through in posts to follow, we had quite a 26 hours from leaving New Jersey until arriving at our apartment in Beijing. (Yes, we were on the move for more than 24 hours!)

For now, though, the first thing to say is that, as you can see, we received a friendly midnight welcome from the person we are renting our apartment from. Yes, everything turned out just as we had hoped...Four walls, two bedrooms, and the rest of the trappings of Beijing high-rise living.

I'd say "let the adventure begin," but it had already begun before we were within thousands of miles of Beijing...