Thursday, July 07, 2011

Deciphering The Neighborhood

With new territory comes new exploration, and so the last few mornings Steve and I have gotten up very early to go for walks through our neighborhood. While we call the tenth floor of a high-rise home, our surroundings consist of a gritty (which we love and were definitely missing last summer) series of retail shops, eateries, and alleyways.

As is true for many parts of Beijing, special areas emerge. For example, there is a section of southern Beijing that expands for many blocks and specializes in the sale of tea and tea accessories. While tea is not the specialty of our neighborhood, the product of choice in the Xueyuan Nan Lu surrounding area became clearer and clearer to us as we went deeper into the backstreets.

At first, we noticed a few fruit stands (bananas, mostly) and small business selling baskets of the type you would use to make a florist-quality fruit basket, but as we delved further we noticed van after van and man after man unloading boxes of fresh fruit. Upon further inspection, we saw hundreds of small businesses receiving the fruit from the van delivery services, only to distribute those same boxes to a stream of sanlunche, whose riders undoubtedly wheel them out to neighborhoods all across Beijing.

While not totally clear to us yet, we know that since the Xizhimen train station is very close by, these fruit shipments must be arriving from places like Hainan Island (the Hawaii of China). They're certainly not growing bananas in Beijing! And so, rather than 18-wheelers transporting these goods, hundreds of vans bring them to our neighborhood, where thousands of sanlunche get them to area street markets.

So many people are busy with this task...Even at 5am the area is wide awake and bustling with action...Just like we love!


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Beijing Is A Morning City

While New York may be the city that never sleeps (although I think that pertains more to Vegas), Beijing is very quiet at night. Since we arrived around midnight, totally energetic because our bodies were thinking it was noon, we took an initial walk around the neighborhood and noticed the lack of action on the streets at that time. Sure, there was a random convenience store, late-night restaurant, and even a 24-hour KFC (which we stopped in for some quick fries), the number of people we saw out and about was very low.

Daybreak, though, is a different story. With the sun coming up around 4:30am, the city quickly becomes alive with hustle and bustle. From the over-60-somethings doing their morning stretches (it's actually quite cool at that time) to the sanlunche rolling down Xueyuan Lu en route to their delivery destinations, the city seems to spring into action all at once. As a result, breakfast places teem with people who are on their way to work or students stopping off on their way to school. Baozi (meat-filled buns), jiaozi (dumplings), sweet tofu, and youtiao (Chinese-style donuts) are all standard fare. Also on the menu are hard-boiled eggs or delicious egg-filled crepes, which are made on the spot and can be eaten with lajiao (hot pepper) or not. Add a doujiang (soy milk) or a mizhou (rice porridge) and you are all set to start your day.

While I am a morning person, I'm not much of a breakfast eater. Yet, here, the choices are so plentiful and convenient (literally outside our apartment building), the most important meal of the day just got a little more interesting!


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hey Bubba, Is This Up To Code!? (The Sequel)

This nicely positioned bundle of wires sits off to the side of the sidewalk, right outside our apartment building. It looks as if it has been here for a while (in other words, it is not newly fallen due to weather or high winds), because the post that hold the wires is cemented into the ground. While no one here seems bothered by it, I thought that our favorite firefighter might be!

Please make sure he sees this, Sharon...OK!?


Monday, July 04, 2011

Standing Where Mao Stood

In all of our years of living in Beijing, we had never climbed up the stairs to look out over Tian'anmen Square from the gate tower where Chinese leaders address the nation on important occasions. Most famously, it was at this very spot where Mao Zedong announced the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

For everyone back in the States, happy 4th of July from us four wayward Americans!


Bumping Into Someone We Know In Tian'anmen Square!

I routinely pose a lame question whenever we are out and about exploring famous sites around Beijing..."I wonder if we'll see anybody we know today?"

Well, the one day when I don't make any such suggestions, guess what happens!?

There we were, walking along under the portrait of Chairman Mao, when Julie lets out with a "whooaaaa!" My immediate reaction was that there was some altercation going on between a tourist and a public security official. There had been at least one of these prior to Julie's exclamation, and every time I had missed out on seeing the action (which usually involved some kind of verbal argument, minor physical tussle, or a flat out chase).

This time, though, it was Julie spotting Yang Laoshi in the massive crowd. Yang Laoshi is a crucial figure in our early Chinese experiences, as she served as our landlady at the first apartment we rented years ago. We hadn't seen Yang Laoshi in years and figured we would never see her again, as she and her husband, Jiang Laoshi (a colleague of mine at Beida), live out past the Fifth Ring Road in extreme northwest Beijing.

And out of this chance meeting may come future opportunity, as Yang Laoshi told us that if we give her enough advance notice, she can give us our old apartment back when we come back to Beijing in the future. Upon hearing this news, Z has already planned out our summer of 2012!

Now if only we could spot Crazy Hair Guy somewhere around China...


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Beijing Public Security Officials Ride Segways!?

This picture was snapped (good work, Julie!) in the walkway underneath the Tian'anmen Gate Tower, right below the massive portrait of Chairman Mao and across the street from the square itself. Personally, my favorite touch is the seats...


An Empty Tian'anmen Square

As we arrived by subway at Tian'anmen Square on July 1, the first clue that the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party was not going to be a normal day up on the street was the fact that the exit leading out onto the square was blocked off. As we soon discovered, the entire square was empty, with not a single person out there, except the guards who were stationed every so many feet and around key locations and monuments.

What you are looking at in this photo is the view from the entrance of the Forbidden City, directly across Chang'an Jie from the north end of Tian'anmen Square. The plaza area out there is normally filled to the brim with people taking pictures, looking at the portrait of Chairman Mao, and generally milling about in what is likely their once-in-a-lifetime trip to the heart of Beijing and the nation's political power. The building in the background is the very middle of the square. It contains the body of Mao Zedong (no pictures allowed inside the mausoleum). The flag flying in the square is a spot where many, many people gather at dawn and dusk (sometimes sleeping overnight), to watch the country's colors being taken down and put back up. And the big display is a temporary exhibit, commemorating the Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary with a huge symbol and two screens chronicling the historically important and positive developments that have occurred during the party's long rule.

We were eventually allowed onto the square, as everything (except the mausoleum) was opened up at noon. But, for a few hours, it was crazy to look across at all of the emptiness.


PS: That guy in the foreground is an "undercover" security official.