Saturday, July 16, 2011

"This Is My Favorite Chinese Museum Ever!"

These are the words Julie uttered as we were finishing up our swing through the museum at the Peking Man archaeological site. Located fifty kilometers outside of Beijing, in the foothills to the south and west, the Peking Man site is where the remains of some 300,000 year-old Homo erectus were found. Nearly one hundred years after the initial discovery, the digging goes on, adding to the collection of deer, giant hyenas, and saber-toothed tigers.

But it was not the site itself that had Julie so excited. Rather, it was the technology featured throughout the site's museum. There we were, standing in a room, watching a panoramic flyover of the site. Then there were holograms ("Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope.") of Peking Man using fire to ward off the big flesh-eating dogs and cats. And, finally, a big screen that depicts passersby as whatever character they choose.

For us, it was Z as a rhinoceros, Julie as a hyena, Desi as an otter, and me as Peking Man himself.



The Beijing Pearl Tower

One of the most famous buildings in China is Shanghai's Pearl Tower, about which we have written before. Pretty much every city in China has one of these really tall towers. In Beijing, it is CCTV, the nation's official television station, that built the city's tower. Even though the tower is not far from where we have lived over the past few years, we have never gotten around to swinging by, riding up to the top, and checking out the view.

And so, the other day, when there were blue skies (and there have been way more such days this summer than during the past few), we rode the bus over on a late afternoon. By Chinese standards, the ride up is not cheap...more than ten American dollars. The reward, though, is absolutely spectacular views of the mega-city that is Beijing.


PS: Up on the top, we talked with some guys from China's western Qinghai Province, a mountainous area near Tibet. These guys quickly convinced me that we should go west and check out the cool temperatures and beautiful sites...

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Hair Cutting Dilemma

Here in Beijing, I can go out to the street corner and get my head shaved for less than a buck. Here is what the scene looks like at the major intersection adjacent to our apartment. A couple of guys, under a bridge, cutting hair.

One of these guys quickly became Desi's "Hi Guy," a friendly way of luring this waiguoren in for a cut. There's been only one problem...

A couple of nights ago, I went get a shave, and "Hi Guy" was busy cutting someone else's hair. The chair next to "Hi Guy" was open, and that shifu motioned me to sit down. I was about to take him up on the offer, when "Hi Guy" said, "No, sit over here and wait!"

Oh boy, two street barbers fighting over my bald head! What to do!?

My solution, in real time, was to walk away and not get in the middle of this contest. Now, though, I have to walk by these guys in shame every time I head to the bus stop...


PS: We subsequently had the chance to travel to the countryside, far from Beijing. There, in a small village, I got my head and goatee shaved for about 60 cents...

Da Bao

One of my favorite characteristics of Chinese restaurants is the way they pack your food and drinks to go. In fact, sometimes I think we get our leftovers dabao-ed just so we can watch this soothing process.

First, the waitress brings out a new pair of chopsticks, tiny plastic to-go boxes, and a plastic bag. Then she slides the food into an open box with the help of the chopsticks and allows some of it to overflow slightly. Next, the box is closed and the rest are filled the same way. Now in a very predictable way, the fuwuyuan (waitress) will place the plastic bag open on the table so that the box of food can be perfectly placed inside. And, last but not least, the bag is tied shut with two careful knots.

This process is exactly the same, no matter what province, city, or restaurant you enter. However, there are a few variations if you order something from the liquid family. For example, the other day, we ordered dapanji (one of our favorite Xinjiang dishes) to go. Now while it may be full of potatoes, chicken and other vegetables, dapanji is probably 50% juices, not to mention the size of a dish this big would probably require about 10 little to-go boxes. So the solution? This dish is loaded into three giant plastic bags to be transported home. (That was fun, Daddy, wasn't it?!)

Another of my personal favorite methods for dabao occurs at fast food restaurants. If you order a drink to-go, they don't have those drink trays that McDonalds has in the US. Instead, there are specially sized plastic bags that drink cups fit into. There are even double bags with two compartments if you order two drinks. This method really fits with Chinese lifestyle because the bags are perfect for being carried around the city rather than being placed on the floor of a car. (Although I think American parents and minivans could really benefit from the anti-spill safety net that these plastic bags provide.)

In conclusion, these observations are just a couple of the many day-to-day differences that make living here so exciting, and keep me coming back for more.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Neil Armstrong I Am Not!

Pretty much every public restroom in Beijing (and there are a lot of them!) has this sign in front of each urinal. In Chinese, it says, "Xiang Qian Yi Xiao Bu, Wenming Yi Da Bu." Word for word, this is something like, "A small step forward, a big step for civilization." It may not be the lunar landing, but apparently Z and I are moving society forward on a daily basis!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011


You may think that Peking Duck is just another meat that tastes like chicken, but there is actually a very specific way to prepare and eat this Beijing specialty:

1. You take one tortilla-like pancake out of the basket and place it flat on your plate.

2. Next you place three pieces of duck, no more and no less, on your pancake, layered like steps.

3. In one careful motion, pick up all three slices with your chopsticks and dip them into Hoison sauce before placing them in the upper right corner of the pancake.

4. Then lay some thin strips of onion, cucumber, or both on top of the duck.

Here comes the tricky part...

5. With chopsticks in your right hand and with a spoon in your left, begin rolling the pancake. First take the small edge on the right and hold it on top of the filling with the spoon. After that, fold the bottom half upwards, keeping it firmly in place again with the spoon. Finally, roll the flat part until the duck is tightly bundled.

6. Now you carefully pick it up with your chopsticks with the open part facing you.

7. As much as it may seem like your duck roll is too beautiful to destroy, the ends justify the means. Enjoy!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This summer, we are living on the 10th floor. At least I think it's the 10th floor. We are certainly high up and we can see far out, as long as the Beijing smog stays away. What makes our location questionable, though, is the situation with our elevator buttons. You see, in most buildings in China, there is no 4th floor.

The word for four in Mandarin is "si" with a falling tone. The word "si," though, depending on the tone, in this case, falling then rising, can also mean "death." So as with many curiosities in China, associations are made with different words and their sounds v. their meanings.

Take the number 8, for example. In Mandarin, the word for 8 is "ba." Apparently, this sounds a lot like "fa" which means luck or good fortune. As a result, the number 8 is considered very lucky (remember the Beijing Olympic games began precisely on 8-8-8 at 8pm?) and so, as a result, phone numbers with the number 8 are sold at a premium. (People living in China use sim cards in their cell phones and can purchase numbers that appeal to them.)

So as for our building, there is floor 1, 3, 3A, 5......10, 11, 12, 13, 15... (No, I can't explain the lack of #2 at this point but will investigate this further.)

On the aside, I guess that Steve and I are in big trouble this year since we turned 44 a couple of weeks ago. "Double death?"

Oh,'s no trouble at all since we are actually 45 by Chinese counting. When a baby is born, he or she is 1. Phew?!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Only in China

After a day out on the town in Beijing, everyone needs a nice slow walk through the local neighborhood park. Most apartments have a local exercise area or some nearby public park. But what do you do when the community park is a World Heritage Site?

Well, the other day, after a Balla day out and about in Beijing, we decided to head over to the Old Summer Palace, one of the best parks in Beijing, as well as the old vacationing spot of ancient dynasties. After a couple hours of strolling, chatting, and playing badminton, we stopped at a bathroom in a remote part of this enormous expanse. It is located right on the threshold between lakes loaded with lotus and low brick buildings of an old neighborhood. For such an out-of-the-way spot, though, there sure seemed to be a lot of people around.


Well, this is what we found.

My new question: Will we ever pay to get into Yuan Ming Yuan again?