Friday, September 02, 2011

Water Ways

If you are fortunate enough to have hot water in your home in China, it may be produced in a variety of ways. For some, cold water is the only option. For others hot water is available in their housing unit or dormitory only during certain hours.

In the apartment complexes that we've had the chance to live in, we have always had 24 hour access to hot water, albeit by different methods. At Yan Bei Yuan there was a water heater on the wall which (as long as the batteries were working!) would ignite and heat the water directly when you turned the hot water on in the sink or shower. Last year in Tianzuo Guoji, it was just like back home in that there was no contraption visible. If you turned the hot water knob, hot water came out, any time, day or night.

This year at Xue Yuan Pai, yet again there was a contraption involved. A large tank hung from the bathroom wall. It needed to be switched on around 30 minutes before the water was needed so it could heat up. Given the varied length and heat needed for each of our showers (some of us take long, really hot showers, others quick and cool), timing was everything. As a result, whoever got up in the middle of the night would be charged with pushing the button so it would be ready for the first shower-taker. Then, depending on which family member went next, he or she would have to wait for the temperature indicator to reach the desired number.

This, of course, made for some really fun mornings. Especially the day when our electricity ran out...

~Desi

Graffiti Comes To The Middle Kingdom

All over Beijing, this funny-looking fellow has suddenly sprouted on walls and other prominent places. No sign as of yet that street artists here will give Borf, Banksy, and Mr. Brainwash a run for their money...

~Steve

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Frodo Lives!

A hobbit hole, right there in the middle of Beijing...Who knew!?

~Steve

The Perch

Right outside of our apartment where we lived this summer in Beijing, there is a long park that runs down the middle of a highway. Running in the middle of the park is a mound of dirt that was once a wall.

[Editor's note: The wall dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, something like a thousand years ago.]

The wall ends at an intersection, where it meets the road in the form of a watchtower. The small tower is still standing and is easily accessible from the road. Though the tower is run down, filled with shrubs and broken stone, it provides a great view of the surrounding buildings.

When we got the chance, we ventured up to this hidden treasure of Beijing and took a look around. You can see down the road for miles and the birds flying through the skyscrapers. It is a wonderful, peaceful place to sit and enjoy the outstanding view.

~Z

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our View Of Beijing

We will not bother you with good sky/bad sky contrasting photos of what it looks like in Beijing when the sky is blue versus when the sky is white/gray. We've been there and done that already. Suffice it to say that we really enjoyed our little corner of Beijing this summer, with views of the western mountains, Line 13 of the subway system, and scores of typical Chinese high rises. No, we didn't see all of these things every day, but they did occasionally present themselves, our visual Beijing snacks...

~Steve

Ode To Droopy Bike Chains

One admittedly weird, yet nevertheless ongoing fascination for Z and me this summer was the state of bike chains in China. Here we are, the two of us, with our fancy chains that the dudes at the Bicycle Place are constantly measuring and evaluating for wear. And there they are, the operators of those famous three-wheeled rides through the hutongs of Beijing. With chains hanging low, they nevertheless manage to get the job done...jia you!

~Steve


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beihai Park: Then And Now

There is an ancient Chinese legend, in which lionesses secrete milk from their paws as a means of feeding their cubs. And so all around China, from imperial palaces to modern banks, alongside statues of male lions, you can find stone lionesses with paws perched on top of little cubs.

No word at press time whether Desi thinks she is still nursing Julie...

~Steve

Countryside Churches

One of the real joys for us this summer was the chance to experience Catholicism as it is practiced out in the Chinese countryside. While staying in a small village for a few days, we were informed that the nearest Catholic church is located in a slightly larger village not that far to the north. That's the church you are looking at in these photographs.

Although the church is a bit run down, with broken windows, it really is a beautiful place, where we had the chance to pray on a Friday afternoon (after a short tractor ride up from the village where we were staying).

The family that lives adjacent to the church has been Catholic for generations. (We discovered a lot of long-standing Christianity during our countryside travels.) When asked, family members informed us that there would not be Mass at the church on Sunday, as a priest is able to come by only about once a month.

With this in mind, we made arrangements to head elsewhere for Mass. These plans notably entailed a 4am wake-up call. (Yes, 4 am!)

At 5 am, with the sun now up, we all piled into a small van, to head to a church about 45 minutes away. This church was going to be celebrating Mass at 6 am, which was when the priest was coming by. (Apparently, this priest spends his Sunday barnstorming from church to church. We happened to be at the beginning of his schedule, I guess.)

Pulling up to this village church at 5:45 in the morning, we were astounded that the pews were pretty much filled up already. Graciously, room was made for us...Z and I on the left side with all of the other men, Desi and Julie on the right side with all of the other women. (We've been told that this is a long-standing tradition in countryside churches.)

And the assembled were not just sitting there. We walked into the middle of a congregation that was all together chanting the rosary. First the men...Then the women...Then back to the men again...

Absolutely beautiful...And all before 6 am!

After Mass, it was off to the home of one of the villagers who had invited us into their home for breakfast. Another courtyard, another outside hole in the ground for a bathroom. (It is the poor countryside, after all.)

Breakfast, as is typical in China, involved all kinds of hot dishes...tofu, vegetables that had been harvested from the family's plot of land...Great stuff! And there was plenty of beer to go around. Yes, you heard that right...It was not yet 8 am, and all of the men in the room were toasting one another with cheap, local beer.

~Steve

Monday, August 29, 2011

Countryside Cooking

While out in the countryside, we spent a lot of time wondering why there was so much wood piled up at the edges of fields and outside courtyard homes. These pieces of wood didn't seem like the kinds that would be burned for heat in the winter.

Our answer came later, when we had the chance to observe some home-made noodles being cooked. (They were absolutely delicious, by the way!) Although electric hot plates have penetrated out into the Chinese countryside, there is still lots of cooking being done the old-fashioned way. Just feed those sticks into the fire, inch by inch...

~Steve

Inside A Village Courtyard Home

Stepping through a doorway on a dirt road in a nondescript Chinese village, a typical scene that you might walk into is the courtyard home. On your right (from the perspective of the vertical picture) is a brick wall that serves as the barrier between one family's courtyard and the next. Straight ahead and to the left are small brick structures that provide places to cook, eat, sleep, and store things.

In this particular instance, we walked right into the middle of a village improvement project. Here is a family compound that is, right before our very eyes, in the midst of receiving its first-ever indoor plumbing. (That's a solar-powered device being installed on the rooftop, a means of heating up water automatically.)

As one person involved in the renovation project told us, this family's new toilet represents the first indoor, flushable toilet in the entire village. Out behind the other side of the brick wall, Z and I stood there and watched as a very deep hole was being dug in the ground...

~Steve

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Meet Baby Irene

Aside from a ton of leaves and some sticks and branches, the main damage from the storm consisted of a pair of baby squirrels who fell from their nest high up in a tree in our front yard. One did not make it, but the other we named Irene and quickly took up to Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg. There was practically a line out the door of people bringing in baby squirrels.

All I can say is that I am glad there is such a thing as Second Chance, because I would have no idea how to take care of a baby squirrel, especially with the power out and no Internet for doing research.

~Steve

PS: The power came up late this morning, about nine hours after it went off.