Saturday, July 07, 2012

What Is More Popular In China?

Tennis or badminton? Take a look and see for yourself...

~Steve

Our Lotus Leaf Hat

Hao kan ma?

~Steve

An Entire Neighborhood...Gone

This is what it looks like when an entire neighborhood is torn down for redevelopment.

Three or four years ago, we lived very close to what is now a half-mile long pile of rubble. In fact, this very spot was on one of the routes I followed when going out for runs.

As you can see, in the year since we last swung by this place, which is located on Yuanmingyuan Xi Lu outside the 5th Ring Road, between Saoziying and Meiyuan (one of our favorite out-of-the way places to eat and shop), the entire collection of storefronts and homes has disappeared into the past.

Not that this was a particularly special neighborhood or anything like that. Rather, the place was one of those collections of simple brick structures and alleyways that characterizes life on the fringes of Beijing. The shops were for the most part hawking cheap stuff (I once almost bought a green, People's Liberation Army-style winter coat in one of the shops, but there wasn't a size big enough for me). Many of the homes probably didn't have indoor showers or toilets. So, in those senses, there is very little to be sentimental about.

That said, it is a bit jarring to see razing on a scale of such magnitude. And this is just one little construction project...

~Steve

Friday, July 06, 2012

This Is What The Start Of A Polluted Day Looks Like In Beijing

Click here to see the same cityscape on a blue sky day...

~Steve

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Flowers And Plants From Around The World

We recently had the chance to accompany some friends to the Beijing Shijie Huahui Da Guanyuan (北京世界花卉大观园). This might roughly be translated as the "Beijing Flower and Plant World."

On the large grounds of this botanical garden, located way in the south of Beijing, there are indoor and outdoor exhibits of plants and flowers from around the world. A building full of tropical plants. A re-creation of a desert landscape. An outdoor Japanese-style garden.

Maybe it was because we were there on a weekday, but we essentially had the place to ourselves. We actually often find this kind of loneliness to be the case when we venture into attractions that look like they could come right out of the West. Amusement parks fall into this category as well. Just another dislocating experience that peels another layer back and reveals just a little bit more about China's uncertain and ever-changing place in the world of culture and shared experiences.

~Steve

Here's What Hunan Food Really Looks Like

We've all been to Chinese take-out restaurants that claim to specialize in Hunan cuisine or that have the word "Hunan" in their name. Well, if you've ever wondered what Hunan food actually looks like, here's a glimpse at just one authentic dish from that most tasty of regions.

What you are looking at is a pair of fish heads, covered with red peppers and swimming in a bowl of oil.

Now you know what to order next time when you ring up your local take-out joint!

~Steve

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Tian'anmen At Night

Happy Fourth of July from the other side of the world!

~Steve

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Scenes From Tianzuo Guoji

Here is what things look like in and around the complex we are calling home for the summer. From top to bottom...

The marketplace at the bottom of the building. If we run out of toilet paper, all we have to do is run downstairs and stock back up. Only, though, between the hours of 9am and 8pm...

The vegetable truck out in front of the building. This is a new feature from two years ago, when there was no immediate place to buy fresh produce. I'm imagining if we have friends from the countryside visit us, they will not like the prices...

Chuanr tree and sanlunche. Down the nearest alleyway, we came upon this scene. A typical Beijing three-wheeler, parked adjacent to the remnants of a busy previous night of eating. That's what we call a chuanr tree. Chuanr are the sticks of meat and vegetables that are a staple of cheap, alleyway diets, the classic version being lamb kebobs. Each one of those sticks represents some seriously tasty goodness!

It's a nice little place to call home...

~Steve

The Peanuts Gang In A Most Unusual Location

Supermarkets in out-of-the-way locations oftentimes turn out to be gold mines for products that are offbeat and unexpected. And so, when we had a few minutes to kill between visiting friends out in Maquanying, Julie, Z, and I ventured into this little marketplace in the center of the village.

After wandering up and down the aisles for a few minutes, Julie hit jackpot...A shelf with a collection of six Peanuts glasses, one each for Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Snoopy, and Peppermint Patty. Given that Julie just played Linus in her school's production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, this was indeed the mother lode.

Although the eventual trick will be getting the glasses from China to the United States, a more pressing problem was how to package the glasses to survive a day of traveling around Beijing. The girl at the checkout had no newspaper or any other kind of paper that could be used to protect the glasses, so we improvised. I pulled a legal pad out of my backpack, and Julie and the girl made quick work of getting the glasses tucked away nicely.

And so there they are, on our counter in Tianzuo Guoji, a half a world away from their ordinary home...

~Steve

Monday, July 02, 2012

This Is What The Start Of A Blue Sky Day Looks Like In Beijing

Nice job, Jules!

~Steve

The Juxtaposition Of Maquanying

Maquanying is a neighborhood way out at the northeastern outskirts of Beijing. In two summers of visiting friends out there, we have always been struck by the weird juxtaposition of the different pieces of China that co-exist literally side-by-side in Maquanying.

At its heart, Maquanying is a series of alleyways of brick and concrete structures. These several-story high buildings are rather modest, to say the least. They constitute a very typical place to live and work for those Chinese people who live in that place between rural villages and the big city. These are often young people who see no future in the countryside, but who do not have the education needed to crack into the world economy. And so they toil at the edges, renting rooms and living frugally at the margins of Chinese society.

Cross the street, however, and a whole new world opens up. Right there at the edge of Maquanying is an outlet mall, the likes of which would seem right at home off an exit on I-95. A two-story collection of buildings, decorated with palm trees in pots, where you can buy a collared shirt at Polo, on sale for RMB 550, the equivalent of nearly 100 American dollars. That shirt may represent one-quarter to one-half of the monthly wages of a typical Maquanying resident. And that is only the beginning. Why not stop by Baskin-Robbins and try one of their 36 flavors? Or let your kid play in the water fountains out in the front plaza? The living can be large at the Beijing Scitech Premium Outlet Mall.

So who is it that actually is doing this large living right next door to alleyways of poverty? One might expect the outlet mall to be teeming with foreigners, expats seeking a little piece of home. But the vast majority of the Land Rovers and black European cars that pull into the parking lot (a parking lot itself can be a rarity in China) are driven by upward mobile Chinese. On a recent weekend, we saw only two foreigners in the entire complex. So, yes, a country that just a few decades ago was a people's communist nation is now staring in the face of a yawning income and wealth gap between those who have "made it" and those who are trying to figure out their place in the China of the twenty-first century.

It all makes for a very strange tableau, a tableau that all comes together in Maquanying, one of the harder to understand and explain places we have come across in years of living and traveling around China.

~Steve

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Biggest Doors Ever

These are the doors a new metro stop, out at the international exhibition center in the far away Shunyi section of greater Beijing.

Apparently, everything is big here in Beijing, not the least of which is the subway system itself. Ridiculously huge in scale, the system enabled us to metro home from a far away place that just last year would have required us hiring a hei che (black car).

Ah, progress...

~Steve

HOBY Hits Beijing!

Julie is wondering if this is the first time a HOBY jacket has ever been worn in Beijing. Blow up the picture and check out the guys in the bottom right...Yes, it still is fun to stare at the waiguoren!

~Steve

He Still Fits!

He's two years older, and obviously quite a bit taller, but Z is still hanging out and sleeping under the spiral staircase at Tianzuo Guoji. The boy who lived lives!

~Steve

Beijing's Trees

Here is the latest installment in our ongoing "what is that thing?" series. We've seen bushes and trees painted for bug protection and covered over in the winter. This year, it is providing nutrition that is the apparent point of emphasis. Give that tree an IV!!!

~Steve