Wayfaring Stranger

Location: Seattle, Washington, USA

Johnny Cash’s version of the old song "Wayfaring Stranger" just came up on shuffle, so it seemed like a reasonable title. I'm back at Home #1 for a couple of weeks (halfway through now), and it's very nice to be surrounded by familiar things, like the cat sitting on my lap as I write. Oh, and the wife too. It's wonderful to be with D. Next week, it's back to Home #2 – when I'm in Beijing and I say "I’m just staying home tonight" I mean Seasons Park, but this house in Seattle was home before that, so I guess I have two homes.

Of course, the weather has been pretty crazy here in Seattle of late. I missed the big storm by a few days, and D had to get through it on her own. She's had all sorts of adventures of her own while I've been half a world away. The power was out for a few days after the Storm Without a Name (apparently there's a contest to give it a name, but I don't think it's done yet). Just to make things more interesting, the power went out again after I got here, though it was a problem unrelated to weather. We got conflicting stories about what happened – either a car hit a power pole in the neighborhood or something happened at a substation, possibly involving a construction crew. Anyway, we spent an extra half day in the dark, and I got to revisit my fire-building skills.

But I'm getting out of order here. CL's driver (Mr. Y) took me to the airport, which is a fair distance out of town. The Beijing construction boom spreads all the way (it was getting dark when I arrived, so I didn't really see much of it then), including freeway improvements. There is still some open country between the city and the airport, though I couldn't tell if it was farmland or what. The airport itself is in the middle of expansion too. I believe there's a whole new terminal that will handle international flights. Customs getting out of China was a breeze. I filled out a couple forms, handed them to people in uniforms, heard the familiar thunk-thunk of them being stamped, and went along. The setup is rather different than any I've seen before, and it took me a while to figure out which signs told me where to go for the United ticket counter. After getting my boarding pass, it was on to the security lines. Passengers to the US and on US-based airlines have separate lines with higher security more or less corresponding to what we have to do domestically. Non-US passengers looked to have a more streamlined screening.

Before boarding I had time for a cappuccino and a muffin, since I didn't have lunch before leaving the apartment (and had nothing left to eat anyway). The 747 was not very full, so I had plenty of room to stretch out. Most of the rows in the back section of the plane had only one person per row. I was in the center five-seat section on one aisle, and there was a man on the other aisle, but no one in the middle at all. There were four movies and two and a half meals. I started watching the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but couldn't see the screen well enough to make it worthwhile, so I went back to my Zen and book. Once again I put the music on shuffle, mixing up 2500+ songs. For the book, I'm working my way through Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, which is a very good, very big science fiction novel. I caught a little sleep, but even with the extra room couldn't get very comfortable. I managed to more or less watch The DaVinci Code, but skipped My Super Ex-Girlfriend and couldn't stay awake for Little Miss Sunshine. The food was neither hideous nor great, so I'd call it a bit above average for airline fare.

I sent D a message from the airport in San Francisco letting her know what my progress was. It was a little strange how things work there for an international flight. I had to wait at the carousel for my checked bag, then hand in the customs form I'd filled out on the plane. After going though US customs, I had to recheck my bag.

The SFO-SEA flight was uneventful, and I was glad I'd stowed a snack in my pocket, since all they provided was a tiny packet of pretzels. I did notice several people on the plane that had also been on the Beijing flight. No in-flight entertainment on this leg at all.

When I got to Seattle, I messaged D, and we talked on the phone (she was at work), and I got a loud unintelligible greeting from her coworkers. While I was waiting for my bag, I heard my name paged overhead, and the woman at the information desk informed me that my bag would be coming on the next flight from San Francisco. I filled out a form with the address to have it delivered to, and went upstairs to wait for D to pick me up. It was so nice to see that familiar Subaru and the familiar person inside.

When we got home (#1), the cats seemed confused and avoided me at first. It didn't take long for them to decide that I was either someone they knew or a new person who could be their friend.

The time zone change hasn't been too bad, certainly nothing compared to the move to China. Several nights I've awoken at two or three and been awake for a few hours, and my energy flags a bit in the middle afternoon, but it's nothing severe. We'll see what it's like going back the other direction. It's nice seeing rain, and grey skies that are grey from natural causes. We've even had some sunshine, and views across Puget Sound to the Olympics (the mountains, not the Games). The condo buildings next door are to the stage of getting roofs, where the last time I saw them they were foundations and the start of frames.

D and I met up with my sister C and brother-in-law S on Friday afternoon at a coffee shop in Seattle. It was a short meeting, but nice to do it in person. I passed along a few China items for them to deliver to the family east of the mountains, and C gave me a 2007 calendar her daughter made with family pictures, along with some other photos for my Beijing apartment. On Christmas day it was the ritual phone calls to and from various family members, and the good news is that everyone is doing well. I heard even more stories about people reading this blog, like old high school classmates. Feel free to say hi in the comments – you don't have to be a member or sign up or anything.

D and I have been shopping for some things I'll take back to China with me. In all my looking around, I've yet to find towels I really like there, so we got some at Costco. Similar story with kitchen knives. I'll also be packing up some of my clothes that I left behind, now that I know better what I need. The raincoat was wasted space, but more sweaters would be good.

And that's about enough rambling for one day. It's time I did something constructive, like fix myself another cup of coffee. The soundtrack for this writing has been more shuffling as I rip some of the CDs I own legitimately to the Zen. It's been Blur, Yma Sumac, Holst's "Mars", Tweaker, Sarah Vaughan, David Bowie, the Commodores and so on (as if there's a pattern…).


On a clear day you can see across the street

The last few days have been mainly occupied with work. Sometimes that involves staring at a computer screen waiting for a response from another computer half a world away, so there's plenty of time to think between clicks. Lately the main topic in my thoughts has been the fact that I'm visiting home next week. It will be so nice to be back in Seattle for a little while and spend some time with my wife. Skype is nice, but it's not the same as being there. I am bringing her a webcam, so after I come back to Beijing I'll be able to see her instead of just her seeing me.

Here's one of the reasons I will be glad to get out of Beijing for a few days.
This is the view from my living room on a reasonable day.
This was the view on Tuesday. The humidity was effectively zero – that is not fog. It is not in fact a natural phenomenon at all. Of course I had heard that the air quality here is not very good (in fact it's been dubbed the worst in the world), but experiencing something like this gives you an entirely new perspective. The government is making noises that indicate they want to improve the situation, which is a smart survival move. Long-term exposure to conditions like this has to have serious health effects, and in the end it will cost more to care for its victims than it will to clean it up. I hope they're sincere about making things better, but it's not something you can fix overnight, or even in the two years before the Olympics are here.

When the air is like this, you can taste it. If you've ever accidentally got a bit of aluminum foil in your mouth, you've got an idea of what it's like. Picture yourself standing in a closed garage with an idling car, gnawing on a chunk of foil, and you're getting pretty close. I am so glad I'll only be staying here a couple of years.

Daytime temperatures have been in the single digits (Celsius of course – I'm trying to get used to that), and a little below freezing at night. No snow, just moisture-sucking bone-dry air.

I've been waking up in the morning with very dry sinuses and a scratchy feeling in my throat, so I went to a local chain called Gome the other day and bought a humidifier. Gome is basically like Best Buy in the US, with electronics and appliances. It's quite different than places like the Wonderful Digital Jungle. There's no haggling over prices, for one thing. You pick out what you want, and a sales person writes up a purchase order for it. You take the purchase order to a cashier and pay for it, and the cashier gives you two stamped receipts. You take those back to the sales person, they take one and give you the item. Sometimes they have to run off and get it from the inventory room. It's a very slow process, especially considering that there was only one cashier working to cover a whole gigantic floor full of merchandise.
Humidifiers come in many shapes and sizes. My coworker TG bought one at the same time I did, and he chose a sensible adult unit. I, on the other hand, couldn't resist this model. The manufacturer is a Beijing 2008 sponsor or official supplier or something – there's a logo on the box. I like to think all the athletes will have ones like this in their rooms. They also come in pigs, monkeys, and bunnies to suit any Olympian's taste.
I've decided to throw in a picture like this every now and then. I was really bored one day, and couldn't get motivated to go out in the cold, so I took pictures of my TV while I flipped channels. This one is a badminton match at the Doha Asian Games. Stay tuned here for more exciting samples of Chinese broadcasting.

The other night most of the US expats went to a place called The Tree, which is supposed to have the best pizza in Beijing. We read that it's run by a Belgian, and they have a wide selection of Belgian beers, including one called De Koninck that we all agreed is really tasty. The pizza was excellent as well, easily a match for just about any pizza I've ever had in any country. They make it with very thin crust, and the sauce is very good. They only come in one size, about twelve inches, and somehow the five of us ate six of them, which exposed us to the majority of the menu. It was a bit expensive by Beijing prices, but will be good for special occasions (like needing to taste good pizza). Maybe it's a good thing they ran out of De Koninck, or we would have been in trouble. It was Tuesday night, and the place was completely packed. It's located in the infamous Sanlitun area, home of many questionable establishments and some reputable ones as well, and is within walking distance from home if you’re in the mood for a bit of a walk.


Blog spam

I'm sorry to all those multitudes of readers of my blog out there, but I've had to turn on moderation, which means that if you post a comment, I have to approve it before it will show up. I started getting a bunch of junk mail comments, offers for Viagra (no prescription necessary!) and so on, as well as a peculiar offer from a Saudi Arabian girl who wanted to practice her English. But for actual readers of my babble, don't let that discourage you. I like getting comments - please drop me a line or two; I'll approve your post and it will show up. I keep hearing second-hand about people reading my writings, but only very seldom does anyone post a comment directly. I'm tempted to deliberately write something controversial just to see if I stir up any feelings. Please don't let it come to that. Do your part. If you don't want to put your name out on the internet in public, feel free to disguise yourself. If you're someone I actually know, I'll probably catch on. If you ask a question, I'll answer. I check almost every day. Word to the wise: If you mention Viagra in your comment, I will likely reject it without reading the whole thing.

Soundtrack for the writing of this post is the Edith Piaf collection called Legends of the 20th Century. For the full effect, get out your own copy (you have one, don't you?) and listen to it while reading. And when that's done, put on Queens of the Stone Age.


Look elsewhere for your entertainment

No real update today. We went to lunch at the Hawaiian Pajama Palace again, and this time I had my camera.
And here's a little shop we walk past to get there.

We ended up not making it to the Italian art show. We found out it closes every day at 6, and there was no way we could get there early enough to see it before closing time. The tickets are good for a while longer, so maybe some of us will try a weekend.


Say hello to Mr. Dai

One of the things you have to do to get a long-term work visa in China is have a Chinese name. Sometimes I think this is a very ethnocentric policy, where the Chinese are effectively saying foreigners have to conform to certain norms of Chinese culture in order to stay, but there are actually some practicalities that have to be considered. The first is that Chinese writing is not phonetic, so you can't do like (for example) a Russian in an English-speaking country, and simply spell your name with the new alphabet. (Having studied both Russian and linguistics, I know that there are actually complications involved, but compared to Chinese, it's a walk in the park.) And if I moved to Russia I could easily approximate my name in the Cyrillic alphabet. Japan has dealt with the issue by including as part of their writing system an entire set of characters just for phonetically spelling foreign words and names, but China has no equivalent of katakana.

So, in order to be able to put the names of foreigners onto forms and so on, they have to come up with Chinese names. I started out by going to a handy little web site that has software to come up with Chinese names. You put in your English name, your birthday, and a few other things, and it will come up with something that in some way resembles your English name, but is both "normal-sounding" and auspicious to Chinese who encounter it. Quite sensibly, the program does not always give the same result for the same English name, since there's no absolute right or wrong in this matter. I tried it a number of times and got some of the possibilities, then consulted my Chinese coworkers for the final decision.

For my family name, there were a number of possibilities: Teng, Deng, Dai, Du, and so on. I liked Dai best, with Du second. Teng and Deng sound too much like the English word dung for me to be comfortable with them. Almost all Chinese family names are a single syllable.

For the given name, it is most common to have two syllables, though some people only have one. If you think of some famous Chinese people, there are plenty of examples. Mao Zedong, Hu Jintao, and Zhang Ziyi are of the most common form, Yao Ming is less common but not unusual. And remember that the family name customarily comes first, since family is more important than individuals. Most English names are longer than two or three syllables, so it makes sense to go for the longer option. Luckily, my given name lends itself to a number of similar-sounding Chinese words.

The first suggestion I got back from a coworker was Dai Jianlei, with jian meaning sword and lei meaning thunder. Very powerful, but a little violent to suit me well – maybe if I were studying martial arts…

The next one to come in was Dai Jianlian, where jian means build and lian means communication or connection. There are different variations of pronouncing what we write as jian, and also plain old homonyms (like to and too in English). This jian is written with a different character than sword jian, so the meaning would be clear. I like the building connections idea.

A third suggestion was Dai Jianli, and this time jian means health and li means polite. Jianli is apparently a pretty common given name, and represents sensible hopes of a parent for a child.

I’ve decided to go with the second suggestion (thanks AB!). I’m told that there is a famous Chinese basketball player named Yi Jianlian, so when Chinese people see Dai Jianlian, they won’t think it’s a funny name.
For those of you who do not have a Chinese font on your computer, I’ve taken the name and made it into a graphic. The fun part is going to be trying to learn how to write it consistently. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that when I write it, it will probably always look to a native speaker like a kindergartener's scribble, but that’s life. Here, I am in some ways the equivalent of a kindergartener.

In other news, we discovered another good restaurant near the office. I don't know what it's called, but we'll call it The Gaudy Place, or Hawaiian Pajama Place. The outside of the restaurant is covered with bright flowers on a bright red background from ground to roof, and inside, all the chairs are covered with the same pattern (it's a bit like a really tacky Hawaiian shirt), and many members of the staff wear it as well, some from head to toe. But it is very clean inside, which is always a good sign. Four of us went (JW, BG, TG, and I), and we ordered five dishes: cabbage and noodles, spicy peanut chicken, fried rice, green beans with hot peppers, and sizzling beef with onions and green peppers. It was all quite good, and there were many other things on the picture menu and at other patrons' tables that also looked good. With tea, the entire bill came to ¥65, between $8 and $9 US (total, not per person). We will be going back there. I'll have to take the camera and take a picture to show just how strange the decor is.
KW is returning to the US later this week, so we're planning to go to an art show tomorrow night after work. It says "Italian Contemporary Art Exhibition" on the tickets. It's actually located at the same G-Box (proper name "Gehua Tower") where our office will someday be. I found a web site about the show.

Speaking of the G-Box, I've now seen the space where our office will go. It is currently a dusty shell, with the outer windows in place, and some pillars, but completely unfinished once you get beyond the elevator lobby. We've been having all sorts of humorous discussions about how the office should be decorated and appointed. A couple of us are pushing the idea of a koi pond in the entryway. I’d like a waterfall down into the pond, but that might bother the fish… It's a huge space, way larger than the office in Seattle, but Beijing is much larger than Seattle, and we're trying to establish a business here. There will be hundreds of people working there by the time the Olympics take place.

Coming up this weekend is the Manchester Derby, a game between cross-town rivals Manchester United and Manchester City. With United sitting atop the Premier League standings, City is definitely the underdog. I'll probably catch the game at a certain nearby pub... It will probably be more crowded than a usual Saturday night, and they're supposed to have the Boddington's back in stock this week.


Theater is more important than real life

It occurs to me that the title of my last post ("The most boring blog post in history") was a bit presumptuous. Who am I to think that out of the millions of blog posts that have been written since the beginning of blog history a few years ago, mine could possibly approach being the most boring? I’m sure there are thousands of posts out there in the blogosphere much more boring than that. I will try to curb my ego a bit more in the future and not make such extravagant claims.

I have very little to report today. In fact, I spent all of the day here in my apartment, most of it imitating a vegetable in front of the TV. My internet was inaccessible most of the day, apparently because the landlord forgot to pay the bill. Internet and land line phone are included in my rent, and she paid the first month when I moved in, but when that was up, suddenly I got “invalid user name” and booted out. Finally got it back this evening. In other landlord-related news, it looks like I just have to deal with this desk – no improvement is forthcoming. But she did bring by a DVD player this afternoon. I thanked her and told her I’d set it up myself. It’s a DVD player – how hard can it be? I’ve set up DVD players before.
Of course, none of the ones I set up had owner’s manuals, remote control units, and plugs in a foreign language. It took me a while, but I did eventually get it working. So now I’ve watched a few episodes from the Babylon 5 season 1 box set I bought for a price I’d sooner not reveal. There was a big sign in the store saying all the merchandise was legit, and the package certainly looks legit, but it was significantly cheaper than it would be in the US. It did occur to me that if they priced it comparable to the US price, no one could afford it here, so if they want to sell any, it has to be cheaper. Yeah, that must be it.

One of the things I watched before the DVD player showed up was the opening ceremonies for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. I don’t know how much airtime (if any) this event has been getting in the rest of the world, but it seems to be a pretty big deal here in China. This country is expected to dominate the medal tally. I was flipping through channel after channel of typical Chinese TV, which consists in large part of historical dramas, variety shows, and advertisements, and came across the Doha thing. Bear with me as I describe it for a bit, since it makes me think about the 2008 Olympics that I’m so much involved in. I’ll start off by saying that whoever is in charge of planning the Beijing opening ceremonies must be shaking in their boots right about now, after seeing the massive spectacle presented in Qatar.

In terms of sheer showmanship, the ceremony was simply amazing, with computer graphics projected on the inside of the stadium roof, lasers, moving stages, huge numbers of performers, flying metal birds, fireworks, and so on. I may be a cynical American, but I found the whole thing unexpectedly moving, perhaps because of my present situation. I know that idealistic proclamations of international cooperation like the ones in events like this have very little impact on the real world. Lebanese athletes were marching in a parade of nations as their countrymen and women back home were filling the streets to support the overthrow of their government, and North and South Korean athletes marched together in spite of tensions be (though they are apparently competing separately). Still, it’s nice to know that someone cares enough to try to say we can all get along, even if back home the reality is something else entirely. Maybe the kids who watch and take part will have it in the back of their heads that the world really can be a better place.
Far from being the rigid Muslim hardliners we hear so much about, the organizers made a special effort to include many elements from cultures all over Asia, so the main showpiece involved the journey of a Sinbad-like character who sails east from the Arab world and encounters Hindus, Buddhists, and so on in his travels, and they all come together in a vast panoply of human diversity. In case you can’t make it out, that’s thousands of people with torches standing to spell out PEACE BE UPON YOU.
One of the recurring symbols was the astrolabe, a device used by sailors to navigate the seas in the days before GPS satellites.
And here’s the “seeker” in his boat, which moved smoothly across the floor of the stadium.
He is attacked by some sort of sea god, projected on the roof of the stadium.
He encounters various cultures in Asia as he travels.
Eventually the athletes paraded in. Here are some of India’s female competitors. Incidentally, I noticed that all the nations (at least the ones appearing in the edited broadcast I saw) except Afghanistan had women participating. Only men marched for Afghanistan.
There were some speeches and musical performances from Hong Kong superstar Jackie Cheung and Bollywood star Sunidhi Chauhan, then the torch was brought in. Several athletes carried it in turns, and then a platform rose from the floor of the stadium carrying a horse and rider.
Sheikh Al-Thani took the torch up a long ramp to light the giant astrolabe. Due to the rainy weather, the ramp was slippery, and I saw the horse struggle, but they made it to the top, above all the spectators in the stadium.
Then the fireworks went off.

How’s that for a neat way of filling a post for a day where I did nothing but sit on my butt and watch TV? And I didn’t even have to take my own pictures!

Anyway, that was quite a spectacle, and Beijing will be hard pressed to top it. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I kind of hope I’ll get to attend the opening ceremonies here in 2008, just to see what happens.

In case any readers were in suspense how the saga of the gas stove would end, a maintenance man came up yesterday morning, tried the stove (it puffed out for him like it had for me), and then took a panel off the front of the gas meter. He pointed at the four AA batteries inside, and the meaning was clear. I walked across the street to 7-11 and bought some batteries, popped them in, and now the stove works.

And yesterday’s chapter in the exploration of Chinese restaurants actually hits kind of a sour note. JW, TG, and I went out from the office for lunch, and it was cold and windy, so we went into a close restaurant we hadn’t been to before. We ordered by the pictures on the menu as usual, but this time ended up with several things we didn’t care for much. The small steamed shrimp were small, all right, and had been cooked whole, shells, heads, legs, tails and all. They were too small to peel, so we had to just eat them shells and all. Crunchy, and not bad tasting, but a little like eating crickets or something. We finished about half the plate. There was a dish with pork and vegetables that was fine, and some little pastries with pureed radish in them that were quite good, but the rice dish we ordered turned out to be a dessert with a strange flavor. When we said we wanted tea, the waitress showed TG a big menu of teas, and he picked one, not understanding that the price given (around $6 US) was per person, not per pot. It was very good tea, but like the meal on a whole, way too expensive – the bill came to almost $40 for three of us, which is significantly higher than we normally pay.

One more thing before I sign off for tonight. Our temperatures have been getting below freezing overnight for a while now, but I have not once seen any frost on the ground. It just goes to show how low the humidity is here. I’m thinking it must be a side effect of that, but a lot of the leaves of trees, even ones I’m familiar with like maples, haven’t turned fall colors. They’re still green when they drop off. Very different from the situation in the northwest corner of North America, which has been making the news even here for it’s nasty weather.


The most boring blog post in history

I’ve been meaning to take the camera in to work for a while now, and today I finally remembered. So here’s a picture of the exterior of the building.
The building also houses a restaurant, and I’m told there’s something like a spa downstairs. It used to be a hotel, so these are probably hotel amenities repurposed to function on their own. They’ve decorated the trees in the planters next to the doors with lights and garlands. The garlands were new today.
When you ride up the elevator to the fourth floor and the weather is relatively clear, you can see all the way to the National Stadium which is under construction for the Olympics. This is looking along Gulouwai Avenue to the north, past the Third Ring Road. If you turned around the other way and walked south along this street for three or four miles, it would take you right to the Forbidden City.
When you get off the elevator, there’s this little lobby area. It’s always dark in here, so I’m not sure how these plants survive.
I mentioned before about the film posters on the hallway walls.
Last month I posted a picture of the part of the office where I work. Here’s the other side, where our Chinese staff works. Yes, that’s a fishbowl on the conference table, with two goldfish in it.
And this is part of one of the lunches we sometimes order for delivery. We almost always get this dish. It’s got chicken in it, and the red bits are hot peppers (though it’s not as spicy as it might look), I’m pretty sure the little cubes are bamboo shoots, and the black stuff is a kind of mushroom. It’s all wrapped up in a tasty sauce. That’s my favorite beverage, cold oolong tea with no sugar or lemon. It took some trial and error to find an unsweetened tea, so I’ve been sticking with this one.
After lunch today I took a little walk around the area to take pictures. I’m sure people who saw me thought I was nuts taking pictures of ordinary buildings, and maybe they’re right. This fellow probably looks a little healthier in the summertime.
Across the street are some large apartment blocks.
I crossed under one of the access roads to the Third Ring Road and surreptitiously photographed the person who was sweeping.
I went through there to get to this. Remember this photo was taken on November 30, and yes, those are roses in bloom. I don’t know how they achieve this, but there it is.
Just across on the other side of the Third Ring Road is the China Science and Technology Museum, which I hope to get into someday.
And back to the Huabei. I noticed our driver waiting in the parking lot in front of the building. That’s him in the black VW Passat. I always wonder what he does during the day after he drops us off. I did see him in the “coffee shop” on the second floor once, having a cup of tea.
I mentioned in my description of the daily routine that we get fruit every day. It’s more than I can eat at the office, so I bring some home. Here’s the collection I have now – or did have until I ate the banana for breakfast. That’s a gigantic grapefruit in the back, a pear on the left, an apple on the right, and an orange in the front. All of these have proven very tasty so far. I haven’t tried one of the grapefruit yet, but the oranges are very sweet and juicy, and both the pears and apples are really excellent. They’re sitting on the lovely new table cloth I bought at Silk Street.
On the domestic front, I’m having some trouble with my gas stove. It was working fine until a couple days ago, then it just puffed out when I went to start it up. I figured I might have run down all the gas that had been paid for, so I took my gas card…
…to the nearest Bank of Beijing branch. I showed the security guard the gas card and a ¥100 note, and he took me to a machine outside that looked like a combination of an ATM and a payphone. He inserted the card in a slot and made some selections on the screen. They seemed to be in both Chinese and English, though I have to admit the English didn’t make a lot of sense to me. After a moment, the card popped out and it printed a receipt. The guard took me back inside and made a selection on the machine that prints your “take a number” slip. I waited a few minutes for 377 to come up, then slipped my card, the receipt, and the money to the teller. She worked her magic and handed me back ¥1.20 along with another receipt. I stepped away, confused, but luckily another bank employee saw me and took me back out to the machine again. She motioned for me to insert the gas card, and made some selections on the screen. When it popped out, she said, “Okay.”
I brought the card home and put it into the slot in the side of my gas meter, which is behind the refrigerator. It clicked and then dinged, and registered the additional money. Unfortunately, the stove still doesn’t work. The little spark things go, and there’s a brief puff of flame, then it goes out and I get nothing. Good thing I have a microwave. I’ll call the building management in the morning and have a maintenance person check it out.
And I will leave you with a picture of the desk I’m sitting at right now as I write. It’s about the only thing about my apartment that I really dislike. It was not made to hold a computer, and typing is uncomfortable. I know – I’m such a whiner. I’ve asked if the landlord can get me something different, but haven’t heard back yet. The chair, on the other hand, is much more comfortable than it looks.


The Art Factory

Yesterday was another adventure day, though not a tourist sort of adventure. After Skyping with D for a while in the morning, I got a message from “Cloudtrapeze,” someone I met over on Last.fm, a Brit who’s been living in Beijing for some time. She said she would be going to the 798 Arts District to attend a show opening for an artist friend of hers. I did a bit of research and got directions to the place, which is further out from the center of town than I’ve been, between the Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads. It’s in the direction of the airport, and far enough that it’s not on any of the city maps that I have. Note to self: Get a better map.

In spite of the apparent distance, it’s not really that far – the taxi ride was only ¥19, less than it costs to get to the office. I got there around 2pm, which I now know is a little too early, since many of the galleries were not open yet. I wandered around, taking pictures and visiting the galleries that were open.
It’s an old factory area that has been repurposed. The juxtaposition of old industrial buildings and machinery with art is very interesting, and the artists obviously see a value in preserving some elements of the area’s history.
There is a wide variety of art represented here, from well-known foreign names to unknown locals, from big-money corporate-funded to starving independent.There’s a lot of sculpture around the area.
Here’s a fish that apparently does need a bicycle.
The largest gallery I saw looks like this inside. It’s a vast space with several different exhibits. The white boxes are part of a collaborative work: anyone can take up pen or brush and add to it.
They’ve left some of the old machinery intact, like the green thing you can’t see much of in the foreground.
In the Long March Gallery, there is a series of very large paintings depicting modern Chinese women in their homes and jobs.
On the other side of the same gallery is some modern sculpture. For a clue to the scale, that’s a normal-size doorway behind the heads.
Here are some images from other galleries. Some of them had signs prohibiting photography, and I respected their wishes. The last shot is of a gigantic photo of Beijing traffic. I looked at it and said, “I know where that is!” It’s a shopping mall not far from my office.
For some reason, I was fascinated by the idea of taking pictures of people taking pictures of art. I have several more along these lines.
This is another one of the large galleries, featuring a little loft area on the far end. The writing up above dates from the factory days, and is supposed to be inspirational slogans for the workers.
This shot is taken from up there. I don’t know who the woman is that is being photographed. I saw this scene repeated many times during the day, a flock of photographers taking pictures of a woman posing. Is she a movie star? A singer?
Late in the day I finally contacted Cloudtrapeze and found out which gallery to go to. It was on the outskirts of the area, where many of the buildings are still not developed.
This is the Zen Gallery, where Stephanie’s work was on display. There was another artist doing a piece where patrons were given candles and asked to drip the hot wax on his face while he lay on the floor. The large poster to the left of the door is one of Stephanie’s works, depicting Vincent Van Gogh in a Red Army uniform. Her work, like much of what I saw, had a definite political component.
These particular residents of the district did not seem interested in political commentary.

After it got dark, they closed up the gallery and I went to dinner at a tiny little restaurant in the district with Cloudtrapeze, Stephanie and another woman whose name I unfortunately did not catch. We had a good meal and toasted Stephanie’s first public showing.

And here are a couple final shots that didn’t fit in anywhere
I really like this one for some reason. This was outside in an alley across from a café.
And one for the motorsports enthusiasts in the audience.