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.


Turkey and guilt

It seems that most cultures in the world have some sort of harvest festival at the end of the crop-growing season. It’s a pretty obvious time to have a party, if you think back to the days when most people were involved in agriculture. You’ve finished with the major work of the year, and you’ve got stores of food for the winter. In China they have a week-long holiday in October that took place before I arrived. The US and Canada both have holidays called Thanksgiving. As I mentioned in my previous brief post, KW ordered a turkey dinner and invited a bunch of the gang over for a little taste of home.

The meal was very much a traditional American Thanksgiving. There was turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, green beans, cranberry sauce, a mixed vegetable dish with broccoli, carrots, and zucchini, and a fruit salad. For dessert, we had cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.
This is (clockwise from front left) BG, ZC (who works with us from Shanghai but was in town for meetings), FL (our real estate helper and general fixer), and PG (who runs the technical side of our operation).
And here’s the kids’ table. That’s HX with his back to us (our main financial guy), KW, an empty chair where I was sitting before I got up to take this picture, and TG, who will work with BG on the ticket events and just arrived on Sunday. He’ll be moving into an apartment here at Seasons Park next week.

I’m sticking with just initials out of respect for everyone’s privacy. I’ve chosen to share my experiences here on this blog, but nobody else signed up for that. Obviously I’m posting pictures of them, and I’ve made sure they were okay with it, but it just doesn’t seem right to throw them out into the cybersphere.

I’ve mentioned a few times how inexpensive many things are here, and with the protests in Australia at the economic conference recently, not to mention the whole WTO thing in Seattle years ago, I can't help but think about the economic reality of me being here. When I go to the store and see local people buying food, I know that for some of them, even the ridiculously low prices might seem burdensome. If a taxi driver gets only $3 for taking me halfway across town, a dozen eggs for $2 must seem expensive, considering that the price of gas is close to the same as in the US (around $2.50 gallon equivalent, I’m told). I’ve never thought of myself as rich or even highly paid, but compared to most of the people around me, I am. Is this disparity fair? Of course, it’s reality, so fairness might not figure into it, but I have to feel good about the choices I make in my life, so I ask questions like that.

If eggs and everything else cost as much here as they do in Seattle, few Chinese would be able to afford them. The fact that my apartment actually does cost as much as it would in Seattle only goes to show that there is a growing class here that can afford it, as well as a considerable number of foreign residents. The way I see it, my presence here is part of a process that leads the Chinese people closer towards that economic parity that would have to exist for prices to be equal. Every dollar I spend here is money that in a small way makes these people richer. It’s a win-win situation. I get to take advantage of the disparity while they get a piece of my wealth. How else are things supposed to get better? Restricting international trade seems like it only slows down the improvements. But it is a fine line between collaboration and exploitation when the imbalance is so extreme.

There was a story on the news recently about the Chinese government encouraging its people to spend more, to save less, to help drive the economy. First, from the crowds I see shopping everywhere and all the trendy clothing I see, I don’t think Beijingers need to be told that. Second, one of the things that often bothers me about American society is how materialistic we are, and how wasteful. Do we really need to buy a new car every three years? All the stuff we buy, use for a short time, and then discard when it’s still functional – so much of it ends up in landfills, using up resources inefficiently, and cluttering our world. Do we really need the people of the world’s most populous nation following that example? Is there a better way? Can you have prosperity without waste?

The other day I was walking around my neighborhood and encountered more people begging for money than I have previously seen here. All along Gongrentiyuchang across from Workers Stadium, which apparently hosts an open-air market on the weekends, there were women with little children that ran up to me and tugged on my pant leg, following me for a long time. It made me very uncomfortable. Last night I was talking to ZC about it after dinner, and she said that in many cases beggars are frauds, borrowing other people’s children for their scams, and going back to decent homes at the end of the day and changing out of their dirty clothes. There are even stories of people intentionally maiming themselves in order to get more sympathy begging. I don’t know how to react to these kinds of stories.

Like I often say, it’s a big world full of many people, and they all have their own ways of living.


China works in mysterious ways

Just a small update. I can now view Blogspot addresses again, including this blog. I've seen news articles about the back and forth on Wikipedia, which as I write is still not accessible from here. I'm missing it as a resource, even at work, since I sometimes get background on computer programming topics there.

I'll have to write more later – this is just a quick note early in the morning. For readers in the US, Thanksgiving is this week, but they don't celebrate it here, so it will be a normal work day for us, though we may try to sneak out Friday. We haven't quite figured out how to handle holidays yet. It won't really work to take US holidays here, since our Chinese business partners freely schedule meetings then, but it doesn't work very well to just take Chinese holidays either, since the people we work with back in the states will expect us to be around. We do have a turkey dinner ordered from Steak & Eggs, so a bunch of us will converge on the W household for a taste of home.

Until later...


No fleas for me, thank you

The first part of this week was pretty uneventful as far as new experiences are concerned. It mainly consisted of the Typical Day in Beijing (see below). On Thursday J &KW and BG and I had dinner at a neighborhood restaurant called the Faraway Café, which is mostly patterned after the south of France, except for the Elvis posters. The food was very good, in spite of the odd décor, and I can see why J&K go there fairly often.
This is the “I’m so pathetic” portion of our program, featuring my refrigerator.
This is my kitchen cabinet. I obviously haven’t managed to really stock up on things yet.

This morning, BG and I met just before 10 and walked over toward the W place. We met J&K there, and walked back past the Kuntai Hotel to a restaurant near the US Embassy (which is apparently moving soon). The restaurant is called Steak & Eggs, and it’s an American style diner that serves breakfast all day. They serve lunch all day too. It was kind of nice to have pancakes for breakfast, especially after a long walk. We all had a good meal and felt quite content by the time we left. The coffee was even pretty good. After that, we caught a taxi to a large market with hundreds of vendors selling any kind of craft you can imagine, from furniture to jewelry to art to antiques (or so they said). The place is massive and we covered less than half of it over the course of the afternoon.
Like I said, furniture.
JW wants to buy a happy pig (a symbol of prosperity) for his apartment, but these are too big.
They are very happy pigs.
More of the furniture zone. Incidentally, in this picture you can see a very common sight. Young women friends (and sometimes older ones) are often seen arm in arm, or even holding hands here, sometimes in groups of three or more.
Lots of very lovely stuff here.
And it doesn’t cater just to tourists.
Here is some really amazing furniture. Not sure I would want it in my living room, but it is amazing.
Are you getting a feeling for the size of this place?
Occasionally you catch a little break in the crowd.
In amongst the antiques (and fake antiques, no doubt) you see this happy fellow.
In some ways it’s like flea markets I’ve seen before, though the style of the art is different. And one last picture, just in case I haven't convinced you that this is a large market.
That's my boss JW foreground right, and BG in the maroon sweatshirt on the left, and a small fraction of the market.
Did I buy anything? It should surprise no one who knows me that my one purchase of the day looked like this. After I got it home, I played around with it and discovered that it was not made as a functional musical instrument (the frets aren't arranged to produce notes in any scale, Asian or Western). But it is lovely and will make a great addition to my apartment. There were lots of other instruments there, which I suspect are of similar functionality, though a friend has told me of places where "real" instruments can be had.

Tonight, the plan was to have movie night over at the W household after a dinner at the Korean BBQ near my place. I think The Devil Wears Prada was on the bill. Dinner was excellent. Each table has a little grill, and you order your own selection of raw meats and vegetables and grill them yourself, though we got a bit of help from the staff, as they obviously considered us incompetent. Anyway, delicious.
We left the restaurant and I pointed out this place, which I had noticed before. It was still early, so we went in, and discovered a sports bar focused on soccer. We watched a match, drank some beer, met some British kids on holiday (two from Manchester, two from Bristol), and before long movie night had been postponed. The four of us are now members of China Club Football. It’s a charity thing that gives us discounts at various places around town, some of which are already on our Most Favored Destinations list.