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.