Date: 26 January, 2007
Location: back seat of a taxi creeping along the Third Ring Road
Given my druthers, I druther always take the nice new Beijing taxis with the gold stripe in their paint job, the recent Hyundais and VWs, but there isn't always one around when you need one. Sometimes you get one of the older Citroëns – red or blue and white. TG and I had one once that died about four times on the way to the office, every time we came to a red light (yes, they do stop at red lights...most of the time). As I write this entry, I'm in a red one that stalled as he pulled up to pick me up. Not a good sign. The driver seems reasonable, though he's getting a lot of honks from other cars as he cuts from lane to lane. He asked me which way I wanted to go (by sign language) – via Second Ring or Third. I picked “San Huan Lu” (Third Ring Road). It's a little longer on Third, but gets you to the Huabei quicker sometimes. Traffic's heavy this morning, so maybe it wasn't such a good choice. JW told me to pack my patience when I came to China, and it's certainly come in handy.
BG is off to visit the northern city of Harbin this weekend. It's famous for its Winter Festival, with fancy ice sculptures and so on. I'll see if I can scam some of her pictures to post here. If her report is positive, maybe I'll try to fit it in my schedule next year.
Location: back at home
Here's a bit of Engrish humor. I promise I’m not posting this to ridicule people who do not know my language very well. I'm just amused by how people use language. This is the label on my mattress. It looks like someone knew the general shape of the letters they wanted, but not what they meant. If you looked at the word Tranquil and didn't know the letters, you could easily confuse a small i for a small r. Walking to lunch the other day we saw a young woman wearing a denim jacket with DELXUE in big letters across the back. Made me wish I had a cell phone that could take pictures.
And another little bit of linguistic amusement. This is a brand of bread I buy fairly often. The bread is good, though the slices are very small. I'm guessing Bimbo means something different in some language. It doesn't fit the pattern of Mandarin, where you never find m at the end of a syllable, but it could easily be one of the other Chinese dialects.
Here's another random photo. This was my dinner on Tuesday night. It's a dish I call Stir-Fry Whatever You Have. The ingredients vary. This time it was chicken, onion, carrot, garlic, and noodles. It is accompanied by the best Chinese beer I've found so far: Haidao Black, which is apparently brewed by the Tsingtao Brewery. Not many stores carry it, but luckily the little convenience store here at Seasons Park is one of them. Chinese beers tend to be very light in both color and flavor, but this is one exception. It's not as full-bodied as a stout, but has a pretty nice malty taste.
I've been mostly eating dinner at home this week, so not many restaurant stories. For lunch we've been to the Hawaiian Pajama place (AKA Northwest Tiger) and another one in the same block. It's also good and also inexpensive. We found a new dish at Tiger’s that we all like – the ribs. Cooked to falling-apart with a delicious dry rub.
Today for lunch, JW, TG and I decided we were tired of going to the same old places all the time, so we walked further south from the Huabei than we had before. We came to another side street and saw the red lanterns indicating restaurants. We picked the first place that looked interesting. It turned out to be a traditional hot pot joint. No pictures on the menu, no English speaking staff, ignorant Americans… yeah, it was fun. We managed to pick out a couple plates of meat and some noodles and cabbage. They brought each of us a little bowl with a thick dark brown liquid in it and little dollops of other colors on top. The waiter showed us what to do. He scooped in some fresh chopped green onion (at least I think that's what it was) and stirred it around. In the center of the table was a hole with a metal bowl suspended in it. He ran outside and brought in the hot pot. It was a big metal bowl with a charcoal burner sticking up in the middle of it. There was boiling water all around it in a ring. We took bits of thinly sliced meat in our chopsticks and tossed them in the water, gave them a few seconds to cook then picked them out and dunked them in the brown sauce, which tasted kind of peanutty. I think one kind of meat was lamb or mutton, and the other possibly pork (it was pink on the plate and turned almost white when cooked). For some reason the waiter brought out one more plate, and we had no idea what it was. Either some kind of tripe or possibly a sea creature (we later found out it was beef intestine). For the intestine, you take a piece in your chopsticks and dip it into the water five times - yi, er san, si, wu - to get it hot (doesn't need to cook much apparently), and then dip in the sauce and eat. It had a very strange, slightly chewy texture. I don't know that we'll be going back there, but, as we always say, "It's an adventure!" I'm sure the staff was as amused by our behavior as we were by the whole experience.
Shortly after getting back to the office after lunch, we hopped in the car with HX and visited our new office space in the G-Box. Construction is proceeding at a frenetic pace. Last week it was a large open space; today there are frames up for all the walls, and I'm told they’ll probably have all the drywall done tonight. There are crews working round the clock. Some of their construction methods seem a little odd to us, but they seem to get the job done.
The workers took bits of scrap wood and built themselves the table for their table saw. The ladders are also tacked together from bits of scrap wood.
Now that I look at the pictures, one skeletal room looks pretty much like another. I think this area will someday be Reception.
And this is apparently already in use as a conference room.
Here's an example of the construction techniques. The floor is solid concrete. To put in wiring they chisel out a path to a depth of an inch or so. I think I'll end up in this part of the office, which is on the north side of the building.
This is the view out the windows on the north side. That's the Second Ring Road.
To the south it looks like this. The major intersection you can sort of see is Dongzhimen, the street I live on. To walk home, I'll probably walk down along here to the intersection and take a left. It should take 20 minutes or so, but that will have to wait till we move in here and the weather gets a bit warmer.
Here's one last example of workers making their own tools. This is a broom made of stalks of bamboo. It’s similar to the ones we see used to sweep sidewalks all over town.
While we toured the office, JW talked on the phone with CW, who is also up in Harbin, though he's there making business contacts. Without going into details, it looks likely that JW and I will go up there soon for a couple days to work out some technical procedures with a company based there. So maybe I won't have to borrow BG's pictures after all.
Tonight the whole gang is headed to Tim's Texas BBQ, which comes highly recommended.
The next morning…
The food at Tim's was very good. It's all done up like a Texas roadhouse, and the waiters wear cowboy hats and speak pretty good English. I had the Cowboy Platter: potato salad, beans, slaw and choice of two meat items. I picked beef rib and sausage. The meat was all excellent, and their BBQ sauce is very nice, just the right combination of sweet and spicy. But taste isn't everything, I guess. I was violently ill for several hours after I got home. The standard thing is to blame it on the potato salad, right?
We have reservations to go back there to catch the Super Bowl live. They'll be showing it on big screen TVs all around the place. The game is a 7am China Standard Time Monday morning, so it will be breakfast before going in to the office. I haven't heard yet if anyone else felt bad after eating there last night. Others had the same things I did.
And I'll sign off with this: it's 9:30 on a Saturday morning, and I just heard a commotion outside in the courtyard. I looked out the window to see a wedding party rushing across the grounds. A man in a black suit was carrying a woman in a big white dress, and they were being followed by a man with a professional-looking video camera and a crowd of other people. At least the spectators got to wear coats! It’s below freezing out there.