Rubbing your way to good fortune

I’m going to inflict upon you some more Spring Festival pictures. KW, JW, TG and I went to the Baiyunguan Taoist Temple on Friday. Baiyunguan is a bit different from the other temples I’ve been to in that it is still a functioning religious site. We saw monks around the place, and many people were making offerings.
The main entrance is festooned with red flags.
At this gate, there’s a monkey carved in the stone which is supposed to bring you good luck if you rub it. It’s been rubbed so much over I don’t know how many years that I couldn’t distinguish the shape of the monkey at all, but I rubbed the spot that everyone else did.
Many people offered incense for the various burners around the compound. This is one of the biggest ones; the guards and monks take the offerings and put them in the flames.
This is the beautifully painted arch above a doorway.
This wall has carvings of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. There was a line of people to rub them. Since the majority of people seemed to be selective about which ones they touched, I assumed that they pick the one of their own birth year. But I could be wrong.
I did not see anyone try to ridd this horse.
Outside the temple proper was a line of typical trinket booths, much like the ones I saw at Chaoyang Park and Ditan Park. And past that was a crowded street cluttered with food stands and less elaborate merchants selling everything from handcrafts to books to tools. I’m guessing the health inspectors stay away from here.

After that expedition, we took a taxi back to our part of town and went to a Greek restaurant for dinner. The food was decent, not outstanding, but the décor was very Greek, and there was Greek music playing.
On Saturday I went to a giant plant market in an attempt to bring a little life into my apartment. These fellows were outside the market. I think they might be for sale as garden ornaments, but I don’t have enough room for them.
Inside the big building were many aisles selling potted plants, including more orchids than I’ve ever seen in one place. There was a section over to one side where cut flowers were on offer, and there were also aisles selling various kinds of fish – for aquariums, not cooking.
I picked up these three. The one in the middle (isn’t that a cozy little scene I set up?) is a peace lily, but I would welcome any hints as to exactly what the others are. It was fun getting them all into a Hyundai Elantra taxi for the trip home. A man from the market brought them out on a cart, and the taxi driver didn’t think they would fit. But they did.

In the morning, it’s back to work, and goodbye to a week of holiday – though I did end up doing some work at home. I expect the fireworks will continue, since there’s one more week of festival. I think most people will be going back to work like me, so maybe it will be a little calmer.


Chinese time machine #1

Over the last week, I’ve been mainly writing about the Spring Festival activities, since they are so colorful and photogenic. So now I thought I’d take a moment to back up in time and fill in some bits I never got around to covering when they happened.

On the Friday before the holiday week, the whole office had lunch at a nearby restaurant – the same one that was the setting for the banquet a couple weeks ago. Attentive readers can guess where this is going to end up. We had a double room with two big round tables, and much of the menu was the same as before, though we didn’t have any of the Monk Jumps the Wall Soup. I was sitting next to a Chinese colleague, so I took the opportunity to ask her a number of times, “What’s that dish?” Several times, she had to ask the server what it was. She had been eating things just like I was, without knowing for sure what was in them. One dish that was good featured spicy duck. The meat was cooked to the point of being basically jerky, and it was served with some vegetables in a thin sauce with quite a kick.

We had small portions of wine with the meal, along with fruit juice. It was a much better wine than the sweet stuff at the banquet. I know it was a Chinese red, possibly Great Wall. About halfway through the meal, AB started up the karaoke machine, and things went downhill from there… just kidding! We were treated to a variety of Chinese pop renditions of varying skill levels. At one point I said to my neighbor, “This sounds familiar. Is it Sammi Cheng?” It was. Thanks to RW and the Seattle Public Library, it was a song from an album I have a copy of. Pressure mounted on the American crew to participate, and eventually we settled on a group effort for “Yellow Submarine” – about as simple a tune as you can get. Somehow (I’m not entirely sure how it happened) I found myself singing another Beatles tune, “Let It Be”. I must not have been too hideous – when I finished there seemed to be as many people in the room as there were before. At some point, the Sammi Cheng dance mixes came on, and just about everybody ended up dancing around the room. Maybe there’s a Karaoke Corollary to the Silly Hat Theory I postulated in my previous post.

Then we went back to the office and worked for a bit more before CL gave the OK to cut out early.

To continue my series of Beijing Restaurant Adventures… KW, JW, TG and I went to a place called Pili Pili, which is (according to their flyers) “Beijing’s one and only African-themed restaurant.” It’s out in the general area of Chaoyang Park, on a street full of other restaurants and bars, quite a little pocket of night life that actually appears on maps as Super Bar Street in English. I was expecting it to be expensive but was pleasantly surprised. We sat in an alcove decorated with African handicrafts. The menu consisted of what I would characterize as North African cuisine, not the more Ethiopian style of food I’ve had before.
On stage was a band playing a mixture of reggae and pop music done with a slight highlife flavor.
When the band was taking a break, the entertainment continued with a man doing magic, juggling, and unicycle tricks.
All in all, lots of fun, and one to go on the revisitation list.
And lest you all think I go out for dinner every night, here’s a meal I fixed myself.
I’ve only seen carts like this around a few times. I’ve been told there are regulations restricting them to nighttime hours so they don’t get in the way of traffic. But for the holidays, they’re around quite a bit, selling fruit.
As I’ve mentioned before, almost everybody here drinks bottled water, so there’s a huge market in it, but it is not delivered the same way we get ours in the US.
In an earlier post, I promised a picture of the grandeur that is Ziming Mansion.
Standing from the spot where I took that last photo, I turned 90 degrees and snapped this one. This is a pretty typical old-style neighborhood of a kind you see all over the city. Many of them are being leveled to put in complexes like Seasons Park or shopping centers or office buildings, though the municipal government is making efforts to preserve some due to their historical significance. This one probably isn’t charming enough to merit that kind of consideration. As with in cities in the US, there are voices of concern about what will happen to the people who live here as development prices their homes out of their economic reach, and I’ve heard statements about “affordable housing” being built in addition to actual mansions.

And now to go way back in time...

Back in October of last year, when I first arrived here, the big news was the China-Africa Summit. I wrote about it a little bit, and had intended to get pictures of the billboards all around town on the subject, but never did. Lucky for me (and you) there are a few of them that haven’t been taken down yet. These pictures were taken last week.
When I first saw the one in the lower right of my arrangement, I was confused. Certainly it was a long time ago that I took any Anthropology classes, but I was virtually certain that the man with the pierced nose and the feather in his hat is actually a Pacific Islander (New Guinea, Borneo, or Indonesia was my guess) and not African at all. My suspicion was confirmed with a news story a few days later, bringing the same fact to everyone’s attention. Luckily for the Chinese, the African delegates were not offended, and just put it down to enthusiasm and cultural ignorance. By all public accounts, the African leaders were quite pleased with their reception and the talks were judged a great success.
And just for the heck of it, here’s a random shot from the Forbidden City that didn’t make it into my original post. This is one of many elaborately decorated doors to one of many elaborately decorated temples. Or maybe it was a residence building. Or maybe even the servants’ quarters for all I know.


The Silly Hat Theory

Sheesh! Enough already!

It’s now Tuesday, the fourth straight night of fireworks. Maybe it’s tapering off a bit. I walked around a lot today, and most of the fireworks stands are getting pretty low on inventory. If I’m lucky, there are no new shipments on their way into town.
Here’s my new theory, that is to say, the theory which is mine and which is new: Any people who are willing to wear silly hats in public have hope in their lives. When self-consciousness gets in the way of just having fun, you’re taking yourself too seriously. I also have a theory that the brontosaurus was thin at one end, much thicker in the middle, and thin again at the other end, but we can go into that some other time – I am much too dignified to be going off on a Monty Python tangent.

After mostly hanging around my apartment on Monday, doing laundry and other mundane things, I decided to strike out again on Tuesday. This time I left a bit earlier. JW and KW had mentioned that they went to Ditan Park, which is not too far from here, and found huge crowds of people celebrating Spring Festival. The park is just a little north and west of the G-Box, so I took the opportunity to walk and find out how long it takes to get there. Knowing how cold it was yesterday and Sunday, I bundled up, but soon found myself carrying my coat instead of wearing it.
And if you’re interested (“People say-ay-ay I’m a dreamer…”) it took a half hour at a reasonable pace to get to the future office building.
Just past the G-Box is the Second Ring Road, and on the other side of that is a canal. The lights along the edge come on at night, and change color in a cycle, pink-green-purple-blue-yellow. (OK, I didn’t memorize the sequence, but you get the idea.)

There was a stream of people carrying stuffed animals and wearing silly hats, so I walked in the direction they were coming from and found myself at the east gate of Ditan Park. In spite of the multitude I had seen leaving the place, there were still a few people left in the park. The ticket was ¥10 to get in (something like $1.30).
In some ways, it was more of the same as what I’d seen out at Chaoyang Park on Sunday, only more compressed, since Ditan is smaller. It’s still pretty huge, but Chaoyang is really gigantic. I mostly just wandered around, taking it all in, comparing it to other fairs I’ve been to in Puyallup, Spokane, and Colfax. Some things are more or less the same. There are booths selling cheap trinkets, artists who’ll draw your portrait for a price, and booths selling portable food items.
I do not recall ever seeing a festival booth selling underwear.
Puyallup, this ain’t.
Some of the food items here don’t show up much in the United States, however. I handed over ¥10 for three skewers with grilled seasoned meat on them – maybe beef, maybe not – and ¥5 for a glass of milk tea. I did not try the squid, scorpions, grubs, or little tiny birds. I’m sure they’re tasty, but – well, not today.
There was a separate admission charge to the snake show, so I passed on it. I’m not really sure I want to see someone with a snake going into their nostril and coming out their mouth.
I saw some stages set up for entertainment, but did not see any performances. If there were any schedules posted, they were not in a language I can read. It is frustrating sometimes being illiterate. This stage looks to be set up for Voluntary Public Humiliation (otherwise known as karaoke), and there was a woman singing what sounded like a traditional song with rinky-dink programmed backing. Aside from wavering a bit on some of the high notes, she was pretty good.
On the way home, I took a slight detour to see all the lanterns outside the restaurants on Dongzhimennei.
The theme of this walk turned out to be motorcycles. First I came across this.
And then this.


Come on, baby, light my Buddha

You know that the quantity of fireworks I described in my previous post has to leave some kind of a mess behind. On Sunday I woke up around 8:30 and went out to see what the streets looked like. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a cleanup effort was already in full swing.
In the Seasons Park driveway, a staff member was sweeping up the piles of tiny scraps of red paper.
A little further along, I got a taste of what it looked like before the sweeping.
Here’s a close view of some dead soldiers.
For lunch, I went to the KFC in my neighborhood. (I wonder why I went there…?)
Around 5 I took a taxi out to Chaoyang Park, where I had heard there was some kind of activity going on. I got out across the street at a massive high-rise condo complex called Palm Springs that has this statue out front. Palm Springs makes Seasons Park look like a country inn.
I’ve been to Chaoyang Park before, though not when there was a crowd. Here’s a picture from a previous day showing the big pig out front. (Year of the Pig, remember?)
On New Year’s Day, the place was much busier. Getting there at the time I did, I must have missed some of the festivities – there were streams of people coming out as I went in – but the were signs for a “Lights Show” so I figured there had to be something to see ahead of me.
There were a lot of typical country fair sights, like a midway with stuffed animals for prizes. Though I’d swear Tigger is supposed to have stripes…
It was a pretty chilly day for a carnival, but some of the rides were going, including the water coaster…
...and the ski slope.
The swimming pool has been turned into a fishing pond for the little ones.
Finally I found myself in the northwest part of the park, and the entrance to the Lights Show.
They have dozens of these displays made of wire (I think) frames covered with fabric and lit from within. Several of them have “rides” built into them, where for a few yuan kids can ride around in the midst of the scene.
They also had lots of costumed characters. So often when I’m here in China, I just have to smile and be amused. I’m not even sure what to say about the selection of characters or their individual appearances.
There were lots of booths selling silly hats. (Since there were people everywhere taking pictures, it was easy for me to take pictures of people without them being offended, or probably even noticing.)
I caught a show of a youth group doing traditional drumming. It reminded me very much of the Japanese taiko drumming I’ve seen at Bumbershoot in Seattle, only with fancier costumes.
The light displays drew inspiration from a wide variety of sources, from traditional…
…to more modern. (It might be hard to tell from this picture, but several things in this display look suspiciously like characters from A Bug’s Life.)
After all that walking around in the cold, I caught a taxi back to my neighborhood and relaxed in the warmth of China ClubFootball for a steak pie and a pint Tsingtao while Manchester United played to a draw with Reading in an FA Cup match on the big screen. JW, KW and TG stopped by after a bit and we watched the first half of Manchester City playing Preston in another FA Cup match.