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.


  1. L and I were very impressed that you could make out sammi cheung's voice in the music. We are not so lucky as we don't understand anything she sings even in chinese.. :)

    We are also envious of all the tasty meals your are having.

    We'll have to sample your karaoke talents one day soon.

    be sure you take lot's o pix of the summer palace and that lovely marble ship. which you might visit in the SUMMER! duh!

    have fun!

    RW and LW

  2. Well, I certainly don't understand the lyrics either, but I recognized the music. I've got it tagged as "Sha ke (Finale)" from an album called Wan quan yong you. Very catchy tune, but she could be singing in Ancient Sanskrit for all I know. ;)