Voldemort is back, I tell you!

I mentioned a while ago that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix would be released in China on August 11. I knew there were a number of Potterites in the office, so I sent out an email a few days in advance to see who was interested in seeing it on opening day. I got four takers, so on Friday I left the office at 5:30 and took the subway to Wangfujing to buy tickets for the next day. As we were walking down the stairs into Yonghegong Station, a voice behind us said, “Do you speak English?”

Behind us was a guy who turned out to be Russian. He was trying to get to the Silk Market. We said we were headed that direction – and in fact I would be getting off at the same station – so he tagged along with us. He was amazed that a city the size of Beijing only has three subway lines. I think he said Moscow has forty. Certainly Tokyo has many more as well. Even when all the planned lines are completed, Beijing will be a rather lacking in mass transit compared to most non-Chinese cities its size.

Anyway, the Russian and I left the train at Jiangguomen Station. I pointed him in the right direction and went down the stairs to transfer to Line 1 towards Wangfujing. The station there lets you off right in the lower level of a huge shopping center. I went upstairs and started wandering around looking for the movie theater. Twice I was approached by young women who said they wanted to practice their English, but since neither one of them knew where the cinema was and obviously had ulterior motives for talking with me, I shrugged them off and kept wandering. Eventually I found a map of the complex, but it was all in Chinese, and there were no graphics that looked like they might mean “Movies Here!” Then a male voice asked if I spoke English. It was a tall young man and a shorter woman. He said he was a college student from Xi’an in Beijing to study computer technology, and the girl was a classmate. I asked if he knew where the theater was, and he said he did, so we walked together. It was a long distance, the equivalent of maybe three city blocks, and on the lower level, same as the subway entrance. Like I said, it’s a big shopping complex. When we got there, they seemed a little surprised that I managed to buy the tickets without needing any translation help. After I’d picked out the seats (reserved seating at movies, remember?), they really wanted to go out for a drink or coffee with me, and were so insistent that I made up a story about having to meet coworkers for dinner.
Actually I went next door to the big Wangfujing Bookstore and picked up a couple of Faye Wong CDs before heading back the to office to pick up my bag and head home.

I’ve spoken to other American expats here, and they don’t experience nearly the number of “English practice” approaches that I do. Maybe I just look like I’ll be gullible or might have money. They don’t seem to be thieves – most likely some less threatening scam or possibly prostitutes.

On Saturday, BG and I walked up to meet RR at a Sanlitun place called The Rickshaw which serves imported beers and a selection of typical American-style pub fare. I had a Stella Artois and a chicken burrito. RR says the place gets really crowded and rowdy later in the evening, but we rushed off to catch Harry just as business was starting to pick up. After a slow ride in traffic in a taxi driven by a man who burped pretty much continuously for the whole time, we made it to the theater just in time. The two Chinese coworkers who had expressed interest were already there waiting for us. We made brief detours to the restrooms and snack bar, and went downstairs to auditorium 2.

I don’t need to say much about the movie other than to note that all of us enjoyed it, and most of us felt is was actually too short. Dolores Umbridge was every bit as annoying as she was supposed to be, and it was great to see what happened to her. I missed seeing much of Hagrid and Snape, and one of my favorite minor characters, Tonks, hardly showed up at all. But all in all, quite good.

And now on to other topics, and a sigh of relief from readers who don’t care about teenage wizards.

In eating lots of Chinese food over the last ten months, there have been a few surprises, all of them pleasant. One is that potatoes and tomatoes are both common in northern Chinese cuisine. I just didn’t expect that, since neither ever shows up in a dish I’ve had in an American Chinese restaurant. There are also a lot of vegetables that are different than what you find in North America, including different varieties of melon and squash, and different leafy greens. There are also a lot of kinds of mushrooms used. One I really like is called mu’er in Mandarin (pronounced kind of like “moo-arr” – think of pirates on the second syllable), which translates as wood-ear. It shows up in lots of dishes, both hot and cold, spicy and otherwise.
I finally got around to buying some for use at home. They’re sold dried, just add water and in a half hour or so you have edible mu’er. I threw them in the wok with some yellow squash, leek, button mushrooms, green pepper, and shrimp for a pretty good dinner. I've also been using them in omelets with success. I think they'll also be good just tossed with some vinegar and chopped garlic as a salad.

And now for a few assorted photos.
Yesterday I went with CL and JW to a meeting at BOCOG that was held on the 17th floor. None of us had ever been up that high in the building. After the meeting was done, I snapped a quick shot out the window. The air had been pretty clear for several days, and it was only moderately hot. That's the Fourth Ring Road. The Olympic Tower is in the relatively distant northwest part of town called Haidian.

A couple weeks ago, on my walk home from work, I used a pedestrian underpass to get across Dongzhimenwai, and the tunnel was so crowded with vendors with goods spread out on blankets that I felt compelled to get out my camera and get a picture. By the time I had the camera out, they were all hurrying to pack up. Maybe in the back of the crowd you can see why: a couple guys in uniforms.
Here’s the scramble looking in the other direction.
And I’ll leave you with a leftover picture from Beihai Park.
In the middle of summer, pots of lotus plants started showing up all over town. With flowers like this, it’s no mystery why they’re so popular. Made me feel like sitting down and meditating right on the sidewalk.


  1. Are you taller than the other expats? I was just wondering if you literally stood out in the crowd more....
    We loved the movie, too.

  2. Actually, RR is about the same height as me, and all the other men are taller. And most American visitors here are surprised to see how many tall Chinese there are, especially in the younger generations. With improving health care and nutrition (along with the increasing popularity of milk products, I suppose), average height seems to be rising rapidly here.