Zooming back and forth

The last couple of weeks have involved a lot in the way of air travel and family visits. Once again, I flew Air Canada to Seattle by way of Vancouver, and once again I had an incredibly uncomfortable seat in an older plane. I left Beijing at around 6pm on Friday, and got to Vancouver around 1pm the same day, nearly an hour late, but I managed to make the connection to my next flight. I got to Seattle a couple hours before leaving Beijing. Gotta love those time zones.

In my continuing chronicles of Things No One Is Interested In, I got a new digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3. I picked it because it’s reasonably priced and has a really good lens with 10x zoom. I also made substantial raids involving used books and CDs.
On Tuesday the 18th, I took a quick flight to Spokane to visit my parents and brother.
Here’s one of the new areas at SeaTac. If you look closely, you can see a grand piano off in the distance. There was someone playing Christmas tunes on it.

It was quite a bit colder in Spokane, and snowing. Here are a couple of pictures taken on the drive between Spokane and St. John.
That evening we returned to Spokane and had dinner with my brother at the Applebee’s near his house. And after that, it was back to St. John for the night.
The next day, my parents took me back up to Spokane for my flight back to Seattle. On the way, we saw this pair of elk run across the road and into a field.

Here are a few shots taken around Seattle.
This is a view of the downtown area taken from an angle you don’t often see.
We went shopping at the big Uwajimaya market. It’s more Japanese than Chinese, but there are lots of familiar items.
One night we accidentally wandered into the Christmas Dimension.
An obligatory cat picture: Baby with her holiday bell.

And so soon it seemed like I’d been in the US only a couple days, it was time to return to China, again by way of Vancouver.
Like SeaTac, the Vancouver airport has undergone some remodeling since the last time I passed through (when going through US Customs at YVR, you don't pass by here). Nifty fish tank.
Luckily I was on a newer plane for the long flight this time, with a better seat and an individual entertainment screen. I took advantage of that and watched Ratatouille (wonderful) and The Simpsons Movie (lots of fun). After making an attempt at sleep, I watched a German film called Eden that was another take on the idea found in Like Water for Chocolate and Chocolat: a chef can cook food that transfers strong erotic feelings to those who eat it. He meets a waitress who is married to a frustrated, unhappy man and has a handicapped daughter. The woman becomes friends with the chef, her husband gets needlessly jealous, and catastrophe ensues, though not necessarily in the ways you expect. It was an enjoyable little film. I also watched a Hong Kong movie called Ming Ming that seemed like a kind of avant-garde martial arts experiment.

And returning, I of course encountered the flip side of the time zone shift, leaving Seattle Friday morning and arriving in Beijing late Saturday afternoon after about 14 hours of travel.

From what I’ve read, I just missed a couple of really horrid air quality days in Beijing. On Saturday when I arrived, it was pretty decent, and today is sunny and clear. Temperatures have been hanging just below freezing, and there is often a biting wind. Ah, winter in the capital!


How long is it?

If I make a statement like, “The Chinese really like dragons,” I don’t think I’m being a promoter of stereotypes. I’m sure there are people here who don’t care one way or the other about mythical flying lizards, but there’s no arguing the fact that dragon symbols are very common.

The basic Mandarin word I’ve learned for dragon is long, and it shows up in two interesting places. First is longxia, which means lobster. The xia part means shrimp, so there you have dragon shrimplobster!

Another long is the huolongguo, or dragon fruit. The non-dragon parts are huo (fire) and guo (fruit), so the English name is a pretty direct translation of the Chinese. “What is a dragon fruit?” you might ask. Well, I’ll show you.
You see them pretty commonly at fruit stands. Being a science fiction fan, my first thought is they look alien. From a more earthbound viewpoint, they maybe look a little cactus-y. which makes sense since they grow on a tree that resembles a cactus in many ways.

Apparently the plants are native to Mexico and Central America, but they seem to be more popular here than anyplace else I’ve been.
When you cut it open, the inside looks like this. It’s not too sweet and has a nice texture, a little slippery and firm enough to hold together on a fork if you’re not too rough. It shows up in fruit salads a lot. I like it a lot just in chunks.

Incidentally, this one fruit cost more than a whole bag of fresh vegetables at my neighborhood produce stand.

Photos by D.

The Art Warehouse

I was stuck at the office tonight until 10:30 and when I got home I found I was not terribly sleepy, so I started going through my picture files to see what hasn’t made it to the blog yet. And there it was: October 28.

It was a Sunday, and I had planned a little trip with a coworker to a park outside of town to look at the fall leaves. For some reason, the trees in Beijing stay green until the leaves drop, never changing color regardless of the kind of tree. But that morning, my friend called and said that some workers had showed up to replace all the windows in her apartment – with double-pane glass I think. Anyway, she couldn’t make it, so I was at loose ends.

I got out my city map and looked for a potential site I hadn’t been to that was near a subway station. I settled on the Beijing International Sculpture Park, west of downtown.
Since it was a clear day, there was a particular building I wanted to take a picture of, and it was kind of on the way.
OK, so maybe I’m a bit of an architecture geek. As if I wasn’t enough kinds of geek already. But I think it’s a cool building.
Like many things in Beijing, the Sculpture Park is really big. In the course of the afternoon I covered about half of it, and as you can see, it was pretty much empty. Maybe the temperature had something to do with that. It was breezy and not warm at all in spite of the sunshine.
In fact there were more people in the park flying kites than looking at the sculptures. I particularly liked this group. Beijing is not terribly friendly to people in wheelchairs, with the majority of buildings having accessibility issues, so it’s nice to see a family taking care of each other.
The artwork is a broad mixture of modern...
More traditional...
And, um, whimsical. There is also the intriguing bubble-on-the-water attraction, which is probably more popular in the summer.
There were some I didn’t care for, and some I liked a lot. Here’s one I liked, by an American artist if I remember correctly.
And an alternate view to show what kind of difference the viewing angle makes, especially late in the day.
These girls seemed really fascinated by this piece, and took dozens of pictures of it from different angles. Artist from either Hong Kong or Taiwan.
I also like this one a lot. It’s like the aftermath of a Borg visit to Xi’an. Artist almost certainly Chinese.
I’m more than a little partial to a light touch with art. This one was called something like “The Dancing Philosopher” and was by a Swedish artist. I probably should have taken pictures of all the stones with the artist names, but they were almost impossible to read and wouldn’t have photographed legibly at all.
This one was “Camel in a Mirage” or something similar. Neat
OK, maybe this one is just a pile of bricks that workers left sitting around. I didn’t see a credit stone, but I'm pretty sure the artist was from Mainland China.
And in what I’m coming to regard as typical Beijing fashion, the mundane sometimes overwhelms the sublime. Though I’ll admit this particular piece of art may not actually qualify as “sublime”…

There were a bunch more, but I won’t take up more space with them right now. I’ll just leave you with an image of this really cool kite.
Yeah, it’s a giant red flying squid.


Willkommen in Deutschland

No, I haven’t made a sudden trip to Europe, though in some ways it seemed like it. On the first Saturday of December every year, the German Embassy in Beijing holds a holiday celebration. I missed it last year, but not this time.

I had to go to the office for a while in the morning, but finished what I had to do around 12:30 or so and took off. After dropping off my computer at home, I walked to Germany, which isn’t far from Seasons Park. It was hard to miss – it was the place with the big line of people waiting to get in.
I emailed JW that I was waiting in line, since I didn’t know if he was inside yet. I knew KW had been there for a while. When I was about halfway to the entrance, JW arrived. He called his wife, and she said she was waiting in the bratwurst line. He told her to get a couple extra, mustard only.
When we got to the gate, we could see KW waiting with our sausages. Embassy staff glanced at our passports (we were entering foreign soil after all) and we came in. The sausages were still warm. KW led us toward the beer stand.
For ¥50, you get a German beer in a logo mug that you can take home with you, or you can get the ¥25 deposit back by returning the mug. We all kept them.
Vegetarians beware!
CL showed up after a while, and we greeted him at the gate with more bratwurst. Here they are in the courtyard after a visit to the dessert table. Note JW’s bulging coat. He’s got about a half dozen beer mugs stashed in various pockets.
In the lobby – the warmest part of the whole place that we were allowed to go – there was a woman playing an organ. I suppose it must have been Christmas music, but I honestly couldn’t tell.
Say hi to the girls at the Getränke stand. As we walked past one time, they all started singing “Jingle Bells” in English. They didn’t seem to know the verses, only the chorus, which was fine by me.

It’s some kind of charity thing, with proceeds going to some Beijing area organizations. How’s that for a way to make people feel better about standing in the cold drinking beer?

As celebrations of Christmas go, this one beats last night. I went to a popular dim sum restaurant with a couple of coworkers, and the staff all wore Santa hats. For music they played “Here Comes Santa Claus” over and over and over. Good thing the place was so crowded and noisy, or it would have driven me to do something that might have got me kicked out of the country.