Sidecars, Monkey Kings, and Kite Eating Trees

Sunday afternoon, weather’s nice, nothing that absolutely has to be done at work today, what to do…?

It’s “Get out the Map” time, of course.

This time I picked Yuyuantan Park over on the west side of Beijing, not quite as far out as the Sculpture Park or Wukesong, but in the same direction, and conveniently situated near a subway station.

On the way from Seasons Park to the subway, I took the opportunity to snap a picture of something I’ve been seeing frequently for a long time.
I first noticed this thing not long after I moved into my apartment, and it has not moved since. Note that the sidecar seat has become storage space for something – I don’t know what’s in the can.

The path from Muxidi Station to the park lies along this canal.
I paid my ¥2 (about $0.30) and went in.
I’m not sure if this was volunteer karaoke or a set performance, but the guy had a very good singing voice.
This is a very popular pastime here. It’s called jianzi, sort of a Chinese version of hacky-sack, only instead of a little beanbag it’s a weighted feathery thing.

Like many of Beijing’s parks, Yuyuantan features water.
This lake is mostly manmade, though the park dates from Imperial times when there was a spring here, so water was around, if not in this form. And like most of Beijing’s parks with water, you can rent boats. In the background is the China Central Radio Tower, which can also be seen from the Summer Palace. Maybe someday I’ll go inside to check out the view.

It has been noted elsewhere that though Beijing will be hosting the Paralympic Games, it is notoriously difficult for disabled people to get around here.
Here’s one of the reasons why. Not only are sidewalks made of tiles that can be uneven, but there are sections under repair all over the place. My personal observation is that they wouldn’t have to repair them so often if they built them better in the first place, but that’s the way it’s done here.
There’s a “bridge” across the lake, and right now it’s decorated with a “dragon” – I put it in quotes because if you look at it closely, you’ll see that the individual discs behind the head are decorated with Olympic mascots.

Yuyuantan is home to a large garden of cherry trees, and it being about the right time of year, I figured I could catch some in bloom.
Me and several thousand other people. As it turned out, this tree was the only one in full bloom. So much of the park is under construction or renovation or expansion or something that it’s hard to even tell where the other trees are supposed to be.

Regular readers will probably already have noticed that I’ve been to quite a few of the city’s parks, and many of them have little rides for the young ones. (See Chaoyang Park, Tuanjiehu, and so on – heck, even the Sculpture Park had a ride.)
Here’s a water ride on the theme of the Monkey King, who is a very popular figure here.

One last shot from the park proper:
A little traffic jam on the lake. Note the green boat in the middle, which is decorated like a Red Army tank, and the little flying saucer shaped one in the background.

Just south of the park is the China Millennium Monument.
It looks like there’s some kind of art show going on inside: Master Pieces of the 19th Century European Paintings at the Perez Simón Collection. (That is what the sign says.)

But all in all, I’d say the area gets more use as a place to fly kites.
This tree sees a lot of action. It might be hard to tell from the picture, but there are about a dozen kites stuck in it. Charlie Brown had it easy compared to the kids in this area.


The New High March

Looking back to 9 March, I find a bunch of pictures that never made their way onto the blog. Time to take care of that oversight.

With the weather turning nicer finally, I thought I’d take a walk. I had the ostensible purpose of finding some light bulbs for my bathroom – they’re an unusual kind I haven’t found in a store nearby – but I really just wanted to see a neighborhood I haven’t covered yet.

I rode the subway a couple stops north on Line 13 and got off to walk along the Third Ring Road. It’s a district of block after block of apartments.
As you can see, it wasn’t the clearest of days. But at least it wasn’t cold.
This is one of the typical incongruous sights you see here. I am not sure how toucans and ax-wielding winged Chinese figures go together, but there they are. I also wonder where they came up with the name Glidous.
After a while I came to a second canal, this one a little more appealing in appearance. I personally wouldn’t go so far as to swim in it, but this guy did.
This is a little park called Tuanjiehu (I looked it up, and tuanjie means unity; I already knew that hu is one word for lake). There was a sign explaining its history in Chinese and English, but it was so incoherent I couldn’t make much sense of it. Something about a kiln being torn down and turned into a lake. Must have been a pretty big kiln.
Some of the skaters were pretty good. There were also bumper cars and other small rides as well as pedal boat rentals for the lake.
The park is in the midst of a rapidly developing district of high-tech office towers.

And a few blocks south, you catch a glimpse of the highest-tech of them all.
That’s the new headquarters of China Central Television.
And for now, just one more shot of this unnatural wonder.
It would seem that the government here, in addition to developing technology that can miraculously filter the whole internet, can filter gravity as well, at least in this vicinity.

You’ve seen the highest-tech, and not too far to the west of there is the highest-rise.
China World Trade Center Tower 3, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s probably already the tallest building in Beijing.

By this time, I was pretty tired. I’d covered about ten kilometers, and just about when I was ready to fall over, I stumbled across Tim’s Texas Roadhouse. A burger and a caipirinha helped revive me. Oddly enough, the drink was made with lemons instead of limes – I probably should have stuck with Tim’s specialty, the margarita.

It was getting dark, so no more pictures. On my way from Tim’s to the subway station, I heard a screech and a thump, and looked over to see a man laying in the street and a little van stopping. There was a pile of collapsed cardboard boxes scattered around the man. He had tried to get across the street in the middle of the block against the light. He didn’t seem to be badly hurt; he was getting to his feet before long.

I’ll leave you with one last picture. It’s an advertisement on the back of a taxi seat.
If you’re wondering why I would take interest in such a thing, consider this. The fruit known in America as kiwi was previously known as yangtao, scientific name Actinidia chinensis. Notice the second word there – does it remind you of any country? It originally had an English name of Chinese gooseberry. Yes, it is native to China. (I’m not completely sure about that Chinese name, since mihoutao is the Mandarin name I learned. But Mandarin is a Northern Chinese language, while the kiwi is native to Southern China, so no doubt the people who grew it there called it something else, perhaps yangtao, as mentioned on the Zespri site.) In any case, as the story goes, the fruit was taken to New Zealand in the early Twentieth Century, where it became a commercial crop, and they named it kiwi in order to sell it in other countries. And now the New Zealanders are selling Chinese fruit back to the Chinese! In all fairness, you might notice that some of the kiwis in the picture are yellow instead of green inside. They’ve developed a new variety that supposedly tastes different. I haven’t had one of these yet.

Oh, my. Now I’m really rambling. Must be time for bed.

By the way, I never did buy any light bulbs.

Take me out to the qiuchang

Any guesses what qiuchang means?

I think it’s been on the US news that the Dodgers and the Padres are playing the “MLB China Series” this weekend. A bunch of us from the office went to the Sunday afternoon game.
It was at the Wukesong Baseball Field, which will host baseball for the Olympics. That white van you can see behind the sign was supposed to be the box office for ticket sales. The event was not sold out, but at the last minute the security bureau told the promoter they could not sell any more tickets. There were enough guys hanging around outside to unofficially take care of whatever demand there might have been. Baseball is not especially popular here, not like basketball or ping pong.
Note the last item on the list of forbidden things, obviously added to the sign after it was originally printed.
That’s the first pitch. Both teams brought squads of minor league players with a few past-their-prime veterans, so there were a bunch of unfamiliar names.
This guy seemed pretty popular for some reason (the one on the screen, not the one in the outfield). Yeah, I know he’s from Taiwan, but that’s about as close as you get to a Chinese MLB player. And when he got a single (which he did), guess what everyone said?
Speaking of popular, all the cameras came out for this little between-innings show. I have it from a reliable source that there were many other performers scheduled to fill in those little gaps in a baseball game, such as a big traditional Chinese drum corps, but at the last minute the security officials nixed everything but the Korean dance squad. They had to find a replacement singer to lead the crowd in “Take Me out to the Ball Game” – but the less said about that the better. Thanks, AD!
The Padres brought their mascot. Note his security escort in red. Apparently the Dodgers don’t have a mascot – for some reason I’m thinking a little street urchin from Oliver! would work, but maybe a pickpocket wouldn’t be a good role model.

And in case you’re wondering what it looked like underneath the stands...
And in case you’re wondering what the restrooms looked like...
The strange looking building in the background will be the site of Olympic basketball games. I think it’s designed to look like bamboo, and it’s supposed to be lit from within at night.
They had many activities set up to educate people about this strange foreign game. This little kid who hit a whiffle ball off a post has a jersey that says BJFLES. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.
I bugged out at the top of the ninth to beat the crowd on the subway. When I left, I think the Padres were up 6-4 or maybe 6-5. I don’t especially care about either of the teams, so I wasn’t paying much attention.

I did take a little video, but YouTube is completely cut off now, so I couldn’t post it if I wanted to.


Scraping both the sky and the bottom of the barrel

As promised, here are the rest of the highlights of my recent Shanghai trip. For lack of a better plan, I’m going with straight chronological order, which puts this one first:
That’s looking from a pedestrian bridge near my hotel towards the Huangpu River. The building in the distance with the “keyhole” near the top is the Shanghai World Financial Center, which when complete will be 101 stories tall. There’s an interesting story about its design, which you can read about if you’re interested.

After taking that picture, I turned 90 degrees for a view of the bridge where I stood.
Unfortunately, this captures the essence of Shanghai (and, to be fair, every other city). You’ve got the aging infrastructure with the peeling paint on the elevated expressway. You’ve got the prosperous young people with their shopping bags and new clothes. And there is the one who does not benefit from the prosperity.

Speaking of prosperity...
I know I’ve posted pictures of this area before. It’s the Nanjing Lu retail area, and a perfect illustration of ren shan ren hai (see previous entry for explanation). This was a little after noon on Sunday.

After I tired of the crowd (and the constant harassment from guys trying to sell me watches and bags) I picked a random side street and went to see what I could see.
I ended up in the Hardware Zone. There were at least four blocks worth of stores like this, every single one of them selling some kind of hardware, from pipes, lumber, paint, and flooring to electrical items, tools, bathroom fixtures and appliances. If you figure about a dozen shops per block times two sides to each block times at least six streets, you end up with a ridiculous number of retailers. Once again, I am amazed that so many businesses can sell the same thing in such close proximity to each other and stay in the black. Especially when you consider that there are also big multi-department stores (along the lines of major American hardware chains). I think it has something to do with the way commerce works here. A building contractor will buy supplies from someone he has a connection with – a relative, a school friend, or the like – and negotiate a price rather than just go to a big impersonal box of a store.

Most deliveries are done by motor scooter. I saw a man zipping down the street on a scooter with a length of plastic pipe about 12 feet long over his shoulder.

Just beyond that I came to Suzhou Creek where a steel bridge crosses it. Like many places in China, this stream has been known by many names. When Shanghai first came into being it was called Songjiang, but it was renamed Wusong in the Thirteenth Century, and (if I understand right) it’s still called that further upstream. It’s just another example of how inconsistent the naming of places is here.
Not many tourists would come here, so I assume the merchants are selling to locals.

After that, I got on the Metro to check out the part of town where the Björk concert would be. I got off at the Zhongshan Park station, which was in the middle of a booming area. There was a fancy multistory shopping center pretty much like all the rest of the fancy multistory shopping centers I’ve seen in China.
I walked in the direction of the International Gymnastics Center, and saw police cars stacked in a parking area underneath the elevated Metro tracks.
This is a massive vacant lot surrounded by massive apartment complexes on two sides, a smaller, older neighborhood on one, and the train tracks on the other.
In my post about the concert I mentioned that there is a Baby Mall underneath the venue. This is one of the shops in there. I didn’t know that Beatles, Inc. had a line of children’s items.

I saw another scooter scene that was pretty amazing. It was too dark to get a picture, but this is what I saw:

A man and a woman came out of the store with four shopping carts filled up with two-liter jugs of cooking oil. The woman waited while the man went over to the parking area. He returned on a beat-up old scooter, and they proceeded to load the jugs onto the scooter. I counted a total of 44 jugs. Apparently this was unusual enough that a small crowd gathered around them to see how they were going to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. They stacked seven or eight of the bottles on the platform where you normally put your feet, then took out some long straps and threaded them through the jugs’ handles. Figure 18 jugs each on two lines. With considerable effort, the man slung the jugs over the seat of the scooter. Of course this rendered the machine unrideable, so they pushed it away. I guess you use the tools you have available.

If you want to be chronological, go back and read my concert post now, then read about Nanshi and Yuyuan, and you’ve covered this little trip.


New Old Shanghai

I’ve written about Shanghai a number of times. You can click on the “Shanghai” tag at the end of this entry to see the others. On this trip, I managed to see a part of the town I hadn’t visited before.

Not too far from the historic Bund and the frenzy of Nanjing Lu’ s modern shopping orgy is an older part of town. In English it’s called Old Town, and in Chinese Nanshi, which means South Town.
There are lots of buildings in an older style, though I’m pretty sure most of them are reconstructions if not simply modern buildings made copying the old style. I don’t know if any of it is actually old.

For the most part, it’s filled with tourist stuff and restaurants, though the side streets not far away are much more like “real” Shanghai, with bicycle repair shops, cheap non-name-brand clothes, and so on.
It’s also been invaded by Gumby.
That’s the mascot for the 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair. I have mentioned the Gumby similarity to Chinese people, and some of them have even heard to the character. I’ve not met anyone who actually liked this mascot.
In the middle of the area is a pond with this picturesque tea house.

For a ¥30 entrance fee, you can wander around in Yuyuan, a lovely garden dating originally from 1559. It has been ransacked and rebuilt numerous times since then, most recently (if I remember right) in 1853. It was private property rather than imperial.
Spring comes to Shanghai a little earlier than Beijing, and many of the trees were in bloom.
Lovely scent in the air.
It is home to numerous cats, including this little pregnant female with very uncommon (here at least) markings.
While smaller than such immense parks as the Summer Palace in Beijing, it’s still pretty extensive. Somehow it seems bigger on the inside that it did on the outside.
As usual, the roofs are decorated elaborately.
I guess it’s off-season still, since a guy came around at 5:00 to tell everyone it was closing time.

I have a few other miscellaneous pictures of other parts of the city, but since Nanshi and Yuyuan make a nice package, I’ll save them for another post.