Walking in BJ

I walk around the city a lot.

I could probably have counted the number of times I had ridden in a taxi on my fingers before I came here, but since then it’s probably averaged almost once per day. Not that I take a taxi every day, but there are plenty of days with multiple rides to make up for the days with none. Given how cheap they are here, that’s not really a problem financially like it might be in New York, for example. But I’m just really tired of taxis.

I got myself a Beijing transportation card which is good on subways and buses, and I use both of those to get most places. But for shorter trips, say a half hour or less, I just walk. Like they say, ru xiang sui su. That’s the Chinese equivalent of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

And I usually have my camera with me. Won’t you join me? (Why do I feel like Mr. Rogers all of a sudden?)
The trees here at Season Park are in bloom.
On the way to the office, I pass a shopping mall where lots of people just hang out, with or without their dogs.
I pass by the Dongzhimen Transit Center, still under construction. I don’t know why it’s so massive. Three subway lines cross underneath it, and about a hundred bus routes, but I have no idea what it will look like when complete.
Across the Second Ring Road from the Transit Center is this big office building, which I’ve photographed before, back when it was less complete:
That's from November 2006.
A little further along I pass through Nanguan Park, where the pond is half-filled. Notice the Fuwa standing on the water.
Even on a weekday morning there’s a fair amount of activity in the park. The guy with a music stand under the tree is playing a harmonica into a little portable amplifier and a few people are dancing to his music.
Continuing along towards the office, I encounter this deconstruction site. I ate at this restaurant only last week.
Here’s my building, with one of the newer tenants visible. Finally, decent coffee nearby. Obviously, this company is trying to emulate a certain Seattle-based multinational coffee company.

Then a day at work.

I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I sometimes go to a nearby restaurant called Beijing Pastry and Congee for take away.
Here are three filled pastries called xianbing, two with spiced ground beef and one with chopped vegetables, and a cold vegetable dish called haidai made of seaweed cut in strips with carrots, peppers and a lot of garlic.
That’s the bill. It comes to ¥10, about $1.45.
After work, I head for the subway station, where I see a new advertising campaign has taken over. In case you can’t make it out from the picture, the slogan is: Protecting Intellectual Property Rights And Promoting Innovation Development. It’s sponsored by the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China. Note to all foreign businesses: your IP is safe here now.
I get off at a stop across town and walk into a neighborhood. Dozens of vendors, mostly fruit and veg, are set up on the sidewalk along the little street, and the gathered shoppers made it pretty difficult for cars to get by.

I hear a little peeping noise and look to see what’s making it.
I’m not sure if the chicks are supposed to be pets or livestock or sale goods, but for the moment they’re Free Range Chicks. I don’t hang around to see if they ever make it back into the box.
The guy on the left is welding something on the sidewalk. The woman on the right is washing some vegetables for dinner.

I meet up with a coworker in this neighborhood. And speaking of dinner, we go to a fairly nice place.
That’s supposed to be half a barbequed duck, but it’s kinda small for a half bird, and seems to be missing some parts you would expect, but it tastes pretty good. The restaurant is having a special: for every ¥19 you spend, you get a free 600ml beer. As you can see, we qualify for three. In case you don’t know your metric system, those are big beers, about the size of two twelve ounce bottles each. We end up only drinking two – one of them is still in my fridge. They don’t complain when I carry it out.

To be honest, this is a composite day, consisting of events and pictures from about three different days in the past week. But I think it gives an accurate picture of my life here, straddling the expat world and the local culture. Tune in next time, when I'll condense all the seasons into one week and a decade into a month.


Cinderella Story

I was walking to work this morning, and Zheng Jun’s song “Huiguniang” (that’s “Cinderella” in English) was going through my head. It’s one of my favorite Chinese songs by one of my favorite Chinese artists. I haven’t quite memorized the lyrics yet, so I was kind of half-humming the tune. At one point I noticed the sound of someone nearby whistling pretty loudly. Oddly enough, the tune was “Huiguniang”! How’s that for an odd coincidence?

The song dates from 1994. Zheng Jun is one of very few prominent Chinese artists who fit in the rock camp, though this particular song is a mellow one. I’ve got a few of his CDs, and the songs are mostly louder, though with acoustic touches and a few ballads here and there. He was recently in the news here for refusing to accept an award at a ceremony.

“I have enough trophies back home,” the 40-year-old was quoted as saying. Zheng Jun’s recent wins include five awards at the Beijing Pop Music Awards in January, where he was also the biggest winner. He also won an MTV Video Music Award in 2002.

“New singers, particularly those from the singing competitions, might want to win these awards to get recognized,” Zheng Jun said, according to the report. “My music might not be the best, but I need no awards recognition.”

And just for completeness, here is my translation of the lyrics (with help from Google and a couple of friends), along with a link to an MP3 that as far as I know is legitimately presented.

(words & music – Zheng Jun,
but don’t blame him for the translation)

How can I have fallen for you?
I ask myself
I could give up anything
Unexpectedly you left today
You aren’t at all beautiful
But you’re extremely adorable
Aiya, Cinderella
My Cinderella

I always hurt your heart
I’m always very cruel
I made you not take it seriously
Because I didn’t dare to believe
You’re so beautiful
Not just extremely adorable
Aiya, Cinderella
My Cinderella

Maybe you never
Thought my heart could ache
If these are dreams
I hope to never wake up

I used to be patient
I waited so
Maybe you’ll come back
Maybe you’ll come back
Aiya is just an interjection, like saying ooh. I’ve rendered ke’ai as adorable, though it is often given as cute. The line “I hope to never wake up” is not translated very closely. The Chinese word for “drunk” is in there, so a more accurate English version would be something like “I hope to never wake from this intoxication” but that just sounded too awkward, so I simplified.


Duibuqi, Eeyore

This post will be mostly about food. Apologies to those not interested in this topic. And a question: why are you not interested? What could possibly be more important than food? Sure music is important, but it’s pointless if you starve to death. And since you gotta eat, you might as well enjoy it.

A few days ago, tired of eating out at restaurants and tired of cooking for myself, I compromised and bought a roast chicken at this little shop. For about US$2 I got a small, very tasty bird that lasted me a couple of dinners. Not a bad deal at all.
And then yesterday, on the recommendation and encouragement of a surprising number of people, it was time to try lunch at this little place. Just inside the glass door, there is a cooler chest partly straddled by a cutting board where meat is carved up. As an added bonus, it was a nice sunny day.

Those who read Chinese might recognize the fifth and sixth characters in the rather long restaurant name. They are and rou. Rou means meat; means donkey. And that is their specialty, in the style of the province of Hebei.

It’s a pretty small place, though larger than it looks from the entrance. The little shop on the left only goes back as far as the wall you can see, and there’s an extra room to the restaurant behind it. The place was busy, and the only table we could find was in the back room, surrounded by ordinary working people. One of my companions was originally from Hebei, and she confirmed that the workers were from there – they were speaking in Hebei dialect rather than Standard Chinese.
The first part of the meal consisted of rou soup, featuring a fair amount of liver as well as other parts I’d just as soon not speculate too closely upon. There is also a mushroom dish featuring mu’er (wood ear) and yin’er (silver ear) fungus along with carrot and a touch of dried hot red pepper. The other dish is bean curd strips with onion, carrot, green pepper and boiled peanuts.

The broth was very good, and the more meaty bits were fine, though I left behind some of the pieces that were just fat or chewy organ. The liver tasted pretty much like any other liver.
When we had nearly finished all our food, the other dish arrived. It’s very popular, and they sell it straight out the door (which is why the cutting board is out front), so we had to wait. It’s chopped donkey with onion tucked in a toasted bun, and it seems to be the specialty of the house. People were eating it at every table. It was served with little dishes of chopped garlic that you spoon onto it as you eat. Wonderful for the breath.

Aside from being a bit greasy, it was quite good, and I would definitely eat it again. I might skip the soup, but the other dishes were good. The meal was a little expensive by neighborhood standards: the three of us paid around US$6 total.

On the way back to the office after lunch, we encountered a little clump of people on the sidewalk.
It was a guy selling fish and other pets off a three-wheeler.
I was a little saddened to see he had little tiny bunnies, chipmunks, turtles and so on as well. I’ve heard stories about the rabbits dying within a week of purchase because they were taken from their mothers too young.

And now for a topic completely unrelated except that I took the pictures this week...

I walked home through Nanguan Park one evening and saw one of the park cats out in the drained “lake” getting a drink from a puddle. I paused to get out my camera, and it headed for cover.
It hopped up on one of the rocks, looked at me, and then disappeared. I went closer.
Somehow I had never noticed that the rocks were artificial. But with all the holes in them now, it was kind of hard to miss. Nice hiding place for cats.

Continuing my backwards journey through the last week, and returning to the subject of food, I find a picture of a new restaurant that just opened not far from where I live.
It’s called The Saddle, and you might guess it’s a Mexican place. You would be correct. So far, I’ve only had a margarita there, but I’ve been told the food is good as well. It’s run by a guy from Ohio. Go figure.

Enough for now. Cheers!


Ancient Chinese secret, huh?

How’s that for a cultural reference that dates me?

This is a short post about two surprises that happened today in quick succession.

Purely by accident, I discovered that Wikipedia is accessible in China. A friend told me she was moving to the city of Zibo in Shandong, so I did a Goggle search, and of course the Wikipedia link was the first result. Usually I don’t even bother clicking on those, but something in me said “What the heck?” and gave it a try.

Oddly enough, it came up – extremely slowly, but not the usual “Server not found” error. That was the first surprise.

Then, in the article on Zibo it said that FIFA has honored the city as the birthplace of football. Huh?

So there you go. The ancient game of cuju, played by both men and women in China over 2000 years ago is the ancestor of modern soccer.

Lately at work it’s been a kind of theatre of the absurd, and I really wish I could say more about it, but that story will have to wait until after the Olympics, if it can ever be told.

It’s been a year since I got my work permit, so that’s currently being renewed. I feel kind of strange not having my passport, but they can’t put a new visa in it unless they have it.

And I’m pretty excited that I’ll be resuming my language lessons next week. They’ll be private lessons this time, since none of my coworkers who took classes before seem to have time these days. I’m just going to make time.