WORLD CUP FEVER HITS CHINA HARD

World Cup Fever has taken over China.  It’s pervasive in the media, merchandising, and, of course, the bars.  In no way, is the World Cup as big in the U.S. as it is in China.  The World Cup is a huge part of life here in China for the next month.   WP_20140613_018Stay up all night watching games?  No problem.  To call off sick here, you need an official hospital note, which you can obtain online from various nefarious sites.  The article in the paper yesterday said that interest has surged for these notes so that people can watch football all night and call in sick the next day.  There is even a special insurance policy offered for Cup excesses.  The article in China Daily today details how for only 48 cents U.S. (3 yuan) you can get the “World Cup hooligan insurance package” guaranteed to compensate you up to 10,000 yuan if you are attacked or robbed by thugs while out partying hard during Cup games.  Another policy pays out for sickness caused by alcohol poisoning to cover inpatient and outpatient costs.

 

Why the rabidly scary interest here?  China didn’t qualify this year and has only appeared in the World Cup once in 2002–can’t even imagine the partying going on then.  While there is great international presence here in Beijing due to the Embassies, from what I have read, the Chinese will root for anyone except Japan.  The drink deals are plentiful–buy 5, get 1 free on beers could be renamed the “good luck walking home” offer.  At the fake market, the sellers were doing a huge business in selling football shirts in all sizes.  You want it, they got it–“lookey, lookey, best friend” discount and all.  At the Blue Frog, my new favorite Western style restaurant, they even have a machine counting down to the opening with an embedded Kinect to play soccer games while dispensing special edition Budweiser Beer World Cup bottles–what an all purpose machine!

World Cup Shrine
World Cup Shrine

The Blue Frog manager quickly looked up for me when the US plays–at 6 a.m. this coming Tuesday vs. Ghana.  I am hoping that my Shanghai TV package gets these games live.  I get to go home tomorrow!  CCTV has boots on the ground covering tape delayed games but as much as I would love to work on my Chinese, I would love to hear the game announced in English.  So, I’ll be up early cheering on my US team and dodging the early morning drunks on the Shanghai streets as I go to work and the World Cup partiers struggle to make it home in the morning hours.  Work?  No Way-not for them for at least a month and even then it might take another month to get the alcohol out of their blood system.   Party on, World Cup Fans!

Going Home

On my walk last night to find food and enjoy the rare blue sky in Beijing, I took a back road by the canal near the Westin.  There is a large construction site there and nearby a large group of workers had gathered, talking and laughing.  You could see relief on their faces that it was Saturday night and tomorrow would probably be their only day of rest for the week.  As I walked by, I saw a bus in the distance and realized they were all waiting for a ride back home.  Suddenly, some of the workers broke away from the larger group and started running towards the bus, probably to ensure a seat since there were so many people for only one bus.  The driver was not deterred by the rush of people and kept on rolling down the street toward the “official” bus stop, ignoring the rush of workers.  I thought about how hard the life is for the workers, probably living away from their families, and reminded myself to be more appreciative of the life I have been given.  Watch this video and you may feel the same way-enjoy: 

 

Early Morning Walk in Beijing

Up at 4 a.m. to catch the sun rise, I was in awe of the morning sky.  The strong wind and rain yesterday cleared out the air and, for the first time, I got to see blue skies and the mountains surrounding Beijing.   Who knew???  Obscured by thick, grey pollution almost all the times I’ve ever been here, it’s quite lovely when the pollution is washed away.  Too bad they can’t program a typhoon every week to clear it out.

After Skyping with Thom, Hannah and a sleeping Mia, it was still only 5:30 a.m. so I decided to do a walkabout and see who else was up in my neighborhood.  Surprisingly, I did see some joggers taking advantage of the clean air.  Run while you can breathe!  The street vendors were just hauling their carts out to make the morning breakfast for the commuters.  That could be onion pancakes, eggs or steamed buns.  Traffic was light and not the usual clogged mess on the “ring” roads.  This trip I’m staying at the Westin near Sanlitun.  I like this neighborhood more than the Grand Hyatt near the Forbidden City–too touristy for me there.  Here I can walk to more Western restaurants in the Sanlitun Mall and there is a nice canal next to the hotel.  When I say “nice”, I mean picturesque but I would never, ever dream of swimming in it unless I wanted to die quickly of many and varied diseases.  Walking by today, several gents were bathing/swimming in the canal in the early morning.   One had on a bathing cap–cute but what you really need is some scuba gear and a full body suit!

Guard at one of the Embassies coming to get me because I'm taking his picture!
Guard at one of the Embassies coming to get me because I’m taking his picture!
Canal near the Westin and bathing pool for some gents I saw today.
Canal near the Westin and bathing pool for some gents I saw today.

I continued down Embassy Row where the guards were at attention protecting the occupants.  As I looked at the bars on all the windows of the buildings inside the locked gated areas, I thought to myself that they probably need those precautions in case of a protest or attack but it wouldn’t make for very comfortable living.  As I took a picture of the guard, he immediately started to come at me.  Yeah, right buddy—you aren’t confiscating my phone.  No way.  No how.  I just started walking fast and he backed down, returning to his post.  I can’t even imagine how boring it would be to just stand in one place for hours.  I wonder what he thinks about while he is standing prone watching and waiting.  Are they so bored that they actually wish someone would attack them so they have something to do?  I feel for them.  No job is really easy but being bored is the worst.

It’s the weekend but I am working straight through on my current project.  No rest in sight and no Thom until July.  Then, life will get better.  In the meantime, I will put one foot in front of the other and wake up each day to appreciate the chance to live in the moment and look to the future.  The blue skies today helped for sure!  Yesterday, there was even a rainbow after the rain.  Everyone was stopping to take pictures-I’m sure rainbows are unusual in the gloomy Beijing grey skies.  I’ve always loved rainbows and think they are a sign of hope and renewal.  As they say in Hawaii:  No Rain, No Rainbows.   Bring on the typhoons baby–I could get used to these blue skies in Beijing.

Hot Damn….Hong Kong Heaven

I LOVE HONG KONG! Seriously, it is clean, civilized and gorgeous. I was lucky to stay on the outskirts in Cyperport at the Le Meridien Hotel. Infinity pool. CHECK. Crazy bean bag lounge overlooking gorgeous water view. CHECK. Walking distance to mall and park on the water where dogs, really big ones, roam free. CHECK. International grocery that sells bagels and People magazine plus cheap wine. CHECK, CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK. Hot Damn Hong Kong Heaven!  A Westerner’s paradise in Asia, Hong Kong is visually stunning with high rise luxury apartments seemingly everywhere and drivers actually following the rules of the road. What, what…what, what?? That’s crazy talk. No bikes/scooters and the buses are all charming double deckers whizzing around the curvy hilly roads. One safety reminder-they have British heritage so they drive on the wrong (at least to me) side of the road. Remember to look both ways or die when crossing the street.  They actually have painted reminders on the pavement to remind folks like me to look both ways first.  How thoughtful!

View of Victoria Harbor from The Peak
View of Victoria Harbor from The Peak

We took a cab to The Peak for dinner. About 90 Hong Kong $’s which is about $15 US. Our driver would definitely feel at home behind the wheel of a Porsche in a Grand Prix race. He took those steep curves with confidence and precision as we wound our way upward into the clouds. Though there were some guardrails, in general, it was frightening to look over the edge of the mountain as we raced by the steep and stunning vista’s below. Oh well, it did get the blood flowing as my heart pounded and I occasionally had to just shut my eyes in terror. I figure he knew what he was doing and, if he didn’t, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it so I just had to pray, hard, and trust.

Once at The Peak, there is a very western shopping mall with McD’s, Burger King, Starbucks, etc. but we ate at a lovely Thai restaurant with outside deck, enjoying shrimp, salad, spring rolls, etc. I am getting much better with the chopstick control and managed to eat quite well with them without launching food at my fellow diners. We literally were in the clouds and the wispy puffs were on the move with a strong breeze making the hot weather very lovely. The deck on the mall has an outstanding view of the Victoria Harbor. You can take the Tram down the mountain or cab it. The Tram does have a long line so be prepared to wait quite awhile for this scenic ride. At 9 p.m., one of the largest skyscrapers has a light show on the outside of the building. Quite beautiful so time dinner right and you get a show afterward for free.

Bean Bag Lounge at Le Meridien in Hong Kong...easy to get into and harder to get up, especially after a drink or two!
Bean Bag Lounge at Le Meridien in Hong Kong…easy to get into and harder to get up, especially after a drink or two!

Surrounded on one side by lush green mountains and water on the other side, I’ve so enjoyed watching the boats in the busy harbor. I’ve decided to be happy and content, I must live near both water and mountains. When we lived in Seattle, we were right on the water and loved seeing the ferries and cruise ships with mountains in the background. Now, in Shanghai, it’s a different experience watching the coal boats shoot up the Huangpu River but still, while not so scenic, it does provide an interesting and always different view.

So, back to Beijing and then on to Shanghai to enjoy a long Chinese Dragonboat Festival weekend.  I do love all the Chinese holidays.  I’ll be watching for the dragons and boats on local waterways-the ferries should have fun dodging those as they cross the river.  It will be so good to get home and enjoy a respite from living in a Beijing hotel. I’ll be looking forward to another trip to Hong Kong this summer to share it’s excitement with Thom and James and do more exploring of this beautiful city.  Bean Bag Lounge, here I come!

The Adventure that is Inner China Travel

Spoiled by flying Delta on all my international travels, I got to experience multiple inner country flights this week and may I say, Air China sucks. It is a throwback airline utilizing these teeny tiny pale blue fabric antique seats that recline into your lap. Seriously, the dude in front of me is laying in my lap on this four hour odyssey to get back to Beijing from Hong Kong. I am seriously fighting the urge to smack his head and tell him to kindly decline to recline! And the guy next to me not only snores but when he did wake up (okay, I poked him just a bit to make him stop-works on Thom after all), he’s now clacking away at some game on his iphone….thank God I have my serious headphones with me on this trip so I can plug in and tune out. A friendly seat mate I am not. I think I actually snarled and it wasn’t pretty. On a plus side, he must have taken a bath today because the body odormeter is low and he has kept his shoes on. Hallelujiah!  Ahh, you appreciate the little things in life when you travel Inner China.

I am in row 51F…yep, that far back and surrounded on all sides by hacking humanity. Yes, I am spoiled and get to travel in business class most times on international flights. Even on domestic in the US, I usually get upgraded so this trip is not as pleasant. Reminder to self-do not take upgraded seats for granted. It’s not the free booze or high quality food served on fine china, which is nice no doubt, but the extra personal space is what I crave. Next time I fly back to the US, it’s a special business trip so I have to fly coach not business class. As one guy put it who has to suffer a similar fate, Xanax and wine will be our friends and help us to obliviate and only wake up when we land on friendly soil. Having another blood vessel burst in my old ear drum when I landed in Hong Kong, I can’t believe I forgot my Sudafed and nose spray which I’m supposed to take to avoid this fate. OUCH! I looked to find such drugs in Hong Kong but no such luck, so I am furiously chewing gobs of gum and hoping I don’t scream out in pain when we land in Beijing. Yes, travelling is fun and adventure but it can be quite a bitch as well.

And speaking of bitching, the food served in tinfoil on Air China is an adventure in food poisoning. On the way over, I took it because it was very late and I was starved. At least there was a bun sealed in plastic that I hoped would not be too toxic. Turned out it had a red bean paste center which wasn’t too bad. The chicken entrée screamed, “Eat me and die” so I heeded the warning and shunned it. The breakfast on the flight to Beijing is noodles and shrimp. Yes, please give me shellfish prepared on a runway. The flight attendant looked super annoyed when I waved off the food she was peddling. Yes, I know you want to get rid of this shit but I am not that stupid. NO. THANK. YOU.   Knowing better than to wait to eat on the plane, I stood in line at McD’s at the airport and got a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese. YUM! The memory of that tasty morsel will keep me going for awhile.

As we get ready to land, I try to make use of the facilities.  OCCUPIED.  Okay, I’ll wait…and wait…and wait until the surly flight attendant tells me that we are landing and I need to sit down.  But what about the Occupant???  She does knock on the door but then buckles up for landing.  Okay, what’s wrong with this picture?  You got it.  Some old guy fell asleep in the bathroom and landed there, poking his head out as we exited and looking around confused.  What airline lets a passenger stay in the bathroom during landing???  Air China does.  Enough said.

Meanwhile, seeing life from the cheap seats in the back, I did finally find time to write and enjoy my Macklemore playlist.  I get a kick out of listening to him in China because I know his music is censored here.  Same Love-not in China.   I hit the ground in Beijing, running straight to work and then get to enjoy another “economy” flight back home to Shanghai on Saturday. I’ve been gone for two months so I’m hoping our Ayi hasn’t take up residence with her family/friends in our apartment and that the a/c has been turned on since it’s a blistering 100 degrees and humid here. Home Sweet Home!

 

 

Boise to Beijing-The Journey Begins

Good bye blue skies and fresh air!  Hello grey, chunk-filled air that causes me to cough..hard.  So long family and friends!  Hello insane work schedule though I love what I do.  Tomorrow I will make the long, long journey from Boise, Idaho to Beijing, China.  Leaving behind my new granddaughter Mia and my lovely family including my husband, who will stay to oversee the purchase of our new home here in Boise, our retreat from China but primarily a vacation rental till we expatriate.  Though I have been busy working from Boise to get ready for my big project in China, I have been blessed to at least be able to see the baby and family every night.  We take a walk around the neighborhood-the whole crazy crew:  Baby Mia, Hannah & Mike, Thom and I plus the crazy canine duo pulling us along, Izaak and Ollie, plus Det. Stabler, the only cat I know who goes for walks too. Now, I really don’t favor cats, being a dog person, but I will acknowledge that Det. Stabler is an unusually loyal and smart cat.  Not that I ever want to support a cat again.  Ever.  I prefer dogs who love you always and never give attitude.

Thom enjoying some puppy love from our Izaak.  I miss him so much!
Thom enjoying some puppy love from our Izaak. I miss him so much!
Det. Stabler coming along for the walk sans leash
Det. Stabler coming along for the walk sans leash

For the next month or two, I will be all alone in Beijing working hard.  More days in a hotel than I want to think about, not that it is a bad hotel but I miss being home.  Our Ayi Pink probably thinks we bailed on her.  I wonder what she does all day in the apartment with really nothing to do except dust the ever present dirt that is spewing out of the vents and hopefully watering our plants so they are not all dead by the time we return.  The wave pool with sandy beach will be open for the summer by the time I return to Shanghai in late June.  I’ve been watching the feral cats use this sandy beach as their own private litter box all winter while working out in the gym overlooking it.  Wonder if they’ll clean up all the cat poop before the season starts?  Oh, right, I live in China.  Note to self–wear shoes in sand.

What do I miss from Shanghai?  I miss the daily adventures walking the streets with Thom.  Experiencing the unusual and crazy life in China.  I don’t miss the pollution AT ALL.  My lung scare is still top of mind and I don’t look forward to wearing my mask more to protect myself but I will because I value living and breathing.  My CT scan showed lung damage caused by remote exposure to TB but thank God, I was tested and it’s not active TB. Did I get “exposed” to TB in China.  Yep.  Damn Subways.  Oh well.

Three generations enjoying lunch on a sunny, clear day in Boise.
Three generations enjoying lunch on a sunny, clear day in Boise.

Packing today was an experience in futility.  Due to the lure of low, low prices in the U.S., I may have overdone the shopping a bit. Well, maybe more like 20 or 30 pounds worth. Don’t judge me–the top size in China is a small 4 so I loaded up on the generous US sizing to help my self confidence.  Now, I am forced to make my son bring over some of my clothes when he comes.  Sorry dude but you’re Momma’s mule!  (He doesn’t ever read my blog so I’m safe)  He’ll come over with Thom at the first of July with an extra bag or two to have adventures all summer exploring the China that I’m too afraid to see.  Yes, until you live outside the U.S. you never consider that your travel plans will be heavily influenced by the reality of “are there are toilets or not?”  In pretty much all of rural China, it’s a definite “NOT”.  No toilets, no go -just my policy.  Men can go anywhere, anytime–females are challenged in that regard especially if you don’t like to squat by the side of the road.  So, Thom and James will take the trains here and there and see lots of crazy shit I am sure.  I will stay home and work where there are heated TOTO toilets close by–my new office is AMAZING!

So, on my last day in lovely Boise, we went to a great lunch, sat outside on the patio and soaked in the clean air.  I will never, ever take for granted the simple things in life like being able to drink a margarita on the rocks with no worries that the “rocks” will be made of toxic water that will induce projectile vomiting.  Ahhhhh….I will miss those little things….Beijing, watch out, here I come!

 

Shanghai Spring!

Spring has sprung in Shanghai!  And about time thank you very much.  While we didn’t get any snow, it’s been a long, dark winter.  I’m tired of trudging through the gloomy cold to work and looking forward to some sun and longer daylight hours to enjoy exploring all that China has to offer.  We’ll be in Beijing alot so looking forward to getting to know that city quite well.

Trying to name the "captains" pictured-got Captain Crunch right!
Trying to name the “captains” pictured-got Captain Crunch right!

We had a blast at Trivia Night at The Bookworm in Sanlitun this week and will definitely go back.  We killed in many categories but the music was a bit too international for our brains.  We hadn’t even heard many of the songs or artists featured.  Of course, Thom was overly generous when he gave one team credit for naming Bruno Mars’ song, Gorilla, when he put down “f*&k the monkey”, a loose interpretation of the lyrics of that crazy tune.  Trivia Nights are all the rage in China for Expat’s–this one was even smoke-free!

The ponchos come out when it rains!
The ponchos come out when it rains!

Rain + Spring = GREEN!  The newly revived grass and trees were a welcome sight amidst the grey polluted skies today in Shanghai.  Oh what I wouldn’t give for a blue sky day!!!  I worked the past week in Beijing, where it was 200+ AQI every day and so depressing.  You could tell Michelle Obama and the girls had gone–fire up the furnaces and let the pollutants loose ’cause the liberals have left the building!

Enjoying my new patio chairs from Ikea on our balcony.
Enjoying my new patio chairs from Ikea on our balcony.

No matter, even though there are very few days to enjoy the outside air, we braved the crowds at Ikea to grab some patio chairs for our balcony.  While we can’t leave them out every day because they would just get filthy, we are ever hopeful that we will have a few fine days to sip coffee and enjoy a rare day where you can breathe in without coughing.  Look, they’re still white!

If you want to enjoy a clusterf&*k of epic proportions, visit Ikea on a weekend in Shanghai.  HOLY.  HELL.  Get those elbows out and jump into the fray.  There is a steady parade that you just have to join in as people take pictures, nap, use the somewhat clean bathrooms, socialize, eat and do everything BUT buy anything.  Thom and I are veteran Ikea shoppers so we just took off cutting through departments and grabbing what was on the list as quick as possible.  No browsing for us and who could nap with all that noise!  Obviously someone could because the beds were almost all taken-there being no trespass laws here in China.

New Converse for me!
New Converse for me!

We also visited the AP market and haggled for some Converse-like sneakers for me.  Nothing says SPRING like some new shoes.  They take their fashion very seriously here and my casual look is very counter to the ruffles, bows, and frilly look favored by many of the females here.  To each their own!

Spring fashion includes lots of prints and ruffles.
Spring fashion includes lots of prints and ruffles.

Window shopping at the IFC mall, the many boutiques featured beautiful outfits from shoes to hat.  Of course, they are all in size 0-4 so I can look but not buy.  The largest size even in the US Brands like Gap is a small version of a 8.  No more carbs for me!  Some day I would like to buy some local fashion so I’ll just have to get out the duct tape and starve for a few weeks!

We leave in a week to visit the US to work and then get to be with Hannah and Mike as Mia arrives in May.  From her current antics inside, she is already enjoying being active and will no doubt keep her parents very busy from the get go. Put on your track shoes, Hannah and Mike!   We love little Mia already and look forward to her getting to know her Nai Nai,  While I wish we could live closer, the day will come when we are all together.  Until then, Mia will get lots of cute outfits as we plan to spoil her rotten.

Look out blue skies and clean air, here we come!

 

Travelling without Thom=Lonely

So, I’m terribly spoiled because Thom usually accompanies me on my frequent business trips or I travel with peers who speak Chinese.  This week, I went it alone, travelling to Beijing and Nanjing by my lonesome, English-speaking boring self.   NEVER.  AGAIN.  Not only was I bored and lonely without my travel partner/best friend/hubby but he was too back in Shanghai.  So we learned our lesson-it’s better together.  Now, on to share with you the highlights of my LAST solo journey.

Playing the Laowai card at the train station in Shanghai ALL BY MYSELF, I walked up to the only cashier with no line who was arguing vehemently with a local woman.  I know that this is the place to cash in tickets for refunds from a previous trip and no one speaks English but I marched right up, ignored the squabbling woman, who by now was really irritating  the crabby cashier, probably trying to cash in a fake ticket for money, and handed Ms. Crabby my receipt and passport and smiled really big.  The cashier was only too happy (well, happy is a strong word–perhaps less pissed off might be more accurate) to divert from the local woman who stomped away.   Done and done—I was off to the Laowai Haven on the second floor of the terminal—Costa Coffee.  They have good coffee, free wifi, nice seats and a quiet civilized atmosphere so I could work until it’s time for my bullet train to Beijing.  Before settling in, I ran by one of the many kiosks selling stuff and selected a set of earbuds to use in the gym.  I had to leave my set at the office to use as a sample to buy for swag for our team so I’m earbudless—not cool.  There are many times in China you need to tune out the world and this trip was looking to be certainly one of them.

Four hours into the train to Beijing, let me count the MANY ways I missed Thom horribly:

*no one to watch all my possessions when I go to the bathroom, making any trips awkward and hurried as I rush back to my seat hoping everything is still there

*no one to lift my “I packed way too much stuff” luggage into the overhead on the train—in the US when you are a woman and have a big bag, almost always a guy will offer to assist but you’ll die from waiting for a dude in China to help you.  Ladies, you had better work out and get some muscles if you are travelling on your own.

*no one to check the train bathroom to see if it is moderately disgusting or totally disgusting, as it gets towards the end of the journey and all the guys have sprayed their DNA around every available surface and there’s no toliet paper or paper towel left.  Of course, I travel with my own tissue and hand sanitizer (don’t leave home without it, EVER!) but I miss Thom doing a recon for me to determine if I go or cross my legs till we get to the hotel.  Forget using the train station bathroom as most are squats and TOTALLY revolting.

Of course, I missed Thom’s sparkling, witty conversation as well but did manage to get a lot of work done on the journey.  Boring but productive!

At least the guy next to me on the train watched movies on his iPad and didn’t smell too bad, take his shoes off or hock up a lung up like the guy across the aisle.  I finally threw my new earbuds on and cranked up Keith Urban to mask his frequent loud retching and snotting all over himself.  I’m painting a pretty picture, right?  My seat mate did order the local lunch and I had to cover my nose while he ate it—some kind of pickled cabbage threw an overwhelming smell at me that caused me to do evasive action to prevent vomiting.  When going by train, pack your own food or starve.  I had a lovely bagel and one of my prized Strictly Cookies peanut butter special.  Carbs galore as usual because I can’t eat the mystery meats.  Yum!

Finally arriving in Beijing, I can only hope Michelle Obama will chose to visit Beijing when I am there from now on.  The AQI was a lovely 25, a new all time low, on the day she arrived.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  I could even see the mountains in the distance, which is a true rarity and just  lovely.  Just like Michelle, I do tend to stand out in the crowd.  While waiting in the lobby of our office building in Beijing the next day, a very charming European gentleman approached to introduce himself and ask if I would have time to be in a Dahlmer automobile video shoot in the next building.  Why no, kind and handsome gentleman, I explained I was on a tight work schedule but appreciated the offer.  My colleague from Italy asked if he could be a part of the experience and was excited to be able to be in a video.  I’ve gotten used to people taking my picture often on the street but this was my first “official” invite to model–a new career perhaps as I enter my “mature and still not looking too bad” phase of my life??

Cereal goes with milk-except in China where yogurt is offered instead
Cereal goes with milk-except in China where yogurt is offered instead

Testing my patience to the limit and needing some basic sustenance while taking an early morning conference call, I tried to order cereal and milk for breakfast from hotel room service in Nanjing.  This became a major production as I had room service calling me and running back and forth to the kitchen several times to get my simple food.  Seems that they thought I should put yogurt on my cereal not milk.  No thank you..  Yes, noodles would have been easier for them to understand but I just am not ready to “go local” yet and always opt for safe food that won’t have me hurling into the nearest potted plant.  Ahhh, memories!

Mr. Sax Man in Nanjing
Mr. Sax Man in Nanjing

I finally forced myself out to take a walk at lunch while in Nanjing.  I was rewarded with stumbling upon a lovely local park featuring part of the ancient wall and a local entertaining a group of children with his sax playing.  He sat in an archway, playing his tunes and making all our lives better.  Thank you, Mr. Sax Man, for showing me that even if I am by myself (which will NEVER happen again, just saying) I should take time to get out, smell the polluted air and enjoy a slice of life during my busy work days.

Back home again with Thom, we both learned from our week apart that we NEVER, EVER want that to happen again.  So put on your travelling shoes, Mr. George (Cole Haans, of course for my “shoe whore”) and OFF WE GO!

Scorpions to Soldiers–Street Scene in Beijing

What a difference a day makes!  We arrived in Beijing to apocalyptic pollution-350+ AQI which means the air was “hazardous” and choking full of bad shit that was being sucked into our ever dying lungs yet the locals walked around without masks and went about their daily lives like it was no big deal.  And I thought I had low standards after getting used to 150 AQI days in Shanghai.  I strapped on my new 3M mask that was awkward but no doubt necessary even if I didn’t have a pollution app on my phone warning me of dire consequences if I stepped outside unprotected.

3M lung saving mask
3M lung saving mask

Today, as the CPPCC & NPCC meetings take center stage in Beijing, the air miraculously cleared, in part due to a stiff wind and probably some government restrictions to clean up for the big events and world press in town to cover it.  As we walked through Tianenmen Square on Monday, we saw a very heightened increase in police presence and even had to submit to several security searches of my bag.  Again, probably due to the meetings this week but also the nation is now on high alert due to the recent terrorist attack on a train station in the south.  Still, Thom and I both agree that we feel far safer walking the streets of China at night in any neighborhood, no matter how remote or dark, than we would in the U.S. 

When I woke up to blue skies, it was such a delight that we had to go out on my lunch hour and walk the streets.  Thom had already got in a lot of exploring so we headed out to a small alley he had discovered where he dared me to eat live scorpions and bugs on a stick.  Yes, they were still waving their little parts and pieces as if to say “Get me the F*&$ off this stick” but the food vendor offered to fry them up for us because crispy scorpions are soooo much tastier than live ones.  The various bugs on a stick and intestines on skewers were tempting but I opted to remain hungry and live to eat another day. 

Thom had one scary moment this week as he walked around the hutongs of Beijing and happened upon a group of protestors waving a petition.  As a security detail came to investigate the group, they decided to run after Thom as well, thinking he was part of the press perhaps.  Luckily, I have taught him to just ignore anyone without a gun, so he increased his pace, headphones on and ignored it all until they caught up with him and then he just did the “laowai shrug” and walked away with a smile.  The big ass camera he walks around with takes lovely photos but does make him a target at times.  He’s a tough New Yorker so I have to believe he can take care of himself (and it’s not like he would pay attention to my plea for him not to take chances) but if you ever see him on a “have you seen this guy” posting on a China website, don’t be surprised!   In the meantime, he will keep trying to make soldiers smile and scorpions squirm with delight as he records it all with his sensational snapshots of our adventures in Beijing.

Bullet Train to Beijing

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Shanghai Train Station

Just call me a local because my new regular work commute is to Beijing via the bullet train–a four hour journey speeding through the polluted countryside.  We set off today for a week long adventure to Beijing and Nanjing.  Thom and I are always amused at the security “lite” detail at the train station that consists of putting your stuff through the scanner while the security gal texts her friend and shops online and being wanded haphazardly as they yawn in boredom…it is quick and painless, at least for us.  They seem bored to death.  My husband who always seems to pack something he shouldn’t is lucky that they are so bored and not very attentive.  He doesn’t mean to pack sharp objects but, hey, you never know when you might need something in an emergency.  Of course, hours before our trip today there was an “incident” at another rail station in China that was concerning.  Never worry–we will be as careful as we can and, after dodging traffic in Shanghai and Vietnam, we are very nimble and can get out of the way of trouble quickly. We have also learned to be prepared and pack first aid and meds just in case.

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Disney Shop at train station. Disney World opens in 2015 here.

After racing through security, we walked through various American stores like Disney (featuring the blingiest Mickey stuff imaginable), Jeep, Polo, etc. that line the train station.  We never see anyone buying anything but the snack shops are always busy with folks buying tasty treats like dried seaweed to take home to the relatives.  Then, we head over to Costa Coffee (they have a Starbucks too, of course) and sometimes we score an egg tart at KFC but today Thom got a toastie-a yummy breakfast sandwich with a meat-like substance.  He’s really not that picky and never seems to get sick like I do from the food so I passed.  After Thom visited the men’s room aka the “smoking lounge”, we headed over to the gate, dodging the DNA that seems to come hacking out of most passersby.  COVER.  YOUR.  MOUTH.  It’s really not that hard!  I wait to go to the ladies room on the train–the station has “squat” bathrooms which I avoid if at all possible.

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And I thought I overpacked! People here haul LOTS of stuff on the trains!

 

At any time/any day the station is packed with people and they do NOT travel light.  I thought I overpacked but, holy Hell, the crowd here is loaded down with those ubiquitous plastic expanding bags that haul LOTS of stuff and you learn to get out of their way fast as they drag their possessions through the tight aisles or you WILL be mowed down.

Playing the “laowai” card, we go to the VIP gate and talk our way through feigning ignorance of the real process of waiting with the masses streaming through the regular gates.  We board the first class car and settle in for the four hour ride to Beijing.  Strap on the air masks and off we go!