Our China adventure published. A dream realized.

Cross that off the bucket list-publish book.  When we moved to Shanghai in 2013, I started a blog to stay in touch with family and record our adventures.  It grew into a daily rhythm to capture the craziness that was our daily life in China.  Soon, people from around the world started reaching out to me for advice:  Where can I get dog food?  Should I bring my own mattress or buy one there? Where should I live if I have kids?  Is the pollution really bad?  Why yes, it is.  Now you know.  The lungs don’t lie.  Buy a mask and wear it.

When my transfer details were finally worked out and I accepted the offer, I immediately went online and looked for blogs or books to get a feel for what our new normal would feel like.  I would be a female executive navigating through the Chinese business world while Thom adjusted to being a trailing spouse.  I was disappointed to only find guide books primarily aimed at tourists.  I was going to become a local expat and needed a source of truth to turn to that would help guide me through all the unexpected challenges from walking down the street without getting run over (truly a challenge daily!) to opening a bank account and being surprised they still used an abacus to conduct transactions.  WTF.

We relied on our Chinese tutor, Fiona, to guide us through many obstacles and just explored through fearless curiosity daily in our quest to not live in the typical expat bubble and instead venture out into the real China.  Daily we learned and as our confidence grew, Thom took off on a bike to explore and take beautiful photos and I jumped on the bullet train to commute to Beijing and Nanjing for work on a regular basis.

As a result, our blog posts and photos chronicled a journey that few folks get to take.  Those that are lucky enough to live in China can use our lessons learned to adjust quickly and with less pain than we went through at times.  Not that we didn’t love living there because we did.  We would walk down the Bund, climb the Great Wall (4x) and pinch ourselves.  “We live in China!”  It never got old and we miss our life and the people there.  The pollution, not so much.

Pulling these stories all together after we returned home to Seattle was Thom’s year-long journey.  Who knew it was so hard to edit a book?  I swear every time we thought we had all the spacing, spelling and template formatting just the way we wanted it, we found more opportunities to improve and had to change it.  FINALLY, we hit the button and made my frustrated inner writer very, very happy when Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again:  Our Year as Expats in China became a reality.

Will anyone read it?  Maybe.  My mom will.  The aunt of a guy I met at a friend’s party who just moved to Shanghai to work for Intel will.  Who knows, maybe other people?  Making money and world publishing dominance was never the impetus for writing this book.  Sharing our adventures, recounting our tales so our granddaughter, Mia, will know that her GiGi and NaiNai were crazy world travelers while she was just being born as well as helping other expats adjust to life in China were the main objectives so we are happy.  Back in Seattle, we are always looking for the next adventure.  A vacation to Ireland is coming up soon and then possible work travel to India and Europe.  Would we move abroad again?  You never know.  Life is short.


Our Ayi, Pink, and our Chinese tutor, Fiona


Excercise in the Park-2
My new friend and I exercising in the park.
Sweet Potato-7071
Sweet Potato Lady

Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China”  is available here-looks best in color versions vs. Kindle b/w due to photos:

Softcover book: http://www.blurb.com/b/7250489-seattle-to-shanghai-and-back-again

eBook: http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/588686

Amazon Kindle: Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC46Dht4h7e7Tebgx6Ri9tMA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seattletoshanghai/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/seattletoshanghaiandbackagain/

Other blogs on WordPress: https://alleyesonshanghai.com/2016/03/24/seattle-to-shanghai-and-back-again/


Shanghai Farewell Tour-Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

I know it’s cliché but we just had to go to one of the tourist shows they put on in Beijing. I had a recommendation from a local that The Legend of Kungfu at the Red Theatre was one to experience. So, off we went to check it out.

Thom, Patti & Larry pose in front of the Kung Fu boy at Red Theater in Beijing
Thom, Patti & Larry pose in front of the Kung Fu boy at Red Theater in Beijing

Arriving early (you never know with Beijing traffic so you leave early and hope to get there on time), we wandered the gift shops and took photos of the young boy sitting on the throne outside the entrance. Finding a place to relax on a balcony, Thom and Patti quickly took off their shoes and let the massage chairs get to work on their tired feet after walking all day. Ahhhh…..never mind who else had their feet in their recently, all hygiene was forgotten and pulsating commenced until the show began.

This is the "Thom walked my ass all over China" look on Patti's face
This is the “Thom walked my ass all over China” look on Patti’s face

We had paid about $55 US for our Row 16 middle seats and, as the primarily Western tour group population filed in, we were quickly surrounded by a full theater. With a pulsating beat on the wood blocks by multiple bald Kung Fu dudes placed around the sides of the theater, the show began with lots of strobe lights, fog and action. The loose story was about a boy being tested by hard challenges and bewitched by a beautiful fairy (why are women always the troublemakers??) before he could practice Kungfu and Zen to become a master and ascend to the sacred goal of enlightenment with the obligatory old dude with super long goatee to champion his efforts and teach him the wise ways of the world.

The best parts for me were the incredible acrobatic action between the couple twirling high above the stage by holding only fabric panels and then when he did the feats of various incredibly sharp objects being jammed onto his body. Who knows how they withstand that pressure but perhaps abs of steel??? Looked painful to me but made for good theater and probably some bruises.

The Young Man is tested by many challenges in his Kung Fu journey
The Young Man is tested by many challenges in his Kung Fu journey

At the end, you were allowed onstage with the actors to take photos if you bought some outrageously overpriced gifts in the shop. We made haste and just took some photos of the group by the stage and then walked the dark streets begging for a cab to take us home. Amazingly, Thom flagged one down who, of course, had turned off the meter and charged us double for the ride. When in Beijing and it’s dark, you do not argue. You just hand over the RMB and be happy you found a ride.

Cast members at end of show pose for pictures..if you buy something from their gift shop
Cast members at end of show pose for pictures..if you buy something from their gift shop

Shanghai Farewell Tour-Dancing in Beihai Park

Dancing is part of the fabric of Asian culture.  I love seeing the ladies dancing every night in pretty much any available space on our neighborhood sidewalks.  You go girls!  In the parks, couples glide gracefully around the pavement on weekends showing off their moves.  From Hanoi to Beijing to Shanghai to Ho Chi Minh City, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the action but never actively participating until this weekend.  FINALLY! Amazing what our impending move back to the U.S. will do to create a sense of urgency.

I felt the draw of the music and, along with my best friend Patti, who is visiting from the US, we jumped right in and joined the couples at Beihai Park in Beijing on a beautiful sunny Saturday. Thom never got the dancing gene so he took videos while Patti and I took a turn around the pavement.  To think that once we danced as children in our garage back in Indiana when we were growing up and now have the opportunity to waltz together around a Beijing park.  HOT DAMN LIFE IS GOOD! 

Despite having a ball, we were obviously the worst ballroom dancers on the pavement.  Practice makes perfect and I’m betting these folks are out weekly if not daily to get their groove on.  We got lots of stares, grins and the universal thumbs up but when we paused, one couple immediately approached us, pantomiming that the gentleman wanted to dance with Patti or I.  OF COURSE KIND SIR!

Smelling of tobacco and light on his feet, he guided me through the classic moves and off we twirled. I couldn’t help but watch his feet constantly so as to try and follow his lead but he firmly took hold of my hand and waist to guide me as well.   As anyone who knows me can attest, I don’t follow well or at all in any situation.  So, it was a miracle that I didn’t maim him as we moved around the park to the music.   Luckily I had on my trusty lightweight TOMS so I was relatively light on my feet and couldn’t hurt him too bad with my clumsiness.  Thom, Patti and Larry cheered us on and took lots of picture and video. 

As I ended our dance and gave him back to his much more talented partner, I gave him a huge thumbs up and thanked him for sharing this experience in Beihai Park, finally fulfilling a desire to dance like the locals.  Next step, jumping in with the ladies who dance nightly on the corner by my apartment.  I hope I can keep with them and that they are as welcoming to let us take part in their lovely dancing ritual.  Video to come–WHAT FUN!

Shanghai Farewell Tour-Great Wall v4.0

Crooked, sloping, uneven, and totally awesome-steps at the Great Wall
Crooked, sloping, uneven, and totally awesome-steps at the Great Wall

Luckily, I had to be in Beijing this week for business, so we made time to visit the Great Wall one last time–my fourth visit.  After a rainy travel day yesterday, today was blue skies, clean air and cool weather–WHAT??? IS THIS BEIJING, REALLY?  Patti and Larry, our visitors, think we are lying about the pollution in China because since they have come, it has been the best weather of the year.  Perfect time to visit China is late September/early October while the trees are still green, the coal heat isn’t being used yet and the fields of corn aren’t being burned yet after the harvest.  There is a this very narrow window of normality that I am sure all citizens rejoice and revel in.  I know we are!

So, we set out at 8 a.m. for the Great Wall with our driver, who saved our lives not once but TWICE when he swerved to avoid the crazy drivers who had missed their exit and then decided to dead stop on the highway to back up.  Thank you driver!  I was sitting in the middle of the back and holding onto Patti for dear life because I had no seat belt.  Safely arriving, the new Great Wall Guest Center was barely busy with all the new shop areas just coming to life.  They sadly are opening a Burger King in the complex-yuck!

Sharing the Great Wall with our friends, Patti & Larry, was awesome.
Sharing the Great Wall with our friends, Patti & Larry, was awesome.

After the lovely climb to the top on the ski lift, we climbed and enjoyed taking lots of pictures, though we can’t possibly take more than our local friends who can pose for what feels like hours when we are waiting to use the same space.  Get on with it, folks!  Snap the photos and move on.  One couple actually dragged the huge wedding dress to the top to take their wedding photos.  Can’t imagine the coordination or how the bride had to probably change into it to keep it clean.  Amazing what you will do for a cool wedding photo!

SO FUN!  Toboggan your way down the mountain!
SO FUN! Toboggan your way down the mountain!

After traipsing up and down the crooked, leaning, worn steps through several gatehouses, we proceeded to the most anticipated part of the trip–tobogganing down the mountain.  I’ve done this twice before and it is FUN!  The crazy local group who had hogged the best spot to take photos was just in front of us.  I warned our group to wait because I just knew they would stop mid-mountain to take a few photos and they surely did just that.  Thom was screaming at them to move on so we wouldn’t plow into them but we had to stop on the slide and wait them out.  A lovely couple from the Netherlands behind us thought me insensitive as I screamed at the top of my lungs, “GO.  DAMN. IT!” several times but I reassured them that I live in China and locals would only understand this type of communication.  Thom decided to let go of the brake and see how they liked to being bumped forward-the ugly NYC cab driver in him oozed out.  FINALLY, with us and the track workers yelling at them to “GO,GO, GO” they went, smiling all the way having held up dozens of people but they got their pictures and that’s all that mattered to them.

After some bargaining for more presents (Patti is getting as good or better than me!), we started on the two hour ride home-I won’t miss Beijing traffic for sure but I will miss the Great Wall.  There is nothing like it and I will always be in awe that I got to experience it not once but four times while I lived in China.  WOW!

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.

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!



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.

China Cross Country Commuting-Not for the faint of heart

Let me paint you a picture of a Chinese airport—it is one big ass smoking lounge because there are no rules against it, really just suggestions.  Watch where you walk too because, especially in the winter with everyone in China choking on the air,  the phlegm is flying everywhere.  Need a Peking duck or hairy crabs (in season only) to take home to Momma—no problem, whether fish or fowl, it can be purchased for gift giving at the airport.  The planes at least looked like familiar to their U.S. counterparts but that unnatural shaking that broke loose when we landed on the tarmac in Beijing made me wonder if these suckers were made of wood because it sounded like the nails were popping loose—get some super glue or wrap this baby in duct tape before I fly again please.  The bullet train is looking better all the time, though I was told that it flipped a few years ago killing many.  Choices, choices!

Making friends at 1 a.m. on bus to terminal

Finally landing in Beijing at 1 a.m. after the usual delays (I guess 80% or so of all flights are delayed due to unnaturally thick air or whatever) and expecting to walk into a terminal, I knew I was in trouble when the cold air hit me smelling like diesel fuel  and I realized the journey was far from over.

We were herded onto a packed bus to get to the terminal.  Joy!  This after my initiation into in-country air etiquette in China that dictates that you jump up instantly and jam the aisles with elbows out to gain position to push your way out.  It’s a game really and commuting on the subway every day makes me a player for this clusterf*&# of epic proportions.  A jab here and elbow there  plus the correct blocking style with my luggage and no one is getting around this little woman.

My oasis

Shanghai to Nanjing to Beijing and back.  For now, this will be a frequent circuit for me.  Of course this is China so commuting is an adventure every time with surprises along the way that make you say ahhhhhh.  Getting to the Grand Hyatt in Beijing, I staggered to the room and tried to calm down and get some sleep.  A beautiful hotel located near the Forbidden City, the pool is RIDICULOUS and like a tropical heaven.   Not that I thought of packing a swim suit or had time to relax but who knew that an oasis liked this could exist in cold, grey Beijing! I  can’t wait to go back in February and bring Thom along so he can walk to all his favorite hutongs and take photos of life in China.  That is, if I can get his ass off the pool lounger where I predict he will be residing especially once he learns that room service delivers poolside and the wifi is free.

Off with his head!

I also got to experience eating Peking Duck for the first time.  Lucky me got a prime seat across from the open air kitchen at Made In China, the really gorgeous hotel restaurant that is famous for this dish.  The whole process from oven to table is very ceremonial.  The browned duck is swung out of the wood stocked fire pit by the chef and, in front of the viewing window with great fanfare, he deftly sliced off the duck’s head and instantly the dam broke loose and tons of fluid gushed out of the bird.  Yum!  Drained dry, the waiter then brings the carcass to the table and slices it up for you to eat with little pancakes and various accoutrements like plum sauce/ginger/cucumber/sugar/mustard.  Avian Flu be damned—I ate me some crispy duck and I liked it.  I am trying to be more  adventurous in my food choices as I haven’t projectile vomited for awhile so I think it’s overdue.  Who knows—maybe I’ll try the scorpions next!  I am sure in Vietnam, where we are going next week, there will be an opportunity to try out crazy stuff.  Stay tuned!

Hopefully, we will survive the firecrackers tonight on Chinese New Year and the ensuing pollution.  So far a few have gone off sounding like rapid gun fire and the pollution is so bad I can’t see across the river.  Multiply that by a thousand and I hear that is what we will be experiencing.  Thom vows to run out and take photos of the chaos but I am staying inside and will emerge only if my wine runs out.  Cheers!