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Chaoyang Park

Time to catch up a bit. Here are pictures from when I was here in Beijing by myself.

This is the biggest restaurant I’ve ever seen. It was around the corner from our temp housing. It’s the size of a hotel. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a website to send. But I poked my head in and looked around. There are a bunch of different rooms, all opulent in varying styles. There are lots of tanks of live seafood. Yo upick what you want to eat. I was too chicken to actually eat there. I’m not much into delicacies, and I wasn’t sure how much it would cost–sometimes places like this are off the charts.

On one of my walks I walked through Chaoyang Park, which is the big city park. This is the "you are here" map.


A bunch more pictures from the park follow.










They like flower patches.












I’m sure there’s some significance to this, but not sure what.











Don’t forget to throw your trash in the dustbin.












I think there was a wedding going on here when I walked by.











People love kites here. This dude is just chilling, flying his kite, which is so far away as to be a spec. They use spools of string that are like 12"+ in diameter, much bigger than the simple ball of kite string most kids in US use.























There were a variety of group activities going on in the park. You can’t really tell from this picture, but this was some sort of kids English summer camp program. On the whiteboard the instructor had written "She sells seashells by the seashore", and kids were coming up and trying to say it. Pretty funny.





Yet another English group, this time older people. Apparently Amway has nothing to do with the Amway we knew in USA.










Oddly, some sections of the park were eerily vacant, despite being a Saturday afternoon in the summer. This place looked like it should have had lots of people eating outside.








An interesting structure that I couldn’t figure out what the function was. Behind it you can see a ride from the small amusement park.









Chinese love their dragons. Even the toddler section has dragon theme.











And some of those blow-up jumping things were in the trees, which provide some much needed shade.










There were a few of these mini-soccer fields, each one individually fenced. All seemed pretty well used.










More flowers. This time in log flower beds. Oh wait, those aren’t logs. They’re concrete.











Um, what’s a ski rink??? I’ll have to go back in winter and see what that’s about.










On the edge of the park–"MASH tents" of workers who live here while they work here.










What’s interesting about this picture? They’re doing a heavy-duty construction project, and there’s no heavy machinery around. Labor is cheap.









Nice big decorate rock. Wait a second… there’s a hole in the rock!











 I think I’m running into some limit for pictures in a post. LiveWriter wont’ let me add any more. To be continued…

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Money Money Money

This may or may not be interesting to others, but I found it a bit interesting. The unit of currency in China is RMB (also sometimes referred to as CNY, Chinese Yuan). 1RMB is about $0.13. The discreet values for which units of currency exist are .1, .2, .5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100. That is, from $0.013 – $13. The confusing thing is that there are bills all the way down to .1RMB, although it’s uncommon to see bills below .5RMB. So there are bills and coincs for the same values. Also, the currency below 1 RMB is measured in "jiao". So a .5 Yuan bill will say 5 Jiao instead of 5 Yuan. But to a casual visitor, it still looks like a "5" bill. And some taxi drivers have been known to capitalize on the confusion. The colors are also similar. The shapes, however, are not. The larger the denomination, the larger the bill. Because the highest bill is only $13, and because the economy is so cash-based, it’s not uncommon to see huge amounts of cash at places like the bank. People will walk out with a small sack full of cash, and it looks like a bank robbery or something. We recently bought some airplane tickets online, and even though we bought them online, we still had to pay cash for them, which we did by some kid riding over on a bike and picking up the money. Four tickets @ like $600 a pop turned out to be like 18,000RMB, which means 180 100RMB bills. One common skill you’ll find in China that you won’t find in the US is the ability to quickly and accurately count money. They have a certain way of holding and counting the bills that actually takes practice. I can’t do it. It reminds me of when I was in Korea. Very similar. One thing I haven’t seen here, though, are the abacuses (abacii?). At larger institutions, like banks, they have money counters, but it’s kinda funny how they "check" the money counters by manually counting as well. Again, reminded me of Korea where they checked the calculators with abacuses.

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Yeah, we’re in our apartment now. We’re still not quite settled, since we don’t have a closet in the master, or a closet or dresser for Sam. So there are suitcases/clothes everywhere. More details later, but here are a few pictures of the place our real estate agent took before we moved in.

Funky light over the kitchen table. Almost every place I looked at had bizarre lights.












One of our, rock hard beds. I’ve never felt harder beds in my life. They don’t do the box springs/mattress combo like we do in the States. We broke down and had to get mattress pads from Ikea. Huge difference.











Not the best picture of the view, but it is one. Better one later…











Our place is the only place I found that has a nice built-out closet like this. This room is actually originally the "ayi" room, for a live in helper. It’s fairly common to find these rooms, but they’re ridiculously small, like 50 square feet. But I really like how the landlord built ours out. I didn’t see that in any of the dozens of other apartments I looked at. These apartment have so little storage that a storage room like this makes a huge difference.












Landlord has interesting taste in lights. This is in the living room. It doesn’t put out much light, but makes interesting shadows.











The main furniture was provided by landlord. Many places had hideous furniture, but this place wasn’t too bad. The landlord is form Hong Kong, and has a clue about modern tastes. There are now a couple pictures up, but it’s still pretty minimalist, which is fine for me.









There’s now a rug there as well.

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Random Pictures

I just realize I can change the layout to give this more width. Much better. I still don’t understand why it won’t expand to fill the width of the browser, but baby steps I guess.

There are lines of taxi at common pick-up locations. To save gas, these guys push their cars up the line rather than drive.











I call these MASH tents. You see them in all sorts of places. This one is actually next to a construction project of an ultra-modern  building (not that you could tell from the scaffolding of the building). Workers actually live there while working on the project. Workers come from outside the city, and just live on-site. I’d hazard a guess that they don’t make too much money.









When I first saw this, I was just walking around the city. It was actually a very sunny day, and this seemed like an excellent source of shade, albeit one over-engineered by a few orders of magnitude. The thing is enormous. I didn’t know it at the time, but we eventually picked an apartment complex to live in that is right behind this. On both sides are buildings that make up a mall. The mall is also underground, thus connecting what seem to be disconnected buildings from the surface.

So I was back at the apartment for one final look before signing a contract, and after I was done, I came back here to find a restaurant for dinner. I was completely blown away to discover that the shade structure is actually… (scroll down)












the largest video display I’ve ever seen! And facing downward no less. It was hard to find an angle that really showed the scale. I’m not sure even this does it.











Beijing has an interesting concept of grass. To be fair, I have seen some real grass, but this kind of "grass" is also very common. Thousands of plugs, all planted one-by-one by hand.










Um, why are there some windows knocked out in this building? There haven’t been any storms recently. It’s not a rough neighborhood. In fact, why is the whole building fenced off? Well, it’s vacant, that’s why? "But it looks new!" That’s right. I’ve seen a fair number of buildings that looks fairly new, but are unoccupied, and look to have never been occupied. I don’t know the full story, but piecing together stories that I’ve heard, there’s some corruption around construction loans where if you know the right banker, you can get a construction loan, and then later default on it when the building is almost done, with no negative repercussions. More on corruption later.





There are many ways to get around town. Bus is by far the most common. That’s seen anyway. I haven’t tried the taxi yet, as it’s not convenient from my temp housing. Bicycles are also extremely common. I need to get a good picture showing how many there are. Imagine there’s a bike race going on all the time, and that’s about how many bikes there are. The are also lots of taxis of course. Thankfully they’re plentiful enough that they’re pretty easy to get. Taxis actually come in a number of varieties. Regular cars are on the high end. Below that you have motorcycles with compartments, like the one in the picture. Well, not really like this one. This is the nicest one I’ve seen, which is why I took the picture. The is like the Mercedes of cycle cabs.





There’s a street near me called (I’m not making thus up) "Super Bar Street" with (you guessed it) a bunch of bars and restaurants. On my way back from dinner, this particular bar cracked me up. Somehow I think a bar called GUNMAN BAR with a neon dude holding an assault rifle wouldn’t fly too well in the States. You probably won’t see this bar on the tourist circuit.








The Chinese have some way cool inventions. Check out the amazing folding fork! And it comes with the ramen no less! Now that’s progress. Also, I was shocked in the elevator at work. One of the features that I’ve been saying for years that elevators should have is the ability to UNpress a button if it was pressed by mistake. Well, my building has it. If you push a floor that’s already lit, it flashes for a few seconds. If you don’t press it again, it goes back to just lit (no change). But if you press it again while it’s flashing (i.e. twice in a row) then it goes off. Genius!












"Bottled water is for drinking only, please do not use it for humidifier." Everything seems policed at work. This is a completely different feel from MS in Redmond. In Beijing, I can’t get cups, napkins, plates/forks/utensils, notebooks, pens, etc. without knowing the secret person and the secret password. They’re literally locked. Oh, and the uniformed guard that stands full-time next to the receptionist adds to that feeling as well. The funny thing about the water (and all drinks) is that there’s barely anything in the fridge (they stock it with a strict limited supply every morning, to control the amount that gets consumed), but at "important" meetings with managers, the "ayis" bring individual cans of drinks into the meetings for people. Like, wouldn’t it have been easier for me to just get my own drink (if there still were any) frim the fridge before the meeting? But no, that’s not possible, because I know neither the secret code nor the secret handshake. These drinks they bring do not come merely form the fridge. These come from a special reserve somewhere saved especially for meetings.








There are lot of random little things which I find cool or interesting, such as this glass lazy susan, and the glass bowl on top that not only has liquid and flowers in the bowl, meaning on top of the bowl, but also liquid and flowers in the bowl meaning fully contained inside the bowl itself.









Interesting little park (Ritan Park) where apparently men come and hang out and fish. This park is a few blocks from where we’ll live.











Same park. Different pond.












There’s an enormous walled-in bricked area in the park. I’m not sure for what. There’s a platform in the middle, like for some center of attention, but small enough that I can’t imagine it being for any kind of performance other than maybe speech. I think nowadays maybe people just fly kites in there or something. Because of the wall, I couldn’t get the whole thing. This is only about 1/2.








One of the exits to the above area:












And an exit to the park itself:












And last but not least for today, Beijing is interesting in that it is growing up so fast. There lots of cool modern buildings and places. But they’re strewn all over the city, leaving pockets of older areas sitting around, waiting to be leveled for the next skyscraper. As I left the park and continued my walk, I passed this, which only seemed interesting because there are decent buildings right nearby. Obviously they’re vacant (I assume).

Oh yeah, also note the bicycle with the cart on the back. These are extremely common. You see them everywhere.

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Live Writer Results

The editing was ok. But I’m still not happy with image support. Live Writer has an option where you can upload the full resolution images (which open in a new window when you click them), but when I published my last entry, I got:

Isn’t that lovely. So now I do have inline images, but still not full resolution ones. Not sure where to go from here. Suggestions welcome.

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Live Writer

Ok, I’m trying this post in Windows Live Writer, currently in beta. Supposedly it will make using inline photos easier. Here’s a test post.

Ok, this is a picture of a crazy place next to where our apartment is going to be. I just took it the other night when I was there to check thing out. Basically, it’s a big mall that looks like it’s mostly an outdoor mall (like Redmond Town Center for the Redmond folks), but actually it also goes beneath the central outdoor plaza, connecting the buildings that surround it (not sure that made sense). Anyway, the point of this picture is that in the plaza there’s a gargantuan structure that when I first saw it in the daytime I thought it was just for shade. But it turns out that at night it turns into a tv (there are huge speakers too) facing down! This is easily the largest display I’ve ever seen, at roughly 10x Times Square display (although it’s been a while since I’ve been there). 

I have to nuke the background image of the blog, because it really makes inline images look bad. I wish they could not blend images with the background. Oh well. But supposedly you can preserve original image resolution if you click on the image. Here goes…

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Hot business idea: Chinese bicycle helmet company

I have no idea if tere is such a company, but right now they’re not making any money. I see thousands of people riding bikes everyday everywhere, and I can’t recall ever seeing someone (other than the oddball foreigner) wearing a helmet. But you know what? Traffic is pretty crazy here. As remarkable as people here are to keep things moving in what appears to be total chaos, sometimes it is just that. Especially when it gets dark and there are still bicycles whirring about. And for a second assume that they have lights or reflective gear. Oh no. On my walk home from dinner tonight, I walked in front of an alley with a truck pulling out, and as the truck pulled out behind me, pop, it hit a woman (in her 50’s it looked like) on a bike. The truck wasn’t going terribly fast, but fast enough that the woman couldn’t avoid. She didn’t appear to be terribly injured, but she did hit her head on the street. I actually wanted to help, but being the only foreigner around, and not speaking the language, I wasn’t sure what I could/should do. It was kinda weird in that no one wanted to get involved. I stood around long enough to make sure that she got some attention, but I got the impression that once she got maybe a little first aid, that was the end of that. I don’t think these kinds of incidents are terribly uncommon, nor do I think there’s any consequence for the driver or the company behind the truck. In China it feels like every man (and woman) for themself. I could be wrong–it’s just my impression. Anyway, I remember about a dozen years ago when bike helmets became mandatory in Washington State, and the lobbyists against the idea complained that it would only make the helmet companies rich. I can only imagine what would happen when China finally decides the safety of its people is worth enforcing, and all of a sudden 1 billion people are the market for a bike helmet. Chaching.
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Back To The Future, Part 2

I found this one too. It’s even older than the previous one.

I’ve been really enjoying the single life. No, not in that way. I’ve been enjoying doing a lot of walking, exploring the city. I’ll walk to various restaurants for dinner, and on the weekends I’ll go on looong walks around the city. Like 10 miles or so. I just like seeing stuff. Nothing in particular. No agenda. No destination. Just a map in my pocket so hopefully I can get back where I started. And my Zen to keep the tunes flowing. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea of the area after talking 3 or 4 walks in different directions. That’s something I never could have done with the family. I can walk as fast as I want, as far as I want, and stop at anything and everything that looks interesting, for as little or as long as I like. It’s a bizarre feeling. The days seem sooo long. I’ll certainly enjoy tootling around with the fam, but I’ll miss this too.


Beijing is known for its food. I’ve had a lot of great food. I’ve also had some not-so-great food. I’ve found that when I’m with someone that knows what they’re ordering, we usually come out ok. When I go in a non-Chinese restaurant, I always come out ok. It’s when I walk into a Chinese restaurant solo that I sometimes have problems. First of all, anything that doesn’t have pictures on the menu is out, obviously. And it’s not easy to figure that out since I have no idea how to ask to see a menu before I go in. Maybe I need to figure that one out. But I walked into a hotpot place the other day (I didn’t realize it was a hotpot place before going in—it just looked like a nice restaurant). Most Chinese restaurants that have English on the menu have a “sort of” version of English. So for my hotpot, I ordered some seafood balls and chicken. I should have known better than to order the chicken. China has a way of making me lose interest in chicken. Their idea of chicken is to gut the chicken, then carefully slice it up and server it on a plate so that it still looks like the chicken—skin, bones, head, feet, and all. And they’re so scrawny that you have to put whole pieces with bones in your mouth and try to gnaw off a little meat. Sorry, but that just doesn’t do it for me. Anyway, so I’m sitting at my table, with the entire wait staff staring at me, and one of them motions to my fork with regard to the seafood balls. So I figured that I guess those weren’t for the hotpot after all. Must be an appetizer or something. So I popped one in. Oops. They were for the hotpot alright. In fact they were still half frozen. I suffered through it and ate it, despite one of the wait staff motioning (while the rest were laughing) that it would be ok to spit it out. Half-way done with my meal, they brought the menu back, and I finally realized they were trying to get me to order some vegetables. I assumed that they were included, but no. Well, since I was half done, and I wasn’t enjoying it too much anyway (if only because the staring from whole staff was getting old) I passed and just hurried out.


I’ve had some really good non-Chinese food. I’ve had great Indian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Israeli, African, etc. Actually, the other Asian foods are hit & miss. If you get authentic, it’s really good. But there are some places where they’re Chinese run, and they’re not so good. I recently went to a Korean restaurant that won the “Best Korean Food in Beijing” from the international reader’s poll (Han Na Shan). It’s a big chain, and if all restaurants are like the one I went to, the restaurants are both huge and packed. The Chinese love this stuff. The only problem is, it’s horrible by Korean standards. E place that Hedi & I went to, no one spoke Korean. That’s a bad sign. It was the same for Han Na Shan. It’s also a bad sign when there’s no Korean on the building, which was the case for Han Na Shan. Ugh. But I tried a place right next to my apartment that was run by Korean (at least the manager spoke Korean) and it was much better. Large variety of good banchan (the free small appetizers that just come—you don’t order them), even for just me (like 6-8 dishes before the main dish). Han Na Shan had nothing but a tiny dish of bad kimchee and soggy cucumber. Ugh. There are tons of Koreans here, so I’m sure there are more good Korean restaurants. I just have to ask them to find them. I’ve given up on the restaurant guide, as the only decent Korean food I’ve had was not listed in the guide, while both of the bad restaurants are. This is the beauty of staying for a couple years. It gives us time to discover the city.


Like I was saying, I’ve had some really great food too. My apartment is surrounded with a huge number of great restaurants of international origins. The Indian food here is better than most Indian food I’ve had in the States. More variety, more flavor. The Israeli place was simply amazing. I got a combo pita + shwarma thing, and I expected the pita to maybe come with some hummus or something. When it came, I thought there must be some mistake, because the pitas came with like 10 side dishes. It was soooo good. Again, more flavor than US restaurants. I took a picture. I could eat that every day. I don’t only because there are so many places to try, and I like experimenting. The African place also rocked. I was a little timid on the ordering. I didn’t quite go for the alligator tongue or the Rocky Mountain Oysters (yes, they were really called that on the menu, and yes, they really were testicals). But I had some samosas (I can never pass up samosas) that were very different form the Indian ones I’ve had. But the best part was a freshly made fruity chutney that was absolutely killer. The African place was totally Africa, including a thatched roof, which was apparently imported from Africa, along with everything else in the restaurant. Te restaurant is part of some agreement with China/African governments to build relations. Whatever—the food is good! Oh, every table also had one of those (I’m not sure what the correct term is, so I’ll just call it…) big bong things. You can apparently order whatever you want to smoke at the table. Same story for Indian food. I took a picture of one place that such cool tables, with various ingredients embedded in them. One downside of the places run by non-Chinese is that they tend to be much more expensive than Chinese places.


How cheap is Chinese food? Let’s put it in perspective. At the hotel where I stayed, the small bottled water containers were 30RMB, or about $4, each. While walking around Shanghai I ate at a nice restaurant I found that had western food. I hadn’t tried western food here yet, so I was curious what they could do with it. Not expecting much, I was surprised that the food was actually really good. I was starving after a lot of walking around Shanghai, so I pigged out, ordering a chicken/mango salad, strawberry smoothie, salmon/spinach pasta, and coconut crème brulee for desert. Total damage after tax & tip: 46RMB, or about $6. There’s a food court kinda place near my Shanghai hotel where I’ve eaten a few times, where they serve real food (unlike food courts in US malls). Today I got a beef/veggie/rice thing cooked and served in a huge leaf for 15RMB (less than $2). But stuff in Beijing has been a bit more expensive. Not sure why—maybe I haven’t found the good places yet. Oh, speaking of which…


A coworker took me out to lunch at a really fancy place that used to be home to imperial servants. It’s a residential place, where each table is in its own room. Before ordering, he asks me, “is there anything you don’t eat?” Warning to anyone who ever receives this question in China: it’s a trick question. I said no, not really. I’m not a big fan of shell fish, but I eat it. I had also been in China long enough to know to tell him that I’m not a big fan of head, feet, or skin. Bones I can work around. Great, so off he went ordering. When the first dish came, it looked interesting, so I asked him what it was. Goose lung. Oh. Um. I guess I forgot to mention I’m not a big fan of goose lung either. Actually, I ate it and it wasn’t bad. When I was younger I wouldn’t have been able to pop one in my mouth knowing what it was. My time in Korea helped with that (for which I’m very thankful). Another interesting dish was black chicken soup. Not blackened chicken. Black chicken. The meat is actually black naturally. It’s some funky kind of exotic chicken. There were some other bizarre things which I can’t remember anymore.


Some of the things you see on menus is just amazing. I’ve asked some Chinese folks if it’s for real, and it is. And a lot of it they just serve on sticks on the street, kinda like how you get a hot dog in NYC. One of the things I saw in my guide, which I wasn’t sure how common it was (or whether real at all), but I saw for myself: goat penis. There’s a reason I limit my Chinese food to places with English on the menu!

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Back To The Future

Flashback time: I just found this in my Drafts folder. I wrote this about 4 weeks ago. better late than never I suppose…

I’m leaving this Thursday to go back to USA for a few weeks, mainly to help the fam get moved out of the house, and then spend some time with family before we all head back out. Hedi & the kids haven’t come over yet. They’re waiting for the school year to get out.


The biggest thing I have to get done in the next few days is get our apartment selected and secured. This has been a very difficult problem. There are a couple factors, mainly revolving around school location and work location. Both are in Beijing, but the city is huge, and they’re quite far apart. Actually, even before that, we had to decide where the kids would go to school. This was also a very hard decision, because while there are some good international schools, most of them are out in the boonies in a community called Shunyi. It’s basically a community that sprang up for expats, and expats only. It’s literally about a dozen little neighborhoods with American style homes, in cookie cutter fashion, all jammed together. Ugh. We really don’t want to live in a compound of foreigners who try to pretend they don’t live in China. If we’re going to live in China, I want to dive in head first and live right in the heart of the city. Ok, that’s also a fairly expat life, since the apartment is well out of reach of middle class Chinese, but at least it’s in the heart of the city, with China literally all around us. So we decided on Beijing City International School, which is the most downtown of any international school. It’s a nice new campus, going into only its third year. They have school buses which go to most of the main apartment complexes. I really don’t want the kids to spend a huge amount of time on a school bus, so we’re going to live close to the school. Only thing is, the school is on the complete opposite side of the city as my work. So my commute is going to be, um, challenging. I might try the subway, but I think the likely thing is that I’ll break down and hire a driver, so I can at least work in the car and work shorter hours. The kids bus ride will be about 10 minutes. My commute will be about 90 minutes. But there’s lots of stuff around us, so we’ll enjoy being in the city on weekends. One thing we’ll miss (I will at least) is being part of the kids sports leagues. No baseball, soccer, baseball, etc. We could have all that if we lived up in Shunyi, but it’s not practical from where we’ll live. Plus, to maximize our experience here, I want to get out and see/do stuff on the weekends.


So while I’ve picked the apartment complex, I still need to figure out the exact unit. Apartments here are all individually owned, so you have negotiate with each landlord on price and terms, so it’s not easy to simply compare different units, even when they’re vacant. While many units come furnished, we’re picky enough that we don’t like virtually all of the furnishings. Apparently it’s common to roll in a furniture allowance into the rent, and then we can pick our own stuff. I think that’s what we’ll do. Hedi doesn’t trust me to pick it (probably rightly so), so we’ll wait until she’s here, which means we’ll be without furniture for a month or so, which is how long it takes to get, according to the preferred supplier I talked with.


I’ll be relieved once I get that figured out.

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