October 10, 2009

Back in Town

Over There, originally uploaded by Awreye.


I've returned and am breathing Beijing's polluted air once more. The blogging moratorium was due to my summer travel craziness (trips spanning two continents, several beaches, one desert and many a rainy clime). While most Beijingers fled town during the National Day holiday, I stayed, watched the military parade on television and chilled at the Modern Sky Festival.

Beijing, it's good to be back...well, good until the Beijing Cough knocks me out again and the 53rd time someone's spit lands 3 inches from my foot. Until then, let's hug.

June 18, 2009

Today's air at 4:40pm

Today's air at 4:40pm, originally uploaded by Awreye.

This is not fog. I am breathing this as I type this entry. This is bad, even for Beijing.

What is this air doing to my body? Oddly enough I neither coughed today nor have much trouble breathing. Does this mean I've 100% acclimated to this city's air pollution soup? Oh dear.

June 16, 2009

Step on Carpet

Trippy lights, originally uploaded by Awreye.

I remember standing on Georgio ordering a gin and tonic at BLVD last fall. Thought "how odd, even for New York" for a second before the bartender helped me balance on the lumpy carpet.

I haven't seen anyone like him here when I'm out and about (yet). Admittedly I haven't seen much of the nightlife in Beijing, but perhaps this is a little too much for this city. Oh, I miss the nightlife eccentrics from home!

June 14, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #17

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 10
pints of Tsingtao consumed: 8
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 1
visits made to the Vietnam embassy: 1
hours spent KTV-ing: 3

June 3, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #16

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 4
pints of Tsingtao consumed: 0
delicious passionfruit cocktails sipped at my new favorite bar: 2
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 1
hours spent watching Carmen performed in Chinese at the Egg: 3
walked over bridges carrying me over swampy Baiyangdian waters: at least 8

Not so long ago

One year and one day ago my plane touched down in Beijing, the last stop on my two week, four stop tour of China. The last time I visited this city was 13 years ago. Needless to say, the city had changed quite a bit since then.

My memories of that first trip are a blur of awe at the vastness of the Forbidden Palace, pain from walking the long boulevard of Chang'an Avenue and "wow, things are so different from home" observations like the elderly men in their open-air hair salons (basically a stool parked oustide the red wall of the Palace) beckoning to passerbys.

Fast forward to 2008. I was balancing a mojito on my knee while lounging in Bed Bar, when a member of our group mentioned that today was the 19th anniversary. Floored that I had completely forgotten the significance of that day (encouraged no doubt by its complete lack of mention in the local media), I and that member hailed a cab bound for Tiananmen to check out the scene.

As we approached a few minutews past midnight, we were greeted by silence. No signs of rememberance existed. A few guards watched a handful of tourists snap portraits of themselves under the watchful gaze of Mao's portrait and harsh street lamps. That's it.

Will I feel the same emptiness tomorrow?

May 30, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #15

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 8
pints of Tsingtao consumed: 2
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 2
cost of my new bike: US$20
hours spent at the Intro 2009: Beijing Electronic Music Festival before it was shut down by the police: 5

May 25, 2009

You know summer is here when. . .

Exposed Belly, originally uploaded by nataliebehring.com.

. . .the menfolk start rolling up their shirts and exposing their bellies. Today I saw many a pale belly leading the way for its owner on the sidewalks from Wangfujing to Wudaokou. I've yet to see this hot look on the streets of New York (yet).

In contrast the womenfolk keep their bodies under wraps. Despite today's 86 degree F weather, I saw women wearing shorts with tights and socks with high-heeled sandals. Women of China, it is way too hot to be modest and layering up. Be free and be cool! Let your sweat run free.

May 19, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #14

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 11
pints of Tsingtao consumed: 2
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 1
time spent climbing Hongluo (Red Snail) Mountain: 1.2 hours
filled seats in Megabox, theater where I saw J.J. Abrams's Star Trek: 25%

May 13, 2009

Book Cart Binge-ing

Beijing is a relatively dry city so street vendors abound. Selling ceramic coffee cups, Communist propaganda posters, toothbrush holders shaped like Hello Kitty and everything in between, I can browse, haggle and buy to my consumer heart's content. And this heart has a weakness for books.

Thankfully some book vendors have a few English language titles in their bicycle-drawn carts. Despite having two unread books from my previous book cart binge, I bypassed Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series and Barack Obama biographies and picked up three books. Today's loot: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (read it many times but gave my old copy to a co-worker), What Would Machiavelli Do? by Stanley Bing and delightfully trashy chick lit Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Three books for 28 RMB. A fair price? At least it's cheaper than The Bookworm's wares.

I remember a time when Eat, Pray, Love was the book to read in New York. Subway cars were lined with women clutching the overhead railing with one hand and a paperback copy of that book in another. Recommended to me by a particularly sensitive masseuse during a wine-and-spa weekend in Sonoma, this bestseller helped galvanize me into making some life-changing decisions, one of which led me here.

The Week in Numbers - #13

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 13
pints of Tsingtao consumed: 1
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 3 (jeez, I'm not doing so well here)
Bon Jovi songs I rocked during Saturday night KTV: 2
hours spent browsing and trying on summery dresses at the new H&M store on Qianmen Street: 2

May 12, 2009


Earlier this year my mom and a Portland friend sent me care packages filled with goodies: MTA subway map, Stumptown coffee, Brooklyn Industries t-shirts, earplugs, Dayquil. Yay! But when I am asked on the spot "what can I send you from home?" my mind usually goes blank. Everything is seemingly Made in China, so what do I possibly need from the US which I can't get here? So I started keeping notes about items, which I've needed or miss from home, and can't purchase readily or of a good quality.

On the list so far:
anti-perspirant that actually works and passes the black dress test
delicious cheese (not that sliced crap in the supermarket)
freshly made pesto
electroluminescent wire
spray foam
a superb croissant
Brooklyn Beer on tap
a straight answer (the chabudou, vague answers drive me nuts sometimes)
fitted bed sheets

While I can probably find the food and personal care items from Jenny Lou's, a supermarket which imports many of their goods from US and Europe and sells them at a significant mark-up, part of me balks at paying US$15 for a small container of jarred pesto with an expiration date of 6 months (ew).

I'm going to compare notes with other expat friends to see what is on their "missing from home" list. Wow, many of these items are food-related. This is probably due to my skipping dinner tonight. Based on the items on my list, it would seem that I am a starving, sweaty woman. So attractive.

May 7, 2009

Cute I am Not

How did it come to this? I walked by a street vendor two days ago selling t-shirts emblazoned with the usual assortment of NYPD logos, Chinglish statements and cutesy pandas. My eye picked out a tee with 4 Hello Kitties wearing Kiss-style makeup. The headline: Hello Kissy.

Usually my brain would simply register, "aww, how cute." But two days ago my brain also registered, "aww, how cute. let me buy one." Whaaaaa? I almost never wear these kind of tees with logos and fluffy animals, so why is my brain immediately jumping to how awesome I would look in it? Has exposure to millions of folks wearing such tees with bedazzled jeans affected my sense of perspective? China, what are you doing to my sense of personal style?!

P.S. Last month I gave into the "aww...buy" instinct with a gray t-shirt dotted with sushi rolls and "I heart sushi." Not a purchase I would have made in New York. I don't even heart sushi in real life, but the tee was so darn adorable.

The Week in Numbers - #12

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 3
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 2
nights I spent sleeping a yurt: 1 bitterly cold one
hours riding in a cramped minibus: 19
hot pot dinners consumed: 3 (I think that I'm officially over my hot pot obsession)

April 30, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #11

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 10
time it took me to consume one bottle of brewed-in-Oregon Dead Guy Ale: 30 minutes
video game consoles used to make Friday night dance music: 1 first gen Game Boy
times I broke my vow to never eat in the same restaurant: 2
potentially awesome business idea discussed over post-dim sum coffee: 1

April 29, 2009

First Impressions

When I travel to a new city, I first notice these things: cleanliness of public areas, transportation options, pedestrian-friendliness and amount of dog poop on the sidewalk. The quality and quantity of these items make an immediate and hard-to-shake impression on me, a fan of walks and public transportation.

Paris? Surprising amount of dog poop dotting the sidewalks, which somewhat marred my appreciation of the city's beauty. If you spend most of your time looking down wending your way through them, you spend less time looking up at the architecture, soaking in the personal style of your fellow pedestrians.

Istanbul? Hilly which makes walking as my primary mode of transport a bit tough. I also noticed that women tend to travel in groups and couples, which also made traveling as a lone woman in some areas a highly interactive experience.

Beijing? Surprisingly tidy, under the persistent layer of dust that coats everything. In my neighborhood an army of street sweepers remove debris in the daytime. Decent subway system, which is great for me as the sloooow pace of local pedestrians drives me nuts. However the frequent trains and cheap 2 RMB fare is offset by some poorly designed subway stations (try exiting a station with 234234 people crammed in two narrow exit hallways or walking up, down, up again, down again, outside and inside and down and outside and inside trying to transfer at Zhichun Lu).

Qingdao, not Beijing, was the site of my first pigeon-spotting in China.

Beijing also stood out because it is a pigeon-free city. I haven't seen a single pigeon here. Other birds fly about, but not those flying rats that infest New York and many urban areas. Were they rounded up by authorities in an attempt to clean up the city, like they tried to "deal with" stray cats before the Beijing Olympics? I don't miss them, but their lack strikes me as odd (but welcome!)

April 23, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #10

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 14
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 0
cost of a small bottle of incredibly bad sake: 12 RMB (we ordered it because we were curious about how 12 RMB sake would taste like)
books purchased from sidewalk book cart: 2
time it took for the repair guy to fix my leaky washing machine after waiting a week and a half for him to actually show up: 1 minute

April 22, 2009

Just a Whistle

FYI yesterday's post was triggered oddly enough by a sound which I haven't heard since leaving New York, a whistle.

As I was leaving the Bridge Café yesterday afternoon, a bicyclist whistled at me. I haven't heard that sound since shuffling one block from my apartment to the corner bodega one weekend morning. Apparently the messy hair, black yoga pants, faded shrunken t-shirt and Chacos combo is a hot look for me back in Brooklyn. Here not so much. A woman, clad in the sloppiest, baggiest or oddest outfit, can walk down many a street in New York still get the "Hey, baby. You look soooo fine," murmured by a passerby or shouted out of a car window.

While I have seen foreign and local men discreetly give women the once over (usually those with tank tops cut to there and skirts cut to here), I haven't heard a catcall, whistle-type of harassment (or expression of appreciation for the female form, as some of my guy friends call it) in China.

The bicyclist wiggled his eyebrows at me as we passed each other. I had to stop and laugh. While at home, the "hey, baby" type of exchange made me roll my eyes, this whistle reminded me of home.

April 21, 2009

No DL Tailgate Parties Here

When I moved to Beijing, I unsubscribed from many New York-centric email lists about events, concerns, local groups of which I was a member. Each email made me miss the city and its quirkiness, an example of which is below:

date Mon, Apr 20, 2009 at 10:48 PM
subject Dalai Lama Tailgate party

Let's down beery marys and grill some veggie dogs before the happiness lecture.

Wear your favorite jerseys and paint your face NFL style. Bring balls
and giant foam hands.

How awesome is that subject header?

I've traveled a bit and lived in New England through college, but never experienced homesickness until my move to Beijing. How funny -- I couldn't wait to start this new chapter in my life last February. Now every three weeks I'll long for things New York: diversity, fresh tasty non-Chinese foods (especially pesto and Couscous Royale), crisp relatively clean air, my group of creative and driven friends, street art, edginess, late night no-holds barred discussion about taboo subjects with strangers and living no more than four blocks away from a green space more beautiful than Central Park, a bodega which stocks Lindemanns, a stop for 2 subway lines and a restaurant which serves awesome cocktails (Kiss the Sky, mmm) and juicy burgers.

Above photo was taken in my old Brooklyn neighborhood. I miss you Park Slope!

I am not quite ready to admit that living in New York has spoiled all cities for me. However I will admit that being away from my comfort zone of all things familiar has made me know myself better, decide what I really like, really dislike and can survive without. When I leave Beijing, I wonder if I'll long for this city as well.

April 20, 2009

Chinese Texting Growing Pains

Sending texts in Chinese takes me three times as long as it would take my sending texts in plain old English. Why? First I must type the pinyin of the Chinese character. Of course there is some sort of T9 function that tries to predict which character you want based on only one or two letters of the pinyin. T9 in English drives me nuts because it usually predicts the wrong word for me, so Chinese T9 drives me twice as crazy. I usually have to delete whatever erroneous character my Nokia mobile predicted and start over. This happens multiple times until I finally have my simple message ready to be sent to whomever freaking insists on texting in Chinese. Ahhhh.

I'll get the hang of it eventually. In the meantime expect a delay in response time, my Chinese language texters.

April 18, 2009

Scary Air Pollution in Numbers

I just heard about BeijingAir, which twitters hourly readings of air pollution as measured from the US Embassy's roof. I'm not sure why I clicked on the link. The scary "Unhealthy" to "Very Unhealthy" readings for the past few days are no surprise.

Knowledge is power, so they say. Power to decide when to bring your dust mask when walking down the street to buy orange juice, power to barricade yourself indoors when you can actually see the air. . .

April 16, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #9

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 5 (ran out of coffee last week)
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 3
hours spent on a ferry docked on Liangma River listening to a swing band, dancing to a so-so dj: 2.5
slightly malformed, but tasty, dumplings made by my hand: 15+
time spent in the China Post office: 20 minutes

April 15, 2009

Eating my way through Beijing

During a spur-of-the-moment hotpot dinner, I vowed never to dine in the same restaurant twice. Beijing is full of good Chinese eats. Why not try every single one of them since I'll be here for a while? In particular trying good, inexpensive eats.

Last night I dined at one of my first post-vow restaurants with an ex-colleague and her husband. The classy Middle-8th Restaurant did not let us down. The long wait just made me hunger more for the taste of their yummy Yunnan dishes (mushrooms, pineapple, peppers, chilies, oh my) and sweet rice wine served in jelly jars (made from Mexico of all places). While this didn't exactly fall in the super-cheap category of eats, this 67 RMB per person feast was well worth it.

Have a recommendation for a restaurant, Chinese, Italian (I've been craving pesto and the smell of basil for the past five weeks), whatever restaurant or alleyway street vendor? Let me know. My stomach needs feeding and taste buds need satisfying.

April 13, 2009

Where the Boys Are

Last week a study published by two Chinese university professors and a London researcher in the British Medical Journal declared that societal bias in favor of male children resulted in 32 million more boys under the age of 20 than girls. I know, I know -- China has 1.3 billion+ people, but 32 million is a big gap.

Caused by sex-selective abortion in a one child policy country, this gap has the government concerned “about the consequences of large numbers of excess men for social stability and security."

Honestly I haven't noticed the gender imbalance in my two months here. Coming from a city where there are more women then men, you would think I'd notice the difference when riding the subway, walking the streets, eating in restaurants. . . nope. Of course, I don't hang out with many under 20 year old's (I am way older than that age) in my day-to-day life.

April 8, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #8

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 14
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 9
maximum speed reached by the train I rode from Beijing to Qingdao: 241 km/hour
number of times "bīnguǎn bīnguǎn bīnguǎn" was shouted at me as I exited train stations: at least 30
chick lit books I picked up at a book swap: 1

April 7, 2009

No Voicemail, No Problem

I've sent and received over 500 text messages the past month. Woah. Back in New York, my text messaging rarely ventured into the triple digits each month.

When you can't reach someone via a phone call here, text seems to be the preferred method of instant communication over e-mail and voicemail. Who leaves home without their mobile on them? Since voicemail is an added service for most mobile phone plans, it seems like most thrifty Beijingers rarely pay for it especially when sending texts are so cheap. Plus who wants to hear long-winded voicemails anyway?

Having made the mistake of trying to make last-minute plans via email (silly when everyone is on the go and many folks lack wireless Internet access on their phone), I see the appeal of texting. However my Nokia phone's text appeal fails to completely win me over since lacks a full keyboard. Until the day comes when I spring for a iPhone, my thumbs will suffer and email will still have an edge.

April 1, 2009

The Week in Number - #7

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 15
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 0
laps jogged around a basketball court located on a building rooftop: 5
dishes I cooked in a Nanlouguxiang hutong kitchen: 3
New Yorkers-abroad moment experienced with a math rock musician: 1
giant inflatable animals purchased: 5

March 29, 2009

I never thought I'd blog so much about the weather

Right now it's 39 degrees F in Beijing. Thanks to my building management, it also feels that cold in my apartment because they've turned off the heat weeks ago. My neighbors and I are freezing in our unheated homes. Where are you, spring?

If I was in New York, my stiff fingers would be busy dialing 311 to make a complaint. Apparently Beijing residents are not protected under a Heat Season code, like New Yorkers are. According to city and state regulations, NYC building owners must provide heat if the outside temperature falls below 55 between 6am and 10pm or below 40 between 10pm and 6am between October 1 and May 31. Without legal protection, Beijingers must purchase electric blankets and space heaters to keep warm. I've decided to do without. These frigid temperatures can't last much longer. They just can't.

March 25, 2009

Birth Control for Gerbils

After learning about yesterday's US judicial ruling about access to Plan B aka morning after pill, this eye-catching headline from the AP caught my attention: "China uses abortion pill to cut gerbil population."

On a somewhat related note, I've noticed that personal care stores like Watsons stock baby supplies right next to condoms -- a deliberate decision stemming from their consumer research?

(Notice how my mind bounces from thought to thought to thought. . .)

The Week in Numbers - #6

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 17
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 3
coal spotted behind art galleries: 1 massive pit
strangers who couldn't tell me how to get to the Park Hyatt which was a mere block away: 2 (Park Hyatt peeps, please add a sign onto your building's facade, ok?)
rubs I gave a jade horses for good luck: 4
Chinese Chileans I met in a pizzeria: 1

March 24, 2009

Network Timeout

I've become familiar with these words loading onto my browser, as this means my desired site is apparently blocked by youknowwho. And of course this blocking of YouTube would start on the day when I need to view one of its videos for a project. I've tried logging on all day with no success.

So. Frustrating. I hope that they don't start blocking Blogger and Flickr again.

March 23, 2009

Do Women Really Hold Up Half the Sky?

Last week Barnard College hosted the Kang Tongbi Commemorative Symposium: Women Changing China at the Park Hyatt, a pretty swanky hotel in the Chaoyang district. The symposium brought together leaders in business, government, media, arts and academia following in Kang's footsteps. This group includes Yan Geling, Yang Lan, Ruby Yang and Professor Wu Qing, who was the most passionate speaker by far. I recognized Yan Geling's name since she wrote the book upon which the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl was based. The other names were new to me.

I've been told that sexism is a serious crime in this country. However, one notices social conventions that prove it's alive and well even linguistically. For example, when listing people in Mandarin (i.e. My family has 4 people: my ...., my...), you list the men first before listing women (i.e. My family has 4 people: my father, my mother...). Listing a woman first is "not the Chinese way," so I've been corrected.

While the tone of most of the speakers was generally "yay, we've come so far, isn't this great? let's work harder to further the position of women here," Professor Wu was one of the few who didn't perpetuate this message. Some of the statements that linger in my mind a week later:

Wu Qing:
"Some people are more equal than others. This is a bad thing."
"China has the highest suicide rate for rural women in the world."
"This is what we lack in China--social responsibiltiy. We need to be global citizens."
"In government, you see fewer and fewer women higher and higher."
"I'm a verb. An active verb." (I love this statement!)

Yang Lan:
"More women start their businesses out of passion and hobby than men."
"More women are willing to give back to society than men."

Audience member:
"Yes, women hold up half of the sky, but men hold up the other half, too. I think that men are the problem in China." (this statement caused a bit of a stir)

I don't know enough about sexism here to comment in a meaningful way. Give me time. This symposium has made my eyes open wide.

March 22, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

My spoken Mandarin skills are weak, so I try to practice as much as I can with shop clerks, taxi drivers et al using my limited vocabulary. Sometimes I learn something interesting, like today. On my way to The Place this afternoon, Purple Passion's signage caught my attention. This was the first sex shop I've seen in China. Practicing my conversational skills in there has got to be more interesting than the "Where are you from? You're American?! You look Chinese. You're from New York? Where are you parents from? How old are you? Why are you in Beijing?" interrogation I've received from almost every taxi driver who has driven me anywhere in this city.

My conversation with the salesclerk translated from Mandarin:

"Hello! This store is very cool," I said gesturing to the wall display of dildos.
"Hello! Thank you," responded the salesperson.
"Do many Americans come to this store to buy things?"
"Yes, Americans come here."
"I'm American. Please tell me, do many Chinese come to this place to buy things?"
Salesperson starts laughing, "Chinese and American come here to buy things. A little more Chinese than Americans."
Running out of vocabulary words, I blurted out "Thanks. Bye!"

While thrilled to throw the word "cool" in my conversation (I just learned that word last Friday), I still need to beef up my knowledge of slang. While studying chinaSMACK exclusively will give me a potty-mouth, I need to balance that with some nice, positive vocab words. If you know of a source online or off, please let me know.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Catching up on my New York Times reading, I spotted a profile of CCTV anchor Rui Chenggang. CCTV is the state-run television network and Rui is its rising star. "At just 31 years old, Rui Chenggang has emerged as the media face of Chinese capitalism: young, smart and, to the dismay of some, deeply nationalistic."

Although I rarely watched Brian Willams or Katie Couric deliver the nightly news in New York, I have watched a few CCTV news broadcasts here. CCTV is hard to avoid as their channels are the only ones my television can receive.

Rui points out the obvious, "China has a really bad image problem," (Remember last spring's news about China hiring a global pr agency to assist in pre-Olympic damage control?). Fear not, he has a plan to fix that! First, he has to tackle that pesky credibility problem that his network has with viewers outside China.
Because his positions often parrot Beijing’s critiques of foreign journalists, Mr. Rui is asked whether he engages in propaganda handed down by the government. He compares it with Fox News coverage of the White House during a Republican administration.
I don't think that comparing his employer to a certain American news network helps his cause.

March 18, 2009

I breathe this

This photo of the smoggy afternoon haze was taken today after lunch. Walking through this haze makes you feel like you're in dreamscape, building outlines are blurred and your senses are a bit blunted from breathing in this coal smoke and whoknowswhat.

On the plus side: the 75 degree F means winter is over. On the minus side: spring dust storms are around the corner.

The Week in Numbers - #5

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 12
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 0 (alcohol depresses the immune system)
trips to Swedish and American big box stores: 3 (those wide aisles remind me of home)
naptime induced by my exploration of Beijing's biggest mall: one hour
meals cooked in my kitchen: 5
number of bikes, electric and human-powered, parked outside my apartment door: 2

March 16, 2009

Beijing Cough

I have it. The Beijing Cough, a persistent hacking cough that erupts from your throat and brings tears to your eyes from the spasms rattling your upper body. I've become That Annoying Person clutching her stomach coughing in your subway car, coughing at the restaurant table next to you, coughing and interrupting your conversation (apologies, except to that smoker whose cigarette smoke kept drifting towards our table during lunch).

Medication has proven ineffective in stopping it (I'm trying a third kind now) , and I'm not ready to take the only surefire cure, leaving this city. Beijing, you and your health-debilitating pollution can't get rid of me so easily! For now I will continue trying different throat lozenges, smoky plum drinks and other suppressants recommended by friends in the hopes of making my coughs sound less like a death rattle. Locals have told me that The Cough comes and goes. Hopefully it'll mysteriously go away soon (because this dusty haze sure won't) and this will the final post that you'll read about my deteriorating health. Peace out.

March 14, 2009


Dear reader, forgive me for I have sinned. I broke my vow and went to Starbucks last Sunday.

After a late Saturday night dancing to Smash-Up Derby, I woke up needing good coffee stat. The Starbucks across the street from my apartment was like a siren call drawing me in. One expensive cup later, I felt guilty and cheated. Guilty for breaking my vow in a few short weeks and cheated because my tall mocha was weak. That kick of caffeine familiar after many a morning spent waiting on line at Starbucks was muted by well, who knows? The local water? Not enough beans?

Now that I know that Starbucks coffee is just as blah as coffee from other cafés, I am no longer tempted to spend my renminbi there. I did cave and buy a Bodum french press. I just need to find good quality beans preferably from a non-Starbucks location. Where oh where to find this in Beijing?

Addendum: The best coffee in New York is from Gimme Coffee in my opinion. If you find yourself on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, do buy yourself a cup. It's money well spent. Mmm.

March 12, 2009

Oh No Dayquil

I've had the sniffles, hacking cough on and off for the past two weeks. Despite wearing an absurd number of layers when I step outside my apartment and last fall's flu shot, I've managed to contract my third cold this winter. Dammit.

Symptoms come and go, but they've always returned. . .so far. Maybe it's the smog or temperatures hovering around 20 degress F, but I just can't shake this cold. I lacked the foresight to raid Duane Reade for meds before leaving New York, so I'm stuck praying that my immune system fights back soon. Just in case I stumbled to the local pharmacy and described my symptoms during my lunch hour. For some reason, the staff there were rather curious about the color of my snot. Their cure for persistant cough, yellow snot: drinking FuFang SangJu GanMao Keli, the above photographed nasty concoction dissolved in water 2-3 times a day.

Shudder. I've drunk 2 doses today. Crossing my fingers that this combined with lots of sleep and relaxation over the weekend works.

March 10, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #4

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 6
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 0
Chinese spam texts received: 1
days I've had the sniffles: 7 and counting
loutish behavior I've witnessed that made me feel embarrassed to be an expat in China: a large chunk of Friday night
times I've been tempted to try the street meat vendors: too many to recount

March 8, 2009

Getting warmer

What's that I feel? Warmth? After weeks of face-freezing temperatures, has spring finally arrived in this chilly northern city?

I hope so. I'm over winter.

March 7, 2009

Tasty Boards

I spotted these familiar-looking boards in a shop. Recovering from the melamine scandal, the classic White Rabbit Candy crosses industry lines into the skateboarding world. I loved these chewy, rice paper-wrapped candies when I was child.

Sticking Out

Conversation between a friend and I as we walked through a food market:

"Yeah, it's certainly interesting being a foreigner here. Some of my non-Chinese friends hate the stares that follow them as they walk down the streets, while I can sort of blend in as an Asian," I said.

"Yo, you do not blend in." my friend said as she passed some delicious-looking berries.

"What are you talking about?"

"You don't dress like a Beijinger. I mean, maybe you can pass as a Shanghai person, but not a local."

"Do I radiate 'New Yorker' vibes or something?"

"I don't know, but certainly not Beijinger."

Maybe the ridiculously tight lime pants, which I purchased yesterday, will help me blend in.

March 2, 2009

Pile it on

This organization system for the Lan Club's coat check had us all whipping out our cameras. Hey, it works -- the staff pulled our coats out of that pile in a jiffy.

The Week in Numbers - #3

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 9
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 1
spins around a pole in an underground Russian dance club: 5
times I've seen a guy selling baby bunnies by the subway station: 3
colds contracted: 1
times stray cats have given into my "here kitty, kitty" overtures: 1!

March 1, 2009


Last night as my techno loving taxi driver accelerated past smog-wrapped skyscrapers and tiled roofs lining the Third Ring Road, I realized whoa, I'm living in Beijing. I'm living in Beijing? I'm living in Beijing.

February 24, 2009

American Coffee from Nowhere

Climbing the stairs to my hotel's Nowhere Café, I realize that I am an idiot. While I've been drinking the hotel's complimentary watery brew for the past two weeks, there was decent coffee to be had a mere floor away. IDIOT.

It's not an amazing brew, but I do feel my brain and nerves tingle a little in response to a cup. Good to know that I have a nearby option for my remaining days here.

February 23, 2009

The Week in Numbers - #2

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 13
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 3
smog masks purchased: 3
SMS texts received and sent: 126
real estate agents who tried to befriend me after unsuccessfully trying to screw me over during my apartment search: 1
times stray cats have ignored my "here kitty, kitty" overtures: 5

February 20, 2009

Don't mess with mother nature

"China's artificially induced snow closes 12 highways"

Seriously, what's with the shoving and talking?

Last Tuesday night I attended my first gig in Beijing and all I got was bruises. Okay, that statement was a bit dramatic but Yugong Yishan was packed with what seemed like every Scandinavian and English-speaking folk/indie rock fan in town. And with that many fans, there was much shoving and jostling to the bar, bathroom and front of the stage. I've attended shows in a few countries, but the amount of times my toe was stepped on without an "excuse me, coming through" was remarkable. Who knew folk fans here were more aggressive than fans in US, UK and Turkey? And talkative.

If you want a full review of the show, check this out. This does not dissuade me from exploring the live music scene in any way, shape or form though.

February 19, 2009

Americans' Real Creed

After a week of meeting folks from all over and trying to explain why
we do what we do, I've concluded that our new motto should be:
"Americans, we're not afraid to be stupid."

February 17, 2009

First snow joy

It's snowing here! I love snow. Well, I love walking in fresh snow but dislike the aftermath of gray slush that freezes and makes me topple over on icy sidewalks.

February 16, 2009

The Swedes Come Through

Next stop on the coffee search: Ciao Coffee Bar on Wangfujing.

I broke down and stocked up on canned coffee last week. It's crap stuff and not worth reviewing here. So when I spotted Ciao in the lower level of the Oriental Plaza Mall, I felt that I deserved splurging on what I hoped to be good coffee. A large cup, which is roughly the size of a Starbucks' tall (smallest size), costs twice as much as a small bowl of soup noodles at a fast food joint. It better be good!

Sipping their "favored in the South of Sweden" Skane Exclusive, I finally felt that lovely rush of caffeine. Sweetened with just a touch of sugar, this dark roast hit the spot. Oh my, oh my, real coffee tastes so good after a week of hotel coffee and whatever that stuff was that came out of a can.

You bet I savored my first cup of damngood coffee in this city. I sipped slowly out of that paper cup for an hour while reading and watching people browse the shops around me. Draining my cup, I skipped outside into the freezing sunny weather satisfied and properly caffeinated.

The Week in Numbers

Personal stats for the past week beginning last Monday to Sunday:

cups of coffee* consumed: 11
pints of Tsingtao beer consumed: 3.5
restaurant walls I've graffiti-ed with a pink Sharpie: 1
Canadians I've met: 2
books purchased: 2
subway tickets used: 6

*"Coffee" covers everything from crappy Nescafé to coffee from a can (I got desperate).

February 15, 2009

My Semi-Lucky Number

Buying a mobile phone number is a bit more complicated than opening a cell phone account in the US. While phones and numbers are purchased separately here, one number is not considered equal to another. When I inquired about buying a SIM card, the salesperson presented me with a binder full of mobile numbers with different prices attached to them. Some were priced for 450 RMB, others for 550, another for 860 RMB. Hmm.

"What's the difference?" I asked.

She explained that certain numbers are considered luckier, and such are priced according to demand. Those with rows of 8's, 6's and 9's are favored over those with 4's, which in Chinese sounds similar to the word for "death."

My US cell phone had two 9's in a row and one 8. I guess it brought me luck -- I'm of sound mind and body (well, I'll know for sure in a few days when I get the results of my physical from the Beijing Health and Quarantine Bureau). Pushing reason aside for superstition (when in Rome...), I purchased a somewhat lucky number in the 500 range without 4's, but a few 6's and an 8 and 9. May good fortune rain down upon me! Or at least get my new Nokia phone to work properly.

Coffee, Pretty Please

I have one addiction. Coffee, that sweet dark ambrosia, kickstarts my day with a lovely rush of caffeine and helps bring the world in focus for me. Well, it did until I moved here. My access to good, strong coffee has been severely curtailed since touching down in Beijing.

Air China's coffee tasted like weak instant Nescafé. The hotel where I'm staying serves marginally better coffee, but my body fails to register that delicious click of awareness that coffeeshops back home serve me. It looks like coffee. It tastes like weak coffee. But three shot glass-fuls later, still no effect. What gives?

While I know the local Starbucks will have the dark roast which I love, it will be a fun challenge to see if I can find nearby options that can compare to that international chain's offerings. The search continues. Wish me luck.

February 14, 2009

Yes, it's another blog by an American in China

A month before I left New York, I promised myself that I would not add to the proliferation of Americans/Canadians/Brits/etc transplants to China blogs. The world does not need another "gee, things are so different here in Beijing!" post. But during the weeks leading up to my departure friends kept asking and prodding me about keeping some sort of record, so I broke my promise. Plus it will be amusing to read this years from now when I no longer have the means to travel because Social Security funds have dried up.

Four days have passed since my Air China flight took off from JFK. During those four days I got lost in the streets of Wudaokou, spent a combined nine hours talking to China Mobile and Nokia customer service representatives because my fancy new mobile phone doesn't work properly and have yet to recover my appetite from jetlag.

In case you're wondering, I'm a Brooklynite by way of Long Island and Hong Kong. The title of this blog was inspired by one of my favorite blogs from the old 'hood (thanks for "letting" me borrow it, FIPS!)