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 caf├ęs, 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.