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