Our Home Away From Home
We show this picture with some trepidation because it will spoil any image still held by those of you at home that we're roughing it in the third world. The building is called the Embassy House and is located in the Second Embassy District on the northeast side of Beijing. (The architectural masterpiece in the background is the CNOOC building...headquarters for the Chinese National Oil Company that tried to acquire Unocal.) It's a nice building in the midst of metropolitan activity and it splits the distance the kids travel to school and Paul travels to Peking University...each trip is about 45 minutes. The staff is very attentive...sometimes knowing a bit more about our comings-and-goings than we'd like, but that's part of being an ex-pat in China.
View From Our Apartment
When we arrived, we were greeted by two weeks of thunderstorms (fun) and 90+ degree heat and 90%+ humidity (not fun...to see what the same view from the apartment looked like on those days, roll the cursor over the picture at left). We tried to keep a hearty attitude and spent those days before the start of school walking around the city in spite of the 'Feels Like' index (summer's equivalent of 'Wind Chill') on Yahoo of 115 degrees. Even the locals said it was unusually humid...there is a big desert just to the north, afterall.
Sophie Goes Shopping At Our Local Market
We love our local vegetable market where farmers bring fresh produce in daily. Here's Sophie picking up some Bok Choy for that night's stir-fry. We make periodic runs to more modern markets but this one is closer, cheaper and more colorful so we prefer it to the generic supermarkets.
The produce is fresh and plentiful. The meat is often another story. Refrigeration doesn't seem to have arrived in many of these markets and the selection on this particular evening looking like two starved weasels without skin. (see picture at left...Sophie is putting on a good face, but we ate no weasel that night.)
Fortunately, there are other possibilities available...these taste treats (scorpions, beetles and seahorses) are available for eating after a quick grilling. The scorpions and beetles were alive on their sticks, but even the locals didn't seem to be giving this little spot much business so our suspicion is that it's there only to see if foreigners can be suckered into trying something 'at the edge' just to prove themselves worldly travelers, while providing some entertainment for the guy who runs the joint. Any friends who come to visit can count on an all-you-can eat scorpion and beetle feast.
Blond Americans on Display
Our blond crew generates more than its share of attention in walks around town, particularly when we're in areas the attract people from outside the city. Sophie and Griff are always asked to take their hats off...sometimes the photographers take them off themselves. Just after this strapping young Chinese man was snapped with the kids, his friend asked to change places...roll the cursor over the picture to see their places reversed...so both could have a souvenir of that day they saw those people with the light-colored hair. Many more similar episodes have been sprinkled in our first few weeks but we'll let the kids tell about them in a section they'll be adding to this site in a week or two. They've been great sports and their parents are often doubled over laughing while all this is going on, much to their chagrin.
This cheery little cell is a typical classroom where Andy and Paul are taking Chinese lessons. The beatings of a slow student were momentarily suspended for us to take this picture. For those not familiar with the language, learning it is fascinating for an English speaker. Not only are the characters a set of puzzles by themselves, but the spoken language involves complex intonation that carries much of the meaning. For example, the syllable 'MA' can be spoken in five different ways...one each for 'mother,' 'horse,' 'to scold,' 'hemp' and to imply a question. The same is true for most other syllables. Needless to say, it's easy to leave locals perplexed in spite of our best efforts. To deal with the challenge, Andy and Paul are thinking about going from the current three 2 hour sessions per week to five. With that extra effort, maybe...just maybe...we'll be able to successfully communicate with a taxi driver once before we leave next summer.
Every Street Crossing is an Adventure
Americans who are used to the deference shown to pedestrians (usually) in the States are quickly weeded out of the population here. Drivers operate with no qualms about buzzing close enough to bang you with their rear-view mirrors and the bikes and motorized rickshaws only add to the excitement. Every walk around the city is a bit like participating in a video game...as the target the 'real' players use to score points. For those who assume we're crossing against traffic, notice the green 'WALK' sign lit up just above Andy's head.
In the pictures Paul took during his 1982 trip to China, there are *no* cars in any of the Beijing photos...just rivers of bicycles and people. All this traffic is such a recent development, and has spread so quickly, that it's no wonder it's a bit crazy.
An Inspired Solution?
Diapers are so messy...why not just go without them? An amusing site (as long as there's no action) is to see the kids running around with full ventilation. This takes 'going commando' to a whole new level. It is slightly less quaint when the action picks up...sometimes in a nearby gutter...sometimes in the middle of the sidewalk. All just part of the local color.