day 62

is that possible?!?!

As I type it, it's hard to believe that I've been here for 2 months already!  

My apologies for the lack of posts recently.  Things are definitely picking up at work lately and there hasn't been much new or exciting.  The good news is that the smog has been cleared and we are expecting some bright, clear and sunny days over this next week or so as China hosts national leaders for the APEC conference.  The government has shuttered the factories and given the people the week off in an attempt to paint the city in the best light.  There's obviously been lots of working going on to beautify the city in advance of this conference.  I can only imagine what it was like while they were getting ready for the Olympics!

I spent this last weekend in Hong Kong to renew my visa....and it was everything I needed it to be.  I suppose it's not a bad rhythm to be in....a visit to another city every 30 days.  I'm thinking Shanghai at the end November.  Anyone want to meet me there?  And then, of course....it's back to the States for the holidays!

This trip to Hong Kong provided me with lots of time on my own to wander the streets.  It's still pretty warm and humid here so I did retreat regularly to the comfort of my hotel, but I did find myself in some great spots....like the middle of the protests!  Yes, right smack dab in the center of it.  When I got there it was the middle of the day and things were quite peaceful.  It sure did seem that many of the protesters we catching up on some sleep.  I've got to say, walking through and reading all of the notes and signs you get a much better sense of what's going on there.  That these people are willing to uproot themselves and their regular routines to stand for what they believe in is pretty moving.  The whole encampment was extremely well organized.  There was a recycling center, there were little shops where you could get supplies/food/water, there was a small study room where they would go to sit and do homework or simply catch up on their outside lives.  While it doesn't seem likely that the government is ever going to give in, I do hope that these protesters are heard and that their sacrifices were/are not in vain.  #umbrellarevolution

Hollywood Road (yes, really) is known for it's collection of antique stores....many were closed on the sunday that I was there, but that's ok....I wasn't planning on shipping back pieces of jade or stone buddha heads.  I did manage to find a few touristy trinket shops and was able to nab a brass Chairman Mao statue that is sure to look good next to my Statue of Liberty collection (HA HA HA).  In the middle of Hollywood Road is the Man Mo temple.  LOADS of incense in there....to the point that it was getting tough to breathe.  Either way, glad I popped in there and got a look.

Oh yeah...and I decided to try out the subway system.  Wasn't nearly chaotic as I expected....quite easy to manage.  And super cheap!!  Granted I was only going a couple of stops...but it was $0.58 each way!  Was I the tallest person on the train?  Sure was!


Today I had a mission....to get a hair cut.  I haven't seen too many barber shops in Beijing....and I figure that it's just easier if the barber speaks a little english.  The Mandarin Oriental hotel has a legit barber shop...and it's been there since 1963.  Was it a little pricey, sure.  But it was fantastic.  Freddy, my barber, and I talked about why he liked the weather here in Hong Kong better than the bitter cold of Beijing.  He then made some crack about how "all English people are boring" because of where they live....well the british gent in the chair next to me didn't find that so funny.  Anyway, if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong...check this place out!  

Last thing...I need new clothes.  I joked often before I left the states that this adventure would be the greatest weight loss plan I'd ever participated in.  Well, that's proving to be true.  I've lost a good amount of weight and most everything I own is starting to fall off of me.  I know...it's a tough problem to have.  I found the local J. Crew today....and had a little too much fun.  Let's just hope that I don't put too much of this weight back on once I get back!

I'm heading back to Beijing tomorrow....and already dreaming of my return to Hong Kong.


day 47

Marathon Sunday!

We had a really great week last week.  Lost of sunny blue skies and cool temps.  Today (Sunday) was pretty lousy though.  I didn't realize it, as the city is quite big, but there was a marathon run in the city today.  I saw lots of footage on tv of people running with masks on.  I could barely keep mine on for 10 minutes...can't imagine trying to run 26.2 miles with one on!

Yesterday was spent shopping and familiarizing ourselves with the local art store options....look for that post later this week.

Meanwhile, today, I just walked down to that shopping center down the street, Sanlitun.  Nothing too exciting...but there is always something to look at.  I am still very much aware of the fact that things here are very different.  And that I am very different looking to many of the people on the street.  When I'm out walking, and happen to walk past someone of "western" descent, I often find myself wanting to make eye contact with them and thinking that we should have some sort of bonding moment where we acknowledge each other and offer suggestions as to how to feel most comfortable here!

Just a few photos of things I saw today that I found interesting:

the best news of the day is that there WILL be a Halloween in Beijing!  I was concerned that I wasn't going to be able to find any 'real' Halloween candy here....but I tried a new grocery store today and found some snickers as some peanut butter cups!  YAHOO!

day 40

like a day in Manhattan

 

despite the fact that we had crazy smog last week, today was virtually smog free.  how we can go from 452 on thursday to 19 this morning?!?!....well, I'm not sure that I'll ever figure it out.  anyway, while I was waiting for my washer/dryer combo to run through it's 3.5 hour cycle (no, that's not a typo) I decided to venture out for a walk.  

yes, that's a McDonald's delivery driver.

yes, that's a McDonald's delivery driver.

It's a little overcast, and there was a slight breeze...similar to a lovely late fall day in Manhattan.  First I headed down to a popular shopping mall for expats.  It's called Sanlitun.  There are loads of stores that you'd all recognize...adidas, h&m, michael kors, armani, etc.  there's a great bookstore, some cool looking high end shops and a few western style eateries.  It's also a lot closer than I thought it was...very walkable.  Guess I'll be spending more time there!

Hmm....might have to give that a chance....

Hmm....might have to give that a chance....

yes, that is a metallic red BMW...we've seen a few cars wrapped in this metallic foil...cool looking, but maybe a little flashy for me

yes, that is a metallic red BMW...we've seen a few cars wrapped in this metallic foil...cool looking, but maybe a little flashy for me

Roy Christopher, I saw this at the shopping mall today and thought of you!  ...not as pretty as yours though!

Roy Christopher, I saw this at the shopping mall today and thought of you!  ...not as pretty as yours though!

despite any stinky street smells...you can always smell the bread cooking at Subway.  

despite any stinky street smells...you can always smell the bread cooking at Subway.  

From there I decided to find my to the western style grocery, Jenny Lou's.  We've driven there before...so it wasn't that hard to find.  It was nice to be able to window shop through some of the stores along the way...lots of individual mom and pop shops catering to expats.  I've got my eye on a beautiful italian bakery....looks like they carry a great selection of bread!  Guess I'll be heading back there as well!

I wandered back through some side streets.  Mostly past loads of foreign embassies.  Who knew that Uzbekistan needed an embassy in china?  I was going to snap a few photos but all of these buildings are guarded by chinese soldiers...and I'm not so sure I want to mess with that.  I ended up walking past one of the "rivers" that cuts through the city.  Not really sure why they call them that though...it doesn't even look as though the water moves.  Nevertheless, there are always people fishing in these rivers...haven't seen anyone catch anything yet.  And I sure do wonder what they do with their catches?  ....can't imagine that they'd actually eat it.

 

Back now to my apartment....and my laundry is still not done!

one of the "rivers" that cuts through the city

one of the "rivers" that cuts through the city

I'm not a fish guy....but, not so sure that, even if I did, I'd eat anything from this water.

I'm not a fish guy....but, not so sure that, even if I did, I'd eat anything from this water.

day 39

some observations

...because today we visited an ancient observatory.  we also visited a former military watch tower that is now a beautiful art gallery!

the red interior of the gallery was a welcome break from the extreme grey that we've been living with for the past few days.  Last Sunday and Monday here brought some of the most clear blue skies we'd seen since we'd arrived....and then by Wednesday, it was a whole new story.  The smog levels had gone way up.  Smog is measured on a scale of 1 to 500....and by Thursday we got up to 452....oh yeah, and it stinks.  My novelty mask/bandana isn't going to cut it.  We've ordered new ones...hoping they arrive soon.

anyway, enough of that...hopefully it will clear up sooner than later...meanwhile, some photos below from our sightseeing trips today:

a famous scientist

a famous scientist

some beautiful astronomical devices on the rooftop of the observatory

some beautiful astronomical devices on the rooftop of the observatory

detail from the base....oh, these pieces date from the 1600's...perhaps not that old as chinese history goes...

detail from the base....oh, these pieces date from the 1600's...perhaps not that old as chinese history goes...

some local color on an otherwise grey day

some local color on an otherwise grey day

no shortage of dragons here

no shortage of dragons here

on the grounds of the observatory....

on the grounds of the observatory....

not sure we were supposed to see this....sort of like going backstage at Disneyland....except different.

not sure we were supposed to see this....sort of like going backstage at Disneyland....except different.

guess I should find out what this says...I just like the blue color

guess I should find out what this says...I just like the blue color

a view from atop the Red Gate Gallery....if you look to the left side of the photo, that angled wall is a section of the Great Wall that ran through the city of Beijing

a view from atop the Red Gate Gallery....if you look to the left side of the photo, that angled wall is a section of the Great Wall that ran through the city of Beijing

the artist was prepping this, and other pieces, for installation.  this wasn't intended to be his resting spot...but it looked cool here.  

the artist was prepping this, and other pieces, for installation.  this wasn't intended to be his resting spot...but it looked cool here.

 

really loved this guys work...the figure on the right was a wire armature with a golden screen material.  quite beautiful.  (the same artist did the buddha sculpture above)

really loved this guys work...the figure on the right was a wire armature with a golden screen material.  quite beautiful.  (the same artist did the buddha sculpture above)

exterior of the Red Gate Gallery....once a military guard post...now a lovely art gallery

exterior of the Red Gate Gallery....once a military guard post...now a lovely art gallery

day 36

lost in translation

The first or second day that we were here, we drove out to the workplace and I remember noticing that some of the highway signs had english translations.  "How nice", I thought.  Then I saw a sign that read, "Don't Follow To Clowsely".  I have yet to get a good photo of that sign, but there are certainly some others that we've taken note of.

Hopefully you're not easily offended....

seems reasonable.

seems reasonable.

leaves me wondering...will this extinguish anything?

leaves me wondering...will this extinguish anything?

Oh!

Oh!

ah, yeah...i'll pass on this place....thanks.

ah, yeah...i'll pass on this place....thanks.

brings new meaning to going green?

brings new meaning to going green?

thanks to my colleague Luis for providing me with a couple of these photos.

 

Also, wanted to point out that today brought the worst smog I have seen yet.  The smog report/scale goes from 1 to 500.  Right now, at 9:30pm, it's at 416.  It smells quite bad and you can actually see a haze in the hallways of our office...not so bad at the apartment here at least!

I bought a lightweight mask....I think I might finally need to think about wearing it!

 

Thanks to all for the messages, likes, and words of encouragement!

 

day 33

this is not Manny's Barbershop.

so we just got back from Hong Kong....what a great weekend!  I was prepared to arrive in cold grey Beijing and was pleasantly surprised to find one of the clearest skies I've seen since we've been here.

smog level was only 22 today (pretty sure yesterday was at 197!)

smog level was only 22 today (pretty sure yesterday was at 197!)

One of the things I wondered about before heading over to China was, "what will I do about getting my hair cut?".  As you know , I keep my 'fro' very short. If I go any more than 4 weeks between cuts then it starts to get a bit bushy for me.  Well, it worked out perfectly that I was in Hong Kong at the 4 week mark.  I'd done a quick internet search for some barbershops...but wasn't really prepared to venture out into the big city for such an obscure service...that, and it was pretty late in the day and most places had already closed.  So I checked in with the concierge...and he sent me over to the K11 Mall to talk with Koko at the Hair Shop.  Really.  I knew that if I didn't go then, I'd probably end up waiting another 4 weeks...which would drive me crazy!

It was just a few blocks down the street from my hotel...and he'd informed me of an underground/air-conditioned short cut!  Coming up from the metro tunnels, I noticed a See's Candies!  Who knew?!?!?  Anyway..enough about the candy...I scurried around the mall until I finally found the place....not that it was hard to find...it was quite a large salon.  For men and women.  And maybe it's just that I haven't been in a salon in many many years....

Koko greeted me at the front desk and then put the price list in front of my face.  I could chose from the less experienced stylist for $450hk or spend as much as $1350hk for the senior stylist.  I figured that I don't have enough hair to warrant a fancy stylist...so I went for the cheap guy.  I mean...I normally spend $20 bucks back in LA...and that includes the tip!  $450hk is almost $60us.

please notice those mysterious torture devices on the right side of the photo!

please notice those mysterious torture devices on the right side of the photo!

I was escorted over to a regular chair and asked to be seated by a beautiful young woman who struggled to tell me that I should put on a small robe.  She wasn't into me or my foreign-ness.  Then a visit from my "stylist"...who picked at my thick hair like he was horrified.  He then suggested (?) that I get a wash.  Well...I'm game.  So he leaves.....and it seemed like he was gone for a while.  Then "Harry" comes over.  Harry takes me over to another room, more like a closet, to wash my hair.  I'd swear that he washed my hair 3 times.  

On the walk from the wash room back to the chair, you get a silly little hat.

that's Harry... ...and what do you think of my hat?!?

that's Harry...

...and what do you think of my hat?!?

...then the stylist comes back.  He proceeds to cut.  Nothing too crazy.  A bit strange to not hear the buzz of the clippers!  We chat a bit, but his english isn't great.  I explain to him that I wanted to wait to get my hair cut in Hong Kong...and instantly he got it.  "You afraid to get hair cut in Beijing?"  We laughed!!  

chop....chop....

chop....chop....

Despite the fact that this place is so close to a See's Candy, I think that the next time I'm there I'll look for a traditional barbershop!  (take note...no "after" shot.)

 

On a side note...saw this cool little robot wandering around the mall on my way out.  The kids seemed to be having fun with it.

day 32

the happiest, most humid, place on earth.  seriously...most humid.

Hong Kong Disneyland!  

never thought I'd end up here....

never thought I'd end up here....

It was just about everything you'd expect in a Disney park....there were even churros.

First, let me start by saying that this was the cheapest Disney ticket of all time.  It costs approx $58us for a one day pass.  There's obviously no need to park hop, as there's just the one park.

Once you're through the gate, it's as if you are transported to Anaheim....sure the train station looks a little different, but Main St. sure did look similar.  The weirdest part is the mountain range  in the background behind the castle!

Train Station

Train Station

Main Street.

Main Street.

We got into the park around 11am...and found the park wasn't that crowded.  First up was the Jungle Cruise.  There are 3 separate lines....one for Mandarin speakers, one for Cantonese speakers and one for English speakers.  ...though I'm not sure how much english was actually spoken by anyone.  You should judge for yourself (video below):

I started this video a little late...wish you could really appreciate all of the people bobbing about in the boat trying to get every photo of every concrete crocodile....and that tour guide....still trying to figure out exactly what it was that he was saying!  Also...please notice the kid with the "selfie stick" in front of me....it was the CRAZIEST most surreal Jungle Cruise ever!

Tarzan's Tree House (you had to take a boat over there), that's the Jungle Cruise loading in the background.

Tarzan's Tree House (you had to take a boat over there), that's the Jungle Cruise loading in the background.

Next over to Grizzly Gulch...and a spin on the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars.  A great ride with a few surprises.  Think of it as a combo between Big Thunder Mountain and Expedition Everest.

...a shot from Grizzly Gulch

...a shot from Grizzly Gulch

Next up was my favorite ride in the park.  Mystic Manor.  First, the cars are not on any sort of track.  The floor was completely smooth...I think that they run the cars via some sort of magnetic track below the floor.  It was super smooth...and had us crossing paths with other cars throughout the ride.  Really impressive.  The ride is not meant to be their version of the Haunted Mansion....nothing like it at all.  While there are a couple of small items that hardcore disney-philes would recognize from the Haunted Mansion it's really about showing off some incredible disney technology.  Lots of video mapping, lots of fiber optics, lots great tricks and surprises.  Ok, enough gushing....

Mystic Manor.   I was waiting for Mr. Rourke to walk out and say..."Welcome to Fantasy Island"

Mystic Manor.  

I was waiting for Mr. Rourke to walk out and say..."Welcome to Fantasy Island"

apologies for the bad iPhone photos....left the good camera back in Beijing.  :(

apologies for the bad iPhone photos....left the good camera back in Beijing.  :(

We walked through Toon Town...which looked like it might be more fun at night when the lights are on (and there are less hysterical children)

toon town.

toon town.

brilliantly creepy.

brilliantly creepy.

Grabbed some lunch at the Banquet Hall....cheesburger and fries (der, why do you think we came here).  If you're curious, yes...they do serve versions of chinese food here.  Lot's of it.  They even had sushi (which, of course, was of no interest to me).

the atrium in the banquet hall.

the atrium in the banquet hall.

look closely at the dish with the yellow squares on it...those are the cheeseburgers.

look closely at the dish with the yellow squares on it...those are the cheeseburgers.

Next up...It's A Small World.  Pretty much everything you'd expect...but 10 times brighter than what I remember from Anaheim.  It looked as though it was a brand new ride.

loved these girls!

loved these girls!

...there's our girl, Pocahontas! God Bless America!  Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?  Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins? You can sing with all the voices of the mountain, you can paint with all the colors of the wind. (lyrics from a song in Pocahontas)

...there's our girl, Pocahontas! God Bless America!

 Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?  Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins? You can sing with all the voices of the mountain, you can paint with all the colors of the wind. (lyrics from a song in Pocahontas)

Last ride before our afternoon break was Space Mountain.  Waited about 35 minutes...not too bad.  It was here that I suddenly became aware of the cultural differences of "personal space".  Managed to get through it as I didn't want to appear to be rude...and the humidity didn't help...but all I could think was..."please stop touching me".

It got super hot and, if I haven't mentioned it already, and was rather humid...so we headed back to the hotel for a few hours.  We stayed at the Hollywood Hotel....yes, seriously.  All of the references to Burbank, the Pan Pacific pavilion and the Hollywood Bowl were quite comforting.

cheesy hotel room photo

cheesy hotel room photo

behind our hotel...yes, that's the ocean in the background

behind our hotel...yes, that's the ocean in the background

iphone photo

iphone photo

There was a small agenda for our return trip into the park:

1.) hit Mystic Manor again.  here are a few more shots:

no lines!  best way to experience any Disney park!

no lines!  best way to experience any Disney park!

bringing the FEZ back into fashion...

bringing the FEZ back into fashion...

love this wallpaper

love this wallpaper

...and I was worried that I wouldn't have a halloween costume in china.  ha!

...and I was worried that I wouldn't have a halloween costume in china.  ha!

boo!

boo!

2.) catch the new LED based parade called "Paint The Night".  It was certainly a technological marvel...TV friends, it looked as though they pulled every toy from the VER showroom!  Some of these clips are a little long, but...

3.) see the fireworks (sorry, no photos here)

Just a few other items...

Yes, there are turkey legs here, just like in Anaheim.  While I did not try it, I was told that it was just like he remembered.  The only difference here is that they give you a plastic glove so that you don't get your hands dirty.  Fancy.

well, this is all plastic....maybe that's why it doesn't look very appetizing?

well, this is all plastic....maybe that's why it doesn't look very appetizing?

all gloved up and ready to go.

all gloved up and ready to go.

a disneyland margarita

a disneyland margarita

The day ended at the hotel bar....a lovely way to wrap up a fun weekend.  Sadly, heading back to Beijing tomorrow...though will be fun to see/meet the new faces that are joining the team next week!

thanks for watching!

thanks for watching!

day 30

Greetings from the #UmbrellaRevolution!!

birthplace of the #umbrellarevolution  apparently they'll be back at it in the evenings.

birthplace of the #umbrellarevolution  apparently they'll be back at it in the evenings.

As we were sorting out visas, I was initially disappointed that mine required me to leave mainland China every 30 days.  I thought, "who wants to leave...what a hassle".  AND THEN I GOT TO HONG KONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And I can't wait to get back here again in another 30 days!

you need to purchase a token to ride the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong.  It costs $0.37 us

you need to purchase a token to ride the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong.  It costs $0.37 us

the view from the ferry

the view from the ferry

....there's an even taller building behind me!

....there's an even taller building behind me!

It's super humid here right now, so I've come to think of it as a tropical NYC.  I've barely even scratched the surface when it comes to the touristy things to see and do.  In fact, I've spent most of the last 36 hours in shopping malls.  And it was fun.  I never thought about what a little retail therapy could do for someone!  

We did get over to the area where the people have been protesting (the Umbrella Revolution).  There were only a few hundred people there when we went by as today most of Hong Kong went back to work.  Though it sounds as though they are not giving up and that there'd be more people back there tonight.  As we were walking into one of the malls today, there was a gentleman handing out yellow ribbons and asking me "to support democracy in Hong Kong"...while it's certainly none of my business what happens here, I could barely get the words out fast enough..."RIGHT ON, BROTHER!!"  I know, I'm white.  ;)  

Nathan Street.

Nathan Street.

we decided to walk down this alley...and discovered this....a rats nest of bamboo scaffolding, tarps, and poorly rigged electrical wires. creepy, yes....and kinda cool.

we decided to walk down this alley...and discovered this....a rats nest of bamboo scaffolding, tarps, and poorly rigged electrical wires. creepy, yes....and kinda cool.

um, anyone know a good electrician?!?!

um, anyone know a good electrician?!?!

where's waldo?

where's waldo?

later this evening I ventured out...underground.  While I didn't ride the subway, these are the tunnels that run under the city and connect the stations.  Wish we'd known about them earlier today...as they are air conditioned and would have been a welcome break from the unbearable humidity!

I'm not sure if this was rush hour or not....but it felt like it....though still a little less crowded than the streets.

I'm not sure if this was rush hour or not....but it felt like it....though still a little less crowded than the streets.

My only regret about this trip is that I left my good camera back at the office....the iPhone doesn't seem to do this city justice.  While these photos seem a bit flat, know that there's a real energy here and it's been great to experience it!

Overall, It's been a welcome break from the drab/grey Beijing and I'm suddenly feeling alive again.  The visa will require me to come back again next month...but perhaps I need to look into a few additional trips!  ....and if anyone needs a fake Rolex watch, let me know!

Tomorrow...we're off to Hong Kong Disneyland!

 

 

day 28

wow.  hard to believe that as of tomorrow I will have been here for one month!  

yup, I'm definitely a little homesick.  I'm definitely missing the comforts of home, but am still very excited to be a part of this exciting project. 

Meanwhile, we had an office field trip the other night...to IKEA.  Yes, there's a few stores here in Beijing (though their pronunciation of the famed Swedish brand is very different from ours).  I was sure that I would find comfort in the familiarity of their maze like show room.  I was sure that seeing the BILLY bookcase again would somehow bring me back....not so much.  Instead, I was reminded why I don't go to IKEA very often!!  Friends, here's a piece of advice...SKIP THE SHOWROOM UPSTAIRS!  unless you need to sit on the sofa or perhaps are ordering some kitchen cabinets I'd suggest you bypass the crowds and and extra steps and just go straight to the "marketplace" where you can easily browse through the lamps, kitchen goods and duvet covers!

Once we wound our way down to check out, I was taken back to my days on Babylon 5...where we referred to the check out as CUSTOMS.  Here's another IKEA trick, friends:  the shorter lines at the check out are almost always on the far sides of the rooms!  

ah, the familiar blue and yellow!   looks like you can only pay cash for the meatballs.

ah, the familiar blue and yellow!   looks like you can only pay cash for the meatballs.

from here we made a stop over at the IKEA FAMILY room (the orange room over on the right)....

from here we made a stop over at the IKEA FAMILY room (the orange room over on the right)....

...and when you walk into the IKEA FAMILY room, you find that that's where the sell...THE KNIVES ?!?!?!?!?!?

...and when you walk into the IKEA FAMILY room, you find that that's where the sell...THE KNIVES ?!?!?!?!?!?

wait, is this Burbank or Beijing?

wait, is this Burbank or Beijing?

yup, they sell the meatballs here too....though this cafe seemed larger than any of the ones I'd seen.  I didn't happen to notice if they also had chopsticks.

yup, they sell the meatballs here too....though this cafe seemed larger than any of the ones I'd seen.  I didn't happen to notice if they also had chopsticks.

nice of them to translate for us, no?

nice of them to translate for us, no?

sameness.

sameness.

This is a holiday week here in China...National Day(s).  We are off from work for the rest of the week...which worked out well in that I am having to travel this week outside of the country for 24 hours to satisfy some visa requirements.  I'll keep the destination a surprise for now....but will tell you that I am headed to a "magical" place!

Hope all of you are well!

day 16

quite a busy day today....

we moved out of the fancy hotel and into the residence hotel....but more on that later.

last night we went back to that restaurant in the hutong....this time with a fully charged phone battery.  the quality of the photos aren't great, but I think that they tell the story.

yup...

yup...

colorful, anyway

colorful, anyway

to one side of the restaurant...

to one side of the restaurant...

and on the other side...

and on the other side...

the little white jugs are either milk or yogurt.....at room temperature.

the little white jugs are either milk or yogurt.....at room temperature.

and then about 20 steps further down the street, there's this.

and then about 20 steps further down the street, there's this.

the hutong is certainly another world. it's a real feast for the eyes.  there are a few modern residences, but many primitive looking spots.  walking through you see many public bathrooms...and initially I thought that it was great that the city provided these restrooms for the tourists.....then I saw someone walking in their pajamas into one.  wow, what a wake up call....those bathrooms are there for the people who live in the hutongs....because there IS NO PLUMBING!    I've decided that it's best for me to visit only at night as I think that there a plenty of things I don't need to see.   ...oh, and another thing....when you catch a whiff in this neighborhood....it'll flatten you! 

today was our last day in the local office...we are moving to the more permanent space this weekend.  This must be the weekend for settling in as I am now writing from the residence hotel.  It doesn't seem too bad and I am grateful to have some room to spread out, a kitchen to prepare some food and a washer/dryer combo for my growing pile of laundry.  

not horrible....

not horrible....

just moved in....

just moved in....

way better than I had imagined!

way better than I had imagined!

On the way home from work we stopped at a small market called Jenny Lou's.  I'd heard that they cater to the western expat community....and boy, howdy! do they ever!  I suddenly felt a sense of calm come over me....I haven't had a PopTart in ages....and yet I bought some anyway because they are familiar to me!   It's not a cheap place....but I didn't care.  Walked out of there with two bags of groceries (mostly junk) and figured that I spent in the neighborhood of $75.00.  Makes Whole Foods look cheap, no?  ...and believe me...I'll be going back there.

day 15

well, sorta still day 14...part 2?

a lovely walk into the Lama Temple

a lovely walk into the Lama Temple

we started the day yesterday by heading to the Yonghe Temple, commonly known as the Lama Temple.  It is a temple and monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism.  Work on the temple started in 1694.

 

 The drive up to the place was quite fun.  I knew we were getting close as there were suddenly loads of stores selling buddah statues out my window.  i had never seen so many golden figures.

Once inside, you are greated by two people who provide you with a bundle of sticks/incense so that you my light some and say a prayer.  we were really there to look at architectural details so I wasn't necessarily prepared to start saying any specific prayers...other than for a good time in China!

incense

incense

all that incense....it got a little smoky for a minute.

all that incense....it got a little smoky for a minute.

There were loads of beautiful statues in the many buildings on the property.  They seemed to get progressively larger the further into the complex we went.

I just love the cloud background in this...and check out the dragon head around the belt!

I just love the cloud background in this...and check out the dragon head around the belt!

some other beauties.

some other beauties.

prayer cushions inside the temple...

prayer cushions inside the temple...

even bigger still...

even bigger still...

had never seen a skylight in chinese architecture (see the light in the previous photo)

had never seen a skylight in chinese architecture (see the light in the previous photo)

this statue was the biggest of them all...at least 3 stories tall...so tall that i couldn't get it all in the shot

this statue was the biggest of them all...at least 3 stories tall...so tall that i couldn't get it all in the shot

this fabric became iridescent in the light....according to wikipedia, the statue continues into the ground another 24' and is all carved from a single piece of sandalwood.  impressive.

this fabric became iridescent in the light....according to wikipedia, the statue continues into the ground another 24' and is all carved from a single piece of sandalwood.  impressive.

can't get enough of these green tiles!

can't get enough of these green tiles!

wonder what the significance of him stepping on his baby is?

wonder what the significance of him stepping on his baby is?

Sadly, tonight is my last night in the lap of luxury.  I will miss this place.  Though I am looking forward to getting settled into a real apartment, this hotel room quickly became my safe home away from home.  The staff was brilliantly friendly and they made our morning breakfasts fun and enjoyable.  Tomorrow, I'll move about 10 minutes closer to the city center....to a residence hotel that many of you may have heard of....if you participated in the Emerson LA program...you know what I'm talking about.  I hope that it's even half as comfortable as this place has been.

Will try to keep the posts coming!  Thanks.

day 14

my apologies for the delay in posting...things have picked up quite a bit at work and I haven't had anything too interesting to post about.

detail from the gates of the Temple of Earth

detail from the gates of the Temple of Earth

 

today though was a different story.  the morning was spent touring a few spots in the city center.  both very interesting visually, so I'll be splitting this post up over two days.

 

Spent part of the morning at The Temple of Earth.  Here's a brief description of the place from Wikipedia: 

The Temple of Earth (also referred to as the Ditan Park) was constructed in 1530 by Emperor Jia Jing during the Ming Dynasty. The park covers a 40 hectares space outside of Beijing's second ring road. This places the park in the middle of a heavily populated area. The park features lush gardens and tree lined paths. During the Cultural Revolution of China, the temple was damaged; however, the site has been restored and renovated since then.

For thousands of years, the Chinese have believed that important cosmic things could be symbolized using common shapes and directions. Because the Temple symbolizes the Earth, its footprint is square in shape. The square is a powerful symbol in Chinese culture and mythology which can mean Earth or the ground. The Temple's construction mirrors these beliefs with its many square walls and altars. The Temple of Earth is also located in the north of Beijing, north being the direction associated with the Earth. In contrast to this, the much larger Temple of Heaven is circular in shape, symbolizing the heavens and sky, and is located in the south of Beijing. These two temples, along with the Temples of the Moon and Sun (located in the west and east, respectively), interact with each other in spiritually important ways. The Chinese government has listed the Earth temple as one of the most important historical monuments under special preservation.

(wish I'd read this before we visited!)

only the emperor would come inside those gates

only the emperor would come inside those gates

roof line of the Temple of the Earth

roof line of the Temple of the Earth

prayers left by other visitors

prayers left by other visitors

some bells inside the temple

some bells inside the temple

there were two of these little guys.  they stand at the base of of the rack of bells (see previous photo)

there were two of these little guys.  they stand at the base of of the rack of bells (see previous photo)

a man hole cover....well, I thought it was cool.

a man hole cover....well, I thought it was cool.

we next headed over to see the Bell and Drum Towers.  ...thing is, we didn't realize that they would be closed and that the courtyard between the two buildings would be a major construction zone....that they just let random people wander through!!  I think I actually stepped in some wet cement (no joke).  this was adjacent to a hutong...provided some "local color" anyway....

oh, no problem...we'll just traipse right through this...

oh, no problem...we'll just traipse right through this...

i thought the graffiti was pretty cool....

i thought the graffiti was pretty cool....

i did manage to snag a shot of the Bell Tower anyway....

i did manage to snag a shot of the Bell Tower anyway....

...and these beautiful door pulls at the gate

...and these beautiful door pulls at the gate

we wandered through the outskirts of the hutong on the way back to the car...again, a little more local color:

what the...?!?!?!  what kind of store is that?!?!

what the...?!?!?!  what kind of store is that?!?!

and then when we got back to the office, there were these guys just lounging around....had me missing Buddy and Hazel today...

the winner is....

Jeanne MacLellan!

Some great detective work!  Here's what wikipedia has to say about the strange looking fruit...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanum_mammosum

I was told by one of the hotel employees yesterday that it's commonly seen around the Chinese New Year.  Now as soon as I can find a Great Wall of China refrigerator magnet, I'll be sending it off to her!

Thanks, Jeanne!

day 11

a day for lounging....

we're quite comfortable here at the hotel.  so much so that I really need to force myself to leave.  we've only been here a short time but the hotel staff has gone out of their way to acknowledge us and make us feel very comfortable.  most mornings we meet downstairs for breakfast and almost everyday someone from the hotel stops by to shake our hand, say good morning and chat for a bit.  it all seems so civilized.

today was a very late breakfast.  so late that we were there to watch them turn the room over for their brunch/lunch service.  it was all rather exciting and beautiful to look at....racks of duck being pushed out from the kitchen on a cart....a giant fish covered under a massive pile of the most beautiful salt....sections of wheatgrass being rolled out....all very fun.  of course, I was more interested in the desserts....while we didn't partake, I did stop to snap a few photos:

so pretty

so pretty

almost too pretty to eat?

almost too pretty to eat?

I did finally find my way to the fitness center to use the treadmill for a while (easiest/cleanest way to get any exercise here) but after that spent most of my day holed up in my room...ventured out for just a little bit in the afternoon:

loads of stores like this wherever you go...

loads of stores like this wherever you go...

yet there seem to be so few customers...I guess the rent must be cheap

yet there seem to be so few customers...I guess the rent must be cheap

loads of these all over the city...haven't seen anyone using them though.   oh, and that lady standing on the other side....i think she's one of those people that's paid to hold the sign...perhaps she should come to LA and take some lessons from those guys that spin them around so well!

loads of these all over the city...haven't seen anyone using them though.   oh, and that lady standing on the other side....i think she's one of those people that's paid to hold the sign...perhaps she should come to LA and take some lessons from those guys that spin them around so well!

....looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow...we are expecting a few colleagues from the states to join us this week!  oh, and we'll probably be moving out of our beautiful hotel this week into a more permanent location.  all good things must come to an end, but...it'll be nice to finally settle in, have a kitchen and a place to do laundry.

these brooms are used everywhere.  I've seen loads of people sweeping the streets with them.  now that I think about it, I've never seen one abandoned in this way....they are almost always being used. 

these brooms are used everywhere.  I've seen loads of people sweeping the streets with them.  now that I think about it, I've never seen one abandoned in this way....they are almost always being used. 

day 10

the turtle started to come out of his shell...

gotta say I was a little "shell" shocked (pun intended) when I first arrived.  I haven't been out of the country in years and this has been a real adjustment.  of course, it's not been that crazy...but in my world....it's pretty out there.  we've got the weekend off and I finally decided to venture outside the comfort of our fancy hotel.

I should start by saying that we are staying in the Chaoyang District,  just outside of the 3rd Ring Road (ring roads circle the city....there are 5 or 6 of them).  the area is known as a spot where many expats live.  it's also heavily populated with foreign embassies.  so, not to worry Mary Ellen, it seems like a pretty safe neighborhood.

it was a beautiful day today.  about 80 degrees and relatively clear. there's certainly smog....but you could see the blue sky and clouds today!  walked out the door of the hotel and turned right...towards Lucky Street.  looks like it would be a pretty happening street on a saturday night....guessing that they're all home sleeping in before the night begins!  there was a Spice Girls Restaurant, a Southern German Bakery and a bar called Nashville.

Lucky Street

Lucky Street

a little further down....a mall!  your every day run of the mill, sort of Grove like, shopping mall.  of course I walked in...always on the lookout for things that I might recognize.  I wandered around the perimeter....all on a little pond, people sitting out on patios enjoying the day...it didn't seem very big and I was feeling a little disappointed.  ...and then I walked into a small door.....and there was a whole other mall inside and underground from the mall that I had just walked around.  loads of shops in there.  mostly clothes, and jewelry. 

toto, are you sure we're not in Calabasas anymore?

toto, are you sure we're not in Calabasas anymore?

i know....look's like christmas decorations, right?

i know....look's like christmas decorations, right?

well Holly, now you have no excuse for not visiting.

well Holly, now you have no excuse for not visiting.

at first I thought it was a mirage.....but it's real.  believe it, people!

at first I thought it was a mirage.....but it's real.  believe it, people!

 i've been told that the lower levels of many malls have a grocery store (similar to the one I visited the other day)....that seems to hold true....walking by the lower level market I saw this amazing looking fruit growing on a vine .  i don't think they're lemons...anyone know what they are?  a great wall of china refrigerator magnet to the first person that can tell me what it is!!!

it was so beautiful....and not fake, I checked.  would've looked cool on Babylon 5, Jason!

it was so beautiful....and not fake, I checked.  would've looked cool on Babylon 5, Jason!

saw a couple of other interesting things in the underground mall....a store that scans your entire body...and then turns it into a figurine of you.  Sort of like having your own Lladro figurine...with your face on it.  kind of creepy.  also noticed that there was a rather inordinate amount of baby stores there.  kids clothes, strollers, accessories....I'm guessing that since the people here can only have one child, they have a little more money to spend?  

left the mall and decided to continue to stroll around the block....have I mentioned how big the city is?....I'd guess that the blocks compare to the distance between avenues in NYC...

lot's of random things seen along the way:

chinese parking lot....

chinese parking lot....

just steps outside of the parking lot...

just steps outside of the parking lot...

fresh juice, anyone?   ummm....I'll pass....xièxiè (thanks)

fresh juice, anyone?   ummm....I'll pass....xièxiè (thanks)

loved this...and yet was kinda creeped out by it.  the top shelf had about 5 boxes of random pills in it....seems you're welcome to just help yourself to whatever is in there.  ...and what do you think qualifies as living supplies?

loved this...and yet was kinda creeped out by it.  the top shelf had about 5 boxes of random pills in it....seems you're welcome to just help yourself to whatever is in there.  ...and what do you think qualifies as living supplies?

ended up walking into a city nursery....there's another building behind me....filled with cut flowers.  they were also selling little birds in cages....

ended up walking into a city nursery....there's another building behind me....filled with cut flowers.  they were also selling little birds in cages....

I'm glad I ventured out today.  The city suddenly seems a little more manageable...and a little less overwhelming.  I'm very much looking forward to exploring some more.

 

ps.  just wanted to say thanks to all for your notes and messages.  I'm half a world away...yet still feel very connected to all of you.

day 8

time to get real...

ventured into a small grocery store tonight.  I suspect that it's a pretty high end store as there was at least one salesperson standing at the end of very aisle ready and available to assist you. oh yeah...and we walked by a wine case that featured multiple bottles of wine retailing for $8,000 each.

not that I was looking for anything fancy...or that I want to be shopping at an overpriced market....it's just that it's the only market I know of in the area.  it was great fun wandering up and down the aisles searching for anything that might be recognizable.  I'm guessing that that fun may wear off during the 5th, 6th, 7th month when I am wandering back and forth trying to find the sliced black olives!

a few things I recognized:  Häagen-Dazs, Aquafresh, Peppridge Farm cookies, Pringles and a Scottish soda called Iron Bru.  I did also notice some SPAM flavored macadamia nuts.....yeah, sounds kind of foul....but they're only SPAM FLAVORED....that can't be that bad, right?

Here are a few shots from inside:

do I even dare??!?!??  I mean, that doesn't look ANYTHING like Tony the Tiger!

do I even dare??!?!??  I mean, that doesn't look ANYTHING like Tony the Tiger!

look at how fancy the grapes are!

look at how fancy the grapes are!

mostly in english.....phew.

mostly in english.....phew.

all of the produce in the store is wrapped up like this.  certainly nice and tidy.

all of the produce in the store is wrapped up like this.  certainly nice and tidy.

on a completely different note, I discovered that the hotel television has a channel that will allow me to catch the next season of Downton Abbey...starting NEXT WEEK!!!!!  

day 7

a pretty quiet day

spent the entire day in the office...a welcome respite from all of the sightseeing/running around.

two things:

• have you ever brushed your teeth using bottled water?  I've only been here a week and I am already over the bottled water brushing.  it's made me appreciate how lucky we are to have clean drinking water coming from the tap

• i see this every morning during breakfast at the hotel...pretty beautiful, no?  it's made of different sized nails (antique ones, I think)

this photo doesn't do it justice 

this photo doesn't do it justice 




day 6

what an adventure.....

selfie

selfie

the day started with a trip to visit the Forbidden City.  i caught myself many times this morning thinking, "holy moley, I'm standing in the freaking Forbidden City!".  The scale of the place is simply awesome...it's incredibly large but, honestly, I wasn't all that taken with the overall architecture.  Sounds a little judgy, sure....but as I walked around taking photos, I fell in love with the little details.  The glazed terra-cotta tiles, the marble moldings, the ornately painted ceilings...all the way down to the little ceramic figurines on the roof line.  To say it was "impressive" just doesn't do it justice.

beautiful glazed tiles

beautiful glazed tiles

i want one of those guys!

i want one of those guys!

really learning to appreciate the lines of those roofs

really learning to appreciate the lines of those roofs

bronze.

bronze.

incredibly colorful.

incredibly colorful.

the details are so mush prettier....but didn't want to leave you hanging

the details are so mush prettier....but didn't want to leave you hanging

we stopped for lunch at a dumpling place....fared better than I expected....until I bit into one with a little shrimp in it....those of you that know me well know that that was a game changer.

lunch stop for dumplings

lunch stop for dumplings

post lunch we stopped in at an art supply store.  that was crazy fun...and somehow very comforting as I found myself amongst things that I could instantly recognize, no matter how different they looked.  with any luck, we'll get back there again.  meanwhile, it seems as though our hunt for "real" foam core will have to continue.

scale model trees from an art supply store called Bai Hua

scale model trees from an art supply store called Bai Hua

we wrapped up the evening in a little hutong...and it was AWESOME.  when I thought about this trip in Beijing all I had thought about was big skyscrapers and smog.  this was simply a night and day difference. it was if I had stepped into a darker more secret world....loads of little side streets and alley ways....little shops and food stands and restaurants along the way. bicycles and scooters zipping about....little kids and dogs running through....random piles of abandoned furniture that looked as though it had been placed there by a set decorator.  as I sat there during dinner, I thought that in my wildest imagination, I'm not sure that I would ever be able to layer a set as nicely as this hutong was layered.  my only regret is that I let my cellphone battery die...or I'd have taken more photos.

here's a daytime photo of the place we ate...at night it's even more magical

here's a daytime photo of the place we ate...at night it's even more magical


day 5

today I really did walk the great wall.

selfie

selfie

we woke today to discover that the big grey veil had been lifted off the city.  I suspect it's because it was a holiday and the factories were closed...either way, it was good for us.  the plan was to drive two hours outside the city to look at a particular section of the wall in a little place called Jinshanling.  it was rather remote...very few people there....a few locals trying very hard to get you to buy trinkets...

a cable car takes you up to the wall...real small and with hardly any air in them.....but then we got to the top and...WOW.  I know it helped that it was a remarkably clear day, but...WOW.  It was all quite a rush.  

the wall is all very irregular...from photos, things so regimented...but in reality so much of it is steep and precarious....only a few creepy moments...

spectacular views up there....beijing to the left, mongolia to the right

spectacular views up there....beijing to the left, mongolia to the right

after walking this section, we went of to another piece about 30 minutes away....it was a stark contrast to what we had just come from.   this was more of a theme park environment....sort of a studio back lot...anyway, we skipped all that....and went straight up to the next cable car.  take a look at the photo below...at the top of those rocky cliffs is the great wall.  it was rather impressive...thing is...it was so rocky and steep up there that we didn't venture all the way up.....I definitely got a good dose though...

look closely at the top of the rocks...that's a part of the Great Wall!

look closely at the top of the rocks...that's a part of the Great Wall!

oh, and I saw two birds today!!

off to The Forbidden City tomorrow....I feel another obligatory selfie coming on.

day 3

First, let me start by saying that I have a new appreciation for Los Angeles traffic.  I suspect that by the time I move back there, I will never complain about traffic again.  This city is simply gigantic, and with it’s size there are plenty of cars to compliment that.  The crazy thing is that, depending on the day and your license plate number, some cars are simply not allowed to be driving on certain roads….and yet STILL, it can feel like an eternity just to travel a few blocks.

 

We were intending to head outside the city yesterday to tour some property.  It turned out to be quite an adventure for me.  When I signed on to the project, I new that I’d be exposed to things I’d never encountered before….but I never thought that I’d be speeding down a bumpy dirt road dodging in and out of smaller “bung bungs” (little trikes/motorized carts) and children on motor scooters! 

 

The highway led us through  giant fields of corn….which I found a little strange as you never think of corn as being a staple of the Chinese diet.  I suspect that it’s grown as feed for livestock…and I hope that that’s all it’s used for.  Once we got off the highway, I noticed these large golden yellow patches on the road.  As we got closer I realized that the farmers had taken over large sections of the street to dry out the individual corn kernels…yes, right there on the side of the road…amidst all of the diesel fumes and other crud that runs along the road.  The closer we got to the center of town, the more patches of corn taking over the street…to the point that you end up weaving in, out and around of these random harvests.  It was quite a sight.

 

Driving back to the city, it hit me.  If this were happening in the states, the farmers would be battling the birds or even rodents that would come along and snatch their crops….and then I realized something, there are no birds here.  It’s the strangest thing.  I have not seen a single pigeon or seagull or crow….sorta creepy.

that's one of those little "bung bungs" in the road in front of us.

that's one of those little "bung bungs" in the road in front of us.

on a quick side note about the traffic, I found this article today....pretty sure that it was the same route I was on the other day....

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1306058/China-traffic-jam-enters-11th-day-officials-admit-weeks.html