You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2010.

I’m happy to report that things are MUCH better since my last post! We now have internet in our apartment, I figured out how to turn the A/C into a minimal-heat producing machine, my roommate kindly taught me that we should be using the fridge in the living room instead of the kitchen because it actually works (how silly of me to think we should use the one in the kitchen) and my various positions here are going great. I am doing marketing for a western bakery, charity events for a chinese cultural center and teaching English at an international school on saturdays! So far I have worked 7 days a week for the past two weeks, but it beats the heck out of sitting around the apartment or going to an endless amount of interviews and networking events. David has been in the US on a business trip for almost a week now, and apparently is doing a great job getting new partners for his high school study abroad organization.

We still don’t have a light in our bathroom which is a bit of a challenge, but overall I’m actually enjoying Beijing. I also just spent a lot of time touring and eating dinners with the Jacobs, and I think their Beijing portion of the trip was practically ideal. Per usual I’m a little behind with posting…but today I wanted to share some photos from various food spots around the city. We ate in the Wudaokou (university) area with our friend Caroline, who I owe greatly for introducing me to the owner of the bakery. (BTW, did I mention I got a macbook as part of my new position?! My old computer couldn’t even open documents, so I am relishing this thing like a newborn baby. It’s so beautiful, and fast and helpful…thank you Lin!!!) OK, back to food. Caroline picked a Korean BBQ place, where they bring out a huge platter of fresh food on a large skillet and cook it all in the middle of the table. We had major ordering problems because they literally would not serve any dishes without meat because they said it wouldn’t cook right…and when the food arrived it looked NOTHING like the photo in the menu. The oh-so-understanding waiters pointed us to the disclaimer on the menu which stated, “Actual food may be different than pictured.” Considering exactly HOW different the photo was, David asked if they thought it appropriate to bring a plate of meat even if we had pointed to a plate of veggies. They were not amused.

We had a more successful dinner with another new friend, Betsy, on Gui Jie or “Ghost Street.” The street looks awesome at night, filled with lanterns and bright lights. They also do a lot of bbq and seafood here, but we opted for a more traditional Chinese location. Below you can also find many photos of our neighborhood in Shuangjing. We live in a foreign-friendly but still very Chinese part of the city, about a 20-minute walk from Guomao and the Central Business Distracit (CBD), so there are lots of skyscrapers and overall congestion. The view out the window is actually from our old apartment, sigh. The other place was more updated and had a great bathroom with marble and a western tub, but our new place is still pretty good. We are located across the street from the Viva mall which has a big food court and movie theater, and are around the corner from an almost western grocery. The square in front of the mall is very lively, often filled with Chinese line-dancing women, salsa classes, in-line skating, men’s singing groups and various other events. We don’t have a good, cheap, food street nearby which David especially misses, but I’m happy that most food is very convenient.

OK, I’m crossing my fingers that uploading these photos works, as the internet has been super-slow tonight, but here goes nothing. Oh, and I almost forgot, I wanted to give major shout-outs to my tough and caring friends who all recently completed the longest fundraising endurance events of their lives. They each raised thousands to fight cancer AND all managed a major wipe-out before or during their events. Um, is that a requirement to compete or something?! Allie Bouton finished her first marathon in Chicago to benefit Fred’s Team, Lisa Galik walked a marathon and a half to benefit the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and Amy Anselmo also finished her first marathon in Seattle to benefit Team in Training. I’m so lucky to have awesomely caring friends! AND…coming up, Jenny Lou has signed up for her first-ever marathon with Team in Training; I could not be more proud of her! I will be updating you on her progress as I live vicariously through her efforts. Yeah Jenny!!!

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Coming to you straight from Lily’s American Diner in Beijing, I know it’s time for a post because I’m seriously questioning my sanity. Lets start from a few days ago…

On Sunday I arrived to an incredibly beautiful day in Hong Kong, where I was flawlessly picked-up from the train station from Richard Kligler and whisked away to the beach oasis of Stanley. Richard and I spent the day on dueling laptops, chatting about our favorite things: tea, traveling, St. Baldrick’s, Hong Kong and the US. I got on facebook for the first time since May, and had a good time catching up on all your lives! Marcia made us a wonderful dinner, and I was entertained by Jill, Sean and Jet the wonder dog. Jill graciously offered me her bed, and I fell asleep with the waves crashing outside my window…I was feelin GOOD.

Monday morning I got up bright and early and headed to the visa office downtown. Although the place opens at 9am, there was already a line stretched around the corner at 8:45. Fortunately, I had all of my information together and had submitted all of my materials and was finished around 10:30. I walked around the Wan Chai/Central areas of Hong Kong for a while, and then headed back to Stanley. Again, more nice chats with Richard and dinner complete with jerk ribs and cornbread!

Tuesday, the real adventure of the past few days began. It was my plan to meet The Jacobs on the top of Victoria Peak, and Richard agreed to drop me off in the morning. I got a little confused about the Jacobs itinerary, and we had some trouble figuring out whether to meet at the bottom or top tram…which ended up confusing the heck out of Richard, who took a last minute turn onto the Peak Circuit. Now, a friendly passerby told us cars were allowed to drive around the 3K the circuit, but having walked the relatively narrow, pedestrian path before, I was immediately worried. You may remember the photos of this path from our previous Hong Kong post, which was one of David’ and my most memorable experiences in Hong Kong. Richard maneuvered skillfully between walkers, runners, groups of school children and a rock cliffs to our right and a 1200m drop on the left. We did see a few residences and hotels as we crawled by in the car, so it was obvious that cars sometimes DO make this journey. However, we were finally halted by construction halfway around the walk. BIG Oh No! We had hardly had enough space to drive forward, now we had to reverse out?! At this point I was a half hour late to meet the Jacobs, who had been calling me on Richard’s phone that was accidentally on silent. So…backing up we went. I CANNOT believe we made it through about five 30-point turns without scratching Richard’s Jaguar, but thank goodness. After an additional hour of ushering every type of walker by, including a group of nearly 200 French students, we made it to a turn-around and back to where we started on the peak.

Well, the Jacobs had left at that point and I was left to converse with their extremely English-limited tour guide. Fortunately, Richard the savior took me to meet them in Aberdeen, and we linked up for the rest of the day. I won’t go into detail about how the tour guide thought it was reasonable for them to spend 25 minutes on Victoria Peak and over 3 hours at Ocean Park children’s amusement park…but that day about wrecked every last nerve in my body. Fortunately, it was all made better by seeing the Jacobs and having an excellent day two of touring in Hong Kong together. We toured all the different markets, sign-laden streets and made it back to do Victoria Peak justice! David’s computer is really best for uploading photos and he’s meeting the Jacobs in Guilin now, so I will have to post more photos and details about the trip when he returns (or hope that the Jacobs will guest post!)

That night…more crap news. I got on the internet to find that David didn’t get his Z-visa, and would be running around furiously the next day to get an emergency extension from the security bureau to have any chance of seeing his parents. Already stressed about this potential, I also found out that the biggest Typhoon in years was scheduled to make a direct hit on Hong Kong on Saturday…the day I was supposed to leave. I immediately called the airline to switch my flight, but they informed me that I would have to fax or email a copy of my passport to them in order to change flights. Oh good, that passport that’s at the visa office? Excellent. So, after a brief break-down, I brainstormed with Richard about options. I would pick up my visa as early as possible, go straight to the train station/apparently a place to check baggage for the airport and buy tickets (wow, Hong Kong service is incredible!!!) and try and get on the only flight leaving through China Southern 4 hours later the same day. And, it worked. I was extremely bummed not to be able to meet up with Erin Manfredi to see Danny Boselovic’s big show at The Beijing Club on Friday night…but I thought it was more important to get back to Beijing.

Then, quick re-cap of my night after arriving to the Beijing airport:
-Take train from airport to new apartment (after being kicked out/potentially robbed, David moved us in while I was in Hong Kong)
-Knock on door with suitcase…no one is home/no idea if David is on his way to Guilin or what
-Go to Starbucks to use internet and try to contact someone in Beijing.
-Computer is dead.
-Lovely employee says there are no outlets. (Umm, how do you make frappacinos? Someone helllp me!)
-Brief crying session in Starbucks.
-Walk to newspaper stand to buy money to re-charge phone.
-No cards left for China Telecom.
-Walk to another stand, guy over-charges me (do NOT say thank you to him!) and gives me card.
-Add money, try to call friend.
-RE-charge did not work.
-Phone blinks low battery.
-Stand, stare, want to die.
-Try phone again, it works! Betsy quickly gives me directions to her apartment, which I have never been to but apparently is unlocked, thank you second savior of the week.
-Find apartment, enter.
-Freak out dog, who pees all off the couch, twice.
-David calls, he’s home. Seriously? Ahhhhhh
-Meet him to get new key at the metro, he leaves for Guilin.

Happy Ending/Minor Miracles: David got his emergency extension and is in Guilin meeting his parents. There’s no heat or internet in the apartment, so I’m sitting in Lily’s (thank you Lily and Joe), re-telling a story I’m sure will be funny for prosperity but makes me feel like sharing with you is the only way to regain some sanity.

Nihao from Beijing,
Erin

*ps…Our new apartment currently has one empty room. For those of you that are interested in having a similarly stressful yet potentially life changing experience here, feel free to get in touch.

Hello, hello! I know you were promised a post from David a few days ago, but the poor boy has been running around senseless due to his visa and job, so you are stuck with me until I leave for Hong Kong tomorrow! I don’t really have the time to post tonight because I am supposed to be packing up ALL of my things to move into our new apartment across the street, but I promised change.org that I would blog about WATER today. The idea of this project is for all bloggers to raise awareness about a given issue on a particular day, to generate discussion and ultimately change about a pressing concern. I was also shocked myself to read that “Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. So without further ado, here are some more devastating facts about this issue:

1. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it’s no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

2. More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

3. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

4. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that’s just one meal! It would take over 1.8 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

5. The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using just 10 gallons to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.

Also, I recently asked a guy on The Beijinger for some Visa advice, and asked his permission to share his comical response with you; comical only in that these stories of ridiculous hassle are becoming more common the more I ask:

Hey . . In the end I went through a friend of a friend of a friend who happened to be a visa agent within beijing . . But man I wouldn’t recommend the one I used. They took my passport to another province where visa restrictions were more lax, but didn’t manage to get it to the police station in time before my visa expired. So there was some trouble there, but it was ok because everyone’s corrupt. I got my visa back after nearly a month . . but not before they tried to scam me for between 0 – 70000 RMB (it changed depending on what day and who spoke to them, i.e. myself or my chinese friends). When i got it back, it wasn’t the 12 month L visa I had decided to settle for, but rather a 6 month F visa . . with two months already expired . . Absolute nightmare. My friend convinced the person to return it without charge but it certainly wasn’t easy. these numbers may or may not help as it was a while ago now; *numbers deleted for privacy!
Still another teacher friend of mine got his 12 month F visa through a different agent, They flew out to Qing Dao from beijing, where a group of other foreigners met up at some office and collected fake working documents, then had to take those to the qing dao local constabulary and lie in person. Perhaps its more risky, perhaps not but at least you keep your hands on your passport the whole time.

So folks, do I stand a chance getting my own visa? Only time, travel, forms, endless lines and money will tell…tear.

In other news, Bank of America and a Chinese Bank combined charged me $16.50 to take out $149.50, including a $5 charge to check my balance. I went on an 8K run with the Beijing Hash House Harriers that was a fun way to explore the Beijing Hutongs, and we have done a lot more things that I will elaborate on next time!

So I can’t hyper-link most of these links because the internet is going so darn slow…so just copy and paste, okie? thanks.

*Check out this great menu translation, I have seen many similar.

*Just heard about this amazing story about two guys’ bike ride from Paris to Beijing. The photos on here are absolutely incredible, and they are hoping to raise money for an orphanage in Western China.

*I have been looking into participating in the China Charity Challenge Bike Ride in the future, they just got back from a tea tasting trip to Yunnan province, and despite my aching tailbone whenever I attempt to ride, I am really interested in joining. If you want to make the trip over here for this, let me know!

*And on one final note, all I want for Christmas is a chance to see McSteamy.

-Pictures below are from french toast I made in a Chinese wok and Apple Strudel in a pot, as well as the Tienanmen Area for National Day.

If you were able to fully understand my life right now, you may be surprised that this blog post is not about being kicked out of our apartment in three days. It’s not about how two of our roommates illegally subletted their rooms, and the less-intelligent of the two got caught by posting the exact address on the internet for the owner to find. It’s not about how we paid an agent a lot of money to secure an illegally subletted room, or how we had a very awkward run-in with the Chinese-speaking owner about how we have three days to vacate the apartment.

OK, so maybe I lied a little…this post is only partially about that. This recent turn of events isn’t the entire focus of my life because I have freaked out so much over my visa, job and the stresses of living here that I’m trying very hard to analyze and appreciate the other things happening in our chaotic Chinese lives, namely, The Beijing Subway. (And also, our friend and roommate Er Wei, who has agreed to move out with us and help find another place to live.)

I have been storing a mental list of the visual spectacles I have encountered on the Subway for about a month now, and felt a strong compunction to share them today. Coming home on Line 10, I overheard some relatively loud music while listening to the soothing instruction of my Pimsleur Chinese podcast. Assuming it was someone’s ridiculously loud ring tone, I ignored the sound at first. However, I soon realized that it was a guy playing the guitar with a surprisingly great voice. I turned off my podcast and listened to this tall, lanky, musician who was visibly nervous but playing his heart out. It was so refreshing to see a Chinese person standing out from the crowd, risking public disapproval, to share something beneficial with others. What really made my heart ache was that he didn’t receive the public shame so many Chinese are petrified to experience, he collected kuai after kuai to fill his guitar case with money. Old and young, male and female, they all appreciated the music and supported the young “rebel.”

Then, as so often happens during even one commute in China, I found that my mood careened from elevated high to depressing low. I heard a clipping sound to my left, and dearly hoped it wasn’t what I thought it was. I followed the sound, peered through the crowd, and found a thirty-something adult male clipping his finger nails in the car! Seriously?! My mind raced to find the words to tell him how completely disgusting and inappropriate I found his actions, but in the end my limited Chinese forced me to curse him only in my head. Where was that musician to confidently tell this guy off when I needed him?

Seething in my anger, I was reminded me of a few other subway spectacles I had experienced since moving to Beijing a month ago. First, there was the baby whose parents helped him squat to pee in the middle of a moving subway car. Fortunately for those hoping to rinse the bottom of their shoes that afternoon, the pee managed to slide all around the floor and and create an array of mini-puddles. While I understand that some perils often accompany the decision not to use diapers on children,(which I actually applaud for the resulting lack of non-biodegradable plastic in landfills) the fact that the parents had encouraged this behavior instead of reprimanding the child for peeing on public transportation caused these poor souls to feel the wrath of my disapproving looks for a long ten-minute ride to my stop. Additionally, there was the woman who not only completely exposed one breast to feed her child during the commute, but both breasts because the child would not stop screaming until he was drinking from one side and holding the other for comfort. I just chuckled at that one, I suppose you gotta do what you gotta to do keep a kid from screaming during rush hour.

So, I write this post for you today as a way to put my troubles into perspective. China is a trying place for foreigners to make a life for themselves, especially trying to do it mostly on your own. However, through every day and every struggle I learn how to better manage life here, and I am certainly exposed to scenes that I never would have experienced at home. Who would’ve thought that the crowds and pushing of the mosh pit that is Line 1 of the Beijing Subway would seem insignificant compared to the other shocks I have experienced during my commute?

*A great visual depiction of Eastern vs. Western culture: http://www.slideshare.net/praveenvarghese/eastern-culture-vs-western-culture

In short, moving to Beijing was terrible. We (mostly David) lugged many suitcases and bags from our apartment, to a taxi, to the Beijing bus, through the subway, to a taxi…left the things a few nights in offices/apartments…and finally to our new apartment in the Shuangjing neighborhood of Beijing. The really difficult part of the move was that we initially thought we had an apartment, but it didn’t work out at the last minute. Thanks to the generosity of some new Beijing contacts we left our belongings in various locations around the city, but it was quite a hassle to get it all back together and into our new place. However…after a few days of apartment searching with what felt like every agent in the area, we found a comfortable new pad. We share the master of a 3-bedroom apartment, and pay about $500 USD/mo including utilities. The place is nicer than any we have lived in before, and has a good amount of space. Our roommates are two Chinese guys, one 20-year old college student and a 30-year old IT whiz. The college student is studying Spanish but only leaves his moment for brief seconds, usually saying Buenos Dias, as he nervously jets by. The other roommate is named Er Wei (his brother is Da Wei, so he’s Wei #2 or Er Wei) and he has become our good friend. His English is basic but good enough to communicate, and he’s always willing to teach us Chinese. He’s a really friendly guy and what you do you know? He’s another Dongbei ren! Photos of the apartment and area we live in will be posted shortly.

On our first weekend in Beijing we volunteered at the Slow Food Saturday Event at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. I had heard about this event through The Beijinger, one of the best expat guides in the city, and thought that volunteering would be a good way to meet people and see a part of the Beijing countryside. Slow Food is an international movement founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s
dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. (taken from www.slowfood.com) The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu is a sustainable dining and lodging facility that hosted the first annual Beijing Slow Food event, and is located near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

The scenery at the event and people involved were really great, and it was good to be a volunteer again. Despite the fact that there was some organizational chaos involved with the actual event, it was a nice introduction to the countryside. I think that David’s highlight to the day was probably hosting a information booth where he threw a bottle with a very excited local kid for about a hour. The Schoolhouse is set in a naturally beautiful atmosphere, complete with more lily pads at our lunch destination! Although we didn’t get to hike the great wall, you can make it out behind David’s head in one photo. I also helped The Schoolhouse with a post-event survey to make recommendations for next year, which made me feel more connected to the community and less of a waste of a human as I sat around looking for employment.

David’s job continues to be going well; he has helped coach a few kids to visa interview success and found some new partners to work with in the US. He often gets up in the middle of the night to make international calls and still goes in to work early the next day. I don’t know how he does it. I am have connected and volunteered with various non-profits and smaller organizations, and am hoping that one will turn into a paid position. It has not been fun to be constantly uncertain if I can stay in the country due to my visa status, which hinders decisions like buying a phone, joining a gym, etc. However, the Autumn holiday ends in two days, so I am hoping for some good news after that. On a more positive note, I am going to Hong Kong in two weeks and will be meeting up with The Jacobs, The Kliglers and hopefully Erin Manfredi, too!

I have given David a break in his posting responsibilities since he has been working a lot and I need the distraction…but I will get him back on here shortly. Below are the photos from the Slow Food Event:

On my last weekend in Tangshan before moving, I went to Beidaihe beach in Qinhuangdao. Beidaihe is a popular beach destination for many Chinese and, surprisingly, Russians. Many parts of the town have more Russian than Chinese signs, and there are Russians everywhere. I have heard this is because of the proximity and value of the beach, as most take the train to the beach town. About an hour away is also the Laolongtou (Old Dragon’s Head) section of the Great Wall, which is the Easternmost point of the wall and leads into the ocean. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see the wall on my trip, buy I would like to go back. My loyal tour guides Liu, Ada, Milly and Johnboy lead the way, while David had to travel to the US Embassy in Beijing for work. The trip started out a little rough, as I was really tired and we didn’t have seats on the 2-hour train ride there. We snuck in some sitting as people went for bathroom breaks, but I practically fell asleep standing up.

Upon first arriving we got some fresh seafood for lunch, and headed to a local beach park. The water mostly didn’t smell great and definitely did not entice me to swim, but the park was pretty and I did get to lay in the sun for a while. However, none of my travel mates wore bathing suits, so a lounging day at the beach wasn’t in the picture. In true Chinese form, both couples took photos of each other about every 5 ft we walked. The white house you see in the park was actually a huge piegeon house, which you could take photos of for 1 kuai. Luckily I snapped a free shot, but you can’t see all the pigeons out front. After the park we headed to a downtown area, which was really European looking and felt more like Russia than China! The streets and buildings were very quaint, and I could see why this was a popular summer spot. After looking at some souvenirs and drinking suan nai (sweet yogurt that comes in a little clay cup you must drink on the spot, one of my favorites) it was time to head home. Luckily…we got seats this time!

*Inspiring article about retired Chinese backpackers: http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/china_national_day/article150702.ece

*Also, TripAdvisor just started a new program for discounts on luxury hotels around the world: http://www.sniqueaway.com/invite/ErinHen

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