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This has been a funny week of Chinese occurrences. I have tried to slow down my busy schedule, if only in my mind, and appreciate the uniqueness that is Beijing. Well, it only took a few days of focus to come up with quite a few great slice of life stories. For example, today I was riding my bike to work and the chain fell off. I walked the bike to the nearest taxi driver, who immediately got a tool out of his car and put the chain back. I hardly even had to ask, he simply looked at my problem and jumped into action. A nearby security guard made sure to ask whether I thought the cab driver was a good or bad man, and I promptly replied, “Hen hao ren! A very good guy! Chinese are good people!” He asked where I was from, and we exchanged the obligatory, “Obama!” before I rode off to work. (Cabbie and I pictured below) The chain fell off 5 minutes later, but I got it fixed after work by a roadside bike guy. Apparently the bike had been sold with the wrong width chain to begin with…

Earlier in the week I passed by a group of about 30 construction workers who were lined up with dirt shovels to move some dirt from around trees into a big truck. I didn’t get a great photo of the line-up, but it was a quintessential depiction of the types of monotonous jobs in which I often see overly large groups of Chinese participating. The usual response to this type of set-up is, “That’s Communism.” The workers were delighted that I was taking photos and all smiled for the camera. Again, what seriously nice guys!

I also received this unbelievable yet hilarious email this week. Being foreign is still certainly a prized attribute in China.

Hello, friends!

Have three good news for you!

1. Grahm (those who visited my party knows about him) started his pick-up coaching this weekend! The training content is:
– study plan
-fashin advising
-going out to the place of interest and discussing girls pick-up tactics
-practis
-discussing what was wrong
-going out to several bars and night clubs to pick up girls!

Price: 3000 for whole weekend
Discount: If 2 your friends join the training, you personally get it for free + 20% for next training!

Grahm is a pick-up artis from NY. He dates best girls, has access to best parties and clubs, made a good career in USA and China using Pick-up. He speaks perfectly Chinese btw.

2. GIRLS! My very rich foreign friends are looking for wifes. Please send me your pics and CV. And I can organize meeting somewhere in the restaurant. It is for free!!!! Just want to help!

And new female trainer just joined us. She is very rich woman (she has a very rich husband). And now she is our trainer for girls. The content is:
-fashion and make up
-etiquette
-seduction techniques!

Same price as Grahm!

Also we have a luxury offer for MAN AND WOMEN:
-Our female trainer can take you to the party with rich people and help you to make contacts with them!
The price is 10.000 Yuan!

Please send your questions to info@harmony-club.org

Keep smiling,
Victoria

I have also had many Chinese friends receive the traditionally Chinese Gua Sha medical treatment if they have a sore throat or cold. It is immediately noticeable because of the bright red mark on their skin, usually on the front of their neck, and it looks quite painful. However, I found this article today that explains a little more about the procedure: http://www.thewelldaily.com/new-york/article/gua_sha_the_mark_of_relief David of course dismisses the benefits of this treatment, but I haven’t tried it myself and don’t have a problem with attributing some pain relief to the idea of enhanced circulation…um, hello massages!

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This past weekend I organized a “Bohai or Bust Kick-Off Party” at The Hutong. The event was a way for Beijingers to learn a little more about supporting the biking community in Beijing, hear a factual talk on pollution levels, and register for the upcoming Bohai or Bust charity bike ride at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. We made museli bars, gave away prizes and listened to a few awesome speakers, including Beijing’s accident traffic and air pollution expert Gilbert Van Kerckhove. I had a really good time at this event, especially since I have just recently become a Beijing biker and would love to see this turn into a more bike-friendly city!

A few reporters wrote about the event…and you can catch a glimpse of some familiar faces in this article. *Despite the fact that I’m NOT the organizer for Bohai or Bust and David is making muesli bars, NOT dumplings…this is a fun article!

My future goal is to actually write something worthy enough to be published in one of these magazines!

Well, it’s still pretty cold here and the heat has officially been turned off. The wind also gusted so hard today that I had to momentarily stop riding my bike on the way to work! This week I’m busy preparing for The Fig Tree’s booth at the Expat Show, and David is also experimenting with riding a bike to work.

Hello everyone. This is a short post to give our heartfelt condolences to Japan who is dealing with a catastrophe of gigantic proportions. Not only are they devastated by one of the most powerful earthquakes in history followed by a 30 foot tsunami, now they have to deal with possible nuclear meltdowns and a lack of electricity and power that a modern society like Japan hasn’t had to deal with in a long time. I want to assure everyone that we are completely safe here and have nothing to worry about, but that hasn’t stopped people from worrying. We are 2000 miles west of the nuclear sites, and the winds off Japan travel east not west. Also, Beijing and most major cities in China are always protected by a thick shield of coal and pollution so we don’t need to worry about any gamma rays getting through that forcefield (zing (I already made that joke yesterday)). Just because there is no reason to panic doesn’t mean people aren’t panicking and I wanted to share the current events that are transpiring in China due to the disaster in Japan.

I was at work yesterday when a friend of mine texted me asking if I needed any salt. Erin had asked me a few days ago where the salt was when she was cooking, so I told him that yes, we did actually need salt, even though I was completely perplexed why my friend would randomly ask me if I needed salt. I googled salt in Beijing, and sure enough, salt was the rage in major Chinese cities. A few days earlier, Erin was sent home with some iodine by her boss who is also very worried about radiation getting to Beijing. The Chinese heard that iodine was helpful in protecting against radiation, and the only thing they could think of that contained the characters iodine (碘) was iodized salt (碘盐). And so the mayhem began, with grocery stores flooded with Chinese demanding salt, driving the price of salt up 5-10 times yesterday’s price.

LOL

All of this started based on complete misinformation. The daily sale of salt the past 2 days was 8 times higher than usual. The share prices of China’s leading manufacturers of salt jumped 10% (the maximum amount possible for Chinese stocks) the last 2 days. You can’t buy salt anywhere. You can barely even find soy sauce anywhere. Part of this is humorous, but part of it is terrifying to me. People did not stop to think about why they needed salt, they just did it. When other people heard that people were buying salt, they just got in line with everyone else. The urge to follow in Chinese society is strong, and asking “why?” is something that just isn’t done. This is over NOTHING. There is no benefit at all from buying salt. I can’t even imagine the pandemonium that would occur in a real state of emergency here, but it would be chaos of legendary proportions. Luckily for me, I had a friend with a car who was part of the madness, and he told me that walking out of the grocery store and filling up his car with ridiculous amounts of salt in front of a clamoring horde of jealous Chinese people was a special experience, and he would give me a box of salt the next time he saw me.

Here is an article about the Chinese salt craze. If this is happening in China, I can only imagine the mood in Japan. The entire society has been negatively affected, either by the earthquake, tsunami, meltdown, or the giant financial drop that the Japanese stock market has experienced. It is a long road to recovery, but this wouldn’t be the first time that Japan has had to recover from a society altering calamity. If you want to help out, check out the Japanese Red Cross.

Hope you all are doing well, enjoy your salt and go Hoyas!

“One hundred thousand lemmings can’t be wrong…” – Anon

I narrowly made it off the waiting list to attend the “Committing Journalism” talk at the Bookworm today. The panel consisted of China-focused foreign journalists Gady Epstein, Lucy Hornby, Louisa Lim and Keith Richardson. I was interested in this talk because I have often read these journalists’ articles in foreign news, and have also wondered about the reality of censorship issues as I write my blog.

The panel touched on a range of journalistic issues including their opinions on Chinese recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and fact checking in a tightly regulated country. (For the record, Epstein was in favor of the decision to award Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, noting that “the world has decided to accept China as it is,” despite any real progress in political reform.) I was generally surprised to find consensus among these writers regarding their ability to report candidly and without fear of censorship. Epstein noted that despite the fact there have been vast changes in what is considered sensitive subject material in China over the years, he has not felt limited in his ability to report on a wide range of issues. Hornby added that it is neither international relations nor foreign politics the dictate her journalistic path, but rather the demands and expectations of her foreign audience. She further elaborated that she often feels China’s pain in the way the nation is portrayed by the media in terms of makes the news and what doesn’t. Hornby insightfully flipped the issue of western reporting on its head and posed the question of how America may look through the lens of Chinese reporting, asking “What perspective would they take and what would they get wrong?”

I found journalist Louisa Lim to be a particularly engaging member of the panel. She humored the audience with an anecdote about her recent visa delay, which came as a direct result of questioning the relationship between Haibao (the mascot of the Shanghai Expo) and Gumby. Lims apparently held up photos of the two characters as she asked about their similarities, which garnered a lot of media buzz and resulted in a 6-month delay of her visa. The journalist explained, however, that this was her first experience with visa troubles in China. She also commented about the impact of social media in journalism, noting the positive benefits of programs like Twitter and Weibo to serve as a “live tip line” of sorts. She added that she recently received the opportunity to visit North Korea for a day through tweeted tip detailing an opportunity for foreign journalists to visit the country.

In response to the question of the impact of social media on the job of reporters, Richardson remarked that social media is just a platform for news. He believes that correspondents are still essential to being on the ground to receive and interpret real-time information.

The panel also offered some practical advice to those seeking a career in foreign journalism. Lims recommended learning fluent Chinese in order to work in China, where bureaus typically find it easier to train a Chinese-speaker to be a journalist than to train a journalist to speak fluent Chinese. Richardson added that there are more specialists than generalists available in the world of reporting, and that working first in a newsroom and proving one’s ability to produce great stories in any environment is one of the most valuable skills in the field. Epstein also emphasized the importance of simple being in the country where one wants to report and writing about it.

To wrap up, the panel offered their advice about particularly good Chinese news sources. Hornby remarked that Taixing/Taijing, Economic Observer, Beijing Times and Global Times are all high-quality Chinese publications, and that China Smack and Danwei are good for English speakers. Epstein added that David Bandurski’s book, Investigative Journalism in China has been a go-to reference for many foreign journalists.

Listening to this panel answered many of my questions regarding the limits to freedom of the foreign press in China, and eased my fears that foreign journalists feel somewhat limited in their ability to report candidly about China. Nonetheless, I was still reminded of an anecdote from Peter Hessler’s, Oracle Bones when Hessler opens an envelope and is rather shocked to find edited and blacked out copies of his prior writing, presumably censored by the Chinese government. Despite feeling under the radar as a foreign correspondent in Beijing, Hessler was clearly not as inconspicuous as he perceived. Seeing as the Chinese government awards and carefully tracks the visas issued to foreign journalists, I can only assume that despite feeling quite free to report in China, those on the panel also have quite a file.

Classic China story in 3…2…1…

I headed out the gym at 8:45 this morning. On the way over I saw a woman attempt to open the door to an ATM machine. She pulled one of those long, cylindrical, metal door handles that often accompany doors here, only to have the bottom of the handle break off the door, leaving her stranded outside. I had to laugh, Chinese manufacturing strikes again!

A few minutes later I opened the door to my own gym. No one was at the front desk swiping cards, but that’s not too unusual. The lights were on and music was playing, so I headed into the locker room. When I came out, an employee was staring at the door and my presence startled her. She asked me how I got in, and I replied that the door was open. “No, it wasn’t! Ni tuan!” She replied. I assumed, and later confirmed with my boss, that “tuan” meant turn. Embarrassed but adamant I explained that, “Really, the door was open!” Honestly, even if I did turn the door and it opened, am I at fault?! She proceeded to inform me that the gym didn’t open until 9:30 and I would have to leave. “Tai wan le!” I exclaimed, and left my things in the gym to take a run.

Apparently my gym does not open until 9:30am, and I believe they will soon be investing in a better lock.

Happy International Women’s Day! (Sorta a bigger deal here than in the US, nice!)

So a friend of mine recently left China, I bought her bike, and have been whizzing around town ever since! The weather has been sunny and relatively pollution-free lately, and it’s not freezing, so I have really gotten a kick out of biking to work and around town. Biking in Beijing is certainly more dangerous than in Tangshan, but I’m still amazed at how well bikers are accommodated in this city. I mean yes, you are biking on highways and sharing a lane with commuter buses, but there’s literally a bike lane everywhere and cars are always (ok, mostly) letting bikers have the right of way. It’s more efficient to bike than any other mode of transportation, and I already feel more productive and active!

Sunday night was quite a personal biking adventure. After work I had a planning meeting for International Women’s day, and had offered to supply dinner. You should’ve seen the sight. I had a backpack on my back, a bag full of donations on my left arm (that I kicked with each pedal) and a basket filled with salad and topped with a pizza box. I balanced biking with my right hand and held the pizza onto the basket with my left. Luckily the ride was a short one. Hilariously, no one batted an eye at me, since many Chinese balance a heck of a lot more on their bikes every day! My arm was sore the next day from the awkward position, but that’s a small price to pay for transporting so much precious loot.

Today I was quasi-off work and spent the morning checking out the progress of the first events email I sent in Beijing to highlight the different projects I have been promoting and managing here. It’s certainly not perfect, but I have received a lot of great support and feedback, and look forward to using this tool for additional promotion! Afterwards, I biked to The Bookworm’s literary festival to see authors Emma Donoghue (author of Room) and Christos Tsiolkas (author of The Slap) talk about the issue of taboo through their texts and life experiences. It was a great presentation, as the authors eloquently commented on issues like homosexuality, physical violence as a child-rearing technique, the family, and even the appropriate age to wean a child from breast-feeding. I felt particularly connected to Christos and his background, and had a nice chat with him after the presentation.

I then had an incredible meeting with the founder of The Library Project in China. (http://www.library-project.org/) A few people had mentioned that I should speak with Tom, as our charity interests are aligned, and I’m so happy he took the time to sit down with me. The meeting changed my perspectives on many aspects of charitable work in China, including the importance of working directly with the government instead of outside its control. Despite the fact that Tom is not fluent in Chinese, he has managed to set up a government-supported NGO that has donated over 150 libraries to schools and communities all over China. His organization is fully self-sufficient and doesn’t even solicit funds directly from its supporters! The most incredible thing, in my opinion, about The Library Project is that it has truly been embraced by the Chinese people. Tom worked hard to truly understand the cultural nuances of charity work in China, and at this point he has thousands of supporters from all over the country who consistently contact him to support the cause. What a motivating and insightful meeting!

After the bookworm I snuck in a yoga class at Yoga Yard with Jess, one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. (Did I mention that I splurged last week and bought a 30-day pass to this place? The prices are western, but it’s worth it.) Check out my review: http://www.thebeijinger.com/directory/Yoga-Yard
My back has been killing me from being on the computer too much, and now I feel better in every way. Jess also introduced me to my acupuncturist, is a musician, http://blog.jessmeider.com/ and looks like Sarah Jessica Parker. I keep meeting more and more incredible women over here.

Rejuvenated after yoga I biked to Jenny Lou’s where I picked up quite a few western essentials that have been lacking in our kitchen, and a handy “Healthy Chinese Cuisine, a Restaurant Ordering Guide” to balance my cultural halves! I would also like to cook more in general, so I think this will be a good tool to having a more effective learning experience in the markets. (I was recently taken to Sanyuanli market and I forgot how much fun it is to learn and practice Chinese in that environment!) Anyway, I made a dinner of sautéed onions and mushrooms over brown rice and a fattoush salad! Phew, what a fun past few days made much more exciting and effective thanks to my new (bright pink/Avon Walk would be proud) bike!

*If you are reading this from Beijing, please come to the Int’l Women’s Day Benefit this Friday at Yishu 8. www.intlwomensday.org

*Below are photos from a few weeks ago when I spent an hour as part of the Beijing crowd to be featured in the upcoming “Dancing Matt” video. If you haven’t heard about Matt, please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY It brings tears to my eyes to think of how one spirited guy ignored the judgments of others and just welcomed cultures around the world to do a goofy dance together.
As one commenter on the YouTube so succinctly put it,
“I am utterly incapable of comprehending why any human being could possibly “dislike” this video. As a misanthrope through and through, this video makes my grinchy heart grow three sizes and creates an overwhelming sense of hope to me.”

I truly think Matt has united the world, in just a small way. He was also incredibly friendly.

*Also included below is my trip to Sanyuanli market, the meal I made after, and the Angel Mom charity dinner I organized at The Hutong.

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My second day of trekking in Sapa started off better than the first, mostly because I got a good night’s sleep and it wasn’t raining. After breakfast at my hotel (which incidentally looks a LOT more elegant in these photos) with some other tourists who were also from the same hostel in Hanoi, I walked with my tour-buddy Lisa into town to meet our tour group. The downtown area was bustling with locals buying vegetables in the market, transporting livestock and hassling tourist to buy “hande-made” goods. Our tour guide later told us that she knows most of the goods are imported from China, ha.

I took some great photos of the local women; the kind that really make people jealous you were able to interact with such “authentic” and unique cultures. I know a lot of the women wear their traditional minority clothing for tourists now, but it still looks amazing and the Sapa Valley minority groups still seem to thrive in this area. Our group for the day consisted of multiple guides from the Mao minority village, and 5 females in their late 20’s. We were a chatty and energetic group from America, Canada, Switzerland, France and Germany…which made sliding down the muddy hills together all the more fun. Due to the rain our knee-high rubber boots became essential for the hike, and once I stepped in a mud pit so deep that the tall boots saved me by just an inch. While the minority women practically skipped down the muddy hillside, us foreigners labored through the mud-drenched paths, often taking a hand for balance.

Despite the fog, the rivers alongside the muddy trails were a stunning aqua-marine color and the bamboo was thick and impressive. We came across quaint village homes that were stunningly set between miles of terraced rice fields, and somewhat larger villages that were bustling with activity. There were children whipping around on bikes too-large for their bodies, 7 year-olds leading heards of oxen, families busily preparing meals for Tet, pigs and other animals tending to their young, and of course, the minority women hawking their wares. One of the photos below depicts two boys cleaning a pig in the river in preparation for their feast. Also, the photo of two young kids on the steps of a run-down, vacant-looking building, is actually a hospital in one of the towns.

I was a bit sad when the trek ended for the day, as I could’ve spent a few more hours wandering around those villages…every single thing I saw was picturesque. Little did I know that I probably should’ve just trekked back to my hotel instead of waiting for our “shuttle bus.” We waited for two hours to get picked up due to some miscommunication and the lack of employees during Tet. Then, when a beat-up, rusty, old pick-up truck finally jammed us all in, it broke down 20 minutes later. The driver spent a good half an hour getting the thing running again, while my ever-positive group assured our cute tour guide that we didn’t mind.

After tipping our tour guide $5 USD (which nearly doubled her days pay) Lisa and I headed back to the train station. We ate some Vietnamese egg rolls before hopping back on the night train, and this time I slept pretty hard. I arrived back at Hanoi around 5am, checked my email for a bit at the Rendezvous Hostel, and headed back to the airport for a flight to DaNang!

So I tried to think of a new and interesting post about my life but could not. I went to a rap concert on Saturday which was pretty cool, saw my first Chinese rapper who was decent, and a rap legend (Pete Rock) for 10 dollars which is absurd. I was just looking at some of our most popular search engine hits from the past week and thought they were funny, so I will share them with you.

#1 = houseplants shower – you may recall that our plants died instantly when they were in the living room, so our shower was filled with our plants for a few months. Apparently other people are having the same problem, or they want to shower themselves with houseplants. You decide.

#2 = deaf haiku – We get lots of random hits for deaf people, which is unfortunate seeing as we offer nothing for the deaf community. You may remember I wrote a critically acclaimed haiku about our instantly scalding/freezing shower. Apparently people wanted to find a haiku for deaf people…

#3 = mongolian deaf skype – see above

#4 = erin and dave blog – Wooo! If you google “erin and dave blog” we are #1! If you google “erin and david” we are #7 (mostly behind women named Erin David). We are moving on up people.

Now that we are getting 3 hits a day from people searching for “houseplants shower”, get ready for tons of pop up ads! Soon we can start selling tonedeaftraveler apparel and stuff. Here are some random pictures (China and South Africa) for your amusement. Enjoy!

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