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Got a bit busy with the holidays, but finally wrapping up my final week of the challenge, from Tangshan!

Tuesday, November 22nd
After waking up multiple days with neck pain, I thought it would be appropriate to make my first trip to a Chinese chiropractor recommended by a friend. Having been to a few chiropractors in the US, I found the experience quite similar yet overall less comprehensive than past experience. Instead of taking x-rays and asking about my lifestyle, I just pointed to where it hurt, got a massage, an adjustment and was given some magnesium to ease muscle tension. The massage was a nice component, which I have never received in the states, as well as the doctor being bi-lingual (since he also practices in California.) However, I only spent a total of twenty minutes with him and was quite shocked to get a bill over 700RMB! I’m interested in visiting a more traditional office, but my Chinese isn’t good enough to go without a friend to translate.

That evening I attended Carol Liu’s inspiring documentary, Restoring the Light, about rural blindness and healthcare issues in China. The movie was exactly what I needed, a good cry and reminder of problems bigger than paying too much for the chiropractor. Professor Scott Rozelle from Stanford also gave an insightful talk about healthcare and priorities, illustrating for example, that eliminating one-third of China’s budget to reach the moon could fund vitamins, food and worm detection for all of the children in western, rural China. In my eyes, the event also highlighted another theme of local culture; China’s discomfort with allowing foreigners (or anyone) to highlight social issues. More than one Chinese audience member responded on the defensive to Professor Rozelle’s statistics regarding rural poverty and healthcare, citing that Obama’s healthcare plan also didn’t make significant strides in solving US healthcare issues. It’s unfortunate that this is the message gleaned from such fieldwork, but addresses some of the sensitivities present in beginning to accurately diagnose social problems in China.

Wednesday, November 23rd
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Malaika Hahne, the new Executive Director of Little Flower Projects. She took me out to their orphanage in Shunyi, where I was incredibly impressed by not only the facility and organization of the center, but the compassion and dedication of the staff. Although each ayi is responsible for two babies, many of the staff seem to know each child intimately. Malaika’s compassion to help these children was genuinely heart-warming, and her efforts seem to be paying off, as Little Flower Projects is making quite a name for itself in the local community. Nothing puts a smile on your face more than holding a little smiling baby.

For lunch I had a locally-sourced lunch made from Chef Sue’s trial-run dishes for a future class, and hosted a charity cooking class at The Hutong.

Thursday, November 24th
On Thursday I either completely lost my mind, or decided that I really needed to go all out during the last week of the challenge. Fighting off the urge to go across the street to Jenny Lou’s for soymilk and kitty litter, I ran in the freezing cold to Jinkelong. The run back ended up being much colder and difficult than I expected, and it took all I had to waddle home clutching my bag of litter with both arms and freezing hands.

Thursday night was Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with a group of expat and Chinese friends; turkey and gong bao ji ding was quite the combination!

Friday, November 25th
I spent the morning biking around the city doing errands and buying supplies for a corporate holiday party. In the evening I met up with Joel Shucuat from The Orchid, who introduced me to the social networking wonders of WeiXin. I spent the night leaving voice messages, throwing bottles out to sea, and shaking to find friends. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the WeiXin app, it’s a great way for foreigners to make Chinese friends and practice their Chinese! We also snacked on some local Hainan chicken while Joel frantically arranged dinner preparations for the guests at his hotel.

Saturday, November 26th
I taught in the morning and was informed by the school nurse that there was 500+ API…perhaps the most polluted day I have experienced in Beijing. I waited til the air cleared a bit in the evening, and went on my last training run before the half marathon. I know I shouldn’t have run, but it was my last reasonable period of free time before the race. Although I noticed the cold a lot more than the air quality, my clothes reeked of coal when I got home. This was the first time I had noticed the pollution is such a tangible way, and was quite disheartened to think about how much Beijinger’s lives are affected by the poor air quality.

Sunday, November 27th
On Sunday I was a real expat. I helped plan a traditional American birthday party alongside my co-workers, which included homemade birthday cake, baseball and rugby in Chaoyang park and flipping burgers at The Filling Station in Shunyi. It was incredibly fun and decidedly UN-local.

Monday, November 28th
On Monday I recruited my friend Tom Pattinson to show me his favorite Shaanxi restaurant around the hutongs where we work. We chowed down on their famed roujiamo and dumplings, which was perfect a perfect meal for a cold winter day. That evening my friends arrived from the US and we had a feast at Jing Zun duck restaurant. Eating local is quite ful-filling!

Tuesday, November 29th
On Tuesday I became tour guide for a day and took my friends to Dong Jiao Market, one of my favorite spots in Beijing. I showed them around some food stalls, the wet market and tea warehouse. During an extended tea ceremony we bought way too much tea and learned more about Nanjing greens, Taiwan oolongs and Huyi Shan blacks. They liked the black and oolongs, while I preferred the greens and whites. It was so fun to briefly introduce friends to the Chinese tea culture I love, and pick-up a bag of awesome An Ji Zhejiang cha. That night we also had hot pot on Gui Jie!

Wednesday, November 30th -END OF CHALLENGE
Appropriately, I celebrated the last day of the challenge with KTV! The Hutong staff and I donned Santa hats and rockstar gear and belted out tunes from Michael Jackson to The Carter Sisters, to which my Chinese colleagues knew the lyrics better than I. Chinese culture never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, December 1st
I promptly went to Jenny Lou’s and loaded up on Silk soymilk and cereal, the two things I missed most during this adventure.

Saturday, December 3rd
I headed off to Shanghai to run in my first Chinese half-marathon. Race day was a story within itself, but overall the race was a big success and despite gaining a few pounds, my predominantly Chinese diet did not prevent me from crossing the finish line with a personal best.

Conclusion:
I think it’s pretty obvious that my lifestyle is far from local. Throughout this challenge I bounced between feelings of guilt and satisfaction, but overall feel content that this personal quest helped me reflect on my expat lifestyle and motivate me to seek out new experiences in the capital. I realized that while I loved living in the typically Chinese city of Tangshan, it’s the ability to choose between western/international and Chinese options that makes me most content about living in Beijing. However, this experience made me miss my Chinese “hometown” so much that I’m writing this conclusion from a brief visit back to Tangshan.

To sum up my experience, I thought I would give a few tips gleaned from living and traveling for nearly two years in China, for us lao wais who want to have a more local China experience:

1. Learn basic Chinese. Although I haven’t taken formal classes, I often carry around a dictionary, notebook and ipod full of Chinese lessons. I can’t tell you how much more fun China becomes speaking a bit of Mandarin. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; I prefer getting one-on-one Chinese lessons from taxi drivers, masseuses, shop owners, co-workers and even my elementary-aged English students. Start with pointing in markets and go from there!

2. Make Chinese friends…but how? Cheesy as it sounds, lots of normal and friendly local Chinese use social networking sites like WeLiveInBeijing, BJ Stuff and The Beijinger to find language partners and friends.

3. Spend time in a smaller Chinese city. It’s nearly impossible not to learn more about Chinese food, hobbies and language if you live in a place with far less foreign exposure, and there are a variety of solid programs that will assist you in this experience. My friend Robbie Fried runs the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, which I would highly recommend for this type of immersion. http://www.studycli.org/ Additionally, Tangshan is only two hours east of Beijing, and private English centers there are always looking for foreign teachers; I would be happy to connect you!

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November 16th
Day one and two of week three were a complete local failure. In a very expatty style I went to yoga, had a lunch meeting at Flamme, bought vitamins and protein powder from the World Health Store and attended an 85 Broads Event at the Royal Smushi House. Luckily I’m only losing this challenge to myself, and I got to hear May Xue (recently appointed CEO of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art) give a talk about her one-woman charge to try and officially register UCCA as the first foreign NGO in China. Go May!

November 17th
Back on track. While grocery shopping I made it my mission to explore the nooks and crannies of Jinkelong, really trying to read packages and understand the contents of mystery jars instead of just assuming that I wouldn’t know the ingredients inside. To my surprise, I could understand more of the pinyin on the packaging than I imagined, and in general the aisles felt a bit more familiar than we I first arrived to China. I bought ingredients for a big stir fry, but still find it hard to produce quality Chinese meal without significant amounts of processed carbs like noodles, rice and bread, which isn’t the best diet for running. (Hence the WHS trip.)

November 18th
I finally checked out Bao Yuan Jiaozi restaurant with my co-workers from The Hutong, and was impressed by the décor and colorful dumplings! (I also went to a talk given by the founder of Heyrobics, and had a work dinner at Carmen.)

November 19th
I spent a good bit of the day biking around in attempting to collect my wallet because it was (miraculously) dropped off at a hotel near Dawanglu, and the management called my apartment complex when they saw my swipe card. Wow, complete miracle! I then headed with Chef Sue Zhou to check out some local spots in Tuanjiehu. She showed me a great baozi place called Bao Rong Xing Bao Jer, where I tried Si HuLuobuo fen tiao (carrot and starch noodle) baozi for the first time. Sue tells me that more and more restaurants are adding starch noodles as fillers, because it’s a cheap way to fill up the baozi. I also tried another bun with a surprise quail egg inside, very tasty! We also went to a typical Chinese pudding shop, where we had warm coconut and red bean pudding. Red beans are just about my favorite dessert, so it was the perfect snack.

November 20th
Typical Chinese-style lunch at school, otherwise not much to report.

November 21st
My friend Aveleigh and I checked out No. 8 Hot Springs Resort at Chaoyang Park West gate. These types of resorts are quite a foreign concept to westerners, but it’s definitely a must-have experience in China. First, the staff gives you silk pajamas before eating at their unlimited buffet. I get a kick out of seeing a whole room of adults sitting around in their pj’s eating food and relaxing. Next, it’s off to the spa! For 198RMB (including food) at No. 8 Hot Springs you can relax all day in the hot springs pool, sauna and steam rooms. The spa also offers other services at an additional cost, and I made the mistake of requesting a “peeling” thinking that this would be similar to a facial. Um, no. I got a somewhat painful full body scrub that polished every part of my body except my face… Overall though I felt like I was living in a fairy tale with pink silk pajamas, unlimited food and lounging!

November 21st
My bike lock broke on my bike, and I pushed it on its front wheel through the hutongs to the shop where I purchased the piece of junk. The owners smashed it off with a hammer in about thirty seconds and gave me a different type, no wonder so many bikes are stolen in Beijing. Then I met up with colleagues at the new U-Town Blue Frog for dinner.

Conclusion:
I wonder if the local local gods are spiting me because of all the Western food I have been eating. First it was a bike crash, then wallet stolen and finally a broken bike lock…
Well gods, I feel guilty enough about my non-local choices, so I don’t need the reminder! This week I realized more than ever that I do still work in expat circles, and many of these mealtime meetings were just unavoidable. Maybe it seems like I have failed this challenge, but every week I have managed to have had new cultural experiences and I’m developing a more clear picture of why it is tough for foreigners to integrate into local culture. Don’t count me out just yet!

Beijinger article.

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It was obvious from first week of the Local Local Challenge that I needed some help. Throughout my time in Beijing I have been lucky enough to come across a variety of foreigners who have really immersed themselves in the local culture, so I called upon a few “expat experts” to enhance my participation in the challenge.

On November 9th I popped in my Pimsleur Chinese lesson and biked over to Jie GuLou #147 for tea at Zheng Yun Cha She with local artist, Helen Couchman, and tour guide Jeffery Schwab. Jeffrey had been friends with the owners of the shop for some time, and although the boss was away on travel, his employee treated us to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony complete with Pu’er tea served from a 5,000RMB yixing clay pot! He also explained that one of their tea table adornments was a bull because its representative of the hardworking and obedient nature of the employees at the tea shop. I got the chance to teach my local experts a few things about Chinese tea before they broadened my horizons around the city.

Helen has been living and making art in Beijing for six years (www.helencouchman.com), and lives in a hutong off Guolou Dajie. She agreed to introduce me to her favorite Sichuan restaurant, and go easy on the spiciness. The two of us headed over to the corner of Gulou Dong Da Jie and BeiLuoGuXian on my bike (Helen pedaling, me holding on for dear life) and feasted on some of Helen’s favorite dishes. (I also brought my re-usable, eco-friendly chopsticks, courtesy of The Hutong http://www.thehutong.com.) We ate lazi ji, a spicy fried chicken dish loaded with hot peppers, ma jiang feng wei (fresh greens and sesame sauce) and san san hua dan dou huar, a salty soup with egg, tofu, mushrooms, tomato, carrots and peas.

Needing to get a bit of work done, I headed to Café Zarah and sipped more Chinese tea. (Perhaps this establishment is considered one of the gems of the expat community, but it’s locally run and I only ordered tea.) For dinner I headed to Sanlitun, but had a tang hu lu while waiting for a friend and then dined outdoors at the Han Zhou Xiao Chi restaurant. I ordered a standard xi hong shi jidan gai fan and tudou jiding, which I had never tried before and loved the flavor.

On November 10th my roommate helped me eat local by making an egg sandwich with bread from a local street vendor, and I managed to get a seat with fellow challenger Jessica Greene, at Noodle Bar in Sanlitun. That place was packed and rightfully so, as the flavors of the noodle dishes were excellent. Jessica and I talked a bit about the challenge, which had prompted her to cook a lot more at home and generally focus her Local Local efforts on not being so wasteful. Quite reflective of our experience Noodle Bar, she commented that even eating locally wasn’t necessarily a waste-free or inexpensive option, and we chatted about how the concept of “local” culture is constantly changing and quite hard to authentically capture no matter where you are.

On November 11th I shopped at Jinkelong for lunch and went to a traditional Chinese medicine treatment. I always find these treatments to be quite intriguing from a physical and educational standpoint, and this time I got huge needles stuck right in the middle of my stomach! I then proceeded to eat a roast and cheese, and drink wine at a dinner party, but I figure it’s only half as bad if I’m not paying…and I met the organizer for Monday Night Jiaozi nights, and planned to attend as part of my challenge!

I hate to say it, but by Saturday I was already getting sick of Chinese food. My school provides a ton of Chinese dishes for lunch, but thinking about eating all that oil before taking a run later in the afternoon was really not enticing. I had veggies (still doused in oil) and one of my favorite dishes, tangsu liji before purchasing some sunflower seeds and a red bean bun from Jinkelong. I was craving a western energy bar, but at least these snacks had a bit of protein. I also headed to a workout session that I won with fitness guru Tony Nicholson of 4 Point Fitness, who didn’t exactly support my attempts to eat more Chinese food from a health standpoint. I’m pretty serious about fitness, so that made it additionally hard to stick to the challenge.

(*Before I get attacked here, I realize that Tony is a foreigner and that personal trainers are a luxury, but he has lived here over ten years, speaks fluent Chinese and trains lots of locals…so we chatted a bit about the culture of exercise in China. This brings us back to the issue of what is really considered “local”?)

To make up for past transgressions, I really upped my local game on Sunday, November 13th. I woke up early to meet back up with Jeffrey at The Hutong for his Prophets, Prostitutes and Spies tour, and spent most of the afternoon at the Xi Xian Zhai Teahouse in the hutongs behind the Lama Temple. A group of us sipped Wu Yuan Mingmei Jiangxi Cha (婺源茗眉江西茶), nibbled on suan jiao (funny translation: “acid horn”) gummy candy, and ate a traditional vegetarian teahouse meal. and ate a traditional vegetarian teahouse meal. Next we headed north to Yuan Dynasty DaDu Park where Jeff amazed us with his skills as a Diablo master. For those of you that don’t know, the Diablo is a spinning top that can be made to do a variety of tricks as it spins on strings. This experience is worth an article on its own, but Jeffrey has been coming to this park for years and has fully integrated into the talented Diablo community. Everyone was so happy to see this American lao wai spinning his Diablo magic, and I could tell they respected Jeffrey’s ability and friendly nature. As Jeffrey puts it, “Playing diabolo replaces going to church…it’s my spiritual solace.” The masters graciously tried to teach me to get the top up and running, but I was almost a total failure.

To finish off the day, we walked around GuLou to visit some hot spots, such as the restaurant where Vice President Joe Biden recently dined. We then walked south to Man Fu Lu (满福楼) Xinjiang-style hot pot where we ordered an incredible feast of everything from mini jiaozi to pig heart…I think.

On a local high from my “Local Sunday,” I headed out to an organic farm with my co-workers, only to have my wallet stolen on the subway. Instead of basking in the glory of organic foods, I rushed home to cancel my credit cards. On a positive note, China Citic froze my account when the thief entered the wrong pin three times, and my co-workers came home with a pumpkin half the size of my body!

Conclusion:

This week I branched out from simply eating locally to participate in quite a few more local activities. I’m lucky to know people like Jeffrey, who are exceptional at integrating into Chinese culture, and are quite willing to share their interests with others. I think I did a better job of going local this week than last, but this was primarily due to a temporarily decreased workload. I’m quite worried about next week, when things really pick up again.

Editor’s Version in The Beijinger.

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I’m happy to say that last week helped me accomplish one of my goals here in Beijing, to get published in a magazine! (Actually, I got 2 articles published in Agenda and one in The Beijinger. Can’t say I like the pic much in Agenda, but you can download my letter from the Editor if you so desire! pg. 3)

The following (for you loyal readers) is the full first installent from the Local Local Challenge, not just the editor’s cut!

It’s the last week before hosting the biggest event I’ve run in Beijing, I just moved to the expat-friendly area of Chaoyang Park West Gate, I’m training for a half marathon and I get a call from my friend.

“Hey, remember that local local challenge idea we were talking about? Let’s do it this month!”

Of course, being the impulsive and excitable person that I am, I don’t think twice and dive right in. The idea of the Local Local Challenge came about as myself and a few friends were discussing ways to more authentically participate in local culture in Beijing. The girls participating in the challenge and I have found our lives becoming increasingly western due to our jobs, lack of Chinese speaking skills and the comfort of participating in activities that are anything but local. We often hang out in Sanlitun, eat at burger and pizza joints, shop at Ikea, and buy groceries at Jenny Lou’s. To be honest, I probably would not have made it nearly two years in China without most of these creature comforts, but it’s a far cry from my initial six months in Tangshan, where I was one of the only foreigners in a “town” of 1.8 million people, was forced to carry around a dictionary because I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese, and avoided western restaurants because the only three were KFC, Pizza Hut and Alba Pizza. For a brief period of time I truly immersed myself in local Chinese culture, and still experience personal and professional benefits of that experience.

Since moving to Beijing my life has gotten a lot more comfortable, but I find myself less and less likely to explore the city and culture that initially brought me to China. Supported by my commitment to blog about my experiences for The Beijinger, I figured that this challenge would force me to re-discover Beijing, or at least push me to get outside of my increasingly expat comfort zone. The idea is simple; try to eat and play locally as much as possible. Chinese lessons and TCM are encouraged, as are riding bikes over taxis and supporting local farmers and food street vendors. My overall completion of the challenge, as judged by The Beijinger staff, will be based on a qualitative analysis of my effort to make cultural connections throughout the month of November. There’s no pretending I didn’t make a late-night McDonald’s run, or have a glass of imported Italian wine; opting for baozi and baijiu would be much more suitable.

The challenge began on November 1st, and I have been taking photos and notes about my experience for a week now. Day one started out quite strong. Breakfast consisted of a TCM-appropriate meal of oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. I donned a sweater and shirt I recently bought at the Ladies’ Market in Liangmaqiao and headed off on my bike to register at the local police station. What could be more authentic than good ‘ol Chinese bureaucracy? Next I headed to Yoga Yard, which isn’t exactly the most local of activities, but the bi-lingual classes are a good place to practice my Chinese listening skills. Thinking about lunch was causing me anxiety as I headed to work in Guomao. My limited speaking and inability to read Chinese characters often dissuades me from conversing with local shop owners about what’s on their menu, because I have to point at food or simply ask if they have certain items on the menu. They often look at me like I’m a bit deranged, pointing to the poster-sized Chinese menu on their wall. Fortunately, I came across a di gua (sweet potato) street vendor and baozi shop when I purchased lunch with dou jiang (soy milk) for 9.5RMB. Simple, yet delicious and filling. Unfortunately my schedule was so hectic that I only managed to grab a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner, but overall a good first day.

On Wednesday morning I biked down the third ring road and really paid attention to just how many breakfast vendors are out in the morning. Before 10am it’s quite easy to find these kiosks anywhere from Jinsong to Beitucheng along this route. I made a mental note and headed onward. I had to make a pick-up around Chaowai SOHO, and bought lunch at the very local but traditionally Chinese establishment of 7-11. I always get a kick out of seeing how this American franchise has adapted to the Chinese market, with slurpees and Doritos being replaced with Chinese buffets and to-go noodles. Clearly the strategy is working, as the lines out the door for 7-11 lunch in China far surpass those in the States. One culinary delight that is a staple in both countries are the hot dogs, mmm. I bought pears, chestnuts, to-go noodles and sliced bread. Incidentally, there is a great Chinese canteen on the 6th floor of Chaowai SOHO building A, but I didn’t have time to stop in. On my way back from work I stopped for the first time at the fruit vendors under the Tuanjiehu bridge and purchased bananas and persimmons for 16RMB. I was so happy I took a break to stop and chat, as the vendor a jovial guy who threw some free zao (Chinese dates) into my bag! I was a little disheartened to see that despite my efforts to buy local, the bananas were from the Philippines!

Thursday morning I was making program deliveries for Chi Fan for Charity to the Sanlitun restaurants, and really noticed just how little Chinese food exists in the Village. Since the evening food vendors weren’t out, I grabbed a quick lunch of fried bread with bean paste and lettuce (jidan guanbing) from the only vendor available, and staved off my extreme desire to get a mango and red bean ice drink from Herbal Café. I almost made the exception due to the red bean…but I’m committed! For dinner I was in a rush and stopped by for the first time to eat ma la tong on the Sanlitun food street. I soon realized that this dining style is not exactly the ideal selection for a quick meal, and ended up waiting for about twenty minutes for a bowl of veggies. I do miss healthy, quick options like sandwiches and salads…but I digress. A big bowl of ma la tong was satisfying and only 16RMB (1 kuai per stick.)

On Friday morning my roommate made me a “Chinese sandwich” with jian bing, spring onions, cured pork and hoisin sauce. A car hit me on the way to work (I’m ok, minimal bruising, and what could be more authentically Beijing?) and the Chi Fan for Charity silent auction team ordered a great Chinese dinner of dan chao fan (egg fried rice), tu dou si, di san xian and spicy green beans. (name?)

On Saturday morning my knee was a bit swollen, so I opted to take a cab to work. I teach at an international school on Saturdays and we always order a local Chinese feast for lunch. I stopped by Jinkelong instead of Jenny Lou’s to pick up some groceries and purchased a seasonal favorite, nan gua xiao mifan jo (pumpkin porridge.) Unfortunately for the challenge, after the porridge purchase my weekend morphed into an entirely indulgent 3-day expatty rampage. I helped run the 3rd Annual Chi Fan for Charity dining event and ate at Hercules and drank imported alcohol at Hatsune. However, we raised over 300,000RMB for local Beijing charities Bethel and New Hope, so that has to help me gain back a few local points!

By Sunday I was completely wiped out from work and thinking about going local. At the request of friends (and a party to which I had previously committed to help host) I bought German bread, imported cheese and wine, and generally failed to do anything local. On Monday the most local thing I managed to do was fix my internet with the phone company, and attempt to eat at Noodle Bar in Sanlitun with a friend. Unfortunately the noodle bar was completely packed and we opted for nachos and Vietnamese at Luga’s Pho Pho. Aya! I WILL make up for these non-local splurges!

Conclusion:
The intricacies of going local as an expat in Beijing are challenging in different ways than I expected. Yes, language and general lack of time pose significant barriers, but I found it most difficult to balance the inconvenience that it causes other expats in the bubble. After a long day of work, it was hard to suggest to a tired friend that we explore the city and perhaps have a frustrating experience in efforts to discover an awesome hole in the wall restaurant. Scheduling a business lunch at a local dive or food street isn’t exactly practical, and I run the risk of seeming unprofessional to make this suggestion with clients. I wanted to suggest going completely local for my friends’ party, but they were already excited to offer champagne and cheese, so I didn’t think it was worth a fight. Despite my best efforts to remain frugal, I still spent 642.50RMB (325.50 if you don’t count the party I helped host), which is far more than I should really need to spend. Overall I made much more of an effort to go local than during my previous time in Beijing, but I still didn’t get far outside the bubble.

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As promised, here is the information I have been compiling for the Hutong’s Maliandao Tea Tour (which I sometimes lead.) On the tour we discuss in more detail the tastes and characteristics of tea and the Chinese tea ceremony, while eating an incredible lunch and visiting local family shops.

Buying tea in China can be an overwhelming prospect… where do you start?

Most Chinese teas are grown in Southern provinces; however, large quantities are shipped north to Beijing’s Maliandao Tea Street for purchase and export around the world. Although a lot has changed since the emperors ruled, this tea migration still mimics the journey of the finest teas that traveled from southern plantations to the emperors and on to the Silk Road. Today, Maliandao still houses thousands of tea shops, mostly family-owned, that represent the seven main tea-growing areas in China (Zhèjiāng, Jiāngsū, Fújiàn, Ānhuī, Hénán, Sìchuān, Yúnnán) and vast array of Chinese teas. The street has become a bit more touristy since 2005, but retains its authenticity through being the largest tea distribution center in Northern China.

Tea Basics…
Did you know that all “true” tea comes from the same plant? To call that beverage in your hand ‘tea’, it must come from the camellia sinesis plant. The camellia sinesis plant originated in China, near the base of the Himalayas. India also has a camellia sinesis plant native to their base of the Himalayas. China and India are known for their teas because, like grapes, aspects such as the age and variety of the plant can affect the overall taste. While a tea tree 50-60 years old would be considered “new,” some Chinese tea bushes are over 800 years old, which is why it’s nearly impossible to create a taste similar to that produced by Chinese tea plants. True teas include white, green, oolong, red/black and pu’er. Herbal teas made from ingredients like mint, chamomile, rooibos or mate actually form another category of brewed drink, called a tisane. Although they are commonly referred to as teas, this is an incorrect name in the technical sense.

Soil, climate and variety of plant affect the different overall tastes of the tea leaves, but the most important elements of distinction between types of teas are oxidization and fermentation. Oxidization refers to the amount of time tea leaves are exposed to the air and the process of the leaves turning dark, similar to a cut apple turning brown. Fermentation refers to the decay of the tea leaf and is a process that is continuous after the leaf has been dried.

White Teas
White teas are popular abroad and originated in Fújiàn, China. These teas are made from only one variety of tea plant. They are first oxidized (exposed to the air until the leaves wilt and turn slightly brown) and are left in sun to dry. These teas are light and sweet, and have wide appeal. Often tea drinkers who are turned off by the grassiness of green teas enjoy white tea. It is a common misconception that white teas do not have caffeine. The white tea leaf itself retains more caffeine than other teas that are cooked during processing, but its effect it less strong because the caffeine doesn’t come out while brewing. White tea is becoming famous for its many health benefits, one of which is its beneficial effects for arthritis sufferers.

Green Teas
Green Teas have a flavor closest to the camellia senesis plant itself, and perhaps surprisingly, have the highest caffeine content. Green teas are picked, sweated, cooked and dried. The variety of plant, picking time, picking technique, cooking techniques and drying techniques, all produce different types and flavors of green tea. Common Chinese green teas include Lóngjǐng (Dragon Well) from Zhèjiāng, Bìluóchūn (Spring Snail) from Jiāngsū, Mǎofēng from Ānhuī and Mǎojiān from Hénán. Taìpǐng hóuguí (also from Ānhuī) is perhaps the most expensive and renown green tea because it is China’s national tea. It is hard to ship and handle because it is processed in long, thin strips and stands up straight during brewing. This tea can last up to ten infusions.

Japan also has a strong green tea tradition, producing varieties such as Sencha, a powdered green tea called Matcha and Bancha. Bancha is a lower grade Sencha that includes stems and Genmaicha is Sencha mixed with toasted rice. Unlike Pǔ’ěr, it is best to drink green teas as soon as possible after their harvest to retain the most flavor.

Oolong Teas
Any tea with less than full oxidation (like a black tea) is categorized as an Oolong. Oolongs typically come from Fújiàn, Guǎngdōng and Taiwan. The tea variety, amount of oxidation and rolling techniques all significantly affect the end flavor. For example, Yùlán is a type of Oolong tea made from a bush that produces a flowery, Magnolia-flavored tea. Rock Oolongs or Yánchá are from from Wǔyíshān Mountain in Fújiàn and are highly oxidized, dried and toasted. Wǔyíshān is known to have thousands of different tea varietals, and Wǔyí teas are robust with mineral characteristics. Dàhóngpáo, for example, is famous because the tea tree grows in red soil on the rock mountain. Ānxī, a county south of Fujian is famous for producing Tiěguānyīn or Iron Goddess of Mercy. These teas are lightly oxidized, then bruised and tightly rolled. They are fragrant, fruity teas with orchid or peach characteristics. Oolongs are sometimes mixed with the Osmanthus flower, which is a small, yellow, fragrant flower grown in Southern China. Taiwan also produces a variety of high-quality Oolongs, such as Dongding.

Red/Black Teas
Black teas, known in China as hóngchá (red tea) are fully oxidized and seen less in China than other parts of the world. Common Chinese black teas include Zhēngshān xiǎozhòng and Diānhóng (Yunnan Imperial). Chinese black teas are robust and often malty. Red/Black teas are more like what you would traditionally find in Western countries in a teabag. Teabags are filled with crushed and broken tea leaves (those which aren’t good enough for loose leaf tea), with a high surface area. This creates a sudden, full burst of flavor, which quickly dissipates, meaning the teabag is really only good for one steep.

Pǔ’ěr Teas
Pǔ’ěr is a fully cooked tea that is made in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The pǔ’ěr name comes from the pǔ’ěr region of Yunnan, where this tea was originally processed in imperial China. Known in China as heīchá (black tea), pǔ’ěrs are created through a microbial fermentation process that involves both fermentation by organisms growing in the tea and oxidization. Pǔ’ěr is picked and cooked, often heat-blasted in a wok, and then dried immediately in the sun. The sun drying process creates a base material called Saiqing maocha, which is then further processed into shóu or shēng pǔ’ěr. Shēng pǔ’ěr is steamed and pressed into caked or bricks of tea and then baked to remove any final moisture. Shóu pǔ’ěr goes through wodui processing, which was invented by the Menghai pǔ’ěr factory in the 1960s to mimic the flavor of aged shēng pǔ’ěr teas. The process was a state secret for many years. Pǔ’ěr continues to ferment and change in flavor the longer it is kept, and is the only tea to increase in value with age.

Nowadays pǔ’ěr may be the most famous tea in China, but it has only been this way for less than 50 years. The combination of Chinese investment into pǔ’ěr bricks, the introduction of this tea into the international markets via Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, and the perceived health benefits of pǔ’ěr have caused the price and popularity of pǔ’ěr to sky-rocket. In fact, in efforts to regulate the quality of pǔ’ěr for investment purposes, as of December 2008, only teas produced in Yunnan province’s 639 towns and 11 prefectures and cities can be labeled “Puer.”

You can now see disks of pǔ’ěr bricks in most tea houses and lots of souvenir shops around China, as it has become a national phenomenon. Oddly enough, pǔ’ěr stored in Beijing may be less dark and flavorsome than when stored in other areas of the world with different climates and more moisture!

*The Hutong offers an 8-day Biking, Culinary and Tea Journey to the beautiful countryside and tea plantations of Xishuangbanna, so you can experience tea country first-hand, and even pick your own tea brick, and supports Tea Journeys, an innovative tea company that offers private tea ceremonies, unique flavor infusions, corporate gifts and more! http://www.t-journeys.com/

Email: erin@thehutong.com for details.


Helpful Chinese Tea Words

茶 chá Tea
绿茶 lù chá Green Tea
乌龙茶 wūlóng chá Oolong Tea
红茶 hóng chá Black (red) Tea
白茶 bái chá White Tea
黑茶 hēi chá Pu’er Tea
普洱 pǔ’ěr Pu’er Tea
生普洱 shēng pǔ’ěr “uncooked” pu’er
熟普洱 shóu pǔ’ěr “cooked” pu’er
茉莉花茶 mòlihuā chá Jasmine Tea
菊花茶 júhuā chá Chrysanthemum Tea

香气 xiāng qì scent
香味 xiāng weì taste
口感 kǒu gǎn ‘mouth feel’

好喝 hǎo hē tastes good
不好喝 bú hǎo hē tastes bad
我喜欢 wǒ xǐ huan I like it
我不喜欢 wǒ bú xǐ huan I don’t like it
很浓 hěn nóng very strong
很淡 hěn dàn very weak

斤 jīn Tea weight measurement=500 g
克 kè gram
一两 yī liǎng 50 grams

茶壶 cháhú teapot
茶杯 chábēi teacup
盖碗 gàiwǎn traditional Chinese tea brewing cup
茶具 chájù teaware

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Compiled by and from: Sherry Zhang, Joel Shucat, Celestina Swanson, Sofia Courtney, Erin Henshaw, chinaculture.org and time.com

The combination of the trip home and a visit from Anne Baughman has caused me to reflect a bit on the time that David and I have spent in China. I just read David’s post from our first trip to Beijing, and can still recall the totally different perspective with which I saw this city. Everything seemed like a confusing mystery, but I have to say that David did a pretty incredible job orienting himself with so much uncertainty.

We have been here for almost a year and a half, and our impressions of the country have certainly changed in many ways. Almost nothing is shocking anymore…at least about Beijing, and it gets more and more difficult to maintain a fresh and objective eye with which to write the blog. I have received a few comments that the beginning of our blog was really the most interesting, and I have to agree. Mostly I think it was easier to present the fascinating things in China when everything was new. Now I see a lot of things on a daily basis that I’m sure would blow your minds, but I have seen them so many times that it has become commonplace in my mind.

Although part of the essence of this blog is our personal journey, growth and transformation, I still hope to use it as a tool with which to illuminate Asian culture in comparison to our Western home. With that in mind, I am trying to re-discover my outsider perspective on Beijing.

The thing about China that fascinates me even more than the food is the language. I don’t know why, but I never assumed that Chinese would use the same general thoughts and ideas in their speech as in other languages. I guess my perception was that because the language was created so many years ago, the whole concept of communication would have evolved differently. Stupid of me to assume that language doesn’t evolve with society, but that was my perception. Sure, there are different colloquialisms and expressions, but in general you can translate speech using the same ideas of a word. To illustrate my point, I never assume that words like “yet, because and still” would be used in the same manner to express different states of happening…but more or less, they are!

Other than tones and characters, a major difference between English and Chinese is that the Chinese use WAY less words. If brevity is the soul of wit, the Chinese must be the masters of wittiness. This (and the lack of conjugations and tenses) accounts for much of the perception that English-speaking Chinese speak like cavemen. I recently read a funny article that said something to the effect of:

The way a Chinese person says I want to take a cab: Da di qu.
The way an American says they want a cab: I think I would like, if it’s convenient and not too expensive, to call company to send a driver to the corner of my apartment and the store around eight pm or a few minutes before, to avoid rush-hour and get there quickly if that’s ok.

I have also racked my brain to think of a few funny Chinglish phrases that make a lot more sense now that I have a vague understanding of Chinese:

-If I ask, “Why?” in the classroom, students will often respond, “No, why” instead of “No reason” because in Chinese “Bu Weishenme” or “No why” is a perfectly acceptable response.

-Almost all Chinese people know how to say hello, bye bye and Oh my god! Which is apparently a phrase from English that they simply love. Children also say “Oh my ladygaga” quite a bit, hilarious and kills in the classroom.

-Although the use of America and American is very similar to the translation of this noun to adjective in Chinese, it poses huge problems for the Chinese. They are always mixing up these words and have also been taught the word “Americ” with no “a” at the end for some unknown reason.

-Despite being brief with words, the Chinese love to add extra syllables to the end of words. I can’t even blame this on the differing sounds of pinyin and American letters, as my three year olds would even pronounce d-o-g “dog-guh” and c-a-t “cat-uh”…and many more

-What’s your name is also NOT a common greeting in China. Often if I ask a child what his name is, he will look quizzically at his mother and wonder why I’m asking such a strange or private question. Fortunately I have had some parents reply (In Chinese), “It’s OK honey, that’s just what foreigners do!”

Despite the fact that we haven’t been serious about studying Chinese, David and I have picked up quite a bit of the language through listening, repeating, and looking up words when needed. It was so cool to speak with Chinese tourists and Chinese Americans this summer while visiting DC. It seems we kept running into Beijingers, and it’s awesome to think that this could be possible for the rest of our lives.

I also wanted to recount a story from back in Tangshan that I’m not sure I have shared on the blog. I was tutoring a smart, seventeen year old girl for her IELTS exam (the most important English exam for foreign students) and asked the practice question, “Name someone you admire and why.”

“Hitler,” she immediately responded, “because he was a great, powerful leader that many people followed.”

Shocked Erin explains, “While this is a thorough answer, I do not think you should say it for your exam.”

“Why?” asks perplexed girl.

“Well, the people testing you probably don’t have a favorable opinion of Hitler. In fact, most Americans probably think he’s one of the most evil people in the world and you don’t want to offend anyone during this exam.”

“Oh, ok. Let me think then.”

A quite shocking example of the differences in respect for leaders that is accepted and taught in schools. Chinese students are generally brought up to revere Mao, Hitler and Stalin for their charismatic natures and leadership ability, which is quite a unique perspective for Americans.

Also, after reading Evan Osnos’ article in The New Yorker (a GREAT piece on traveling with a Chinese tour group to Europe) and participating in Chinese-led tours with the Jacobs and Anne, it seems that tourism Chinese-style is dramatically different. First of all, tour guides seek to control and regulate their groups in a way that leaves no real room for deviation from the set schedule. Our general perception of customer service and listening to the needs of the traveler are thrown out the window in favor of trying to create an air of importance surrounding the tour guide and delivering on exactly what the tour offers and nothing more. Secondly, tour guides are not able to discuss aspects of near history that shed a less-favorable light on China. While Emperors can be bad-mouthed to a certain extent for being sexual deviants or not treating people fairly, the same rules do not apply for politicians. Additionally, the “Three T’s” are simply not discussed, and it’s my understanding that the employment of tour guides is state-supervised, they can be relieved from their duties for talking about such issues. Thirdly, Chinese tours often highlight the progress of modern China much more than the exceptionally long and innovative history. Although Americans often come to China hoping to see relics of China’s great past, they are often met with skyscrapers and examples of how quickly China is modernizing as a world-player. Young tour leaders know their history, but cannot understand why Western tourists are much more interested in the hutongs and construction workers using man-powered tools than their futuristic cityscapes. The truth of the matter, in my perspective, is that “old China” really doesn’t play a part in the modern life of big cities, which is why it’s so hard for tourists to find an authentic examples of its existence. This is not to say that it doesn’t exist, but its not the kind of experience you and uncover from a tour bus or a young Chinese guide. I can’t tell you how perplexed many people are when I tell them that I came to China for the experience and the culture and not the money. In that case, I would have been gone long ago!

Well, if you got all the way through that, I’m proud. Hopefully you learned a bit and will continue to read on as we continue to answer the question, What is China all about? To appropriately compliment the theme of this post, the photos include the more traditional Chinese culture of markets and a man who sources antique tea pots in Anhui province, and a few fancy events that we have attended around the city.

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*Fair warning, this post will make you salivate.

I have just finished up my marketing/PR project at The Fig Tree in Chaowai SOHO www.thefigtree.cn, and have a minute highlight some of the awesome creations and knowledge I have gained from the experience. Although I’m nowhere near the level of a Le Cordon Bleu-certified pastry chef (I enjoy eating and talking too much), I have developed quite a refined palate and appreciation for all things sweet and gourmet since meeting Chef Lin. From the time and labor involved in baking, to balancing the variables behind the science of pasty, I never had any idea how difficult it was to be a pastry chef. Did you know that using different brands of almond powder will totally alter their ability to “create feet” and a perfectly smoothi texture? Or, did you know that Ikea sells the best small quantities of dark chocolate for home bakers in Beijing? My only current concern is that I have been catapulted into the category of food snob…and there’s not turning back!

Just to clarify, at this point I’m not being compensated in any way for commenting about The Fig Tree, so you can take my word when I say that this school truly produces the best-tasting and highest quality pastries in Beijing. My personal favorites have been the chocolate decadent cupcakes and cake, New-York Style Cheesecake, and savory Spinach Quiche. Here are some of my favorite Fig Tree creations:

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Wuddup. I haven’t posted in a while and can’t think of anything of particular importance, so I am going to make a very “bloggy” blog post that discusses what I did yesterday. The day started early with Erin and I heading over to The Hutong for a quick tour of one of the local markets. We were led by master chef Joel who took us through the market explaining what everything was. We have been to a lot of markets so it wasn’t anything new, but it was good to learn what some of the questionable looking spices were and what they are used for. It was a pretty beautiful day for Beijing, the sky was a bluish gray and it was pretty warm. After the tour, we headed back to the Hutong for a Thai cooking class, where we were going to make minced pork, a green curry, and a papaya salad. Our teacher was Ling Pei, a Malaysian chef that obviously knew a lot about Thai cooking, and I was pretty amazed at how good the green curry tasted. The class was a good example of a foreigners outing in Beijing; there were 4 Americans, 2 Russians, a Spaniard, a German, a Malaysian, and a Chinese ayi (literally means Auntie, in this instance the woman who helps the class and cleans).

After the class I went to Jingshan park with a friend to enjoy the day. The weather was nice but the sky wasn’t really clear, and a normally stunning view of Beijing was only mediocre. I will attach some pictures of when we came to the same park on a clearer day. I had some food a little bit later and walked around some of the old parts of Beijing for about an hour. On my way to the subway station, I saw an unfortunately all too common scene.

Two old foreigners were trying to talk to a guard and a driver and I already knew what was going on. Many taxi’s and 3 wheel “cars” prey on the old foreigners in this area and offer them rides at seemingly fair prices. Upon arriving at the destination, the price which was originally 3 turns into 300. I saw what was going on and asked them what was going on, and they told me that the driver said 3 and they said OK, and then was asking for 300 when they got there. I don’t know why, but these things make me so angry that I can barely control myself. I picture my grandparents or parents coming to China for a visit and getting ripped off by some scumbag that intimidates them and acts like his price is a fair one. It even happened to Erin, the other Tangshan teacher and I, with us almost getting run over by the angry driver after I kicked the door open and we paid him nothing. That being said, I got into the driver’s face and told him he was a cheat, a bad person, and to leave now. He tried to act like his price was fair but as soon as I started speaking Chinese, he realized the jig was up, and basically ran to his little bike and rode off. The young guard that was approached by the old couple just laughed at the whole situation, and I yelled at him too, saying that he knows the price isn’t fair and the old couple asked him for help. The French couple was happy that I arrived, and I hope that this blog post can help someone avoid these scams in the future. A very drunken Chinese man then talked to me on the walk to the subway, telling me I was a good guy and that he hopes I don’t think everyone in China is a cheat (I don’t). I stopped for some street food (dinner for $1), and went back home.

So that is a fairly typical non-work day I would say. I am not taking cooking classes and fighting with drivers on a daily basis, but you get the picture. Hope everyone is doing well and I am thinking about home a lot more recently with my brother and his wife soon to have their first baby! I can’t wait. That is all for now, 再见 (this means goodbye).

“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”

-Zhuangzi

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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

This is the first post that I have made from my own computer in a while, and it feels great! Luckily the Chinese have decided that my capitalist propaganda machine known as this blog is of no threat to the stability of the country, so we are back in business. Erin was in Vietnam during the long holiday known as Spring Festival, which is Chinese New Year, which celebrates the first day of the lunar calendar. It is the year of the rabbit (read more about the Chinese Zodiac here) but I don’t really know what it means. Someone is supposedly more lucky or going to get rich or some other astrological theory that I disagree with.

Erin was gone, my two roommates went home to their families, so it was just little David all by his lonesome, with only the never ending barrage of fireworks to keep him company. Never ending barrage of fireworks you say? Indeed I did. A few days before the New Year, you heard an occasional firework, but as the days got closer, the frequency of blasts increased. On Spring Festival Eve, I really cannot put into words what the celebration was like. Basically everyone in the city, everywhere in the city, was shooting off a ridiculous amount of fireworks. I don’t mean run of the mill fireworks you can buy in the USA, I mean like the finale of the fireworks at the National Mall. It is basically Christmas, New Years Eve, and July 4th only for a week and every day is more intensely celebrated than all of those holidays. A holiday like this simply isn’t possible in the USA, because there is no way US society would be OK with the complete disregard for safety that was displayed. I am in the middle of one of the most densely populated places on the entire planet, and there are fireworks going off less than 15 feet from my window. I saw children no older than 6 lighting HUGE fireworks with their father’s cigarette. I saw people angling gigantic pyrotechnics over the biggest roads in the city so to create the most awesome explosions imaginable. I also saw fireworks tip over and blast through the windshield of a car, start a fire on the ground floor of a building, and idiots pointing fireworks at eachother in some weird Chinese game of chicken. Basically, there is no way this holiday can continue as it currently does. An estimated 6000-11000 injuries occurred this year from fireworks, in BEIJING ALONE!!!! 24 hours a day, for about a week. Its a terrifying and mesmerizing display, and I am glad I was here for it. Article written by a guy named Andrew Jacobs about the fireworks.

Besides the fireworks, there are also temple fairs, which are small carnivals at all the parks in Beijing. I was expecting these to be a great celebration of the storied traditions of this ancient culture. In reality it was a bunch of people eating hot dogs and pigeons and buying stupid hats and other dumb souvenirs. I was thoroughly disappointed but was glad to see a bunch of the temple fairs if for no other reason than there were about a billion people walking around. There was also some sort of game where you wrote a wish or your name or something on a sticker, and then had to jump and put it as high as you could. Everyone was amazed when I jumped and put it on a pole that was above where anyone else had put it, so you can all feel proud to be Americans (assuming you are Americans). Probably the coolest thing I stumbled upon at the temple fairs was a building filled with people playing games. Chess, checkers, mah jong, everything you could think of. It seemed that people could sign up to play a “master” who walked around playing many different games at the same time. Everyone wanted me to play but it looked pretty boring, because the expert was playing so many games that each game took at least an hour. I would have lost so fast it probably would have gone quickly, but I was too scared.

It is so nice being able to access the blog without having to switch computers and send pictures from one place to another, so hopefully more exciting things happen so we can kick the blog back into high gear. A friend of mine took video during the peak of the fireworks, so hopefully I can get him to send it to me. Much like Christmas in the USA, Spring Festival is the most wonderful time of the year. There was NOBODY in Beijing, so the streets were driveable. Cabbies were the happiest people in the city and all mentioned how much better Beijing was when no Chinese people were in the city. The streets were empty, which was great. It was the world’s largest ghost town for a week. Hope all is well with you, congrats to all the people born in the year of the rabbit, peace, I’m out.

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