Friday, September 29, 2006

Tiananmen Square at Night

I am on fire with the video. I can't stop myself now that I figured out IMovie.

Classic Dixie and Suzi video

This speaks for itself more eloquently than anything I could muster.

We were walking around Jingshan Park and came acros these two groups of dancers next to each other.

Suzi and Dick visit, the story

As you can see, my folks have landed, been here a few days and they have been very action packed. The kids are very, very excited to have them here and show them things.

It’s all pretty amazing. It was just about exactly a year ago that he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and the fear and loathing set in. At that point, having him here kicking around the Wall and the Forbidden City seemed like an impossible dream and here we are, with him looking good as ever to boot. That’s worth stopping to salute.

They overlapped just one night with Emily and it was actually Becky’s birthday. We went out to dinner at the Beijing grand Hotel Szechuan restaurant, which is a family favorite. Eric and Titi joined us and it was a great night,. On our way home, we circled around Tianamen Square.

Yesterday was their first day here and we went on a trip run by the school outing club to the Commune at the Great Wall. It’s a kind of a wild place. Check it out here.

It was originally designed as an architectural showpiece and supposed to become an area where people built second homes. It’s only about an hour and change from Beijing, close to the Wall and really beuatiful.. I guess that didn’t really take off, so they turned over management to a hotel company, built a couple hotel-style villas, a very high end spa and an elegant restuarant. It’s quite cool.

Suzi loved it, Dixie was interested for about 10 minutes. He really wanted to hike to the Wall, which we were told was only about a 15-minute walk, so we asked about it and signed releases then took off. About five others followed. It was a pretty steep but not too long hike up and then we were on the Wall, a pretty cool section, unreconstructed but solid. We walked around it a little and went back for a snazzy lunch.

Today, we went down to the Forbidden City in the morning, got there and in by 9 am. Believe it or not, it was the first time I entered Beiing’s number-one tourist destination. And it was really quite spectacular. It lives up to the hype, a remarkable place. We got the audio tours but really the specifics are less interesting than the totality of just being in there, and feeling the massive scale and seeing the beauty in every little nook and cranny. It’s also ironic how you read about the violence and intrigue and everything is named “Temple of Peace” or “harmony” or “Heavenly Grace.”

Those emperors had it pretty good until hey were poisoned or hung themselves to avoid the onrushing mobs. 70,000 eunuchs took care of their needs, including delivering a nightly concubine, plucked from a harem of thousands and delivered naked and wrapped in a sheet.

We walked from there over to Jingshan Park across the way. I had never been there either and it was really beautiful and good for them to see, because there were a lot of Chiense people just hanging out and relaxing.. older men and women playing mah jong, checkers and cards and, as you can see, a little dance club. You see things like this around pretty regularly in China and it always remains a mystery. But it’s nice.

We then walked out and about a little, through a hutong (alleyway lined with old courtyard houses) which had Chinese flags flying everywhere.. quite unusual which made me think a government office or official must be in there. We went over to Houhai Lake, had a nice lunch at one of the first restaurants I eve ate in Beijing, then walked around and over to the Drum Tower, another favorite spot. We took a cab over to Becky’s office, had a little tour, hung a bit and then came home with Mr. Dou to eat piles of dumplings made by Ho ayi. Today is the tart of a Holiday week. Next week is the October Holiday. The kids have no school, Many Chinese have of and the country is on the move. Many of our friends are leaving the country. Everyone says not to travel in China during these weeks but we are doing exactly that – again. It’s not so bad. Just a lot of Chinese people everywhere. We are going to the mountains of Lijiang and Shangri La in Yunnan province.

Emily was here for about five days and it was really nice to have her. Great person, great company.

Emily Galpern, Dixie and Suzi visits -- pictures

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

About the post below

I know the video is posted twice.. I can't remove one.. getting it up here at all has been an adventure. I also know there are some typos.. I can't edit the post at all. Just one of those things. Just so you know.

Video of me jamming at the party

I can't believe this worked. Believe it or not, this is the first IMovie I've made. Wyatt Cameron shot it and I edited it, not too badly. Dave Loevinger on sax. He's a neighbor and Embassy employee... Treasury Dept, I believe. This was the first time I heard him play. I am very glad I told him to bring his ax. Really fun.

We did a blues after this that was a bit of a train wreck. the lady drummer who was fantastic on the African and reggae stuff could not play a blues. Strange. She had no idea where to hit it. We then sat in for two reggae songs which was fun. "One Love" and something else, by Toots and the Maytals I believe. Then I went back to the party. Dave stayed up there all night.

I know the video is posted twice.. I can't remove one.. getting it up here at all has been an adventure.

Party Pictures

Mitabe. Definitely the best African band in China.

Me with Eric and Titi. Photo by Jacob.

Mei Fong, WSJ reporter and glamour puss and
husband Andrew.

Jacqui C with Richard Middleton, who has the finest
British accent I've heard this side of Sir John Gielgud.

The party's over, and Jim Yardley shows it.

Jacqui and Wyatt Cameron, Dulwich college glamour couple.

Becky surprises me by taking the mic and giving a very eloquent thank you toast (the eloquence was not surprising -- her saying she wanted to speak was.)
Becky and Maya Alexandri

Keary Liu dancing with her irrepresible husband, the most outgoing Chinese man in China. She has Pittsburgh roots. He is hilarious.

Michael and Lisa Pos, Emily Galpern (barely visible) and Maria Barnett

Us, with Ding ayi

With Yasuko (by Jacob)
With Emily (by Jacob)

Becky with Jason Dean and Andrew Batson from her office (by Jacob)

With Liora and Gabby (Israeli/Argentine friends) and Tracy and Greg Madden (Moon PA natives and hardcore Steelers fans -- or fan anyhow).

Becky with US Embassy press guru Susan Stevenson

Peter and Julia Swanston arrive (by Jacob)

Vivian Nazarri and husband John arrive on the red carpet to be greeted by the great paparazzi Jacob Paul and his omnipresent camera.

Eli's photo contribution and some video from the party

I gave Jacob the camera for a while and asked him to take pictures of guests arriving. He took a couple of nice ones. Then eli asked for the camera and ran off and came back with this shot of the waitresses' posterior. Jacob fell over laughing. Literally.

Our friend Wyatt Cameron took this video from the middle of a conga line which surprisingly formed while i was in the back chatting, only to be grabbed aboard.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Party Was Great

The party was really great... We all had a blast. Kids came for the first hour and enjoyed seeing everyone's mom and dad showing up.

Thanks for everyone who asked. I will post a lot more photos and some commentary soon. But I am up till midnight trying to finish my next column. Gotta have some priorities.

Friday, September 22, 2006

L'Shana Tova

Happy New Year.

I just received this nice emailed New Years greetings from my cousin Hadar, who is living in Boston (from Israel) for a few years while her husband receives his PHD at Brandeis.

They have a blog -- with a similar title to mine -- and I just read through it. Have a look at the pictures of their California National Parks trip. My God. That is really beautiful. Those pictures made me feel homesick more than anything has in a long, long time. I have never seen a sequoia like that.

Things are going to get a little nutty around here. Today, Emily Galpern is arriving. She is the little sister of Steve Galpern, my best friend froma bout ages 3-13. I haven’t seen Emily since she was about 12 and it’s hard to remember that a young teen is not arriving here in need fo constant supervision. She works for the very interesting looking think tank. I read through their site and still don’t fully understand where they stand but they deal with the ethics of biotech and genetics issues.

She will be here for the New Years tonight and tomorrow and staying on for three-four days more. Tomorrow night is our birthday party, which has grown in scope since I invited everyone I chatted with in the last two weeks. We have an African band playing who are really good and it is going to be on the island in the back of the Orchard nearby us, a great place. Becky is a little concerned that the party has grown too big but I say you only turn 40 once.

Then on Weds. my parents are arriving for about 10 days. It’s unfortunate that they are going to just miss the bash but we couldn’t delay it because the following weekend is the start of the October Holiday and many of our friends will be leaving town. On Weds. we are going with folks to Yunnan province, visiting Lijiang and Shangri La, which is at 3500 m and on the Tibet border. It is ethnically Tibet and as close to Tibet as you can get without going to Tibet.. which we still want to do one of these days!

Anyhow, it will be a busy time so updates may dry up for a while. We are excited to have my parents here -- kids are fired up to show them around and of course it is especially exciting to have my dad coming.

Afterschool fun with water guns

Jacob was very proud of these photos and was meticulously posing so I thought I should post them.

The most unpredictable aspect of this whole China thing to this day is that Jacob actually "loves" wearing his best dressed getup and keeps it on until bedtime.

Eli lost another tooth

Jacqui Cameron actually pulled it out. He was so excited and proud. And not scared of the Tooth Fairy at all this time -- just jonesing for the 20 quai he knew was coming his way.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Quality control

Our compound Beijing Riviera is celebrating its tenth anniversary. That makes it one of the first villa compounds in town. I think it was second actually, but is considerably closer to the CDB and nicer than its sole predecessor.

They a re very excited about the anniversary here, with flags flying on all the light poles, a fair amount of celebratory activities

You can get a good feel for what the place looks like at the website:

Though, not surprisingly it’s a little rougher around the edges than it would appear up there. Unfortunately, the site does not include any of the photos of the development’s development, which they have up in the clubhouse and gave us in a book.

The pictures of the corn and bean fields that were here are quite cool to see.. and sort of sad, and very amazing. I’ve already seen a bunch of other developments pop up on farmland, but you sort of assume that whatever is here when you arrive is “normal,” the starting point, even as you realize how absurd that is. This city has grown so fast.

The Riviera is owned by a Singaporean developer, who a quite a huge force. Here is how they are described on the site:

The Hong Leong Group Singapore is a multinational corporation engaged in a wide range of businesses in the Asia-Pacific Region, Europe and North America. Hong Leong Group is one of the biggest conglomerates in Singapore with gross assets of over USD16 billion, annual turnover in excess of US2.5 billion and worldwide staff strength of 30,000.

The thing that’s really interesting to me is how old these houses seem, how not well many of them have done, and how many of them have been or are being totally, radically renovated. The quality of work just isn’t that high. It seems to me that this is going to be a big long term problem for China… stuff just not built to last.

I mean you truly wouldn’t believe what they do to houses here between tenants.. ripped apart, totally gutted, everything pulled out and replaced… floors, ceilings, walls, ducts, cabinets. It’s the kind of thing that would cost $200k at home except here the workers were farmers two weeks ago and are paid $2/day. Which surely is one of the quality control problems and part of the reason why a 10-year-old house is brand new in Europe and America. Here, it is a relic.

And it’s just the houses.. so many things you buy here turn out to be so crappy. Take the Giant hybrid bike I bought one year ago. It looked great and seemed like an awesome deal for about $150, but now it looks like it’s ten years old. And that’s just one of many examples.

Of course, if you’ve shopped at Costco or Wal Mart in the last five years, you know that they are capable of making quality goods, but few of them seem to be kept here.

One other thing

Hallelujah! My DSL problems seem to be fixed, though I guess I should wait 24 hours before doing proverbial high fives. That means my phone and ISite should be working again and I can start uploading videos and more photos (and downloading the Wire and Deadwood). It is a significant development for me.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Previous Post

Okay, I’ve largely sworn off politics for the blog and will see if I can keep that up through the mid term elections. But I thought the George Allen thing was so funny and revealing that I had to put it up. Maybe my perspective is warped because I am reading Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America right now, but I though t that clips was pretty damning. I mean, he responds to being asked if he has Jewish relatives by accusing the questioner of “spreading aspersions” about him.

But apparently this interpretation is not widely held. Several people have emailed me to say they think the jerk, er Senator wasn’t so off base. So what do I know? What do you think?

Who you callin' a Jew bitch?

Note the very end, when he accuses questioner of "casting aspersions" about his heritage.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Weekend travel

Well, we’ve been keeping to our pledge to get out and about more this year. We went away the least two weekends, for at least a day. Last weekend, we went out to the country home in a small village of our friends Eric and Titi. We had a great day and ended up taking a hike on a beautiful, not-too-refurbished section of the wall. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera and Eric’s had a dead battery so it will have to live on only in our minds’ eyes bu tit was a great and a perfect distance for the kids to be able to do it and feel good.

Two weeks ago, we decided to head to Beidahei, the closest beach, which is about three hours away, a straight shot down a nice highway. Jacob actually stayed back here with a friend. He was invited to a birthday party and really wanted to go and the mother invited him to spend the weekend. Both parents are teachers at the school – the mom is actually the librarian – so we felt comfortable with it even though we don’t know them well. We were taking him over and telling him all the things to do – “be polite, try the food, blah blah blah” and Eli said, “Try not to pee on the toilet seat, Jacob.” When I laughed, Eli was puzzled and said, “Really. That’s important.”

The drive out to Beidahe was by far the longest we’ve taken and it was fine. It’s a nice road. We had to pay tolls of about 120 RMB, which is about $15 and really a lot of money. It keeps people of it, I think. The only vehicles out there were huge, often overloaded trucks (see them everywhere) sometimes going really, really slowly, and German sedans usually with black windows (Audis, BMWs and Mercedes in equal measures) going really , really fast. I’m told that the Auydis and Benzes are gov’t officials and the Beemers are biz men. Some of the cars didn’t even have plate;, some had govt plates. Bediahe has a lot of big villas where officials spend their summer weekends.

The one thing we passed that kind of shook me up was a large blue truck filled with caged dogs. There was only place they could be headed and it was sad. They looked like really nice pooches, with kind eyes and it was hard to look at them or think about what fate awaited them.

We got into town and were surprised by how nice it was. The beach wasn’t exactly gorgeous but it was a beach and the water seemed to be pretty clean and quite alive. When tide was low, there were starfish, crabs, mussels, clams and other stuff, much of which we ate later at local restaurants. Eli and Anna took great joy in choosing and even catching their food out of tanks. I wa pretty impressed with Eli’s insistence on eating squid. He said it was because Jackson (his best bud in Maplewood likes it, so he wanted to try it.)

We caught about four of the slimy things and five minutes later they were on our plates, sautéed with green beans and in a soy sauce. They were delicious, really not too chewy. I think it’s nearly impossible to get fresh squid because, like shrimp, it is usually immediately thrown onto blocks of ice when caught.

We also had crabs and fish along with fried rice and dumplings. It was all really good. The next day, before leaving, we went to another restaurant and the kids again took great glee in catching their lunch, which this time included shrimp, flounder (which Eli called “stingray fish”) and more crabs. It was also good, though more simply prepared without as much good sauce other than the flounder. They also ripped us of, doubling the amount of shrimp we got, which they charged an arm and a leg for. But it was delicious – again, very rare to eat shrimp that was just alive – and the old lady out front loved watching Eli and Anna catch and release giant snails, clams, crabs and shrimp, giving us a peaceful interlude.

I was a bit horrified that Eli and then Anna, following his lead, really realy wanted to catch and eat a turtle. I refused, which made Becky happy. She was just glad to know that I actually do have a line I won’t cross when it comes to eating and it is drawn just in front of turtles. I actually would eat a turtle no problem but was sort of disturbed by Eli’s eagerness to do so, especially since he has one in his class and even noted that he thought it was the same kind. I thought that just kind of gross. But I was proud of him overall for the way he approached this seafood thing, and Anna for going along with it, though she didn’t actually all that much of it. Eli did. I think they also enjoyed not having Jacob around for a day. The sheriff was gone and Eli moved up in the hierarchy.

The other thing that was really notable about this trip was the abundance of Russians in the town. We got to our hotel, a large 4-star place that really was and it was filled with Russkis. Amazing. Big Russian looking Russians. The hotel was probably 80% Russian, 20% Chinese and us. There was absolutely no English spoken anywhere, but the hotel had Russian translators on hand. Few of the Russians spoke English either but I did find two who did a bit and they said they were all from Siberia and other places in eastern Russian and they had taken the train two days to get there, the closest beach to them.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Catching Up with Summer Photos: Beach Haven

I’m still working my through the hundreds of photos we took this summer. The process has been greatly slowed by my continuing lack of high-speed connections at home. I am now sitting in a subway, of all places. They have a great connection.

Beach Haven feels like home almost as much as anywhere does these days. Great time with family and friends. Kate Meyers is in a bunch of these pictures. She is one of my oldest and dearest friends. And having our kids, and nephews and nieces all be friends gives me tremendous naches. Is that the proper Yiddish usage? Someone help me out here. Anyhow, the fact that we live in China and she lives in Colorado and her brothers live in Pittsburgh and my brother lives in Delaware but all of our kids know and love each other.. well, that makes me feel really good.