Friday, September 11, 2009

End of Shanghai.. Bunch of other stuff...Bicycles!

Today's Alarming Statistic:
12.56 million -
The number of kilowatts of electricity consumed in Beijing Friday, July 26th - an all time high according to Beijing Electric Power Company.

Well, that was an interesting whirlwind trip to Shanghai. Literally the only things I had to do were:
Day 1 - hand my passport to Echo (Callison employee facilitating our residency visa application)
Day 2 - go to an administration office and sit on a stool in front of a dismal Chinese lady who looked at me, stamped some papers with the all important red Chinese authoritative stamp and take my photo. That entire thing took five minutes.

In the taxi on the way to the admin place I saw something that made me homesick...

The Chinese Space Needle, only toppled over on it's side! Another view:

Well, look on the bright side. I got a chance to sit in a nice coffee shop, Wagas and contemplate Chinese currency and how bizarre it is. Observe:

This is one yuan, also known as one kuai (think "buck"). It comes in a bill form and a coin form. That's not so weird, we have silver dollars and even Susan B. Anthony dollars.

But check this one out:

Each of these is the equivalent of half a yuan (like 50 cents to us). If you split up a yuan into 10 parts, each part is called a jiao (like a dime). Again, bill form, a gold 5 jiao piece, and 5 individual jiao. But look closely at those single jiaos... there are 3 that look alike - the 1st, 2nd, and 4th left to right. The middle one is made of some totally different material that feels like plastic toy cash register money. The far right one is octagonal and made of yet a third type of material.

Last currency lesson: Here is a paper bill for one jiao and the three different one jiao coins.

Need I say explicitly that when I am in a crowded market place
attempting to pay for my leeks
and prawns quickly, not even
being totally sure the price they
are quoting me, that it can be
somewhat stressful to figure out
the money involved? Hence I
typically end up using a 100 yuan bill and accumulating
tons of these random, confusing
coins and tiny paper bills.

One final comment about Shanghai. There seemed to be even more bicycles and small motorcycles there than in Beijing if that is possible. This is how they park them. Would you want to be the first one in? I'm not
sure if you can tell from
this photo, but they are parked
about eight deep.

It was so great to get back to Beijing and see Eric and the girls. Look at the surprise they had for me!

They had to dump out all my tall kitchen utensils from the "vase" which are now still laying on the kitchen counter since we don't own a vase yet.

It was also exciting to see the
progress on the roof terrace we
look out over. Bamboo! It is growing in about a foot of soil. Each bag of soil was carried up
in one of the two elevators in our building. The actual process is this -
1. A truck brings a bunch of soil and drops it on the street in front.
2. About 15 workers in blue uniforms and little black worker shoes use tiny little shovels to fill bags full of dirt. Each probably only weighs around 30 lbs.
3. They fill the floor of the elevator and go to the 5th floor.
4. They unload the elevator and send it back to the lobby.
5. Residents wait impatiently for the elevator to be free.
6. The workers dump the bags out in the planter boxes.
7. The workers take the empty bags down to the street.
8. Repeat from step 2.
It is hot work since it's still in the high 80s here and humid.

Saturday morning we woke up and I actually, for the first time, felt like I was "home". Going to Shanghai alone was a good thing. We went to the market right outside our building (to look for a vase) and here are some things I saw:

Ivy took this picture - the picture I have been attempting to get since mid August. We see this every day under the airport express highway... there are one to three "dentists"? set up down there. I try to slyly snap a photo of them working on someone's teeth but they always catch me and glare. Leave it to Ivy to finally get the shot! Right next to this they are selling nuts, bolts, huge tobacco leaves, and a bucket of dead frogs. Seriously. A bit later I snapped this one - another I've been

wanting to show. Not just this guy, but all the working people take naps during the noon hour. They just sprawl out wherever they are. Sometimes on the sidewalk just flat on their backs. Taxi drivers lay in the back seats of their taxis with their bare feet poking out the window and the car doors open. This is the type of bike that you see carrying queen sized mattresses, huge loads of coal in eight inch cylinders, water cooler bottles or just anything you can imagine.


Of course, anyone who knows us would be aware that we would never ever buy a NEW
bicycle, especially in a place like Beijing where most bicycles are pretty beat up and there are many that get stolen. However, we have been looking and looking for used bikes and we have not found any. I have been told that if we do, they are most likely stolen. So the purchasing agent at Eric's office found us this one.

How much would you pay for this bike? Wait~! It also comes with a basket for the front... NOW how much would you pay? We are getting two of these bikes (delivered) for $100. What a deal! The only thing is the fear of actually riding one. Eventually, if we get confident enough, we will put Greta and Ivy on the little seat on the back and they can sit side saddle like 99% of backseat riders do here.

Later that day... Well, we learn something new every day that we are here, and there seems to be a trend. The man came to deliver our bikes - we were so excited! But that excitement ended abruptly as we examined the bikes. They were totally different than the one pictured above! Both were "girl style" and much lighter weight. They had the side kickstands which were so ineffective that a slight breeze would topple the bike. Eric went back to the apartment to get his blackberry to show the guy a picture of the bikes we ordered. Our friend Vivian who owns the laundry business at MOMA and her (husband?/boyfriend?) Bell were helping us out with the translating that was necessary. Luckily we did not pay in advance! We have learned that whomever holds the cash holds the power.

Vivian and Bel suggested it would be best for us to go to an actual bicycle shop and see the actual bikes so we could choose the right ones. There is a community market not far away that they suggested so we walked there and found just what we wanted! We payed slightly more, but still it was only $71.50 per bicycle - and this includes a seat on the back for each bike, foot pegs, baskets, and bells. Also we were supporting our local community market and Eric made friends with the shop owner so he can go there for parts, etc. when necessary. Here they are! It's a little terrifying to ride bikes here. The only saving grace is that no one is speeding past. People ride at a fluid, fairly slow pace, weaving around anything going more slowly than they are. They also weave around people opening car doors, cars pulling out, and about 400% more pedestrians than we are used to on a Seattle street.

This is where we park them and here we are getting ready for our first longer ride to the train station.

We did that on Sunday, parked them in a bike lot for 20 jiao (figure out how much that is based on your currency lesson above!- Exchange rate about 6.8 yuan to one dollar). So we left the bikes there - they have integrated locks and we also used our cable lock - and took the train to Qianmen station, south of the Forbidden City. From there we walked through these amazing hutongs full of little market shops.

This picture is dedicated to my friend Carrie Pratt, who asked me to take a picture of the deepest darkest alley in BJ. It's a first attempt. I'll keep trying!
Right next to this is a fancy street which is full of beautiful old buildings like this:

The one on the left has three intricate world maps.

The other one has been serving roast duck since 1864.
We walked across a large road overpass and were able to look down into the hutong.

We were heading toward the Temple of Heaven (which is Ivy's "house" at school (think Gryffindor). Greta's is Forbidden City (think Slytherin... no! Just kidding). Oh, here they are in their house t-shirts!

But unfortunately, my camera battery chose that time to expire for the day. The Temple of Heaven was very cool though, trust me. It is where all the emperors used to go at various times of the year to pray to gods for good harvests, among other things.

We saw all the major temples and outbuildings and my favorite was the Circular Mound which is a circle with three tiers like a wedding cake - lots of short marble pillars all around the edges. There are nine steps going from the bottom layer to the 2nd. There are nine steps going from the 2nd to the 3rd. In the center of the top layer is a round stone about three feet in diameter where the emperor stood to do the big prayers. Fanning out from this stone were nine fan shaped flagstones. Fanning out from those were 18, fanning out from those were 36, etc. etc. until you get to the edge (there are nine repetitions.) Then on the 2nd layer down it starts at the next multiple of nine and gets bigger by multiples of nine. And finally to the third and bottom layer. All together there are some huge big old number of flagstones and if you are a good mathematician you should be able to figure out exactly how many.

The number nine is very important and powerful in Chinese culture. That's why so many people got registered to marry the other day on 9/9/09 (or as they would write it 09/9/9). Those people should stay married forever.

Last night our apartment complex was hoppin'! They are holding a big event here on the 17th with a bunch of stars coming. They have set up this stage and a huge sound system and they were testing it all out last night. "Hotel California" was blaring on and off until 10pm and colored lights were fanning all over the towers. It was really cool. We had an awesome view from our windows until they
just hung a big backdrop.
Now we can't see a thing.
Hopefully they'll let us in!

This picture is dedicated to Lily from Ivy...

Adventure in Chinese is Maoxian. I'll let you know more about ours later! Miss you all.


  1. How come there are no pictures dedicated to me? I want picture dedications.

    I also want a new bike. Oh, and a pony.

    See what you can do, k?

  2. Thanks Ivy for the picture. I LOVE it!! (Obviously!!) I hope you guys are having a good time and my mom says "Bonjour!" and she also hopes you're having a good time!

  3. I tried not to yuan during the money lesson, but I think I got lost in the narrow alley. My favorite currency today is the Thai bhat!

    The dentist made my teeth hurt.

    Go Haagen Daaz! Your updates make us smile :-)