Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Year of The Tiger

Today's Alarming Statistic

350 Million -
Number of smokers in China, the world's largest consumer of tobacco.
China Daily

Hi Everyone! I cannot tell you how SORRY I am for being a lame blogger. So the first part of this blog was written in early February. I had all the best intentions, but I guess the Chinese New Year should be re-named The Year of the Lazy Blogger. Anyway... HAPPY NEW YEAR! Can you see what my family is "spelling out" here? This was taken on January 1 in Lijiang, in Yunnan Province. We spent the day hiking around a beautiful lake and in the hills.

Old news from early February:

We are getting ready for the BIG EVENT... Chinese New Year!!! Here they actually call it Chun Jie, or Spring Festival. Since the girls attended The New School (now called South Shore School) in Seattle, with a large Chinese and other Asian population, I was aware of some of the activities and customs associated with this time of year. But WOW is it ever different actually being here in China!

The first thing I noticed is that people are leaving the city. There are millions of migrant workers in Beijing that all go home for Chun Jie. It is of great importance that everyone goes home, because this is probably the only time in the year that they can do it. It is expensive to get a plane or train 1500 miles across the country, especially when you make less than $300/month. Family is so important to the Chinese that they scrimp and save all year to make this pilgrimage.

What this means is that the working people will be unavailable in the city for about a month. For example, Eric is having a suit made. We went to the tailor on Saturday to choose the suit and fabric and they told us that if he wanted it any time soon we should order it right away or he would have to wait over a month until Spring Festival is over.

The time frame is a bit loose, but people started leaving last week, even though the actual Chinese New Year's Day is February 14th this year. CNY is based on the Lunar Year. Chu Xi, Chinese New Year's Eve then, will be on February 13th. This is the night of massive explosions everywhere. Eric was here last year for Chu Xi but the rest of us have not experienced it. Apparently it sounds like a bomb is going off everywhere in the city. Last year an enormous building, the CCTV building, burned completely up right in the Central Business District. It was a brand new, unoccupied building and officials were shooting fireworks off the top of it. Here's a cool video of what happened in 2009 -


Fingers crossed that this doesn't happen again. This the cool building next to it. I can't find a good picture of the burned building as it is now, but they leave it up in a very prominent spot in the city so provides a constant reminder to about carelessness.

On a happier note, everywhere you look are red and gold eternity knots, banners to hang on your door, images of fish (Yu) which symbolizes surplus, paper cuttings, and the character called Fu Zi which means good fortune. Also Hong Bao, or the red envelopes are everywhere. On the first day of the Lunar New Year (February 14th this year) everyone will go visit relatives and offer a blessing "guo nian hau!" (Happy Chinese New Year!); "Gong xi fa cai!" (Get rich!); and "Shen ti jian kang!" (Good health!). Then the relatives will give all the children Hong Bao with money inside for the new year. Greta and Ivy are wishing they were Chinese right about now!

For about two weeks starting February 14th there will be Temple Fairs all around Beijing.

March 21, 2010

Okay - that was all old news. We attended two temple fairs in February - one at BCIS, the girls' school; and one in a temple not far from our house. The school temple was mainly things for sale and a lion dance.

This man was blowing sugar into shapes of the Chinese Zodiac. It was exactly like glass blowing.

The neighborhood temple fair was small and like an old-time style. Very traditional. Many of Beijing's larger temple fairs draw over 100,000 visitors every day of Chinese New Year. I really loved the small scale of the one we attended. The temple had the traditional 3 courtyards, each with old time games like the one where you roll the bike tire and hope it lands around the 100 rmb sign so you win the money.

Another favorite was a little old man with a rolling cart on top of which was a platform. Built on the platform were a series of tiny ramps, ladders, and towers with strings running between the various parts. The whole thing would fit in a 4 foot cube.

He was just standing there quietly, not hawking his wares at all. We were trying to figure out what the thing was about when we noticed a 1o rmb note clipped to a saucer. So I handed him a 10 rmb note ($1.47) and he opened a box next to his knee. Inside were 6 white mice.

He proceeded to take them out by the tail, one at a time. He put the first one on a platform and clicked his little stick against the side of the platform to a certain rhythm. The mouse climbed a tiny ladder and ran across a ramp and up a string into one of the towers. He then took out another mouse and placed it on the platform and clicked out another rhythm with his stick and it ran along a string, down a ramp, around the very perimeter wall of the contraption and into it's tower. And so on until all the mice were in their towers. It was freezing cold that day so I felt a bit sorry for the mice, but it was so amazing to see this old guy and his trained mice show!

The most amazing night of the 15 day "event" of Chinese New Year was the fireworks on New Year's Eve. We went to the

apartment of some school friends to have a party and set off fireworks. You cannot imagine how much money is spent on fireworks in this country. The box we bought was about $100 and it was kind of medium sized. It was, however MUCH bigger than anything you could get in the States. It was on par with what they shoot off the Space Needle... 62 charges out of our one box! There were about 30 people in our party. We all went out on the road and joined hundreds of other people who were already in the process of setting theirs off. The road our friends live on is a "quiet" road (by Beijing standards) and there were these massive explosions EVERYWHERE AND CONSTANTLY FOR HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS. We started around 9 and finished ours around 11:30 and caught a taxi home. All the way home the sky was lit up and you could feel the reverberations pounding in your chest every minute or so. It was what I imagine Baghdad would be like, only prettier.

These shenanigans go on for a solid 15 days. For 24 hours a day. Sleeping is difficult at best. The fireworks are legal in Beijing only throughout this time, but don't forget that this is happening all throughout China! Just a tiny 15 day addition to the pollution that envelopes the countries' cities. Oh, and I can't end without talking about the debris left over each day after the explosions. In places the piles were 3 feet high - red paper casings from all the firecrackers and 2 foot X 3 foot boxes of spent fireworks. Luckily there are a lot of people around to sweep them all up into piles! They gradually disappeared and now there is no trace.


Before Christmas we had a special storage box built (designed by Eric) for our apartment. There is a very large area in the entry which was basically unused. We needed extra storage, so - Voila!

It has doors that open on both sides so we can hang coats on one side and store boxes in the other. Or we can store Ivy if she's naughty.


It has snowed several times this winter. Just in the last few days it has started to feel like spring.

During the winter if it does snow, within moments of any snow build-up small armies of workers appear to clear it away. It's nice to have the luxury of clear pathways without having to do it yourself. There are so many people here and everyone needs a job. That's the upside of a 1.3 billion population!
One day I looked out my window and saw this...
All the guards in our complex appeared and marched in formation until they made this shape. Then I noticed a photographer on top of the cinema in the middle of our complex looking down on these guys getting ready to take a picture. I finally realized they had spelled out the letters M O M A... which is the name of our complex. Maybe it was their Christmas card!

Here is a picture taken on a cold, smoggy day in winter. This one was taken through the window of a taxi.

Ivy had a school project where they had to create a business. It was really impressive because they had to make a business plan and go to all the correct "authorities" to get it all set up. They had to ask adults in the school if it was okay to set up their shop in certain areas of the school at certain times. Here is Ivy's team:

Their company was called "Art Attack". They were selling stickers, offering marble painting (where you roll a marble in paint and then across a sheet of paper), face painting, and more.

They made the most money of any of the 5th grade groups and they were particularly proud because many of the parents who purchased their raw materials demanded reimbursement while some of the other teams' parents just donated the goods. All the money raised went to the Haiti relief effort.

This is Zhou Jianhua (aka Mary). She's been our Chinese teacher since November 12th.

It started out that I paid her 100 kuai ($14.70) an hour and she spent an hour with me and 30 minutes with Greta and 30 minutes with Ivy. But we hit it off and she suggested in December that we become language partners. I talk with her in English for one hour and she talks with me in Mandarin for one hour and it's FREE! And we've become friends. We do this twice a week usually, but lately we've been off our schedule because Eric's brother Chris and his 3 kids are visiting.

Here are all the kids getting a Chinese lesson from Mary. They had a great time learning some basics and Bryce got her to write down his friends' names in character so he could get stamps made for them as gifts (pieces of marble carved at the end with the character which you press in ink and use as your official signature here. They are called chops.)

We've been having a great time with our first visitors.

Of course, first on the agenda was a trip to the massage/nail place.

It's one of our favorite things about living in Beijing... luxuries that cost hardly anything. 30 minute of massage for 30 kuai ($4.41). Nails are even less. It will be one of the hardest things about going back home (if we ever do!)

On our way to the market with the nails/massage (Yashow Market), Aaron made this awesome find. He bargained it down from 350 kuai to 110. The kids are loving the bargaining!

This was in with
a bunch of
Tibetan stuff. The seller told Aaron it was worth a lot because it had magical properties...! We all hope he can get it on the plane home.

I'll publish this now and promise to write more soon.
Miss you!