Monday thru Wednesday, 11/25-27/13

MONDAY, 11/25/13

We’re beginning to settle into a routine of sorts.  Monday thru Wednesday, Judy is teaching and planning.  I’m class planning, grocery shopping, and lately, I’ve been exploring Beijing markets.  Judy wants to do a little shopping on the weekends.  We’ve visited several different market areas, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed when there is so much to see.  We’ve been running out of energy before we could get to the end of the shops.  I’m looking for places for Judy to shop where we can be productive with our time.

That was my duty for the day.  I went out to a market we hadn’t visited before.  It was next door to a really upscale mall area (Apple Store, Cartier, etc.)  It had several different buildings and was full of vendors selling the same stuff, row after row.  Had a really cheap noodle lunch in the food court, and did some more looking.  On my way home, I stopped at the National Center for the Performing Arts.  The design is supposed to be “state of the art”, and architecturally unique.  It’s closed on Mondays so I got back on the train and headed home.

TUESDAY, 11/26/13

Judy gets up late.  She just kept pushing the snooze, so it was a frantic departure.  At 6:55 every morning there is a line of taxis waiting on customers.  By 7:00, the taxis are gone, and there is a line of people waiting for one.  She walked out at 7:05, and paid the price with a long wait for a taxi.

I spent the day working on class plans, and looking ahead to our upcoming trips to Sanya, China, the US, and Phuket, Thailand.  I’m just making sure I haven’t forgotten something (visa issues, etc.)  Everything seems to be in place.  I’m also looking for ideas for our April holiday.  We have 5 days we can travel.  Kyoto, Japan, and Hong Kong are at the top of our consideration list.

WEDNESDAY, 11/27/13

Today is a smooth day at BISS, with nothing out of the ordinary.  Since the “Clue” game is completed, everyone is working toward the upcoming holiday.  Judy has a choir rehearsal today, preparing for their concert next week at a hotel tree-lighting ceremony.

The weather is really cold today.  It was 25 degrees when Judy left this morning.  The wind is blowing 20 to 25 mph, so the chill factor is pretty low.  I go out this afternoon looking for a few groceries.  I walked to Carrefour, down the street.  I hadn’t been there in over a month.  I’m looking for “Honey Bunches of Oats” cereal.  It was available at both of our regular grocery markets until the last two weeks, and then it disappeared.  I found it.  Guess I’m going to have to add Carrefour back into my grocery store rotation.

World Trade Center & Shanghai

Another fairly relaxed morning, struggling with internet and cable tv issues.  Oh well, I guess this is a TIC (this is China) thing.  I decide to see what’s out in Beijing today, inspired by my taxi ride yesterday.  Since every train station seems to be the center of major activity, I’ll ride to a train station I’m not familiar with, and come above ground and see what I find.

I pick Guomao for today.  It’s a transit station serving two different lines.  When I get off, I start looking for signs of what points of interest there might be.  I see something that says World Trade Center, and it looks like it covers several blocks and has numerous buildings.  IT’S HUGE!  Someone later told me it’s the biggest shopping mall in Beijing.  I usually have a solid sense of direction, and I can read a map, but I GOT LOST in this mall.  Every high-end luxury brand I’d ever heard of has a store in this place.  Where do this many people get this much money?  My only purchase was lunch at Fatburger, a fast-food burger joint out of Las Vegas and California.  Burgers and fries were great!

I must have looked like I was lost because two nicely dressed young Chinese people walked up and started talking to me.  They were very friendly.  Before I knew it, I was being escorted out of the mall and into a nearby building where they were displaying their art.  They were students at a Beijing University and having an art show.  I walked out after purchasing two small pieces.  There must be a sign on my back that says “I’m Buying.”

Judy comes in around 9:45 pm.  She is wound up and excited, talking about all the new experiences in Shanghai.  At the same time, she’s scrambling to get everything put away, and herself into bed so she can teach tomorrow.  I’m getting the weekend stories in small pieces.  To get the real lowdown, we’re all going to have to wait for her to write about it, or talk about it to me in more detail. 


The Girls, Cheryl (now teaching in Guonzhou), Alexis (birthday girl), and Shannon.


We’re where?


When I get lost, look for me under this thingamajigger.

In my own words, she saw some amazing sights and buildings, and ate at some great restaurants.  They walked the “Bund” along Shanghai Harbor.  She spent some fun time in an antiques market, and helped one of her friends shop for a cricket.  Yes, a cricket!  Apparently they went to a really large pet market, looking for a pet cricket.  There are two types, singing crickets, and fighting crickets.  They have little houses, and food, and other “gear”.  Cheryl couldn’t settle on a price, so no cricket is purchased.  I keep remembering the occasional fall football game when crickets would swarm to the lights and I couldn’t give instructions to students without eating a cricket.  Midnight, and Judy finally conks out.


Cricket anyone?


Cricket condos.


Shanghai Harbor from the Bund.

Shang5 Shang4 Shang2 Shang1

Potluck Dinner, 11/23/13

I enjoy a lazy morning.  It’s been a little frustrating as well.  Our cable TV has only 4 channels in English (ESPN Asia, CNN Asia, HBO Asia, and Star Movies).   None of them have been working for the last week. The signal is badly garbled.  No problem!  I’ll just watch HULU or Amazon Prime.  Wrong!  Our internet is really slow also.  That makes for lots of waiting when I’m working on the computer.  Ugh!

I leave in time to taxi over to the South German Bakery and pick-up my cake.  I also get several different loaves of German bread, and grab a taxi for the trip to BHSFIC.  This is the first time I’ve ridden a cab over to my school.  It just seemed too far away and cost prohibitive.  I didn’t want to trust my cake and breads on a crowded train, so the taxi worked great.  It cost about 50rmb ($8.50).  Since I’ve always been below ground in a train on my trips in the past, today’s trip is really interesting.  I saw sections of Beijing I’d only seen in photos.  It was a fun trip.  Rolled by the Tian’anmen Square area.  We haven’t been able to visit here yet, but it’s at the top of our “to do” list.


We have an enjoyable potluck dinner at BHSFIC.  There were 16 in attendance.  Mr. An, our Head of School, brought a couple of homemade Chinese desserts that I’d never tried.  I’m still not sure what was in them, but they were great.  The cake and breads were a hit.  No cake leftovers, but I managed to bring some of the bread home.  I’ll try to leave a little for Judy when she gets home tomorrow.

She checks in around 10:00 pm.  Her roommate isn’t feeling well, so Judy doesn’t have much chance to talk about Shanghai.  I’ll get the lowdown when she gets back late tomorrow night.

Train Musings, 11/22/13

Judy, the newly crowned “Clue Queen,” heads off to school fully loaded.  She has her school bags, computer, etc., as well as her suitcase for the trip to Shanghai.  She actually gets away a few minutes earlier than usual.

The trains are really crowded.  Sometimes all you can do is grin.  I’m tall enough that my head is above the fray.  I don’t know how the shorter people do it on these really crowded days.  When the train door opens, there’s a short break from the crush, usually followed by “sardine packing”, as people cram into the doors, not wanting to wait for the next crowded train.  When the doors close, people start jockeying for position so they can exit at the next stop, or they’re moving away from the doors so they don’t get swept out when it opens at the next station.  There’s some really good bumping when you’re near a door and people are trying to get by.

I get back to the apartment around 1:30, and promptly take a nap.  When I wake up, I start planning the weekend and going through some loose ends on my emails.   There’s a new update/upgrade for “iBank,” the software program I use for all our banking, etc.  I’m feeling brave so I “go for it.”  Everything loads smoothly and all the info moves smoothly from my older iBank program.  I close it down, and that’s when the problem starts.  The file won’t save?  Huh?  I try several things, but no luck.  My only option is to wait until 10:00 pm, when the online chat line opens.  Fortunately, the tech help is quick and successful.  The program opens, and closes (also saving) easily. 

Judy calls and checks in.  They arrived and enjoyed a scenic drive from the airport into the city.  The hotel is nice, and she’s looking forward to a relaxing weekend, with no threats from a “Clue” killer.  I believe it’s bedtime!  It’s a big day tomorrow for me with the faculty dinner at BHSFIC.

A Champion is Crowned! 11/21/13

JUDY IS THE CLUE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD (or at least BISS)!  She “killed” Matt, with a “hole punch,” in the “Secondary Office.”  It took an email from a secretary requesting he come by her office for an attendance inquiry.  Then the counselor reminded him of the secretary’s need to see him when she went by his room with another question.  He walked into the office, oblivious to the plot, and Judy was hidden behind a file cabinet.  She touched him with the hole punch, and it was over.  It was typical Judy…… it was on her list of things to do, so she researched the necessary schedules and planning times, and moved when she was prepared.  He never had a chance!

When I got home after classes around 7:00, Judy was working to get packed for her trip.  There was no time for a “Clue” celebration.  She was struggling to get everything in one of the smaller suitcases.  I can’t believe she got it all in there.  I was beat!  Thursday is long, with a lengthy commute both directions, combined with classes, and the two clubs, one at lunch, and the other after school.  That last half-mile walk home from the train station with my fully loaded back-pack is a “killer” some days.  The trains were packed today, making it even more fun. Thankfully, the nearby McDonalds has ice cream cones for 50 cents (3 rmb).  It has become a regular stop for me when I come out of the train station before I start walking.

Bakery Hike, 11/20/13

No “Clue” updates are available today from BISS.  Judy is still working on her strategy to get her “mark,” Matt.  She has some ideas, but it’s going to take cooperation from a few other faculty members to pull it off.

When she’s not working on her Clue strategy, Judy’s teaching her classes and trying to get ahead on planning for next week.  She’s going on a “Girls Weekend” to Shanghai with a couple of the other teachers from BISS.  Alexis, one of the “girls,” is celebrating her birthday.  They’ll be meeting a former BISS teacher, who’s now teaching in South China.  They’re flying out on Friday afternoon, right after school.  Lots of work has to get done before they can leave.

I have a Faculty Potluck Dinner at my school on Saturday afternoon (sort of a Thanksgiving get-together).  We brought some good recipes to China, but finding the right ingredients (it took me 2 months to find salt) in the stores requires a better understanding of Mandarin than I possess.  Also, we don’t have an oven.  That severely limits my options.  I’ve decided to go to a German bakery nearby and buy a good cake, and some breads.

Of course, this requires that I go to the bakery and personally sample some of the foods.  It’s a price I’m willing to pay.  A combination train ride and lengthy walk (gotta burn some calories) get me to the bakery.  I try out the brunch they’re known for.  Man, they loaded the potatoes up on the plate.  After the meal and a little contemplation and people watching, I order a cake.  I’ll pick it up Saturday.   Here’s hoping I get what I think I ordered?  I’m never sure how much they really understand.


I leave the bakery and walk and “train” over to Sanlitun.  I need to do a little Christmas shopping.  The Yashow Market is a good, and cheap place (depending on my bargaining skills) to look for ideas.  I make a few deals, walking out feeling like I did okay on the prices.  Back home, I lay out the stuff for Judy’s approval, and get back to work on class planning.  I actually have to work tomorrow.

Normalcy Sets In, 11/19/13

Not much to talk about today.  It could be considered boring, compared to many of the days we’ve experienced here.  Judy’s activities at school are humming along.  Each Friday, on a rotating schedule, one of the elementary grades (grade 1, grade 2, etc.) has the responsibility of organizing an assembly.  They are supposed to be showing, through video and other means, the areas of study they’ve been working on.  It always includes a song or two, and the teachers usually ask Judy for a little help preparing their music.

She enjoys helping the teachers.  The only problem she has is the quality of the songs they select.  The teachers are looking for music specific to their assembly focus, and many times, the songs are terrible.  Bad lyrics are forced on top of a bad melody, with an even worse accompaniment (or they ask her to make up an accompaniment).  Many times, she’s convinced she could find better music that would meet the subject area demands.  She’ll get the message to them eventually, but she doesn’t currently have the heart to tell them how bad their selection is.  A few more bad songs, and I think she’s going to find “the heart” the tell them.

I just worked on our finances a little, and did some class planning.  When Lily showed up to clean around 2:00, I walked over to Metro to do some grocery shopping.  BORING! 

Tea and Ancient Instruments, 11/18/13

Judy makes another Clue “kill” today.  She thinks the game is down to her and one other player.  The name she got was the name of the person who tried to “hit” her early in the game in the nurse’s office.  Since there are two left, whoever “gets” the other player wins.  Judy has a decided advantage, knowing who has her name and the site, having avoided it once.  His site is tough.  It’s in an area of the school where Judy never goes, so it’s going to be tricky.

Judy starts a new grade level of instruction today.  She’s had the 7th graders, but now has the 8th graders.  The Middle School is starting a new trimester (Elementary and HS are on a regular semester schedule, MS has a trimester schedule, very confusing, especially if you cross over like Judy does).  Her initial impression of the kids is a good one.  We’ll see how they do as the semester progresses.

BHSFIC is sponsoring a program on Ancient Chinese Instruments and Music this afternoon.  One of my students volunteers at “The Temple of Heaven”, a nearby historical site.  Part of the temple site is the Divine Music Administration (the Ancient Chinese Imperial Musical Museum).  They do research on ancient Chinese instruments, and analysis on the scrolls where music was written that was played when the temple was built in the 1400’s.

Since I’m making an extra trip over to the campus today, I’m going to go early and visit “Tea Street.”  It’s near BHSFIC, so it seems like a logical time to visit.  It’s supposedly 1 ½ kilometers full of over 1000 tea shops.  I’m looking for Chinese stuff to bring home for Xmas, so it seemed like a good place to visit.  I find it on the map, find the nearest train station, and head out.  When I get off the train, I start walking and eventually arrive in the area.  Like most of Beijing, there’s no clue what’s near you, and right around the next corner, I was in the middle of it.

They weren’t kidding.  The area was one tea shop after another.  I found some things that may work, took pictures, purchased a sample or two, and headed over to school for the program.

The music program was great.  The performers had a huge professional sound set-up, television cameras everywhere, and were wearing traditional costumes.  They demonstrated each of the instruments, and then performed several ensemble numbers.  We also saw some of the scrolls they were analyzing.   Before and after the show, students (and teachers) were allowed to try out the instruments.  As usual, respect for a performer goes up, when you experience the techniques involved first-hand. 


Students getting help playing the instruments.


Pan-pipe demonstration



Sunday, 11/17/13

We’ve been talking about trying to find another market for either clothes, or items to bring with us when we travel to the US in December.  We’ve heard about the Zoo Market, near the Beijing Zoo.  Supposedly this a great place to buy in bulk, and “knock-offs” are easily accessible.  We’ll see.

We grab a taxi and head over this morning to check it out.  We arrive at the zoo, and start trying to find the markets (there are supposed to be several within a block of the zoo.  We walk inside the nearest building, and it is definitely a market area.  There are hundreds of stalls and vendors.  We wander the aisles, and unlike some of the other markets we’ve walked through, the vendors don’t yell at you and grab you.  This is much more sedate.  Each floor is it’s own area of shopping.  The basement is shoes, 1st floor is men’s clothing, 2nd floor is jackets, etc.  I don’t know how a vendor could make a sale.  There are so many options for each product.

None of the items appeal to us, so we go looking for another market.  Sure enough, with a little walking we find three more really big market areas, with different levels of quality.  These bigger markets seem to be wholesale markets.  Most of the merchandise is tied up into large packages.  It actually becomes overwhelming, there are so many floors with so much stuff.  This will be a good place to come when we have list of needed items, but wandering around is just a waste of time.

Worn out and hungry, we decide to go to Solana Mall for lunch.  It’s on the other side of town, and by the time we arrive, we’re ravenous.  I convince Judy to eat at Cabare, where I ate last week.  We find a comfortable table looking out on the fountain area and enjoy a relaxing meal.  As we leave the mall, we stop at Paris Baguette, an upscale bakery, and make some purchases for dinner.  We’ve avoided stopping here on our last 3 visits to the mall, but couldn’t get past it this time.  All the displays are tempting and we leave with a full sack of bread and pastry items that should last a week, but will probably not make it to tomorrow.  At home, naps and schoolwork take up the rest of the day. 

Saturday, 11/16/13

My day starts off with a quick trip back to BHSFIC.  I managed to leave some necessary computer cords at the school.  I need them this weekend, so the one-hour commute over, and another hour long commute back to the apartment is delightful (is the sarcasm obvious enough).

BISS is having a lunch today for all the “new” staff members and their families.  It’s a chance for us to celebrate 4 months in Beijing.  Everyone attends with families, and it’s a really good time.  We get a chance to eat and then tell our best TIC (this is China) story.  There are some really funny stories, including the Head of School’s wife visa issues (she can’t get a family Z visa, and has to leave the country every 3 months and reapply for a tourist visa).  How fun!  There are too many great ones for me to write about here.


Scott Lindner, the HS music teacher, and his family


Ruta, from Latvia, with one of her four children.


Javier, from Spain, teaches English, with his wife and daughters

After lunch, Judy and I walk around the area, just checking it out.  We’ve heard there are some unusual shops in the area, but we can’t find them.  We head back to the apartment, and spend the rest of the day catching up on schoolwork, financial stuff, and blog writing. 

Gingerboard House

A gingerbread house, in mid-construction.


Back at the apartment. It’s a gorgeous afternoon.