Weather status, 2/24-25/14

The big news in Beijing these days is the smog.  It’s not just Beijing.  All of northeast China is suffering.  It’s been really high for several days.  All the television news is discussing it.  It’s page one in the newspapers.  It’s really thick, and visibility is bad.  There is a slight smoky smell of “burning tires”.  The weather people are saying a cold front is coming in on Wednesday night and will blow it all away.

Hearing all the discussion from the Chinese viewpoint, while living with it, in Beijing, is pretty interesting.  There is a lot of talk about the health issues, versus the economic issues involved with shutting down factories, etc.  I’m enjoying observing the internal debate.  I witnessed a scene I wished I could have captured with a camera.  A Chinese woman wearing a smog mask was walking down the street on a heavy smog day.  She had the mask pulled down around her chin, and was smoking a cigarette.  Classic!

There is also a lot of discussion about the East Asian issues between Japan, Korea, North Korea, the Phillipines, and China.  There are lots of prickly issues, and lots of heated talk.  Everyone is sniping at each other, and there seems to be purposeful antagonism between all the parties involved.  Some of the BHSFIC teachers traveled through Tokyo during the school break, and couldn’t get Chinese currency exchanged in the Tokyo Airport.


A Short Weekend, 2/22-23/14

SATURDAY, 2/22/14

Judy is ready for a little rest and relaxation today.  She heads over for a haircut, and I tag along in the taxi.  I walk from the Hilton (where she gets her haircut) to the Marriott for a swim session (about ¾ mile).  When I get to the pool.  I realize I don’t have my phone.  I open the iPad to send Judy a text and let her know, and there’s a message from Judy (sent from her computer) letting me know that she also forgot her phone.  Thank goodness for all our other techno stuff.

After my swim, I walk back to the Hilton.  Judy is waiting in the lobby.  We head out the door, and walk over to Dragonfly Spa.  It’s just a few blocks away.  Judy wants to try their manicure/pedicure options.  This neighborhood is an embassy/consulate neighborhood.  We walk by the US Embassy enroute.  Many of the businesses cater to Westerners.  I’m going to kill time in Fatburger and Starbucks.  Darn!  We buy a few groceries in the downstairs grocery (every mall area seems to have a basement grocery market).  Afterwards, we taxi back to the apartment, ready to spend the rest of the day on schoolwork.

SUNDAY, 2/23/14

Today is a big day for “Annie”.  Rehearsal starts at 9:00am, and finishes at 4:00.  The rehearsal goes well and it’s all beginning to come together.  There are the usual irritations with student absences, due to “whatever”.  Judy’s been dreading this day, and looking forward to it, at the same time, knowing that they’re going to get a lot done.  There’s a huge sigh of relief when she gets home.

Deb, our Australian friend, is celebrating her 50th birthday with a large group of friends from BISS.  We’re having brunch at Mosto, a really nice restaurant in the Sanlitun area.  I end up sitting with some of the long-timers from BISS.  I ask lots of questions about travel in Asia, where they’ve been, what was the best place, etc.  I’m looking for travel destinations for our future travel.  These guys have been everywhere.  There are way too many places to go, and too few holidays

Back in the Saddle. 4/21/14

Finally, I get to teach a class.  It seems like forever since I’ve seen anyone from BHSFIC.  Class goes well.  Near the end, some of the students are called out of class to get inoculated for Chicken Pox.  One of the 11th graders has it, so everyone’s getting shots.

After class, I get a chance to talk to some of the teachers about their break.  They didn’t get a Xmas break, so most of them went home to visit family for the first time since coming to China.  They also chaperoned groups of 10th grade students (8 to 12) at a US high school for two weeks.  BHSFIC would pay airfare one direction if they agreed to sponsor a group.  The teacher’s job was to go up to the school during the day, and make sure the students were doing okay in their classes.  The students are at the schools for 4 weeks, but the teachers are tag-teaming the groups.  Everyone gets two weeks with kids, then two weeks at home with family.  There is a lot of coordination to make all this work, with flights, etc.  Coming home, the recent snowstorms in Japan caused some cancellations of flights (they were all flying through Tokyo).  Nothing like being stuck in an airport with a large group of kids for a long time, but I’ve been there before myself.

I talk to the principal, Serene, about the extra class she wants me to teach this semester.  The 10th graders (about 18 students) had an elective Music Appreciation class last semester.  They want to keep the class going, but the teacher can’t come this semester.  I’m bored enough to accept the job.  It will mean a little extra work, but it will also mean a little extra income each month.

Judy has “Annie” rehearsal after school.  They’re making progress, but the performances are a week away.  She is worn out when she gets home, so we spend a quiet night watching “West Wing” episodes. 

Finally, we get the Jackie story. 2/20/14

What was supposed to be a teaching day for me has turned into something completely different.   I decide to finish up all the laundry, now that the washing machine is working correctly.  When that finishes, I walk over to Metro for my weekly grocery stop.  Lillie gave me a list of cleaning supplies we’re low on.  I’ve haven’t made any of these purchases since we arrived in July.  I sort of over-bought back then.  I didn’t know what we needed, so I bought lots of everything.

After Metro, it’s time to swim.  I’ve figured out how to turn a swimming session into a whole afternoon.  It’s a half-hour walk.  The swim itself is takes me ½ hour.  Then I have to sit in the hot tub for while, contemplating life.  After the hot tub, I sit at one of the tables on the pool deck, reading an English version of China Daily, or the iPad, or both.  It’s actually pretty interesting getting the world’s news through the eyes of China.  When I finish reading, I shower, and usually head home. 

Today though, I have a mission.  Judy needs me to find some snacks (donuts or something) for the “Annie” cast for Sunday’s rehearsal.  This is pretty tough work, finding snacks, but it’s job I’m well suited to.  I looked earlier at Metro, but didn’t find anything suitable (by my high standards).  I’ve decided to check out the South German Bakery for pastries.  Samples will need to be taken.  They really don’t have what I need, but I did pick up a fresh loaf of German bread that should taste really good, heated, with some butter.

As I head home from the bakery, I call Judy to check in.  She had been headed home, but a group of BISS faculty were headed to Bluche to celebrate Mark’s (Brit) birthday.  He’s been at BISS for 11 years.  Also, the new drama teacher has arrived and she’s going to be at Bluche.  When the taxi arrived at Bluche, the driver had been so erratic and angry, Judy was afraid to continue to the apartment.  She decided to get out at Bluche and join the party.  I guide my taxi over to Bluche, also.  I don’t want to miss out on any fun.

The new drama teacher is in attendance.  She has been teaching in New Zealand for 25 years, but she’s Scottish.  There are a lot accents flying around the table with the Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Brits, Scots, Americans, and Spaniards, all adding to the conversations.

The real fun of the evening is hearing Shannon talk about the Jackie Chan experience from Tuesday.  As it turns out, the producer (he’s a big-time name in China) has a pre-schooler at BISS, thus the invitation for BISS students.  Shannon ends up serving as the “wrangler” for the 35 primary age student participants.  She is ideal for this role.  No one could have handled it better.  She gets the chance to work with both the producer and Jackie Chan very closely as they set-up and shoot the footage.  Shannon has some great pictures of the whole process, and is obviously right in the middle of it all, talking, and planning with Jackie Chan himself.   She showed us the pictures on her computer, but had to sign a release stating she wouldn’t send them out, or I would have some posted here.

Shannon was so impressed with how well Jackie Chan worked with everyone, herself, and the especially the students.  He was genuine, warm, helpful, and personable.  Sometimes that isn’t the case with a “star”, but he was right in the middle of everything, including the kids.  One of the kids knocked over some paint (the students were all painting, as part of the scene).  Mr. Chan was the first one to get to the mess and start cleaning it up.  The really funny part of the day is that the students didn’t really know anything at all about Jackie Chan, so to them, he was just another guy, who kept getting in their way.

Internet speed rules my life! 2/18-19/14

TUESDAY, 2/18/14

I spend the day downloading video materials for my classes on Thursday & Friday.  The internet is so slow it takes forever.  I walk over to the Marriott later for my daily swim.  The walk is always interesting.  There are lots of vendors selling food items.  Some of the carts smell so good, but they look so dirty, and I’m not sure what kind of oil/grease they’re using to cook with.  One of these days, I’ll get the courage to experiment.  That should be a good story.

Judy has so many loose ends dangling at BISS.  “Annie” is staring her right in the face, but one of the main parts of her job is to collaborate with all the grade levels.  Every time she turns around, someone is needing a piece of music, or the piano played, or a piece of music taught to their students for an assembly.  All this on top of the curriculum she is supposed to be teaching.  Some days she comes home, pulling her hair out.  Other days, she is pumped up and can’t wait to get back.  Teaching never changes.

WEDNESDAY, 2/19/14

I wake up today and the internet was really fast.  I hurriedly get going looking for materials to download.  There are not many days when the internet is this strong.  It’s a shame how much of my life these days is driven by internet speed.  While I’m working, I get an email from BHSFIC telling me my classes for tomorrow have been cancelled due to a math competition for all the 11th graders.  It’s been a long time (5 weeks) since the end of last semester.  I was actually looking forward to meeting the class tomorrow, as well as the Guitar Club, and the Orchestra.

The spin cycle on the washing machine has not been working for about a month.  It was an intermittent problem for a while, but after we returned from the US, it quit being intermittent.  Every time I run a load of washing, I have to wring it out by hand.  The Chinese New Year interfered with getting help to get it repaired.  Today, the repairman arrives, as well as our landlord, and the three of us get it fixed.  I manage to describe the problem, the repairman fixes it, and the landlord produces the warranty.    

Soon after they depart, Lillie, our ayi, walks in.  She hasn’t been here since Xmas.  I’ve done my best keeping the place picked up, but she’s going to have her hands full today.  I clear out and head for my afternoon swim.  She needs a clear field when she goes to work today.

Judy is so busy today, she doesn’t even get a report on the Jackie Chan commercial.  Maybe we’ll get some info on Thursday or Friday.  I’ll bet there are some good stories.

Jackie Chan? Really? 2/16-17/14

SUNDAY, 2/16/14

Today, Judy gets a chance to relax a little, and prepare for a very busy two weeks.  “Annie” is two weeks away. She manages to find several projects around the apartment that I didn’t realize needed doing, but that’s not unusual.  I spend most of my day working on arrangements for the BHSFIC orchestra/band.  It’s such an odd instrumentation, I have trouble figuring out how to sort out the parts.  Combine that with my lack of familiarity working with the software programs I’m using, and it adds up to a lot of time.


MONDAY, 2/17/14

BULLETIN!  Judy called from school to tell me that a media producer was visiting the school.  He was looking for students to participate in a “Promote Beijing” commercial with Jackie Chan.  The producer is a friend of the family that owns and administrates BISS.  The commercial is supposed to be filmed tomorrow (Tuesday), so they’re scrambling to select a group of about 35 students to be involved in the project.  The producer and the “Head of School” walk from class to class, hand picking students that best suit their needs.  They casually walk into Judy’s room and ask if any of the 1st or 2nd graders can sing.  Naturally, the kids that could sing are not the ones originally selected to participate, but they get added to the list.   

The really fun part of an operation like this is the logistics.  The selected students have to take a letter home with instructions for attire, schedule, and permission.  Then they have to show up the tomorrow, dressed correctly, with properly signed permission letters.  There will be tons of questions as soon as those letters get to the parents.  Everyone is excited to see Jackie Chan.  I hope it all comes together.

I spend the afternoon getting a haircut.  I always enjoy walking by the McLaren car dealership that’s near the hair stylist.  I flirted with the idea of buying a McLaren hat, but hurriedly left when I realized they were the equivalent of $100 USD.  I walked down the street past the US Embassy, enroute to the Marriott for my swimming session.  It’s about ½ mile.  I had seen signs advertising “Lady Street”, very near the Flower Market.  As it turns out, it’s a huge market underneath the Flower Market specializing in women’s clothing and jewelry.  It’s always a surprise to me how these huge market areas are hidden at the end of a dingy alleyway, or in the middle of what looks like an impoverished area.

Busy Saturday, 2/15/14

Judy has an all-day professional development session today on “How to Teach Non-English Speakers”.  She’ll have a chance to use her highly honed skills for seeming interested, when she has little or no interest in the subject matter.  It’s an important topic for teachers in international schools.  The presenters have great ideas and have worked on their presentation.  The techniques are best applied in a classroom where individual problems can be addressed.  Judy’s class instruction is not individualized so much of the information doesn’t apply.  Last year, new teachers had to attend two-hour sessions on Monday afternoons for 8 weeks.  This Saturday class is an improvement.

After the class finished, Judy and Shannon (close friend from Australia, and next year’s elementary principal) hurriedly pack up and head off to a baby shower.  Mei Lei, wife of Roger, the 2nd grade teacher at BISS, is having a baby in a few weeks.  A baby shower is a new concept for several of the teachers, so there is lot of explaining about the activities and games.  Judy has a great time, and the shower is a huge success.

The husbands of many of the shower attendees get together at another apartment for a poker night.  I joined the group.  It’s been years since I’ve played poker, so there is a learning curve.  I’m not heading out on the pro poker tour, if anyone is wondering how I did.  It was a really fun night.  Anytime I get a chance to sit around and talk with such a diverse group, I love it.  Australia, Israel, US, England, and Canada are represented.  Lots of verbal jabs are exchanged.  I did hold my own at that part of the evening!

Valentine’s Day Fireworks! 2/14/14

The big news of the day……..we finally were able to complete our temporary residence registration.  It took about 45 minutes after we arrived at the police station.  It’s always a huge relief when we complete that job.  The clerks are not overly friendly.

Judy received a late invitation today to a baby shower that’s tomorrow.  Her name had been inadvertently left off the list of the invitees.  On our way home from the police station, we stop at Capita Mall and do a little baby shower shopping.  Judy finds a great gift, and we head home.  Back at the apartment, Judy starts talking about wanting to go see some of the Lantern Festival celebrations.  She heard there was some kind of a display at Sanilitun, so we head back out and grab a taxi.  It’s a really busy night since it’s the last night of the Lunar New Year Festival, the Lantern Festival, and Valentine’s Day.  Traffic is really jammed.

When we get to Sanlitun, we wander around looking for the display, but it’s not to be found.  We settle for some good old burgers, fries, and potato skins.  It works for me. 

We noticed some pretty heavy fireworks as we drove to Sanlitun.  As we head home, they’re even heavier.  Back at the apartment, fireworks are everywhere.  We get surprised a few times when fireworks go off on the sidewalk as we walk by.  There are 8 or 9 gate guards at the apartment, but they’re all out by the street watching the activities.  I’m not sure what there assignment was.  Maybe they were in charge of fire control.  From our apartment window, it’s an amazing sight.  Fireworks are everywhere on the horizon.  Unbelievable!!!!  It’s something to see.  It goes on for hours. This is much heavier than what we observed back on Oct. 4th.  Fun times!

Tuesday thru Thursday, 2/11-13/2014

These three days have been pretty much the same.  Judy goes to school, works hard, rehearses Annie during the day, and also after school, on Tuesday and Thursday.   I’ve been doing schoolwork, travel and financial planning, and walking back and forth from the Marriott for my daily swimming workout.  We finish off the day, eating dinner (also a little ice cream) and watching an episode or two of West Wing.

The first month in Beijing, I would have given anything to have such a normal schedule.  Everything back then was so “iffy”, because neither of us had comfort in our ability to converse and get things done.  Before we did anything, we had to figure out how we were getting there, and whether or not we had an accurate taxi card or directions from the train.  Once we arrived, could we buy whatever we needed, or would we be left standing and staring. 

Now, I feel like I can get pretty much wherever we need to go, provided I have an address, or can find it on a map.  I can speak enough “taxi talk” (left turn, right turn, etc.) in Chinese, to guide our taxi driver, even if he can’t read or figure out the taxi card.   I’ve figured out how to deal with most sales people, either in stores or the markets to get what we need.  I know where to go to buy our “staples”, and how to get them home.  I know to make sure our water and electricity aren’t going to be shut off.

As I walk to the Marriott everyday, I’m enjoying watching the people around me as they go about their lives.  Since the New Year “work holiday” has ended, the city has begun to get crowded agoin.  Walking across a street can be a little like “Frogger”, wondering from which direction the cars are going to come, and if they’ll slow down.

There are a few things I still want to explore.  I haven’t climbed on a bus yet.  There are no bus routes/schedules in English, and they seem dirty and crowded every time I see one go by.  The teachers I know who have ridden, really like them.  They’re cheap (half the cost of the train), and stops are much closer to most destinations. 

There are several markets I haven’t visited yet.  Each one I’ve visited has been a little different, and there are always so many varied shops and options.  The big lesson I’ve learned in dealing with market vendors is not to bargain price, unless you’re ready to buy.  If they move down to my price, they expect me to buy it.  Walking away at that point is really frowned on.

Fireworks are still going off, all day long.  I saw a big display last night at 10:30pm, about a block from our apartment.  The fireworks stalls are still stocked up and selling.  If I understand the celebration, it’s supposed to end after 15 days, with the Lantern Festival.  It began on January 31, so it should be finished after February 14.

I went to the flower market yesterday to shop for Valentines flowers.  There were 15 vendors selling roses and other fresh flowers.  They were really busy.  Roses are also a way to celebrate the Lantern Festival, so this is an important season for these vendors.  I managed to find half-dozen roses, and a really nice vase, for about 110 rmb ($19), after bargaining over the prices for a while.


Not the most productive day, 2/10/14

I felt like I wasted today.  Judy left on time, and I slowly took care of my usual morning duties.  I had three jobs on my radar today, groceries at Metro, swimming, and registering for our temporary residence permit after our return from Thailand (govt. requirement).

I decided to walk to Metro first for the grocery shopping.  It’s cold, (-3° C), but the wind isn’t blowing, so it’s not too bad.  I made the mistake of going when I was hungry.  The cardinal rule of grocery shopping is not to go when you’re hungry, and I was starving.  I came home with cookies, ice cream,, and several different types of nuts.  I also found some sliced jellyfish, but decided I already had more than I could carry.

How about a little sliced jellyfish?

How about a little sliced jellyfish?

When I got home, I unloaded the groceries, and began sampling all the bad stuff.  Then I decided a nap would help give me the energy I needed for my swim.  When I finally got up, I sat down at the computer to check on a few things, and before I knew it, I had run out of time to go to the pool.  Darn!

Judy was coming home early today, around 4:30, so we could go over to the police station to register for our temporary residence permit, after returning from Thailand.  We taxied over, arriving about 4:45, drew a number, and began to wait.  There was a crowd.  I guess everyone who went out of town for the New Years Holiday needed to register, and there was only one clerk working.  The office was supposed to close at 5:30, but it was 5:50 when she finally got to us.  We were the only people left, and she had seen us standing near her window while she worked through the others in front of us.  She muttered something, pointed at the door, and began to turn off her computer.  I played dumb for a while, but she walked out of her office into the lobby, unplugged a couple of things, and pointed at the door again, telling us to leave in Chinese (I think).  We didn’t get registered.  It’s going to require another trip.  How fun!  I’m thinking we might have been racially profiled.

By the time we came out, it was near dusk, and really cold.  There were no taxis around.  It took us 10 minutes to finally get one.  By the time we got back to the apartment, we were in need of all the junk food I had purchased earlier.