Dreary, and then the sun beams thru, 12/ 9-10 /14

TUESDAY, 12/9/14

I was the ultimate example of non-productive today. The weather wasn’t too bad, but the pollution was miserable. Yesterday the pollution levels started around 70-80, and finished around 180 at midnight. This morning when we woke up, the reading was around 230, and by the time Judy got home it had bounced up above 420, and was settling in at 370 when we went to bed. It was dreary all day!


Pre-K students in Music Class.


Some of the “tree decorating” by the Pre-K teacher Ruta Baskevics (Latvia).

IMG_3465 IMG_3464

I kept trying to accomplish things on the internet, but it was so slow, I couldn’t get most websites to open. I was beginning to wonder if my computer had a virus or something. Nope, just lousy internet. I guess some businesses and individuals in China have good service, but if everyone has anything approaching the poor levels we see, the country will never achieve what they’re capable of. In a digital world, this is just too inefficient.

WEDNESDAY, 12/10/14

I thought Monday was going to be my last shopping day, but when I got home, Judy called with a few last minute items we needed. Yesterday was not a good day to go out, but today is my last chance before we head back to the US. As I start out, the pollution levels are around 220, but by noon, it’s down below 90. I saw some readings in the 40s by bedtime.

Lilly’s mom has taken over Lilly’s cleaning duties at our apartment while Lilly has returned to her hometown to have the baby. On Wednesdays, she has to come in around 8:00 am, to get our place finished, in time to travel and cover one of her regular jobs. Just as a point of interest, Chinese parents are not allowed to know the sex of the baby before birth. Because of the “one child” policy, and the tradition of kids taking care of their elderly parents, boys are more desirable than girls. Many female babies were being aborted, and the parents would try again later for a boy, especially in rural areas where a boy could better handle the farming duties.

I have several items on a “hit list” to purchase, but I’m really curious about the Russian sector of Beijing. I deduced where it was, took a train, and walked into the area, looking for the “Russian Market.” I found lots of markets, especially fashion and furs, but didn’t find what I was looking for. It was unique to walk down the street and hear so much Russian language, especially from the Chinese on the streets and in the shops.


An “Apple Store” in the Russian sector. I don’t think Tim Cook signed off on this one. Check out the Russian signs in the area.

I eventually headed to the Silk Street Market, made my purchases, and had my standard lunch at Tim’s Texas BBQ. I lived it up a little and had the Mexican Burger instead of the Border Burger (guacamole instead of grilled Anaheim peppers). Back home I finalized my lesson plans for this week, and made some decisions on sub plans for my BHSFIC classes while we’re in the US.

Out and about, again! 12/8/14

It’s the last week before we head back to the US. Judy has one last assembly on Friday, and then school is out after lunch. She’ll probably spend the afternoon putting away all the holiday stuff, and then head home for final packing. She has a couple of possible evening activities planned with some of the teachers (depending on her energy level). It’s gonna be a full week.

My school stays in session through December up to January 23. There is a holiday on December 25, and then two days on Jan. 1 & 2. I’ll miss a total of three class days (18th, 19th, and 26th) while we’re back in the US, since they fall on Thursday and Friday (my regular teaching days). It’s always a pain trying to provide class activities when I’m not sure who might be covering the classes.

As we arrived home yesterday I noticed the crown on my new watch was gone, so I’m headed back today to get it replaced. But first, I’m still trying to find a kite market I’ve read about. I took the train down to Panjiayuan station, near the antique market. I show the address to some of the tuk-tuk drivers and they’re all pretty confused. One of them offers to take me, but I’m not convinced he knows anything, so I set off on my own. I walked around several long blocks and eventually stumbled into a big market area. It’s four stories. The first two floors are food, the 3rd floor is clothing, and the 4th floor is household items. This is a nicer wet market than several I’ve seen. There is a huge seafood area with large tubs of fish and lobsters. Meat vendors are around the walls. It’s just so interesting watching all the business taking place. It’s not an Albertson’s or a Kroger.

IMG_2101 IMG_2100 IMG_2099 IMG_2098

Eventually I give up, and sightsee through the Antique Market for a while. I’ve deduced that maybe it’s not kite selling season. Then it’s back to the Silk Street Market.  They fix the watch quickly and I also end up buying an Omega watch. I offered a ridiculous price (or so I thought), and they eventually settled. As I was leaving, I walked by the stall where I made them so mad yesterday. They spotted me and “if looks could kill”.

I walked up the street to Tim’s Texas BBQ and enjoyed another great lunch. I need to break myself of this habit. After lunch, I debated about taking a long walk to the Russian Market, or heading up the road to a mall area called “The Place”. I elected to visit “The Place” (it was a shorter walk). It’s a really nice upscale mall area with an outside pavilion like downtown Las Vegas. I’d seen it from a distance at night and the lighting is unbelievable. I hope to see it some evening up close, but it probably won’t happen before Xmas.

IMG_2106 IMG_2103 IMG_2102

I made the trek to train station and headed home, stopping to buy milk in the BHG market at Taiyanggong Station. It’s been a while since I’ve walked this much around town, and I’m beat.


One of the Beijing skyline highlights. It’s not that tall, only about 85 floors, or so.

More markets and a slice of Texas, 12/7/14

We still have shopping to finish before we leave for the US. We’re going to the Silk Street Market, to get the wristband adjusted on my Rolex watch. I found the shop where I purchased it, and they made the adjustment. They also gave me a lesson on how to adjust the time and calendar. It’s not like any watch I’ve ever dealt with.

Judy’s been interested in maybe getting a watch, so she begins to check out the options. I think she ended up with a Rolex and a couple of Omega watches. Since I already had a rapport with the staff, the bargaining is a little easier. The prices keep coming down, making me think I probably paid too much on my previous purchases.

We stopped in at a few other shops. There is no such thing as browsing in these places. If you take an interest, they start asking how many you want, and then out comes a calculator. Before you start talking, you better be prepared to take it home, or have them yelling at you as you walk away. In one of the shops, we selected some items, and the “talks” began. I didn’t want the items that badly, and wouldn’t move up from 10% of what they wanted to sell it for. They inched down, and I didn’t move. I eventually pulled out the money I quoted, and tried to offer it to them. When they wouldn’t take it, I tried to leave, and two little sales girls blocked my exit, enthusiastically saying “impossible, impossible”, referencing my offer. I agreed it was impossible and kept trying to walk out. Judy was long gone, standing down the hall outside the shop grinning. I can’t believe she didn’t film this.

I eventually got through the blockade and out the door, and sure enough as we walked away, around a corner, they both hollered “ok, ok”. When I went back they tried to squeeze me for a few more rmb, but eventually gave up. We wandered by the shop later as we were leaving and they muttered and glared as we went by. The same scenario happened in another shop, without quite so much vehemence. We left Silk Street Market not “feeling the love”, but with stuff in our bags, and even some money in our pockets.

Down the street, I took Judy to Tim’s Texas BBQ. She had some nachos, and I had the Border Burger (big patty with cheese and two grilled Anaheim peppers). This is probably the closest thing we’ve found in Beijing for food from back home. It was great!

After our late lunch, we decided our feet needed some work and went to Dragonfly Spa for some foot massage pampering. I just can’t stay awake when I get this relaxed. I’m afraid my snoring might have bothered some of the nearby patrons, but, oh well. Back home after our day of shopping, eating, and pampering, we begin to plan for the week and our Saturday departure for Texas. It’ll be on top of us before we know it.


Hitting a few markets, 12/6/14

We have a slow start to our Saturday, relaxing, and catching up on random computer jobs. We also take to time to make sure we have appropriate clothes for the BISS Christmas Party tonight. With our work finished and clothing decisions made, we head out to the Hongqiao Pearl Market. I’ve visited before, but this will be Judy’s first visit. This is also the site for the Tianle Toy Market, next door.


The Pearl Market and the Toy Market

We had a great visit, finding some fun toys for nieces and nephews (at least fun for us). It’s crazy the things available for kids to play with these days. As with any Chinese market, some bargaining has to take place. I have to constantly run currency conversion numbers in my head so we don’t pay too much. I used to worry about insulting vendors with low prices, but I’ve decided it’s part of the game between buyer and seller. When we head home, my mindset has shifted from gift selection and pricing, to “how do we pack this stuff to get it home”.

Back home, it’s time to get ready for the Xmas party. We meet the bus to the party at the UHN gate, along with 10 other BISS UHN residents. As we get close to the restaurant, the traffic is terrible, and the trip takes almost an hour. Our apartment is the last stop before the restaurant.

The party is at a restaurant called “Mango”, located in the Russian section of town. The chef is the husband of one of the BISS teachers. She’s Ukranian, but I’m not sure of the nationality of her husband. We never saw him. He was too busy cooking. The food was really good, with roast chicken, roast pig, grilled vegetables, so many other great foods.

I was not aware there was such a vibrant “Russian” scene in Beijing. There’s a huge section near this restaurant with stores and shops with Russian writing (instead of English) along with the Chinese writing. Apparently many of the Chinese workers in this part of town speak Russian. Later in the evening the restaurant begins to fill up with Eastern European patrons, and you can hear Russian spoken everywhere you turn. There were a few “water pipes” in use at a couple of nearby tables. That’s not a standard item seen at a “Texas Roadhouse” in DFW.

After dinner, we’re treated to a Cuban floor show with singers and dancers. There’s lots of salsa, and eventually the BISS faculty begins to join in on the dancing. What a group!   It’s another one of those nights that I find myself shaking my head at where we are and what we’re doing. It’s a blast!

Lilly’s outa here (for a while), 12/5/14

Judy is pretty worn out when she heads to school today. She has regular classes during school, and then a musical rehearsal after school. My day is pretty easy. I have my two classes, then I ate lunch. After lunch, I visited with Josie and Lashawnda about the Pearl Market. Josie has advice on some small shops, and we’re probably headed there tomorrow.

Back at the apartment, Lilly is finishing cleaning. Today is her last day until March. Her mom will be replacing her for next week (before we leave for the US), January, and the one week in February before the Chinese New Year holiday begins. Lilly is returning to her home in a rural part of the China. Her baby is due Dec. 27. She wants to have the baby in her hometown where it will be cheaper, and also warmer. She doesn’t have heat in her hutong home here in Beijing and it would be pretty rough on the baby. Also, Lilly’s mother is very busy with work and wouldn’t be able to help with the baby, and back home, the mother-in-law will be able to help. That’s going to be an interesting dynamic since Lilly and her mother-in-law don’t get along. Lilly is always discussing how “lazy” she is. Her phrase is “she not good, no work”.

When Judy finally leaves school, she and Shannon attend a holiday “cookie baking” party at a BISS teacher’s apartment. By 10:00 pm, I was beginning to figure it turned into a slumber party. She finally came in, totally exhausted, and full of cookies.

Wearing out the rails, ugh! Great performance, 12/4/14

It’s Thursday, so I’ve got an early class. I’m gone by 6:30, headed for the train. When I arrive at school, I realize I didn’t pack my computer charger. It’s the first time this year I’ve walked out with it. My computer is at 50% power, but thankfully, it holds out for both classes.

It’s a weird day for classes. 60% of the 11th graders and 80% of the 12th graders are gone. They are taking the SAT test Saturday. Because they have to go to Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur, or Hong Kong, or Macau to take the test, there is lots of travel involved. I have 8 of 25 students in period 1, and 5 of 22 students attending in period 2. I guess there won’t be any orchestra club after school today.

After class, I go talk to Dr. Prettyman about the three classes I’ll be missing while we’re in the US. She mentions she needs help selecting music for a faculty participation performance at the talent show on Dec. 31. I’ll be in the US, but they want me to help find the music. She also needs me to present some of the ideas to the faculty at the meeting after school. Ouch! I have to go home, pick-up my computer charger, return to school for the meeting, and put together some ideas for the faculty meeting. Normally I don’t attend faculty meetings because they’re the same time as Orchestra Club, but with most of the students gone, no club today.

It’s an hour home, and then an hour back to school. With a charged computer, I put together some ideas (with help from Judy’s karaoke library). The presentation is short and the performance idea is “new information” to the faculty. They table the discussion to get their heads around what they might want to do.

Next on the list is Judy’s program at the Renaissance. I leave school at 5:15, loading up in a taxi (I’m in no mood for the subway after 3 long trips earlier today). Traffic is a beating. I have to travel from west to east, through the center of Beijing, down Chang’An Blvd., past Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It takes an hour for me to get to the hotel. I was beginning to sweat it a little.

Judy’s choir had arrived earlier and are enjoying a mini-buffet, provided by the hotel. I grab a quick bite, and then head out to make sure the sound will work properly. The students did a nice job in the restaurant, especially considering their age.

The program kicks off at 7:00 pm with a gorgeous tree-lighting. The students sing great, and the audience of parents and hotel patrons is enthusiastic, spurring on the students even more. They are a huge success!

This view is from the back of the choir.  Check out all the cameras

This view is from the back of the choir. Check out all the cameras


Another view.

After the program, the props are put away, and the students are dismissed to their parents. We load everything in a small bus, along with Shannon, a couple of teachers, and a handful of students. Back at school, we unload and move everything back into the school. 15 minutes later, we’re in a taxi headed home. It’s been a great night! This was most likely Judy’s last Christmas program, and we’d be celebrating, if we weren’t so tired.

Kite Search, 12/3/14

I’ve been looking at kites for over a year, after I saw some guys flying them in a nearby park. I was intrigued by the numerous designs, colors, and all the “gear”. They have special reels, and bags. I’m curious where the “kite market” is located, or did they make them. I googled “Beijing Kite Market”, and sure enough, there are a few specialized market areas for kites.

I’ve decided today is my day to actually go looking, and I settled on a location that’s supposed to be the best spot, but on the outskirts of Beijing. I have an address, but it doesn’t show up when I enter it into any of the map apps. Reading the description of the location, and scouring the map, I think I know where it is and head out. It’s a long train ride, and involves 3 different trains and routes. As we near the destination station, the train comes above ground. As we pull into the station, I can’t see any sign of the market, and I should be able to see it. I can see the area where the market should be, but it’s been leveled. Darn!

I get back on the train and head back into town. I’m almost glad I didn’t find the market. It was an outdoor market, and although the sky is clear and the sun is bright, it’s really cold, and the wind is blowing. I have a haircut appointment this afternoon, and there’s just enough time for a stop at Fatburger on my way.

After the haircut, I contemplated visiting one of the other kite markets, but the cold wind convinced me it was time to go home. Back at the apartment, I stopped at the wet market for some apples and carrots (I developed a yearning for fresh carrots when we were making the potato soup a couple of weeks back.) Lilly is still at the apartment when I arrive, and I ask her if she knows anything about the absentee market. “Oh yeah, it’s been closed for 5 or 6 years”. I guess the webpage I used was a little old?

One of those slow days! 12/2/14

Today was sooooo frustrating. The internet is really slow, and I was looking online for some materials for class. The wait while web pages loaded was interminable. Finally, I gave up, and headed toward Sanlitun. We need ink cartridges for our printer, and I wanted to check out some things at Yashow Market next door.   I found the ink, walked through Yashow, fending off the aggressive sales people, and then walked over to Homeplate BBQ. I decided I owe myself something special to eat, and I really like their BBQ chicken.


Some of the Xmas deco at Sanlitun

IMG_2092 IMG_2089

Judy has a haircut after school, so she taxis to the Hilton for her appointment. The traffic around the 3rd Ring Road has been brutal the last several months, morning and afternoon. It could take her 15 minutes for the commute, or it could take as long as an hour. Today’s commute took 45 minutes. On the plus side, she did remember her purse today!

Oops! Don’t forget the purse! 12/1/14

Rested and refreshed, we’re ready for new week. Judy has a choir performance Thursday evening at the Beijing Capital Renaissance. It’s the annual tree-lighting ceremony for the hotel. Making sure everything is in place and ready to go (buses, lists, notes, etc.) will occupy most of her free time this week.

I spent my time this afternoon looking for a “Table Tennis Boutique”, and an indoor table tennis club. It’s cold today, right around freezing, and the wind is blowing, so it’s the first time this year I’ve regretted being outside. I saw the boutique and the club listed on my Apple Maps app. I couldn’t find the shop. It’s probably closed and gone away. I found the table tennis club, but it was outdoors. It was another of the local park table tennis areas. It’s an enclosed area, but not covered, so the wind is knocked down a little, but it’s still really cold, and no one is playing.

On my way back to the apartment, I stopped in at the local tea market. I drop by every couple of months. They are eager for me to try their different teas. There is a lot of culture surrounding the tasting and selling of tea. I enjoy watching the numerous steps and traditions involved in brewing and drinking the tea.

Back at the apartment, I tried to stay out of Lilly’s way while she finished cleaning. Later, after she left, as I was putting some things away in the back room, the door opened and Judy came running in, in a flurry. She starts asking for cash. It turned out she had walked out of school and climbed in a taxi, without her purse, containing her money, and her phone. She had her school bag with the computer and iPod, but no cash, and no way to call me, or tell the driver. When she pulled up to the apartment building, she tried to explain to the driver what had happened (I wish I could have witnessed that). She convinced him to wait, ran to our apartment building, up the elevator, grabbed the money, back down the elevator, and back out to the taxi. He had waited, and received a sizable tip for his patience. Judy was still gasping for breath when she finally got back to the apartment. This was a first!!!! It’s probably her biggest fear in China,…..stuck in a taxi, with no money, and no ability to communicate with the driver, or anyone else.

Sampling a few hotels, 11/ 28-30 /14

FRIDAY, 11/28/14

Judy heads off to BISS, and I’m not too much later heading out to BHSFIC. Classes go well for me, finishing off at 11:30. I put away my computer and all the cords, chargers, etc., and then head down to lunch. After lunch, I go upstairs to the teachers lounge to talk to a few of the faculty, eventually leaving, and arriving at the apartment around 2:00 pm. I usually take Friday afternoons to close out my notes for the past week, and put together my ideas and plans for next week’s classes.


Christmas mall decorations, Beijing style

Judy gets home around 6:00, puts her stuff away and we head out to the nearby Marriott. We have a certificate at this hotel for a free buffet for two. The deadline for usage is Nov. 30th, so we’re taking advantage tonight. The food is really good, and there’s turkey and dressing! Judy gets a little Thanksgiving food sampling, after all. Of course we ate too much, but what a great night!

SATURDAY, 11/29/14

Today is one of the all-day rehearsals for the musical at BISS. It runs from 10:00 to 3:00. The attendance is great. Judy’s been having fun with the group of students this year, and the day is really productive.

I took care of the grocery shopping. I’m trying to buy enough to get us up to the Christmas break. Judy comes in around 4:00, pretty pumped up about the rehearsal. We have another certificate for a free buffet at the JW Marriott (a different hotel). It’s another really good meal.

After dinner, we travel to the new JW Marriot Hotel Central Beijing. We have a free night in the hotel. Gotta use as many certificates as possible. The room is gorgeous, and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening out in Beijing.

SUNDAY, 11/21/14

After a really lazy night in the hotel, we’re moving slow today. The pollution level was really high when we went to sleep. This morning as we leave the hotel, the wind is blowing hard. It’s a sure sign the pollution level is about to drop again. We get a taxi back to our apartment, not sure about our plans for the rest of the day. We end up eating some left-over pizza from yesterday’s musical rehearsal, and topping it off with some chocolate chip cookies. We discussed going out for some random shopping, but it’s so cold today, we decided to stay in and finish work and planning. There will be other shopping days.