Busy start to a busy week, 4/27/15

Judy head out right on time. She has another “regular” week at school, while I’m out “high-timing it” around Asia. Since I’m going to be gone for six days (quick six-hour stopover on Wednesday night/Thursday morning), I’m trying to make sure that there are plenty of groceries around the apartment. Judy’s days are busy enough without having to mess with buying food, etc.

After fixing breakfast and getting Judy out the door, I made up some egg/ham/cheese tacos for breakfast for her while I’m traveling (I’m such a good husband.) They’ll just need warming in the microwave. I taxi over to Metro to buy the groceries for the week. Back later in the apartment, I put everything away and debated swimming. My laziness won over today, and I opted out. I’ve been in the pool six of the last seven days, so I rationalized it wasn’t necessary today.

I showered, dressed, packed my bag, and taxied over to Judy’s school for the card trick presentation. I performed for two small groups, about 9 in each group. It was fun and they were a great audience. I’ve always enjoyed observing how groups and individuals react to magic. Some quietly watch, some are openly amazed, and then there’s the group with individuals irritated at being fooled and trying to grab and touch everything.

I got back to the apartment in time to change clothes for my table tennis lesson this evening. I planned to ride the bike (part of my excuse for not swimming earlier), but there is a high chance for rain this evening, so it’s subway time. It’s sprinkling as I walk over to Taiyonggong station. When I come out of the Andingmen station, it’s still sprinkling. By the time I walked the few blocks to Ditan Park, the drizzle had stopped.

The table tennis lesson goes well. My forehand is still bad, but better than it was 3 weeks ago. My teacher is gradually hitting the ball harder as our lessons progress. I’ve go to find more time to practice to really take advantage of these lessons.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  I think I’ve got lots of extra time.

After the lesson, I grabbed a taxi home. I double-checked both bags, for my trips, making minor adjustments in what I’m carrying. I’m packing only a backpack for Suzhou. I’m taking a small suitcase to Tibet with jeans and sweaters (it snowed two days ago).  These are two drastically different destinations. I hope I’ve got the right stuff.

Prepping for busy week, 4/26/15

I’m using the day to prepare for my big week ahead. Monday, I’m scheduled to present card tricks to the Grade 8 classes at BISS. They’re studying a unit on “Illusions”. I’ve been practicing, but I need to nail down exactly which tricks I’ll do, and what order I’ll do them in.

Tuesday, I’m traveling to Suzhou for the World Table Tennis Championships. The train departs at 7:00 am, so it’s going to be an early departure. I’ll spend Tuesday night in Suzhou and return late Wednesday (11:00 pm) to Beijing.

The Tibet flight leaves Beijing Wednesday at 9:00 am, so it’ll be another early morning, trying to arrive at the airport two hours before departure. I’ll be in Tibet through Sunday, with a 10:00 pm arrival.

Suzhou is hot and humid, and Lhasa, Tibet, is having a snowstorm today. We’re also beginning to hear the reports about the massive earthquake in Nepal. That should give my mom something unique to add to her worry list.

Our tailor called late in the afternoon, asking to come by with our new stuff. She drops by and we try on the new jackets. Judy’s is a perfect fit. Mine still has to be taken up a little (that’s a change from my usual “can you let this out?”).   We add a few other alterations and I’m now gonna need a shirt to go with my jacket. I’ll be looking “BAD”, when I come home this summer with my new snazzy duds.

Early morning egg hunt, 4/25/15

We were out of eggs this morning, so I went out about 6:00 am (yep, I was awake) to see if anything was open. I went by the nearby wet market where I normally buy eggs, and it was gradually opening. Not all the vendors were open, but I did find eggs, apples, strawberries, green beans, and tomatoes. I’ll be able to make breakfast, and some soup later on. There was a lot of fresh produce being brought in as the market gradually opened.

After breakfast, Judy went to her haircut appointment and then made a Lili Nails visit. When she was coming out of Lili Nails, she ran into Shannon and Lara who had just finished a city-wide professional development seminar. They joined her for a drink in Costa Coffee.

I did a swim session, and then settled in to fight with the internet, searching through some travel sites. I’ve been corresponding with several travel consultants trying to put together a trip to Cambodia and Thailand during the two weeks between Judy’s school ending, and our flights to Barcelona. I’m trying to coordinate flights between Beijing, Siem Reap (Cambodia), Bangkok, and Koh Samui (Thailand). I’m trying to get the two consultants to drop their bids a little. We’ll see how that goes.

When Judy gets home, we make the walk over to Capita Mall to visit the Bank of China. We’re trying to figure out how to set-up a transfer from our bank in Beijing to our Chase Bank account after we leave Beijing. The school will deposit the money into the Chinese bank, and several people have told us we can set-up the transfer. We find out at the bank that it’s possible to make a one-time transfer, but we’ve got to pull together a lot of paperwork, including Judy’s contract (in Chinese), and several letters and tax statements. As we head home, we celebrate (I’m not sure what) with some frozen yogurt.

No Water? Uh oh! 4/24/15

Judy has had a tough week. The class load hasn’t really been any different, but she’s had a problem with her left leg. She’s probably pulled a muscle and needs to rest it, but she’s been trying to run/walk in the mornings around the complex. I don’t think it’s helped. The stairs at school make it tough when the leg tightens up.

This morning’s water problems didn’t help. When I woke up around 4:30, Judy mentioned we had NO WATER? This is a different issue than the no hot water issue yesterday. There were no signs in the lobby with today’s date, so I don’t think this is planned. Judy began getting ready, and I cooked breakfast. She left around 6:15 am, planning to get some work done at school. Still no water! None!

I sorta worked on the computer, occasionally wandering outside to see if anyone else is fretting about no water. Maybe I need to pay on our balance? I checked the meters and they still seemed to have a balance. I sent a text to our real estate agent. She contacted UHN management and was told “there’s a problem with a pipe and it was being fixed.” I didn’t get a time line. Is it a few hours, or is it a few days? The pool area was unaffected, so I did my swim and shower.

I ate lunch back at the apartment and waited to talk to our ayi. She came in around 12:30 and I made her aware of the water issue. She went to work dusting and vacuuming, so I left to ride to the table tennis park.   I got in a few hours of playing. When I returned, still no water. This is becoming critical. I started checking on nearby hotels for the night. Eventually, someone from BISS texted the staff that lived at UHN, letting us know we were supposed to have water at 6:00 pm. Sure enough, the water started running as scheduled, and the crisis was averted.

I walked down the street to the nearby duck restaurant, and ordered some vegetable dishes and Kong Pao chicken to take home. We spent the rest of the night enjoying the food and “chilling”.

Back to school, 4/23/15

I thought I was finished for a while when I walked out of the school last Friday, but I’m back again today. They asked if I could come by and talk to the Grade 12 students about the college football experience. I’m no expert, but I know enough and have enough materials to keep them interested for most of the class.

After class, I enjoyed lunch with the faculty, and then started on my chores for the afternoon. First, Josie and I go over to the travel agency, pick-up our Tibet Travel Permit, and pay the balance for our trip next week. After we pay, the agent walks us to a pharmacy seven or eight blocks away and helps us buy some Tibetan herbs that are supposed to help with the altitude issues associated with Lhasa.

Next, we hurry back to BHSFIC, where Fisher, the Chinese staff member in charge of all the foreign teachers daily struggles (housing, rent, bank transfers, etc.) is waiting on us. He’s helping me get a tax statement of all the tax I’ve paid in China on my income at BHSFIC. It requires a subway trip and a long walk before arriving in the Tax Office. Fisher takes care of everything. All he needed was my passport. I’m not sure what I need this tax statement for, but it’s much easier to get it while I’m in China, than trying to chase it down when we’re gone. Judy has already gone through the process at her school.

One thing I did confirm today was that the classes I thought I might be teaching in June won’t be happening. The school has some other activities planned for the students. I’m “free as a bird,” at least as it relates to teaching.

Oh yeah! This morning the hot water stopped in the middle of my shower? When I got home, still no hot water, but I noticed a sign on the lobby bulletin board with today’s date and times from 8:00 to 20:00. I couldn’t decipher anything else on the sign. The hot water quit around 8:00, so I’m hoping it comes on at 8:00 pm. My deductive reasoning was correct. We have hot water at 7:45.


This was the note posted on the bulletin board informing us about the hot water.

Train station visit, 4/22/15

When our ayi walks in around 8:00 am, she’s talking to her daughter, Lilly. Lilly updates me on her mom’s work schedule over the next week. China has a national “Labor Day” holiday May 1, but her mom is going to visit relatives out of Beijing on Monday, April 27. She’s going to swap out her holiday for Monday, April 27, and work on “Labor Day”. Lilly is also letting me know her brother wants an iPhone. She heard from her mom I was going back to the US and they’re much cheaper when purchased in the US. I’ve done this for her the last four times we’ve been back to the US. Her family is pretty current on Apple technology by now. They pay me back for the phone when I return to Beijing.


Judy took this pic of a “breakfast wagon” setting up to serve. Also check out the utility pole. Not quite as bad as Hanoi, but close!

After we get everything straight on holidays and iPhones, I walk to the subway for the trip to the Beijing South train station. I’m going to buy my train tickets for next week. I could purchase them online, but there’s a service fee, and I want to make sure I know my way around the station if I’m running late next week. I’m also getting an idea on how long the trip will take. The train to Suzhou will depart at 7:00 am and I won’t have much of a chance for a mistake.

It took one hour from the apartment door to the top of the escalator, entering the train station. That’s about what I expected. I wasn’t expecting how huge and confusing the station would be. When we traveled on the APEC holiday to Shanghai in November, we arrived in a taxi. I thought we had seen the station. Wrong! There’s another huge level below everything we saw before with too many eateries to count.

I found a ticket office, made my purchase, and headed back to the subway. The whole adventure took 2 ½ hours. Next was a swim session followed by lunch. Lilly’s mom was finished when I got back from swimming. I planned on going over to the table tennis park, but it’s too windy. I end up working on a school presentation for the 12 graders.

The school emailed asking if I could do a 2-hour session on college life, as it relates to football games, etc. I found a few things to add to what I already have, and called it an afternoon.

It’s Wednesday, so the “foodie” group from my school is heading to a burger place. The destination is Slow Boat Brewpub. I’ve heard and read about it before. I kept hearing it was in the middle of a hutong. They weren’t kidding. I could have never found it without someone leading us. It was way down a narrow alley, and the sign on the non-descript door was small. The burger was really good, as well as the fries. There were five of us, and we had a great evening of enjoying the food and solving life’s problems475

Window washers, 4/21/15

Not a lot of material for today. I made a run to Metro for groceries, then did a swim session. When I got back to the apartment, I heard some rattling around at the windows. The window cleaners were working their way down our section of the complex. The come around twice a year. I’d seen them around some of the other buildings, and knew they’d be coming by sometime.

IMG_2653 IMG_2652 IMG_2651

After the swim and lunch, I rode over to the table tennis park to work on things from last night’s lesson. Back at the apartment, I made the final decision on going to Suzhou for the World Table Tennis Championships in Suzhou, China, next week. I’ve got the hotel, and some tickets waiting for me. Now I just have to get there. It’s very near Shanghai, so the China version of the bullet train is the best option. It’s going to cost around $170 round trip. I’ll get the tickets tomorrow.

Biking around and another TT lesson, 4/20/15

And a new school week begins. Judy heads out ready to conquer the world (or at least the pre-K class). I do my usual rummaging around the apartment, followed by a swim session and lunch. When our ayi comes in, I begin thinking about clearing out of the apartment and giving her room to work.

I’ve been badly in need of some new “tennis” shoes to wear out and about with shorts, etc. I’ve had some old Nike’s that were worn out when I arrived in Beijing two years ago. I bought a fake pair of Nike’s at Yashow Market last year, but they never felt right (surprise). I rode the bike over to the mall that’s tied to Metro and bought a pair of Nike running shoes in the Nike Outlet Store. They’re a huge improvement for my feet.

Back home, I dropped off some stuff, and headed off on the bike to the table tennis park to practice for my lesson this evening. The wind is blowing pretty hard (12 to 15 mph). It’s too hard for outdoor ping-pong (at least for me). Instead I rode over to the Chinese restaurant near BISS for some stir-fried green beans. As I finished, I ordered an extra order to-go for Judy. I met her as she was leaving for home. She looked beat! She grabbed a taxi, and I started riding for the table tennis gym at Ditan Park.

I arrived 45 minutes early, by design. I enjoy watching the training and how the coaches handle their different groups. One grandfather spoke to me (in Chinese), and we were able to establish that I was there to take a lesson and who my teacher was. I took a couple of short videos posted below, showing a few of the different things they do. They’ve got their act together.

TT Gym Video, larger groupings:


TT Gym Video, single student at work:


The doc and the tailor, 4/19/15

One of the “features” of our medical insurance is a full physical each year. We didn’t do it last year, but Judy scheduled one for us today. We arrive almost 30 minutes early. There was no traffic. They got us started right on schedule at 9:00 am. It was pretty thorough. We saw a doctor for a basic check-up. Next was blood work, various samples, a chest x-ray, abdominal sonogram, EKG, and a vision check. We also had a dental check-up and teeth cleaning. We walked out at 11:30 am. We did have to pay 80 rmb ($13.50), and we’ll get the results via email in 10 days.

Since we had to fast for the physical, beginning at 9:00 pm last night, we’re both pretty hungry, and beginning to suffer headaches from a lack of caffeine. Our remedy was Tim’s Texas BBQ. Chips/salsa/quesadillas/border burger/fries seemed to fix our “ills”. After lunch we walked up the street to “The Place”. It’s a huge mall area with an outdoor lighted ceiling display similar to Las Vegas. We’ll have to come back some evening to experience it, but we’re beginning to run out of evenings.


We hailed a taxi and had him drop us at the Taiyanggong Capita Mall near our apartment so we could pick up some groceries. We also tried out some frozen yogurt at a new place in the mall. It was too good. I wish I hadn’t found that. It’s going to be hard to stay away.

The tailor arrived around 4:00. We looked at several pictures, decided on some styles, and then went to work on the fabric choices. There are too many options. We’re really curious how this experiment will work out. Neither of us has had any “tailor-made” clothes since our mothers were sewing for us as kids.

Saturday, 4/18/15

Today, we’re sorta spinning our wheels until the tailor arrives this afternoon. We’ve decided to have some clothes made locally by a tailor. She comes to us highly recommended by Shannon. The clothes she’s made for Shannon look great. In the meantime, Judy and Shannon go to visit Anna (art teacher at BISS last year) and her baby boy, Alex. The tailor calls later in the afternoon to let us know she’s been delayed, so we rescheduled for tomorrow.

My time is spent making a run to the wet market for fruits, vegetables, and eggs. Next stop is the bike shop to get the brake handles fixed. I had to wait about 15 minutes while the tech finished putting together a new bike that had just been purchased. He took a look at my brake handles, grimaced, and walked back into the shop. He looked at all the new bikes on display, indicated some handles on a new bike and whether or not I wanted them. I shook my head, yes, and off they come. He put them on my bike, and 10 minutes later, away I went. The cost was 35rmb (right around $6).

Back home, Judy and I spent time discussing our summer calendar between the time school dismisses (June 12), and our flight to Barcelona June 30 to meet the kids and board the cruise. We have several options, including staying put in Beijing for two weeks. Judy wants some beach time somewhere, and I want to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We’re trying to figure out the best way to combine the two activities, and our pack/load out of Beijing with our movers. We need to maximize our travel opportunities in Asia as long as we’re this close.