Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I Guess Taiwan Really is Part of China

Our normally very speedy internet service has slowed to a crawl today. We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the problem, but it turns out that the 7.2 magnitude earthquake off the south coast of Taiwan is the culprit, cutting large swathes of China off from telephone and internet connections. No idea how long it will affect us, but in the meantime only those sights that don't rely on that pipe are working, so no New York Times, no Doonesbury, and no downloading TV shows until it is fixed. But it gives us a chance to live like people in the Dark Ages, having to rely on DVDs for our entertainment and reading only Asian and European-based newspapers online.

239 and counting!!

I have made it a practice to buy a newspaper on my way to work, both to give me something to do to distract me from the driving habits of Beijing's taxi drivers, and to keep me abreast of goings on in Beijing (and also help me improve my Chinese). I have gravitated away from the Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报)in favor of the Beijing Messenger (信报), since the latter is in a much handier tabloid format and costs half as much (only Y0.50, or $0.06).

Anyway, there was an article in the paper the other day announcing that the previous day Beijing achieved its 2006 target of 238 "blue sky" days. This was 8 more than in 2005, and well over 100 more than in 1998, when the city started to set a quota for blue sky days. According to the article, there will be 249 clear days in 2007. (For more info, here is an article from the People's Daily announcing the 2006 quota from earlier this year). Since today is also a blue sky day, that means that we are now up to 239 clear days in 2006. Woohoo!

I have to say that I have been surprised by how blue the sky has tended to be since we arrived in late August. I recall that when I lived here in 2002, it was the rare day that had a blue sky, and most of the time you could not see much past our apartment building. Now the opposite is true, and you really notice it when the sky is filled with smoke and dust.

I had heard that the blue sky days tend to pile up in the late part of the year, however, since the city is determined to reach its goals and so they will make every effort to ensure that the sky is unpolluted by, for example, closing factories in the area or announcing that most cars will be forbidden from driving in certain parts of the city (as they did during the November African summit). What that means for the sky in the first half of 2007 remains a mystery, but according to the article I read, the number of clear days per month is pretty darned low in January and February, so I imagine we will have some wheezing in our near future.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to my Readers!

Merry Christmas to all of you! Although it's not a white Christmas here in Beijing, it is sure cold enough that it could snow if only the city was not in a desert and there was a little tiny bit of humidity in the air. But the city certainly does get in the Christmas spirit--you can hardly go anywhere without finding waitresses, hair salon workers, store checkout clerks, etc, wearing Santa Claus hats and shops that have all sorts of holiday greetings on the walls. It's kind of strange, too. And the phone in our house, which rarely ever rings, has been ringing CONSTANTLY, with automatic messages on the other end of the call, wishing us a Merry Christmas from the phone company, the electric company, the gas company, etc. Don't they know I'm Jewish??

Wherever you are, and whatever your creed, we in Beijing wish you a very happy holiday, and all the best in the new year!!


Friday, December 22, 2006

Our EZ-Bake oven's last days??

When we moved into this apartment, we had not visited it before, so we did not realize that it only had a little tiny oven that is more like an EZ-Bake toy oven than anything I have ever used before. Not only is it really narrow (43cm, or around 17 inches) but all the writing has been rubbed off the knobs so we can only guess what temperature we are setting it at or whether it's set to roast, broil or convection.

Despite all these inconveniences, we have been able to get some things baked in it, including several types of cookies and cakes, and this morning my first Beijing batch of bagels (which came out so well that Leo even felt compelled to try some) and then we baked the beginnings of this year's buche de noel. But I think our little oven is nearing the end of its days with us. We have visited a couple of stores to find a replacement, but most stores either don't sell ovens at all, or if they do they're countertop models. But finally today I found a real oven that will still fit into the standard oven slot (60cm wide) but that is wide enough to fit my pans from the US. And the price is right, too. Now the challenge is to see if we can get the landlord to pay for it...!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Good News for the Dogs

Last night we met up with friends for a birthday dinner at Ashanti, a Spanish place just up the street from our apartment. During the course of the dinner, our friends mentioned that Hu Jintao (China's premier) decided to halt the anti-dog campaign as a result of the embarassment that international condemnation was causing China. Sure enough, I found this link that leads me to believe it's true. Of course there is still the chance that the Beijing authorities could be slow to act on Hu's decision, but we are breathing a sigh of relief anyway.

Our friends joined us after dinner at the apartment for a cup of tea, and I am pleased to report that the dogs behaved themselves admirably. Genghis even showed them a rather unfamiliar face--that of the cute little dog who just likes to play with squeakie toys. When was the last time he was so entranced by a toy? I have no idea, but it's been a while. Then Leo got his attention distracted by a cookie-filled Kong, and neither of them barked, acted up or in any way made us ashamed of our boys. (Though the fact that we have a little staircase to help Genghis get up on the bed with us was a tad embarassing.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Moving Up in the World

As you know, I was initially brought on to the hospital in a consulting capacity, advising the president and her senior team on a variety of issues. However as a result of the success of my work to date, the sheer power of my personality and the techniques that I have mastered through multiple readings of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Make Friends and Influence People” the hospital has decided to throw caution to the wind and extend to me a full-time senior-level position. The full job description has yet to be defined, but will entail devising objective criteria for the assessment of various expansion opportunities, including defining what will determine whether a city is ready for a UFH hospital/clinic.

This means also that I will likely accompany Anne on more of her trips around China to attend meetings with prospective partners, which sounds like it should be a lot of fun, though also very tiring (her schedule is a nightmare). I will also be attending the UFH-level meetings on business expansion, of course, so I'll have a finger on what is happening throughout the system. And I'll also play a role in determining what services should be expanded and in what locations. All in all, sounds very interesting, and it means my days of being a consultant could finally be at an end!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Photos of Furnished Apartment

If you're interested in seeing photos of the newly-furnished apartment, you need only go here

Chaine Dinner Number Two

Last night was our second Chaine dinner in Beijing, the Gala Christmas Induction Dinner at the China World Hotel. As with the last dinner in October, we attended with Anne & John, but this time we were able to wear tuxedos, since James had had one made and mine arrived in our shipment on Friday. The restaurant was all decked out in Christmas-y decorations, with the staircase leading up from the lobby made to look like a snowy North Pole scene. The tables were all beautifully decorated with little gingerbread houses, candles, frosted mini Christmas trees, etc. And the waitresses were all dressed in Santa Claus outfits.

The menu was very nicely done, with a heavy dose of things associated with festive year-end dinners: foie gras, caviar, chestnuts, turkey, and cakes:

“Noël avec la Chaîne en Chine”

Deep fried prawns and salted egg yolks
Pigeon skin and braised foie gras
Bean curd cream with caviar and tobiko
Peking duck roll
Curried crab claw
Salmon, scallop and tuna tartar with deep-fried sea perch skin
Accompanied by Moët NV Magnum, Epernay France;
Christmas Glühwein; Henri Bourgeois Pouilly


Hopkin River veal carpaccio with tuna sauce, roasted figs and salad of raw asparagus
Accompanied by 2005 Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fume - Loire Valley, France


Gratinated hairy crab with seasonal fresh mushrooms
Accompanied by 2003 Petaluma Chardonnay - Adelaide Hills South Australia


Pithivier of salmon and foie gras with spinach and apple
Accompanied by 2003 Petaluma Chardonnay - Adelaide Hills South Australia


Ginger flavoured mandarin “givrée”


Seared turkey breast and Boston lobster with glazed chestnut, peach and almond stuffing
and honey roasted pumpkin
Accompanied by 2003 Donnafugato Mille E Unotte – Sicilia, Italy


Christmas ice parfait, savarin with clotted cream, chestnut mousse candle
and mulled wine marinated strawberries
Accompanied by Banfi Rosa Regale – Tuscany, Italy

Espresso coffee and Ronnefeldt tea

Aniseed breads, hazelnut honey cakes, liqueur pralines, cinnamon stars, brunsli, macaroons and stollen

In the middle of the dinner they started an artificial snow machine that dropped big snow flakes on the Christmas trees and snowmen on the balcony, and a big old Chinese Santa Claus came in to wish us all a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe to go to Gaobeidian

Despite the fact that just yesterday we received our shipment of household stuff from home (all 127 boxes), we still found the need to go to Gaobeidian, the furniture market east of Beijing, to buy some additional pieces. It was FRRRRIGID outside, definitely below freezing, so we were extremely grateful to be able to wear our down coats that were in our shipment as we wandered around the unheated warehouse that has become our go-to place in Gaobeidian for furniture purchases (Song Qing Antiques, for anyone interested in heading out there). Within an hour or so we had picked out no fewer than nine pieces that we 'needed' for the house: a pair of side tables for the 'family room', an occasional table for the living room, a stand for our samovar, a pair of bedside tables, tables to put alongside our leather reading chairs (both of which did manage to fit upstairs), and a table to put my printer on. All but three of these pieces were 100+ years old, and yet we barely broke $1000. We also found two new shades for some of our lamps and a new Chinese-style floor lamp.

We still had one piece of furniture to buy, however, a low coffee table for the living room, which we managed to find at the Chaowai market. On the way home we even managed to find a shop to order a glass top for my desk, and by 4pm all the pieces were already in the house and in place. What a place! Photos are to follow.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Our Ship has Come in!

Sure enough, true to their word, Crown Relocations managed to get our shipment to us by midday. I had been told they'd be here by 1:30pm, so I headed home as soon as I could from work, around 2:45pm. When I arrived at the apartment I was furious to see no truck unloading furniture and was about to call Crown to ask what the holdup was. Luckily I did not, since when I walked into the apartment I saw carpets on the floor, ayi washing and putting away our Russian dinner service, and James busily putting things in their places. Almost all the boxes were gone, the bed was already assembled, and the delivery people were long gone. Apparently, in China where labor is so cheap, Crown assigns a team of around 50 guys to empty a truck containing 127 boxes, so it took them no time at all to unpack us.

The job of starting to find places for all our stuff took the rest of the day, and even now, at 9:30pm, not everything is quite in its place, though the furniture has all found homes, other than one of our leather chairs (the wing chair that Ken also has one of), which we cannot quite figure out how to get upstairs through our narrow hallway (Abdo, you're not the only one with this problem). We even managed to hang a lot of our art, though some of our walls are made with a concrete so impregnable that we may have to use small nuclear devices to bore holes into. Thank goodness I brought some along.

The dogs are loving having carpets on the floor again, though Leo is more fond of running along them and bunching them up into little piles than he is in lying down on them. And best news of all is that I now have my tuxedo to wear tomorrow night to our second Chaine dinner with Anne & John!!

Dog Day Morning

Last night, James and I went to our neighborhood "Pet Smart" to buy dog food (we seem to go through a 15kg bag a month) and while there I asked how much it would cost for a grooming session for Genghis (oops, I mean 豆豆). After describing him to the shop people, they figured it'd be around Y150 ($18), and said they could do it the next morning at 9am. I asked whether they needed his papers, and whether it was an issue that he's a tiny bit over the maximum size for dogs in the city. Nope, all is OK, and no papers are needed. So, given that we have been spending a fortune on dry cleaning to remove the fur that he keeps leaving on our clothes, we decided to make him an appointment.

This morning I took him in on my way to work, figuring I'd drop him off and James (who has the day off) would pick him up when he was done. As they looked Genghis (damn, I mean 豆豆) over, they decided that he was a bit bigger than they had anticipated, though not by much, and said that it seemed it had been a while since his last grooming session (at least four months by my reckoning) but the price was still the same. Fine. However, they were a bit afraid of him, and so wanted me to stay while they groomed him, if only to help keep him calm. I thought James might be able to stand in for me, but as I called him movers arrived to take away a bunch of our landlord's furniture that we don't want, so he was stuck. Fine.

I thus was able to watch the groomers take little 豆豆 through the cleaning process. First they brushed out some of the excess fur, then they gave him a very thorough bath (during which they even expressed his anal glands--lovely). All the while I stayed in the room, giving him encouragement and making sure they knew that his weird noises were perfectly normal. Then he got blow-dried and vacuumed (that's what it looked like, anyway--they made me leave the room for that, and a good thing, too, since the fur was absolutely flying all over the grooming room). After that they brushed him some more, trimmed his claws, and clipped parts of him that were a bit messy looking. In the end his coat looked very shiny and clean, he was a lot neater, and his claws no longer clicked on the floor. Great job!

As I dropped him off at home I got buzzed by a friend from the hospital--her cat, who had fallen ill the previous night, was going to the vet center that our friend Mary owns, so I headed over to meet her and offer her some support. The cat will be fine, but I took the opportunity to set up an appt for 豆豆 to be checked up and meet the veterinarian here. If nothing else, I hope she can give me something so that he'll gain some weight--even the groomer said he was a bit too thin. He's not sick at all (mom), just I think he'd be better off with more meat on his bones. Though of course he's less attractive to Chinese diners in his current state....