Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas Shopping in Beijing

Those of my readers who have been to our holiday parties in the US know that we go all out with decorating our place for the season, with trees, garlands and all the works. When we moved to Beijing we for some reason did not pack a lot of our holiday decorations, figuring perhaps that they were frivolous, or extraneous, or that we would surely be able to replace most of it in China. But after not having had any sort of decorations last year, this year we decided to get some of our decorations over here and to do the whole hog with tree, lights, etc.

Unfortunately, the cost of shipping all our decorations was going to be exorbitant so we settled on a small assortment of what was in our storage bins, and set our sights on visiting Beijing's markets to find what we did not ship over. We figured this would not be a problem since for one thing the city is festooned with stalls selling Christmas supplies during the season (they started to spring up about two weeks or so ago) and for another thing, it seems that most of the decorations that we had bought in the US was made in China.

But of course, just because something is made in China, doesn't mean it's sold in China, as we have learned when it comes to Cuisinarts and other household appliances. The vast majority of the stuff for sale in the stalls is absolute crap that no self-respecting holiday maven would be caught dead buying outside of China. The 'glass balls' are almost all plastic and colored very unattractively, and the other decorations veer on the tacky, with a heavy emphasis on dancing Santas and other things that we would never let in our house. And without fail, when we walk into a stall, the salesgirls will point out things that they say are "hen ke'ai" (very cute) that just make our skin crawl.

Nevertheless, we have been able to find a number of things that we can make use of, including nice enough ribbons, plain white lights (not as easy to find as blinking colored lights, or lights shaped like chilies), and even some decorative balls, though it has to be said that a good portion of what we bought was found at IKEA.

We noticed a sign the other day advertising a Christmas sale at the German embassy next weekend, where we hope to find a good selection of attractive glass ornaments, but even if we don't, I think we have a good enough assortment to suit our first proper Christmas party in Beijing.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Photos

It's one thing to say that Thanksgiving went well, and quite another to prove it. Here are some photos of our celebration. First off, here you can see the table as it was originally set when we thought we'd have a total of six people at the table:

And here is the turkey as it came out of the oven (resting near the out-of-the-bird stuffing):

And here are the two pies, bittersweet-chocolate pecan on the left, and pumpkin on the right (kudos to J2 for the lovely job on the crust):

Here's the table after we swapped the kitchen and dining tables to allow us to accommodate a total of eight at the table:

And here you see the spread on the buffet/bar table, waiting for the guests to get off their butts and haul themselves over to the dining table (we had been serving baked brie, don't forget, so it took some doing to pry them away):

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Beijing Thanksgiving, Year Two

Loyal readers may remember that last November we threw our first Beijing Thanksgiving dinner at the home of our friends/colleagues Anne and John. This year, now that they have moved into an apartment with a small oven and we have a new more-or-less normal-sized oven, we opted to hold the dinner at our place, inviting pretty much the same crowd (minus our friend Alan, who's in the US celebrating with his 'real' family) for pretty much the same menu. But this time, we are a year wiser in the ways of Beijing, and had a much easier time procuring some of the key ingredients. As an example, last year we bought our turkey for a king's ransom at one of the expat-oriented groceries, whereas this year we bought the bird for not much more than one would pay in the US by buying it at the Xinyuanli market, which, while it also caters to foreigners, is more aimed at the restaurant owners of Beijing, so the prices are much more reasonable. There I also managed to find fresh herbs, like Italian parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, whereas last year I mistakenly bought celery tops thinking they were parsley (not available at most markets here) and made do with dried herbs.

Oddly, the only place where I have ever seen Jerusalem artichokes in Beijing is the neighborhood market right near our place on Gongti Nanlu; why they sell them there, and only there, and only by one stall holder, is a mystery to me (as is their Chinese name). But they have them pretty reliably at this time of year, and so we have them on the menu again this year.

One more thing that I decided to add to our menu this year is Brussels sprouts. I had seen them for sale at the Xinyuanli market, but at a relatively high price (something like $3 for a bag of about 10 sprouts). Fortunately, while visiting a new-to-me expat market last night on the way home from work I found that they also sell them but for $1.50 per pound; much more reasonable.

Fortunately for us, we once again have cranberries brought in to the country from the US by a friend (please someone plan to be in Beijing next autumn so that we can have cranberries for Thanksgiving 2008, too). They are just not available locally, fresh or frozen.

So here is the menu:

James' Justly Famous Baked Brie with Tomato Chutney
Simply Roasted Turkey with Giblet Gravy
"We're Not in Kansas Anymore" Succotash with Edamame
Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Peel
Jerusalem Artichokes with Sage Butter
Chestnut Stuffing
Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows
Bittersweet Chocolate-Pecan Pie
"Bakeshop" Pumpkin Pie

Will report on how it went tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Boys

It has been a long time since I posted photos of my two favorite subjects, but today I had a chance to take a few shots and I thought I'd share them with you. They seem to be handling living in the boonies outside of Beijing very well (...).

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Olympic Fever

Last Tuesday was the first day that the second stage of Olympic ticket sales was to begin, so naturally as soon as 9am rolled around I got online to try to get my hands on some tickets. No matter how hard I tried, though, I could not get through the process, since it turns out that 9 million or so other people had the exact same idea at the exact same time. Now it seems that the powers that be have decided that perhaps this was not the best way to sell the tickets and they're reverting to another lottery system to sell the remaining tickets. I will probably try one more time to get into an event, though it seems like it's highly unlikely I'll luck into anything more exciting than the synchronized swimming competition when the Mongolian and El Salvadorian teams are competing...


Just wanted to let you all know that we got word today that J2 has passed his dental boards! A long period of anxiety is now at an end!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Clocks are Changing

Don't forget, if you're in the US, to change your clocks back an hour at 2am on Sunday morning. That means that if you decide to phone us anytime in the next couple of months we'll be 13 hours ahead of you (on the East Coast) rather than 12!

Photo Class

For the last five weeks, I have been taking an online photo course with The course title is "Creative Light and Composition" and is attended by around 18 people, living around the world in places as disparate as the US, Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, and of course China. We get an assignment per week, and have to submit three photos for each assignment. So far, while the material has not been anything new to me, I think it's been useful as a way to focus (pun intended!) my attention on certain aspects of photography when shooting a scene. And certainly, having to go out in search of subjects that afford an opportunity for creative depth-of-field (as this week's assignment required) has been a lot of fun.

If you're interested, here is a selection of photos I have submitted for my assignments so far: