Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Olympics Tickets!

So this is what Olympics tickets look like (well, that's what they used to look like; removed the image to foil people who might want to copy them!). On Sunday I finally succumbed to Olympic fever and decided to pursue tickets, checking a number of websites and finally finding two people with tickets that were of interest to us. In addition to the three events here (water polo, gymnastics and beach volleyball) we're also looking into some boxing tickets, if only because the venue is just next to our apartment. Let the excitement begin!!!

Monday, July 21, 2008

J2's 40th

Today (July 21) is J2's birthday, and he's 40! I wanted to celebrate the occasion in style so to start off I ordered a cake from Beijing's newest bakery sensation to deliver to the dental department, and we had lunch at a new (to us) Korean place for one of his favorite dishes (mandoo gook--Korean soup with dumplings and rice cakes). But the piece de resistance was dinner at Maison Boulud, the new restaurant by Daniel Boulud in the former site of the US embassy to the Qing court.

We arrived at the restaurant a bit early, and had time to stop at the Patek Philippe shop in one of the buildings by the entrance (one of J2's gifts was a PP replica watch that just today stopped running reliably though we decided not to ask them to fix it). The restaurant is in the largest of the buildings in the renovated compound, and is beautifully refurbished. We were shown straight to our table, and were surprised that the place was not busier than it was (only two other occupied tables) though with time more tables got occupied. We started off with cocktails and were shocked to be given actual respectable cocktails that would not have been out of place in Manhattan or London. For me, it was an MB Mojito, while J2 had a Lemon Cooler, made with limoncello and who can remember what else. Both were excellent, and much larger than most cocktails in Beijing.

For our meals, we had the following:

J2: Caramelized Sea Scallops with Cauliflower, Orange Glaze, Capers and Croutons
Cumin Roasted Loin of Lamb, Sweet Pepper Stew, Persian Dried Figs and Summer Squash
J1: Alaskan King Crab Salad with Mango, Cucumber and Lime, Mint-Coriander Dressing
Braised Short Ribs with Sweet Garlic Potatoes, Sirloin with Carrots, Scallion and Parsley
Shared: Milk Chocolate Mousse, Paris Brest, Walnut Ice Cream

All of it was excellent and went extremely well with the bottle of Amarone that we ordered to go with it. The service was excellent, and very attentive (though not offensively so) and we established a good rapport with the maitre d', which is useful since we're going back on Thursday with our gay professional group for Thursday cocktails. (Turns out also that his wife had given birth at our hospital not long ago--turns out he tried to hire some of our nurses away to work at the restaurant, unsuccessfully I am happy to report.)

The only snag was when the bill came--despite the buzz brought on by a cocktail and half a bottle each of Amarone, I was able to recognize that our bill was inflated. Turned out that they charged us for a bottle of Tignanello, which was RMB 600 more than the bottle we actually had. Simple slip of the finger, according to the sommelier...

The meal was really excellent, though, and we'd happily go back again. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Funny Video

My friend C&K in Taiwan shared this with me today and I thought I would share it with you; very funny! video

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What Was I Thinking??

Today as you all must know is the day of the grand opening of the first Apple Store in China, located not far from our apartment in the Sanlitun Village shopping center. I was in the neighborhood of the Village yesterday, but at the time it was raining, I was on my bike, I had shopping to do, and I needed to get dinner ready, so I opted not to go check the place out, figuring it would just be a construction site still. And today, though I would have liked to have gone early, I had arranged to go to the Dirt Market to help two colleagues order chops and wanted to pick up a chop that I ordered for J2's birthday, and then I had to go to the art district to get two scrolls repaired (since J2 had to work today I was free to do errands). The result was that I did not get to the Village until around 11am, and by that point there was an ENORMOUS line snaking around the large plaza in front of the store full of people carrying black umbrellas to shield them from the sun. When I tried to join the queue I suddenly realized that the queue ended not with the last umbrella-wielding moron, but rather outside of a nearby building, where Apple staff were issuing numbered wristbands to the would-be patrons, and in which the line snaked for several hundred meters. Well, as much of a fan of all things Apple as I may be, I was not about to devote several hours of my life to visit the store--where there was nothing I planned to buy--on its first day of operations, even if they were giving away some sort of gift (which, judging by the box, was not much of anything anyway).

So instead I went for a walk through the complex, which is quite expansive though very few stores have yet opened, and then a few blocks north for a quick lunch at the Paninoteca sandwich/salad place, before heading to the spa for a well-deserved body scrub and sport massage. On the way home from there, I picked up a new phone for the house (the one that came with the place is crap, and since our cell reception is unreliable in our apartment, it seemed sensible to have a phone that people could reach us on in the event of an emergency, since J2 is often called for emergency dental cases, and during the Olympics I am the point person for any medical emergency suffered by one of the broadcasters and the US team). Then I stopped to buy some sort of birthday cake for our personal trainer, whose birthday it is today and with whom we're going for Thai food tonight. Busy day!

In addition to shooting the pictures of the Apple store above (appropriately enough with my iPhone) I also could not resist taking this shot of a group of embassy guards, all of whom carried a little tiny stool. I always find the lines of uniform-bedecked Chinese people marching in formation down the streets of Beijing rather comical (since even apartment security guards do it), but this group, with their little stools, just took the cake, even if they are a true branch of a military organization.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another Photo from Agrilandia

People complain to me for some reason that there are not enough photos of me on this blog. So here you go--a picture of me taken at Agrilandia this past Saturday while holding Leo in one hand and a bottle of nocino in the other.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Could Our Neighbohood Get Any Better??

We have long been convinced that we have about the best apartment of any of our friends in Beijing. It's not only a good size and nicely laid out, and has a good size kitchen (with an oven!) but it's also within a short walk or ride to lots of things:

--Restaurants of every possible description, including loads of Chinese regional cuisines, foreign cuisines, cheap and fancy;
--A very good farmers' market, open from early in the morning till noon, where we can stock up on vegetables and fruits at very reasonable prices;
--Several good foreigner-friendly grocery stores where we can buy things that Chinese markets don't carry;
--A number of good markets that sell clothes, tchotchkes, computer equipment, etc;
--A couple of good touristy sights, especially the Dongyuemiao Daoist temple;
--A good place to get our hair cut, and a couple of good massage places.

As they say at Passover, "dayenu" (it would have been enough), but now we are about to have yet another attraction in our very near vicinity when the new Sanlitun Village opens fully later this month. Already some of the shops have opened, including China's largest Adidas shop, and a Uniqlo is about to open soon, but the real reason for my excitement is not those stores, nor even the Coldstone Creamery (which I have never found very interesting, since it seems like they charge a lot of money for something that I would just as soon not eat), but rather THE APPLE STORE!! Sure, you can buy Apple products all over town, including at the computer market not far from us, but this will be an OFFICIAL Apple Store, with a Genius Bar, and warranty service, and all that stuff, and they'll sell at official prices. There is even a rumor that they'll be selling the iPhone (though perhaps the old one) when they open. The official opening date is July 19, and though I have ridden past The Village several times, I have yet to figure out where the Apple store will be, so perhaps they are waiting for the last minute to put up the big logo (or, this being China, perhaps they're further along from completion than they ought to be).

When I finally do make it to the store, you can expect me to relate my experience here! WOOHOO!!

A Nice Day Out

After weeks of gray, grim skies that reminded us why Beijing is often referred to as "the Beige" by long-term expats, and loads of uncharacteristic rain, broken up by only one day of sunny blue skies last Sunday, Saturday morning broke with the pattern and gave us yet another gorgeous day, this time coupled with high temperatures. This was very timely, since the HR department at work had planned an outing to the Agrilandia Italian farm out in rural Beijing, about an hour away from our hospital. We were to meet up at 9:30 at the hospital and gather in a bus for the ride to the farm, and when I arrived I learned that one of my colleagues had brought her beautiful 8-month old Husky along. They then asked why I had not brought my dog(s), and offered to have the bus swing by the apartment to pick Leo up. We had to do a bit of persuading of the driver, who was not crazy about carrying one dog on board, much less two, but eventually he came around.

Leo has not left the apartment that many times since arriving in Beijing, so this was a big day for him. He was a very good boy on the bus, though he clearly wanted to have a bit more space to check the other dog out. When we got to the farm we let the two dogs off the leash, and they got down to their thing, running around, causing havoc, and just being dogs. The farm itself was lovely, though we did not spend much time exploring it, focusing instead on having a very good Italian lunch (though my Chinese colleagues were woefully unaware of a) how to order Italian food or b) how to eat it; the way they ate spaghetti was particularly interesting). We also visited their hotel, which has beautiful rooms overlooking the fields (and which are being discounted for the months of July and August--guess they also are suffering from the difficulties visitors are having getting visas).

Lest you think that only Leo had a chance to get out, we also gave Genghis a bit of an outing. It had been a while since he'd been groomed, and as a result his fur was flying all over the place, and his claws would make an awful click-click-click noise whenever he walked around. So we walked him over to our nearby pet shop/groomer and got him very nicely trimmed up and beautified. It was as though they pulled enough fur to make another dog from him, and now he looks magnificent, and he seems a lot happier all dolled up for a change.

J2 and I managed to have some fun too after I got back from the farm; we went for massages at one of our favorite places and then had dinner at a new (to us) restaurant that served very good Spanish food, along with a great bottle of Australian wine. All in all, a great day!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Another Sign of Olympic Silliness

With the Olympics less than five weeks away now, we have started to be truly inundated with Olympics preparations. The billboards reminding us of all the "dos" and "don'ts" are everywhere, and the security helicopters have started their 24/7 surveillance of the Olympic Green area. We have even started receiving instructions on the anti-terrorism training that all our staff (excuse me, all our CHINESE staff; expatriate staff are not permitted to participate) must undergo to ensure that the Games are not disrupted by any stray terrorists.

As part of the evidence that the city is ready for the Games, the local papers have been regularly publishing photos of preparations by the various elements of the security services, including this one, which has to take the cake for silliness. Though it is very silly, I have to admit that if I were a terrorist (I'm not!) and I saw a group of police gliding their way toward me on Segways, I would almost certainly collapse into such a paralyzing fit of hysterics that I would be easily subdued. So I guess there is some logic here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

For Chinese Restaurant Cognoscenti

I just found the official translation guide for Chinese menu items that the Beijing authorities have promulgated to stem the tide of such tasty menu descriptions as "Husband and Wife Lung Slices" and "Saliva Chicken". If you would like to know the "official" names of these and thousands of other dishes, here's the site.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Translate Server Error

There have been loads of articles lately in the press about efforts being undertaken in China to rectify the translation of all sorts of things, particularly menus, into English. Among the stories are how "capon" had previously been translated as "chicken without sexual life" and "cold chicken with chili sauce" is translated literally from its historical Chinese name as "saliva chicken" (口水鸡). The reason for all of this is that most Chinese don't actually speak English at all, and just use a computer based translation program to translate their text into English. Anyone who has used Babelfish or any of the other online translation software programs can imagine the havoc this can cause. (Try typing in the character "干", pronounced "gan" which normally means "do" or "dry" and see what else you come up with...)

In any event, this picture, which I found online, surely takes this situation to the Nth degree. The Chinese characters on the sign are "餐厅", (canting) a very common word that means, very simply "restaurant". Apparently the guy who translated it had a bad connection or something, and this is the result...