Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Puppy's Name

Well, after three days of deliberations and trial runs, and loads of recommendations from friends, we have finally chosen a name for our new puppy. But before I reveal the name we chose, here are some of the more interesting recommendations we received:

1. Lech (No, not in honor of the former Solidarity labor leader and Polish president, but rather in honor of the Torah passage "Lech L'cha", which my friend Jeff Goldman had as his haftorah passage on his bar mitzvah, which was held on November 2, the same date as the puppy's birthday). Too guttural and biblical.
2. Jack (In honor of my parternal grandfather, on the premise that our other dog, Leo, was named after my maternal grandfather, which in fact he wasn't). Not bad, but somehow not right.
3. Nidas (In recognition of the fact that Leo was, in fact, named after the Belgian chocolate maker "Leonidas", though we never call him that). Too hard to figure out how to pronounce ("Nye-das" or "Need-us" or "Nee-da"?)
4. Baozi (Since he kind of looks like a stuffed Chinese bun). Too cutesy.
5. Lumi-Pekka (Since the first friends to meet him are our Finnish friends visiting from the US, Jaakko and Meri, who thought that the Finnish word for "snow" ("lumi") combined with the Swedish pejorative term for Finns ("Pekka", which used to be a common Finnish name) would be appropriate.) Too much explaining.

So, the name that we finally chose is....


This name works for us on several levels: first, it allows me to retain some Russian connection even after turning my back on living in the country and now that my Russian-born dog is no longer with us. Second, the puppy is kind of "Terrible", trying to get into all sorts of mischief (though fortunately he's still too small to do any real damage). Third, Ivan, as the Russian form of "John", sort of ties into the name Jack, which was my previous first choice (along with Rufus). Fourth, Ivan is easily rendered in Chinese as 伊万 (Yi1 Wan4), which facilitates taking him to the vet, getting him registered, etc.

So, thanks for the recommendations! I'll be keeping you posted on how he's doing!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Puppy Photos

I have put some new photos on our photo page of the new puppy and also some scenes from the Tongzhou market. We have a few names being considered for the new guy already (whose birthday, if that helps the thought process, is November 2, 2008):

Nidas (as in "Leo-Nidas")
Angus (though a bit too close to "Genghis", I think)

Keep sending in your ideas!

Here are the photos.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


For the past several weeks, ever since Genghis passed away, we knew we would have to get another dog, since poor Leo has shown signs of being lonely (not to mention the fact that we have been thinking about getting a new puppy for the past few years, ever since Genghis started to show signs of reaching the end of his life). We decided to put off getting a puppy though until after our Christmas party and my trip to the US, so this weekend was the first opportunity to go see what we could find.

Buying a dog in Beijing is a bit different from buying one in the US. There are not that many reliable breeders (that we know of, anyway), and we have already seen that there are people who will sell dogs that have been dyed with toxic colors that are supposed to make the dogs "cuter". But we heard from a friend of a market that had some reputable breeders out in Tongzhou, to the east of Beijing, so we arranged for our driver to take us there this afternoon.

When we first got to Tongzhou all we saw were people lining the road with all sorts of not very impressive looking dogs, many of which were dirty and none of which appealed to us. Fortunately, it turned out that there was a whole market further up the road that looked a lot more promising. As we walked into the market we saw that there were a lot of dealers selling a small range of dogs, with lots of Poodles, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Tibetan Mastiffs, none of which appealed to us. The first dog we saw that we thought might be a possibility was a Shiba Inu, but we were hoping to find a Schnauzer so we kept looking around. Eventually we did come across a pair of Schnauzers, though there was something about them that did not speak to us, so we continued the search. Just as we were about to head back to the Shiba Inus we caught a glimpse of a dog in one of the shops that seemed to be just what we wanted. So we walked in and took a look at the puppies, where one immediately stood out. He was a white, grey and black Shetland Sheepdog, and he was very playful both with us and with the other puppies. The shop owner had all the puppy's papers and his parents were both champions, though that did not matter to us at all. It did not take long for us to decide that this was the puppy for us.

On the way home we stopped at the veterinarian to have the puppy looked over, and I'm relieved to say that he passed muster. And as an added bonus, the tech and the vet both commented on what distinctive coloring he has. The next step was to introduce him to Leo, which fortunately also went well. There is a huge size difference between the puppy and Leo, but it seems that the puppy (who remains nameless) is not afraid to snip at Leo if Leo oversteps his bounds.

Our next task is to come up with a name for this puppy. I am up for suggestions from anyone who has a thought on the subject. Just write me an email or post your name ideas here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

798 Art District

I had a whirlwind trip to the US, visiting for only six days to use up a few days of annual leave that I could not carry over to next year, as well as half of my annual home leave entitlement. I returned to Beijing late on Christmas Eve (thanks to the snows in Chicago, which delayed my flight by nearly three hours), but fortunately I had Christmas day off (unlike J2, who had to work). So, with a relatively new camera still to play with, and a beautiful, though cold, day at my disposal, I decided to take myself to the 798 art district to take some pictures. As you can see, the district is housed in a former industrial zone, which it seems is being allowed to corrode intentionally for artistic effect. I found the scenery to be starkly beautiful, and took quite a few photos, the best of which you can view on my Smugmug gallery, here.

In addition to the industrial stuff, there is also some art outside (most of the art is in galleries inside the buildings), including this rather interesting chrome man. J2 gives me grief that I have been to 798 twice now, and he has yet to go; perhaps when it's a bit warmer I'll be able to persuade him to come with me and let me take some more photos.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Passport Saga (the Conclusion)

Today is the day of my departure from Beijing for a very quick US trip, and sure enough, the PSB managed to get me my visa in time for me to catch the flight! Woohoo!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Party Report

For the past ten or more years, with only one year off (2006, the year we moved to Beijing) we have had an annual holiday party, and this year was no exception. The centerpiece of the event is a gingerbread house, though ours is much different from what most people expect in a gingerbread house, primarily since ours is modeled on a building that we visited during one of our overseas vacation trips during the twelve months before. The food that we serve at the party is usually also in sync with the gingerbread house, though occasionally we make an exception (such as last year, when we opted not to serve Tibetan cuisine to go with our Potala Palace gingerbread house.

This year, we only had one trip to a place with a gingerbread-worthy building--Bangkok, with the royal palace and its Wat Phra Kaew. Unfortunately, there were a lot of logistical challenges to building this temple out of gingerbread, though J2 usually enjoys meeting new challenges with each year's house. To do the stupas of the temple he wanted to make a mold that he would use to bake the dough into the conical shape he needed, so he had me buy a firm turnip that he carved into the right shape, and then plaster of paris to use to form a cast of the shape. I scoured Beijing to find plaster of paris, running around to a variety of stores before it finally dawned on me that plaster of paris is used by hospitals to set broken arms, so I dropped downstairs to our central supply and found that they would sell me a 5lb bag for all of RMB 7...

With the gingerbread resolved I had to focus on the menu. There was no question that it would be Thai, but with a confirmed attendee list in excess of 80 people, I was concerned to come up with dishes that could be scaled up and also served at room temperature, to ease preparation and serving. Curries were going to play a big role, but I also wanted to do something more interesting, so we scoured our Thai cookbooks, hoping to find something that would be suitable. Indeed we did, finding a couple of festive looking dishes that would be a bit challenging to make, but that looked like a lot of fun. Then the question was whether we could find the ingredients in Beijing (and at a reasonable price). As luck would have it, my go-to produce market on Xinyuanli has a stall that specializes in Thai goods, so I was not only able to get all the coconut milk and other staples I'd need, but also pandanus leaves, pea eggplants, lime leaves, kafir limes, and other fresh produce, too. Much as we might have liked to do an all-Thai menu, we decided to add in my famous baked brie and I thought that now that I have found a reliable recipe for gravlax that I'd make one of those, too. In addition to all the "food" we also had to prepare the a variety of cookies, choosing a range of old favorites with the addition of some new ones. Then we added in a fruitcake and some spice cakes (to make use of a festive cake mold that we bought) and thus our menu was finalized. But wait, it wasn't! Late in the day on the night before the party we found out that our company CEO had confirmed her attendance, and since she and her family are vegetarians, we decided to make two all-veg dishes for them. So here's the final menu:

There was no way I could prepare all that food on my own in one day, so the preparations began a few days in advance. Luckily, several friends offered their services as sous-chefs for the evening, so I roped them in right away, and also asked my ayi to come in and help out for a few hours. Without them, it would never have all come together, since there were quite a few labor-intensive tasks that I could not do until soon before serving the food (such as folding up pandanus leaves around the marinated chicken cubes, and wrapping the marinated prawns--which I had the seafood vendor peel for me--in wonton wrappers). I was nearly done with everything before the first guest arrived, the only thing still to do was to finish frying the prawns, and ayi was able to take care of that.

The food was amazingly good (if I do say so myself!). The curries were as good as any we had in Thailand (using hand-pounded curry pastes may have been the trick) and the other dishes all turned out extremely well. The chicken in pandanus leaf was definitely worth the effort, and were really impressive-looking, though many people mistook them for a centrepiece (!). The son-in-law eggs (halved deep-fried hard boiled eggs, covered with a tamarind-y sauce and fried scallions and chilies were exceptional, too, as were the beef balls. Only one dish did not turn out as expected--the "galloping horses" were supposed to be mounds of sticky, dry cooked minced pork served atop wedges of pineapple, but the meat did not get sticky enough so we decided to just chop up the pineapple and serve it in a bowl. The dish turned out very well anyway, so perhaps I have developed a new Thai dish!

I never would have thought that our apartment could accommodate 90 people, but it seems that it can, though with most of them taking their shoes off in the foyer upon arrival we had a little less room than we might have (Chinese usually take shoes off in the house).

The party was pretty big success, I'd have to say. The last guests left at 11:30 or so, and we had everything cleaned up by 1am. The food was pretty well devoured, leaving us only a few things leftover, including some of the curries, the beef balls, and the edamame. The brie was decimated in no time, so perhaps next year I will make two of them, since neither J2 nor I got to taste it.

As usual, the day after the party we were wiped out, and though we did go to the gym for our training sessions with Alpha, after that we just grabbed lunch and headed home to veg out on the sofas in front of the TV. We'll start getting ready for next year's party in a few short weeks when we take our first overseas trip of the year--to Spain!

Oh, and here are the photos.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A near disaster

This morning at around 5am I woke up and realized I had not seen my passport since Monday when I had placed it on my desk, which subsequently got piled with papers that subsequently our maid threw out. It would appear that she also included the passport among the papers that got discarded, and since two days had passed already, there was no getting it out of the complex's trash collecting system. With a trip to the US scheduled for next Wednesday, it was pretty urgent that I either find it or replace it. In the end, after tearing apart my apartment and my office, there was little hope of it turning up, so I decided to see what would be involved in getting a new one.

On the US Embassy's website, there is a whole set of instructions of what to do in case your passport is lost or stolen in China. Among the forms and other things that they need to see before they issue a replacement was a form from the Beijing Pubic Security Bureau confirming that the loss was reported, so I decided to start there. I got to the PSB office at 8, only to find that it opens at 8:30; no matter, I waited 30 minutes and was the fourth in line at the desk that I thought I needed to be at. Unfortunately, it was not the right line, since I had to go to the "Foreign Disputes" desk. Luckily there was only one case ahead of mine, and they did not even belong there, so before long the officer was ready to help me out.

As it turns out, before the Beijing PSB can issue the form I needed, I needed first to do several other things, including reporting the loss to my local police station, getting a copy of my old passport, get a statement confirming my residence in my apartment, getting a letter from my employer confirming my employment, and providing two photographs. So I headed to the police station (the one that many of my visitors know well from registering there) and explained the situation. Strangely, their first question was if I could let them see my passport (the one that was missing...), but once we got that sorted out they got me my paperwork pretty quickly.

My next stop was the photo shop to get photos made. The US Embassy also was going to want photos, so I had them make two sets, the other one for the PSB, which set in motion a whole lot of debate over what format I was going to need. I assured them that they need not worry, since I had that info, though they did not really trust it. Eventually they did what I asked, and took the photos, but then, while manipulating them in Photoshop to get the background to be the right color, they kept making me look like my head had a horrible disfiguring disease, and since I figured I'd have to live with the photo for ten years I wanted it to be as good as possible. Eventually, that got sorted out too.

Photos in hand I headed to my apartment's management office, where they got me my certificate right away, so I was back at the PSB within 90 minutes of leaving. I had to wait a bit for one of my colleagues to meet me with my employment letter, so while waiting I was chatting with the officer, who ended up asking me to help translate some forms more correctly into English. Having done this, I figured I'd endear myself to them, and they'd be more likely to expedite my visa reissue, and sure enough, he offered to help if I ran into trouble.

Once I got the paperwork I needed from the PSB, I then went to the US embassy to get the passport replacement underway. They told me that it would take 7-10 days under normal circumstances, but since I had a trip coming up, they could replace it within an hour. Unfortunately this passport would be valid for only one year, and would have only a few pages in it so I'd basically have to replace it as soon as I return from the US. I ended up getting the passport in only 20 minutes, which shocked my colleagues, who figured it'd be several days at least before I could get it. They were thus able to get the passport to the PSB in the early afternoon, and I should have my visa on Wednesday morning. Sure, that's cutting things close, but it is a lot better than I had expected!

The worst thing about this is that I had planned to use the morning to prepare for tomorrow's Christmas party, but as it turns out I did not really need all that time, since it's now only 10pm and most of the things that could be prepared in advance are, and I even made time to go for a workout with Alpha in the afternoon. I will of course report on how the party turns out (and whether I get my visa in time!).