Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Brush with Greatness

This morning I went to the Westin for my Pilates class, getting there a bit early so I could stretch and warm up a bit beforehand. Usually the gym is empty but today there were three people in there: a muscular African-American man, a very small but muscular African-American woman, and a little African-American kid. They all appeared to be guests of the hotel, rather than residents of Beijing, and the man seemed to be giving advice to the woman on how to do her exercises. He also was speaking at the top of his lungs, which seemed unnecessary, given the emptiness of the room and the absence of any ambient noise. I was tempted to ask him to keep it down, but figured there was no graceful way to do that, so I just decided to stretch in peace and try to ignore them. However, as I did that I could not help but overhear the conversation, which appeared to center on the ins and outs of making a film in Beijing, and it was then that I realized that the woman was none other than Jada Pinkett Smith, the wife of Will Smith, who I knew was staying at the Westin for the summer while their son films a remake of the Karate Kid. I decided to keep my cool and not say anything, though I did finish my stretching and move over to warm up over in the side of the gym where they were, acting as nonchalant as possible. It would have been cooler to have seen Will, who one of my Pilates classmates once saw in the elevator (also without realizing who it was until after they had got off the elevator), but I still have another month before they leave town, so maybe I'll get lucky.

One More Thing

I discovered an amazing coffee drink that has instantly become a new favorite of mine. It's called a "shakerato" and apparently it's a big hit in Italy where (naturally) it was invented. You take a freshly pulled shot of espresso, pour it into a metal cocktail shaker over a few ice cubes and add some sugar syrup or fine sugar crystals, and shake until the ice is melted. Then you pour it into a glass and enjoy. The coffee develops a great 'crema' from the shaking and the whole concoction is very refreshing. Try it, you'll like it!

(photo borrowed from

Long Overdue Update

It's been some time since my last update, so let me bring you all back up to date with the latest exciting developments here in Beijing.

On the work front, all the admin staff that were in the building where I had been based, and where we just built a lovely suite of executive offices during the New Year break (though I was not actually in one of the renovated offices) were moved out of that building into a former state-run hotel located just behind us. The reason for this is that we are converting the old building into more clinical space, which is great, but it meant that whole departments had to pack up years of papers and other stuff, get them moved to the new space, and then put them all away again. This, as you can imagine, was a gargantuan task, but it somehow managed to work out OK. And whereas most of us were very apprehensive about the new offices, since when it was still a hotel it was the Platonic form of the grimy, dingy, dark and smelly Chinese state 1-star hotel, in fact now that it has been gussied up a bit it's actually quite nice. And my office is quite a bit better than my old one, with plenty of space and hidden storage for my teas, snacks, etc., and a pretty nice view of a lovely tree.

But life is not all about work! A few weeks ago, while visiting the Worldhealth Store (a very well-stocked health food store that our little gym cooperates with, doing joint marketing and promotion), the guys offered me a coupon for a free Pilates class at the Westin Hotel. The Westin is sort of right between home and work, so it is quite convenient, and the instructor was very highly recommended, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I contacted the instructor by email, asking when it would be possible to use my coupon, and from the headers on her response (not to mention her name) it was obvious that she was Russian. Her classes generally meet weekdays at 7pm, so I arranged to go one night after work. When I got there, I was pleased that I was a) not the only guy there, and b) by no means in the worst shape of the participants. Nevertheless, the positions were quite challenging, since they have you move yourself in ways that don't necessarily come naturally, and towards the end I was dripping with perspiration and feeling like I needed nothing so much as a nice, warm bath. But it was not over! One of the last things she has you do in the class is a push-up pose (where you get into a push-up stance and hold it for a minute, then for 45 seconds, and then for 30 seconds). To make the time pass by more quickly, she has various tricks, and one of them is that the newest member of the class has to sing a song! Well, that was me, and not being a singer I was racking (or is it "wracking") my brain trying to come up with a song to sing. Finally an idea hit me and when the time came I sang the Russian folk song, "Katyusha". Well, this surprised the hell out of the instructor, so during the second and third push-up pose she and the others in the class peppered me with questions ("why do you speak Russian?", "are you a spy?", "where do you work?", "can we get a discount?") so indeed the time did go by quickly, though it was still virtually impossible to keep myself off the floor for the duration of the pose. I ended up signing up for the class, buying 10 sessions, of which I have already used six, and sure enough it gets easier every time. So now in addition to three sessions a week of weight training with Alpha, I now have two sessions a week of Pilates with Alona. Goddammit, if I don't eventually become buff it won't be for lack of trying!

Ivan and Leo are both doing very well. The scare we had over Ivan's ingestion of several muscle relaxers has inculcated in us a culture of keeping all things that a puppy might like to chew but shouldn't far away from where he or Leo can reach them. Despite the vet's concern about his "high" BUN level (an indicator of poor kidney function), it turns out that "normal" is anything up to 25, and his reading was a whopping "26", so I think we'll be OK. He certainly seems none the worse for it, and he has even gotten much better (finally!) at letting us know he has to "evacuate" so we can let him outside to do his business.

The big news in China this past week was the eclipse. Beijing was not in the path of totality, unfortunately, but we were able to see a bit of the eclipse, despite heavy cloud cover. The day before the event I sent out a note to all our staff, advising them not to look straight at the eclipse, etc., and yet during the actual event I saw a bunch of people doing exactly that. So we got them some old x-rays and had them view through the film (the remaining silver on the film after processing acts as a sufficient shield against the UV). This rather poor photo was taken with my iPhone out of my new office window:

There's really not much else worth reporting at the moment, so you can see why there hasn't been an update in some time. That, and the fact that I rarely get any comments or other indicators that anyone actually reads this thing... (HINT)

Will provide another update when there's anything worth writing about!