Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Beijing Travels and other stuff

First the other stuff: We had dinner with Winnipeg over the weekend at the Xinjiang restaurant. The entire staff changed since I left for vacation. On the plus side, they hired a waitress who speaks English fairly well. They also now have an English menu... that was taken from a similar restaurant in Shanghai. Unfortunately, they didn't have any Black Beer that night.

Today, I met my Aussie friend for coffee. I found out he moved somewhere even more convenient (albeit further away); he's now just a few blocks away from Jia's office. So, after coffee, we headed out to meet my wife for lunch at Hasio (damn fine noodles for 10 kuai). Anyway, he seems to be doing quite well with work as he's not working too much and making quite a decent living.

On to travels in Beijing: I'll start off by saying I'm not a big fan of the city--it's very crowded and the vendors and rickshaw drivers get rather bothersome (they don't give up even after hearing "no" ten times). But this year I did find some things to enjoy.

On the first full day, we went to Tiananmen Square. We took a walk through Zhengyangmen (the gate on the southern end of the square). This was closed for renovation last year. It's a beautiful site with some great views of the square, Mao-soleum, and surrounding area. We were a little disappointed that the Mao-soleum was closed for renovation this year (we skipped it last year due to long lines); I'm not sure if they were renovating the building or the corpse, but it'll supposedly re-open in September or so.

We found a very nice tourist street that ran from the road near the Bell Tower to Houhai. We were very happy that the vendors on this street were pleasant and didn't harass us to buy everything. I bought a small propaganda poster for 5 kuai after a lot of bargaining in Chinese. Of course, I managed to lose it somewhere between Urumqi and Beijing. There were quite a few bars along the street (not Houhai) that my brother and I wanted to revisit one night, but we never made it back.

I discovered a few things about the Beijing taxis on this trip. This year they managed to find the hotel (maybe it was because I told them where the subway station was first). The drivers also seemed more friendly and less inclined to take us for the roundabout ride. I was thinking it may be one of those Olympic preparations, but who really cares when you have pleasant taxi drivers (that applies to anywhere in the world). We even had one on the way back from White Cloud Temple who didn't want to take us all the way back to the hotel and talked us into being dropped off at the nearest subway station (ended up as a cheaper trip). The taxis are also a bit cheaper than here in Shenzhen--Beijing starts at 10 kuai and it's 2 kuai per kilometer; Shenzhen starts 12.50 and it's 2.4 per kilometer. That's a big difference when you consider how huge a space Shenzhen takes up.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

We have discovered that the grocery store around the corner from the apartment is great. They have almost everything we could want (but sadly no cheese or cereal). It seems that all the produce is cheaper than Wal-mart (and a whole lot closer). I guess we don't need to stock the fridge every week like I thought we would.

I have also been informed that Yahoo photos will be shutting down in September. I have been told to move my photos to another site. I decided to use Shutterfly and see how it goes. It's looking pretty good after a few minutes of playing around and figuring out how to share all my photos with friends and family. It's definitely working better than Yahoo ever did (for some reason it started screwing up a few months back, but only for me--Yahoo China worked fine for Jia, and the US site worked fine for my parents; I guess it just didn't want to upload photos to a US server from China). Anyway, Shutterfly is going well--I'll email friends and family soon when I get more photos posted and find my card reader so I can upload my new vacation photos.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beginning the travels

Before I start my story of the journey, I want to write about something a little strange that happened today. I found that I had a poem published. I submitted the poem more than a year ago and it was just published. But I never received any correspondence informing me of such. I'm still quite happy about this, just a little confused.

Anyway, the day before I left for Beijing to meet my family, I had to finish moving some of my stuff into a friend's apartment for storage (thanks again for that). The last piece I moved was my giant inflatable Kingway beer bottle. This was a fun journey through the neighborhood--everyone was screaming, "Da pijiu!" (Big beer). The best was the little boy by the dumpling shop who shouted, "Mom, mom, look! A foreigner. He has a big beer!" I almost fell over laughing--sometimes I wonder how good my Chinese skills are when that's the sentence I can translate.

My journey began the following day with catching an early bus to the airport. I waited. And waited. It was about 45 minutes of standing by the highway, waiting for one of two buses. Finally, I decided to see if I could find another bus to take me. One pulled up and I asked the ticket girl if the bus went to the airport and she hurriedly waved me aboard. I took my seat and she came by again to sell me a ticket. "Ni qu na li?" (Where are you going?") "Ji chang." ("airport"). She looked confused. I repeated my destination and included the name of the airport. She then told me they didn't go there. They stopped the bus at another bus stop down the highway to let me off as I yelled at the ticket girl for not listening to my earlier question. Fortunately, one of the buses I wanted just happened to be a short distance behind.

My flight left Shenzhen late. I didn't mind much as I was set to arrive an hour before my family and they would have to go through customs. What I didn't realize was that my flight arrived at the other terminal. So, I took my luggage on a nice long walk through the crowded Beijing airport. As I approached the Starbucks (no, I don't like their coffee, it's just a convenient meeting place), I ran into my parents and brother--they were early. Perfect timing.

We somehow managed to fit all our luggage into one taxi (better than paying 450 kuai for a van). The driver took us to the Harmony Hotel, right near the train station. Slight problem there, China International Travel Service never sent our reservation to the hotel even though my father pre-paid online. We got in a fight on the phone with them--they denied ever doing anything wrong (just wait til they have to deal with a credit card company that won't pay up). Fortunately, the Harmony Hotel did have two rooms for us for one night--we'd just have to find somewhere else for the rest of our time. It was disappointing, it was a nice hotel with cheap prices. We ended up at the Novotel by Chongwenmen subway station (same place we stayed last year). We had everything set for time in Beijing, except for our plans of what to do.

That night, I went out with my brother for some beer near the hotel. There were no bars, just restaurants. I was quite shocked when I saw our bill. The waiter said, "6 kuai." I thought he meant each, but it was the total. I couldn't believe the beer was that cheap.

Returned Items

I have internet access again! Jia and I returned a few days ago to Shenzhen... We're officially married now (according to one government anyway). It was quite a trip. I'll be sure to spread out the stories of the journey as there are a lot. There were quite a few great experiences and a couple mishaps, but overall it was a great time.

Anyway, we're settled into out new apartment in Nanshan district (inside the Special Economic Zone). This neighborhood is really nice--it's quiet and clean. The security guards actually do their jobs here. We have a swimming pool, activity room with exercise equipment, lots of little restaurants, and three 7-11s within a 5 minute walk. I don't have to go back to work til Monday, and that'll only last about three weeks before I start my new job at the university.

Now I have to sort through the dozens of emails that I didn't check (mostly spam). I also should check out some sports news that I missed.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Well, there go all the top choices for free agency. I'm waiting for Lou to pull something amazing out of his... anyway, he better get signing. There's lots of cap space now that two of the best on the team are gone. He might want to consider contract extensions to some of the core players now.

Also, this is my last post for a while. I'll be going on vacation soon. I'm meeting the family in Beijing to roam around for a few days (maybe take some side trips to Tianjin and Chengde). And then we'll be off for a few more days in Xinjiang province. I'll return in about three weeks.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

I hate free agency

Crap. That's about all I can say about the start of free agency. The Devils are now doomed unless Lou has some magician working in the office this off-season. Rafalski and Gomez are both gone to long-term contracts. I'm not too surprised that Gomez jumped ship, but why did he have to go to the Rangers? I liked him, and now I have to hope that he sucks for the next seven years for his choice.

The only choices to really replace Gomez on the top line would be Nylander, Drury, or (as a last resort) Lang. Maybe the Devils can also replace Rafalski with Souray--but that certainly won't be a cheap deal.
I don't know why I'm giving this space or even thought, but here goes...
To the second anonymous commenter of my last post: Perhaps you should read more thoroughly. You sound like the same guy who used to be my boss.