Archived entries for Uncategorized

Rain at last

For the first time since an (artificial) dump of snow in January, there has been a few days of light rain here, and some big winds. Beijing has very defined seasons – Spring is marked by winds and sand storms blowing in from the Gobi Desert up north. This means it has got cold again – apparently there is some morbid tradition that is must be cold until after ANZAC day so the early start can be particularly miserable.

Busy week. On Tuesday, Si’alei unexpectedly arrived back in Beijing (we thought she arrived on Thursday) and I caught up with her that night at the leaving drinks of another friend who is moving to Ireland. On Thursday the Ambassador hosted his farewell lunch for staff and family. At the same time,  Craig arrived from Japan for a few days work, so stayed with us for a few days, including a late night dinner on Friday night.

And of course, ANZAC day.

This seemed to be largely attended by Dads, with wives and kids choosing to remain unconscious (certainly getting all four of us to something by 5.15 was never going to happen, so I just took Craig who, being over 40, has learnt to dress himself). The Dawn Parade at the NZ Embassy starts at 5.30 by which time dawn had come and gone, with the marching and shouting components supplied by sailors from the HMNZS Te Mana – in town as part of the Chinese Navy’s 60th anniversary. Around 300 people attended, and judging by the numbers of cars with flags outside, around 10 Ambassadors from other countries climbed out of bed on time. Our Ambassador made his last speech as Ambassador to China, we sung songs, and the Turkish and Australian Ambassadors spoke, all with the faint sounds of the American bugler warming up for the last post just around the corner (not sure he realises just how loud a bugle can be).

There was a bloke with a TV camera filming the thing, but as he was dressed as a sailor I thought it was for Defense use only – I’ve since been told they used a clip from it on TV One news

Here’s the shallow paragraph: like last year, one of the highlights was the military attendees from around the world – the French chap looks like Charles de Gaulle in his box-shaped cap, the British bloke carries a swagger stick under his arm which pokes people behind him and  the Russian guy wears a hat bigger than his head. Unfortunately the Belgian army did not attend this time – it’s a shame since their salute is the most ridculous I’ve ever seen.

All done, we ate the Gunfire Breakfast (why is it called that?) and Craig and I came home so he could catch his flight home. And the rest of the day was a hideous exhausting nightmare.

Last night the deputy Ambassador saw the departing Ambassador off at the airport, and 15 minutes later, the new one arrived to take up his post. A country can’t have two Ambassadors in the country at the same time – a pretense that is kept, despite the new one actually being here for months, doing language training in Shanghai. He left the country earlier this week so he could Officially Arrive last evening, and a new reign begins.

Out look

This is kind of a local colour post. Possibly not that interesting.

Out of one side of our apartment you could once-upon-a-time see all the way to the hills that surround Beijing (smog permitting). However, the building craze has fixed that and now we can see a bunch of other apartments and (empty) office space in that direction.

On the other side, we can see the Central Park…er, ‘park’. There is an area of paths and shallow ponds that have all been recently fenced off (using fencing that would not deter small children or large adults, so not sure what they are for).


There is also the hill, which the Central Park management has been careful to mark as the property of the local council, not them. This may be in response to complains about the huge amount of dog turd that built up on the hill over the winter. However, perhaps bowing at last to local opinion, the management sent a small army of  hard-working individuals over the hill last week and all is now clean.

Further away on the left is the World Trade Centre, a number of towers, one of which is the tallest building in Beijing.

It’s quite an interesting view down that way, but I suspect, if the recession allows it, the view may be about to change.


For a start, if I was an occupant of those old green and white apartments, I’d be very nervous. They used to look very shabby but received a lick of paint for the Olympics – however they don’t appear on any of the plans for the area. I suspect they will disappear shortly.

And you’ll notice someone has dug a rather big hole to the right of those old apartments – this looks like the start of something very large. At the moment we never see any movement in that construction site, which gave me hope that the developer had gone bust, but it transpires that everyone is happening between 11pm and 6am, when trucks are allowed into the city. Folks living closer to that site must be pleased.

Key’d Up

Not sure if I’ve seen that particular pun actually.

Anyway, yesterday the Prime Minister left Beijing after a slightly longer than expected stay in Beijing. He got here a few days early thanks to missing the Thailand part of the trip, which meant he spent a few days on holiday with his family.

A PM’s visit is a massive amount of work for an Embassy, so Nikki (who also missed Helen’s visit last year) has been avoiding the Embassy so as to not rub it in for her replacement who has probably been working some ridiculous hours (we can only imagine the consternation when Key arrived early). We did however go to the Residence yesterday for morning tea, to meet the man, at his request (not us specifically, but he said he’d like to attend a function attended by the staff and their families). We all dutifully rocked up with Zara and Zac, but then spent so much time wrangling them that we didn’t end up meeting Key at all, though he worked the room with great efficiency. He also made a short speech thanking us all, and told exactly the same joke all visiting dignitaries make when they get paraded around in motorcades – “the traffic here isn’t bad at all!”.


At any rate he’ll be back next year for the Shanghai Work Expo. Perhaps we’ll meet him then.

Anyway. The coolest thing about having the PM in town is they fly the New Zealand flag in Tiananmen Square.

The flag in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace

Nikki with the NZ flag in the background


We are now the proud owners of a 1999 Volvo. It’s a lovely piece of old Swedish engineering with an electric sunroof that will never be used, window-wipers on the headlamps and space to seat 7, assuming two of those seated don’t have any legs.

On Sunday I loaded it up with car-seats and, all excited, the four of us headed out into the wilderness of Beijing’s road network. I initially got lost in the carpark, but using trial-and-error and a total disregard of the one-way signs we eventually emerged blinking into the sunlight and headed off for Carrefour – the local supermarket.

Moments later we discovered neither of us could remember quite where Carrefour was, so after heading south for a while we began to traverse side-streets in the hope that something would look familiar. The kids thankfully both fell asleep (they are both quite jet-lagged. On Sunday morning Zara came into our bedroom at 5.30am to announce she wanted lunch).

We checked Google Maps on the iPhone. It was in Chinese. We rang several friends – turns out everyone else navigates there by braille and no-one knows the name of the street. We unexpectedly came across our favourite lighting market (so we at least know how to get there next time). Once we started seeing folks selling fruit off horse-drawn carts we decided to abandon the mission – at which point Kate rang us and said she knew someone who knew someone who told us the street we should be on.

It was, of course, the street we had passed very early in the piece, with me discounting it totally as a possible site for Carrefour, saying something helpful like “don’t be ridiculous”.


Flushed with success (but as usual totally bamboozled by Carrefour) we returned home, and then attempted a further mission that afternoon (which was marked by a more successful navigation of our carpark, but later on an attempt to enter another carpark via the exit).

We’re hoping to mostly use the car to do daytrips around Beijing, to get at places that seem awful difficult normally (such as the beautifully-named Fragrant Hills). Hopefully there will be some posts of that sometime soon.

Resuming transmission

I’m not quite sure how to address a wee gap in posting lasting around 6 months.

Lets do bullet points:

  • The Olympics came and went (I see I posted an ambitious post titled ‘Olympics Part 1’ There was no part 2).
  • Reid took the Governor-General to Mongolia
  • The Paralympics came and went
  • My Dad dropped past for some more duck and another round of ancient sightseeing
  • Our friends Si’alei, Charlotte and Deborah left China
  • Reid went to Xiamen
  • I went to Singapore and (briefly) Hong Kong, but refused to go to Thailand as they were having Airport Issues.
  • Reid got larger and larger for some reason

Late December, we all flew back to New Zealand on the same flight as the departing Deputy Ambassador (except she was sitting in the flash seats) and spent the next month trolloping around Zara’s grandparents and living out of suitcases.

At start of February 2010 we moved into The Ivy, a lovely serviced apartment in Roseneath, and Zara set to work destroying the place.

On the 8th of February Zac was born in the last days of the old Delivery Suite at Wellington hospital. Mother and Zac were both healthy and as happy as you can expect under the circumstances. Reid and Zac moved up to the old Maternity Ward for a couple of days, and was then moved to the new flash hospital (I had visions of patients being pushed across in some sort of roller-bed derby but apparently it was very controlled). The new ward is beautiful, but a slight mixup meant the beds didn’t fit through the doorways – our room had to have it’s door removed.

Zac and Reid came home a few days later and we began the process of remember how babies do things. Helen was down from Auckland and kept us all fed and Zara entertained, Erin took some time off work and all together everything seemed to work out.

We were, as usual, completely crap at catching up with people but fairly early on began taking Zac out to dinners and movies, where he mostly behaved impeccably. The highlight was taking him to Fat Freddy’s Drop and watching Reid dance with him strapped to her front.

Last week we left Wellington and did a last round of visits in Auckland, including dinner at the French Cafe (Zac had to be evacuated from that one, the first time he didn’t play ball) and we flew back to Beijing on Friday night – an 13 hour trip where the smallfry all slept soundly, and the adults didn’t.

We got back home at about 8:30am and sat around feeling drugged and awful until happily Yu Mei turned up with some bags of food and cooked us lunch. Zara was ecstatic. In the afternoon Yu Mei, Zara and I went on a mission to sort out my Chinese cellphone bill (always an experience) and we all collapsed at various early stages. Until 6am this morning, that is, which found Zara, Zac and me watching Pooh’s Great Adventure.

Beijing seems the same. Nice and warm yesterday, perfectly clear today. Everything is very dry – it hasn’t rained since the Olympics really, and perhaps Beijing has stopped piping all the water from the surrounding provinces to the city to make it look lovely for the Olympic ViPs. A worrisome construction site opposite to where we live seems to have stalled after digging a huge hole in the ground. And of course the building next to the CCTV tower looks a little charred.

Applying to protest

In the middle of an Olympic post… but found a tongue-in-cheek blog from a NY Times journalist who has attempted to apply for permission to protest.

Nicholas Kristoff applied for permission to protest against the demise of Chinese ancient architecture, and after much waiting, back-room consultation and earnest ID checking, he was finally instructed on what he’d have to do. The myriad of rules took an hour to explain. They were…

… detailed and complex, and, most daunting, I would have to submit a list of every single person attending my demonstration. The list had to include names and identity document numbers.

In addition, any Chinese on a name list would have to go first to the Public Security Bureau in person to be interviewed (arrested?).

“If I go through all this, then will my application at least be granted?” I asked.

“How can we tell?” a policeman responded. “That would prejudge the process.”

Kristoff reckons that the whole application process is a cost-saving measure from the Public Security Bureau. Beforehand, they had to go out into the field to arrest demonstrators. Now, the demonstrators deliver themselves to Window 12 at the Beijing PSB office all ready to be led away. Saves time and money.

The Olympics – part 1

It’s 10 minutes before the first big rowing final of Super Saturday… lets see what I can type up in that time…

We decided we wanted to watch the Opening Ceremony surrounded by as many Chinese as possible. The Place was being promoted as a public place to watch a large telly, so the three of us trooped down to discover it wasn’t public at all – it’s been turned into a huge Coca-cola Olympics-watching centre, and to see anything you had to buy a ticket. It was sold out. So we all trooped back home and watched it on our telly.

Zara made it to 10pm, by which time the teams were starting to come out. An age later, we were only up to team 96 of 205. With Reid fading, I got on the bike and rode in the direction of Tiananmen to see what the Chinese were up to.

No much, it seemed. They’d been told to stay off the roads during the ceremony, so after I passed the Jianguomen Bridge and entered the central city, it seemed I was the only person on the road. It was very quiet and eerie, made more so by the thousands of silent cops that lined the road arms-length from each other, staring at the only Laowai in miles.

Eventually a cop with a sub-machine gun revealed the way to Tiananmen was now closed, so I headed north up to Hohai Lakes where apparently some fireworks were going to be let off. A few Chinese were crowded around a barrier that blocked the way to the lake, but the cops were letting white guys through (which I felt a bit grim about) and so I watched the next two hours standing outside a bar. Much shrieking when the Chinese team entered the Stadium, much clapping for the speeches, lots of Jiayou and then, finally, some fireworks. At the Stadium. And when those were done, we got a few skyrockets where we were as well.

By this time it was 1.30am. I rode home.

CCTV Tower facade complete

Across the road (but unfortunately not visibile from our apartment), they’ve just finished sticking the last windows on the highly ambitious architectural marvel, the CCTV tower.

These aren’t my photos – and I think they must have had a trip down to the photo shop, as the sky certainly wasn’t that blue today.

It’s awful hard to appreciate what this building is from a two dimensional photo – it seems to be shooting up from the ground on all sorts of angles, and it’s quite a feat to have the two towers actually connect. The builders had to weld the two towers together in a small period of time one morning, when the humidity and temperature meant they were at the same level – later on in the day, the two towers would contract and swell out of alignment.

CCTV is the Chinese telly network. We get 9 channels of it, one of which is weirdly the military channel half of the time and the children’s cartoon network for the remainder. This building will be their headquarters, but is also supposed to contain a hotel and all sort of other fabulousness. Someone told someone who told someone (grains of salt alert) that this building couldn’t be attempted anywhere else, as it would be too dangerous to build – but in China, it’s okay to have a go.

Here’s a photo I took (through the haze) of the towers when we first arrived…

American cyclists arrive in Beijing wearing masks

I dunno if you saw in the press somewhere, but a bunch of Americans arrived here a couple of days ago in anti-pollution masks.

These guys are jerks. I could go on and on about it, but maybe you could just read what James Fallows has to say here – at the risk of sounding like a Fallows fanboy, I completely agree.

The Olympic Village

Goosebumps. Going to the Olympic Village to watch the New Zealand flag being raised was pretty amazing.

16 of us met at the Embassy – the Ambassador and family, some embassy staff and partners. We  loaded ourselves into a three-car convey that are equipped with passes that lets us drive around in the Olympic lane. One fairly stringent security-check later, we were in the accreditation building of the village, swapping our ID cards for other ID tags and met by the Kiwi team’s security bloke – a cop from Invercargill.

We walked past an Olympic trinkets shop, a hairdressers (gotta look good on the podium, friends) and entered the Welcoming area, a row of terraced seats facing a small stage and 200+ flag poles, with each attending nation’s flags flying. We were accompanied by the fearsomely friendly Olympic volunteers, who are obviously very proud of what they’re a part of – and it’s very impressive.

As there are 205 teams in these Games, everyone doesn’t get their own ceremony – New Zealand was grouped with Belgium, Hungary and Uzbekistan. It’s attended by IOC president Jacques Rogge, the Mayor of the Olympic Village and a Chinese kids choir. Everyone is guided to and from their seats by a collection of extraordinary gorgeous Chinese women, all pretending to be some sort of robot. They had immaculate fixed smiles, only moved when required and had their hair done up with Olympic rings. I assume they are the latest triumph from the Chinese medical cloning farms.

So, we were sat down… then the three teams came out and took their seats with us (the kiwi team kept looking at us trying to work out who we were, while we stared back in star-struck fashion) and the Village Mayor delivered a short speech welcoming the teams. Each team manager then swapped gifts with the mayor and each country’s flag was raised while we all stood for the applicable National Anthem.

After our flag reached the top, the team did a haka which threw the compere a bit (it wasn’t on the script) but gave the rest of the New Zealanders little spine shivers.

(As an aside, the team has been greeting new team-members as they come onto the Village with a haka and it’s become quite popular – all the other countries come running to watch).

That done, Rogge and the Mayor had photos with each team and we were guided to a refreshment stop by the beautiful androids. The team all did a runner, and the rest of us went off to the food hall for dinner.

The food hall… well, it’s huge. And full of peoples from 205 countries trying to find something it eat. It’s a sort of a freak show. Tiny Russian gym stars with huge calves. Enormous African women weightlifters. 8-foot American basketball places. The Brazilian Volleyball team. Apparently Roger Federer has had to now hide himself away somewhere now, as he was being mobbed so much.

The food? Well, a couple of the visitors ate at the McDonalds, as it’s got to be the safest McDonalds in China. As a food-poisoning scandal at this place would be disastrous, China has been raising pigs, chickens and sheep at special farms especially for these games, and it’s all guaranteed organic and safe (I assume the livestock were all raised wearing gas-masks and feed imported grass). But they’re taking no chances. The chicken I had was very well done.

Unfortunately we then had to leave… I can’t really describe the feeling of the Village, it’s sort of electric and… it’s hard to avoid cliches…. thrilling to have seen the place.

As we left, another flag-raising ceremony was just starting up. Another three countries being inducted into the village.

Here’s some photos.

(edit – added Belgium to the ceremony, who I’d forgotton (sorry Belgium), and when said ‘Major’ I meant ‘Mayor’. Obviously.)

Copyright © 2004–2009. All rights reserved.

RSS Feed. This blog is proudly powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix, a theme by Rodrigo Galindez.