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Things get very dry in Beijing in Winter.

This means that, despite the temperature dropping below zero a fair bit, it doesn’t snow much.

It also means everyone builds up a lot of static electricity – when you touch metal, it can be fairly goddam startling. And all the hairs on your arms stand up. Zara doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

Language training

Started today, with tones. It’s like a singing lesson. And at the end you attempt to yodel “I don’t drink tea”, with each word ascending, descending or both. It’s horrific.

3 hours, every day for the next 2 months. I may die.

Things you don’t see in New Zealand #37

Today I saw a woman walking down the street backwards.

Occasionally the woman would glance over her shoulder to make sure she was on the right track, but mostly she stoically marched without any idea what could be coming up. I feared for her life as she approached a road intersection, but everyone else got out of her way and she made it to the other side and disappeared into a shop (after a helpful person got the door for her).

I checked with Yu Mei. Apparently walking backwards used to be a medically prescribed cure to help with back and head problems. Insert obvious joke about walking backwards giving you back and head problems here.

Zara’s preferred method of movement

The baby has really started to prefer walking to crawling over the last few days. She used to walk sort of like a gorilla with her shoulders all hunched up, but today has decided to lower one shoulder, so she now looks a b-grade Richard III, “now is the winter of our discontent” etc.

It’s getting bloody cold here, by the way.  Sunny, but freezing winds. Since it’s been raining for a couple of days, the air is very clear – a little unworldly after the ‘fog’ of the last week. Strange things on the telly too – they seemed to have shown a replay of the 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final rather than last night’s game in Star Sports.

The Dashanzi Art District

Last night Reid and I went out to the Dashanzi Art District for a poke through some galleries and dinner.

The district is centered around something called the 798 Art Space – what used to be a collection of huge concrete factories built by the Russians in the late 50s as part of a war-reparations deal with Germany. Some of the spaces still have the Maoist slogans painted on the walls, and the whole place is very grungy, with gallery installations in large concrete bunkers.

Scattered throughout the place are a bunch of trendy cafes (that serve vicious Mojitos) and random artwork.

The Authorities still heavily restrict what is in the written word, but has given artists a lot more leeway, and some of the art reflects some of these new freedoms – paintings of tanks in Tiananmen Square for example (with Marilyn Munroe and Superman flying around in the background). Some of the art was more difficult to understand for those of us out-of-town – a statue of a small naked boy with a airplane crashing into him and billowing smoke everywhere. Hmmm.

Anyway. Food was good (Reid’s was anyway – I ordered poorly), and the Chilean Chardonnay improved after several glasses.Nikki and Sia had been up to the district a couple of days earlier – here’s some photos… 

The Dashanzi Art District 6/10/07 8:54 PM

Baby-proofing the apartment is still in progress

Yesterday, a friend gave us a bottle of Chilean red wine to try, as it was impressing him with both it’s quality and it’s substantive cheapness.

This morning Zara pulled it out of the wine rack and smashed it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire bottle of red wine on the floor before – it really is quite impressive.

This afternoon Yu Mei bought us a mop.

(Zara’s fine, by the way. And the wine rack has been moved)

Pre-pay nation

I dunno if it’s something to do with communism, but Beijing at least is a pre-pay city. And I’m talking everything – power and gas included.

When the gas runs out and no prior arrangement has been made (read: I haven’t looked at the meter and noticed this was about to happen), I have to take a plastic card down to the basement building management office, and they give me an emergency top-up of 10 RMB. I take the card back upstairs and shove it in the meter. The meter goes beep, and a limited amount of gas flows.

I then take the card back down the basement and leave it with the nice man with no more than 205 RMB. You can’t top it up with more than that (about NZ$40).

At 2pm, the nice man takes the card and my 205 RMB across town to some gas shop, and tops the card up.

At 5pm, I return to the basement and retrieve the card. I put it back in the meter. It goes beep. Gas flows.

Apparently the procedure for electricity does not involve cards, and is therefore much more convoluted. So much so that it has been deemed too complicated to tell me, and it will be solely handled by the building agents. Other tenants have reported this doesn’t go so well and it’s advisable to start shrieking about impending blackouts at least a month in advance.

All this, and we’re in a US $1 million dollar apartment.


National Day

It’s a holiday week this week. Monday is China’s National Day, celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. This means the streets are deserted, as it’s traditional for everyone to go back home for the holiday (read: out to the provinces) and spend it with their family.

There are actually only three days statutory holiday, but most business rearrange the weekends so everyone gets 7 days off in a row. Yu Mei took three days off. Nikki only got two, but things were so quiet for the rest of the week she managed to clear her desk.

Anyway. On Monday Reid, Zara and I decided we’d ride across to the district of Houhai (about 30 minutes by bike) and have a look about. The centre of Houhai is a small lake surrounded with bars and restaurants and is the other big ‘party’ part of Beijing (along with Sanlitun, home of the infamous ‘Bar Street’). The lake is covered with speedboats and small pedal-boats you can hire, plus, unbelievably, some very hardy swimmers.

Zara walked around most of the lake surrounded by her usual crowd of well-wishers, and then we rode back past Tiananmen which we discovered populated by everyone who hadn’t left Beijing. They were all standing around in the square waiting for lord knows what – perhaps the lowering of the flags, which is done with suitable ceremony by the People’s Liberation Army at sunset, or maybe fireworks. The square’s capacity is apparently over 1 million people if everyone stands nice and close, and it felt like it was approaching that today (wild exaggeration).

Some photos follow. In the photos of the square, I think the large picture at the back is of Sun Yat-se, who is the father of modern China (he helped get rid of the Qing Dynasty).

National Day

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