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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).

TheHill

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.

WorldTrade

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!”.

Huh.

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

Wheels

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”.

Result!

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.



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