Archive for Januar, 2009

Peloton Bike Ride and Birthday

Samstag, Januar 31st, 2009

Today was the regular winter road cycling ride to the East of Beijing. We had beautiful weather with blue sky and sunshine, but still quite cold. The loop is about 60km on smoothly paved extremely flat roads. This picture is courtesy of Tom showing me and our Mongolian friend Naran in the front.

Beijing Winter Peloton

In the evening we met Federico for dinner.We went to one of the small places where you chose vegetables and other things on sticks and then cook it in water. It was the first time for me to be in this kind of restaurant and it was delicious. But I have not yet figured out what is the best choice to not spend too much money but at least kill the hunger. Maybe all teh bike riding made me especially hungry.

Then we tried to find a bar close by as it was really freezing cold and we all were riding bikes. Unfortunately that area is not known for having any bars. We asked a few people and they all pointed us in one direction. It turned out to be a fancy hotel that has a bar. We decided not to go there and found a small bar below ground nearby that said it has live music. The music stopped shortly after we arrived and we were not too unhappy about that. We started playing games like making unbelievable towers out of the building blocks.

The Tower of Federico

We also made a domino snake like around the candles that actually with 2 adjustments fell down as expected.

The Domino Snake

With all these games we did manage to stay long enough till it turned midnight despite the really expensive beer and the horrible tasting tiny 50.-RMB hot chocolate. It was Federico’s 30th birthday and he thought we did not know. But we did 🙂

Dinner on 5th Day of the New Year

Freitag, Januar 30th, 2009

In the Chinese New Year the first few days are counted and have special meanings. The fifth day of the New Year is called „Chu 5“ or in full Chinese „Chu Wu“ (as wu means 5). This day you should spend it with your family and eat jiaozi, the dumplings boiled in water. If you do not have jiaozi you will have bad luck, or something like that. We spent this night with Chinese friends who cooked a great dinner including the jiaozi. And then we had to fire some fire crackers as this fifth day needs to be celebrated with a lot of noise. So instead of going down we just lit the fire crackers from the window of the apartment.

Fire Crackers out of Window

I almost had forgotten the nice sentence: „Xiao jie, yi wan shui jiao duo shao qian“. If you pronounce it one way it means: „Waitress, how much for a bowl of jiaozi?“ Another way to pronounce it means „Lady, how much for a night?“. It is a funny sentence you can teach a foreigner learning Chinese and let him ask the waitress in a restaurant and the probability is high that he anyway will accidentally pronounce the second way which is funny for all capable of Chinese, especially the Chinese themselves.

Echo had accidentally cut her finger cap on New Years Eve while helping her mother prepare the big dinner. Now she currently cannot climb. I hope it heals fast.

The Finger Cap Injured

As it is the Year of the Ox everybody likes playing around with bullhorns or anything that looks like it.

Lao Hu the Ox

Xiao Ou the Ox

Now it is Getting Silly

Well it did get a bit silly. Here is the link to the webalbum with all the pictures of the night.

The two foreigners started playing a game of Chinese Chess as we were nibbling sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Chinese Chess

Glowing Quickdraw

When we were leaving I was shocked to see my bike standing in a huge sea of fire cracker waste. They must have been placing the fire crackers just everywhere around my bike. My bike must have been so scared with all the noise and not able to run away…

After the Big Noise

Peloton Bike Ride and Puzzle

Donnerstag, Januar 29th, 2009

Chinese New Year is whole 7 days of public holiday (only if you chose to work on the weekend, otherwise you only get 3 days off) and fire crackers. Finally I could join the Peloton this morning as I had finally managed to open  the lock on my bike. Tom arranged the standard winter easy 2.5 hour loop bike ride along the Wenyu river North East of Beijing. I arrived at the morning meeting pint with another cyclist who came for the first time. We waited a while till another guy showed up that said he never had ridden that route. As it was already after the meeting time we were starting to wonder if anybody else would show up and started talking about how we could ride. But finally our master Tom arrived and guided this small group of cyclists towards the Wenyu River. Half way through he said that he will turn back as he is slightly sick and he gave us further directions. We missed one turn but noticed that when the road suddenly ended with a huge construction fence. When we reached the North East banks of the Wenyu River we really enjoyed this newly paved empty road and were happy to live in Beijing and enjoy the Olympic investments that had been done. Because of this beautiful road we decided not to do a loop, but just cycle back the same way. Then we decided it would be shorter to actually cut through to the 2nd Airport Expressway on the other side of the river. But that road was first not nicely paved and soon after it turned into a dirt and brick road. So this shortcut was shorter but did take us longer. It was fun though.

Surviving the Dirt Road

In the afternoon we continued to work on the 1000 piece puzzle of a traditional Chinese painting that we had bought at the temple fair for 10.-RMB. We actually had to start the puzzle by ripping pieces apart that originally came uncut. We soon also found out that almost every piece was the same shape. Today was the third day working on it and we did finish it with only 16 pieces in the wrong place – There are letters printed on the back so that you can afterwards double-check that you placed every piece correctly…

Chinese Puzzle

…or maybe it was actually meant to do the puzzle with the letters facing upwards so you can then conveniently put the glue on it for framing. The shop we had bought it at only sold one size puzzles plus the respective size of frames to go with it. But as we are not Chinese we did not buy the frame and we will not hang the puzzle on the wall. I had enough of looking at different shades of yellow and orange while doing the puzzle. If the painter of this painting would still be alive I would like to tell him that a river should not be the same color as the soil otherwise it makes not a good choice for being used as a puzzle.

First Outdoor Climbing 2009

Mittwoch, Januar 28th, 2009

As every year around Chinese New Year we went for the first outdoor rock climbing in Beijing. It is not outdoors (in nature on real rock) but at least it is in the center of Beijing in one of the traditional parks, the Ritan Park. I remember 2005 being really cold that we had to wear down jackets and extra thick gloves to warm our finger that would cool down immediately after touching the icy cold climbing wall. This year the weather has turned warmer the past few days so it was actually very pleasant. As the climbing wall was not open yet we had to lead climb to get our ropes up. It was the first time for Xiao Ou to lead climb.

Climbing Chicks

Ritan Rock Climbing Wall

As we were standing around climbing and belaying an elderly Chinese guy came closer and closer and watched us. I found it wierd when he was standing between us so I said „hi“ to him. It usually scares such people away when a foreigner talks to them. He did not reply. He just looked at me with his not very friendly face and he kept standing there. He especially found it interesting to see us give lead climb theory lessons to Xiao Ou. Eventually (after a very long time) he quietly walked away. It did not annoy us. That is just how it is in China.

Very Interested Chinese Guy

We all went together with the father of Xiao Ou for lunch. It was not easy to find a restaurant that was open. It is still the Chinese New Year festival and most shops and restaurants are closed.

During lunch my Chinese friends started to discuss what is wrong with me because I currently have a pimple on my right cheek. They concluded that I eat too many things that warm my body up from the inside. They say I am too hot (yeah, I think I am a hot person too ;-). They suggested that I need to drink a special tea that cools me down and also take care to eat things that also cool down my body. And that does not at all mean drinking icy cold drinks. That is in any case considered extremely unhealthy. The Chinese people all know about yin and yang which resembles hot and cold or male and female. Yin and yang can be viewed as complementary pairs. The Chinese believe problems arise when there is an imbalance between them in the environment. Certain foods are thought to have yin or cooling properties, while others have warm, yang properties. The challenge is to consume a diet that contains a healthy balance between the two. So maybe I should look into eating and drinking more of the yin food.

Opening Broken Bike Lock

Dienstag, Januar 27th, 2009

After WD40 lubricant and higher temperatures did not change anything I am convinced that somebody had messed around with the bike lock making it not opening anymore. I quickly decided to forcefully open the lock, but I did not have the tools. Unfortunately it is currently Chinese New Year holiday which means: All shops are closed. So also the nice hardware stores. But after 4 days without my nice bike I found a small hardware store that was already open. I never had been to this store. I walked in and asked if he could help open my bike lock. He first offered me a tiny saw. I told him I need some thing bigger. So he brought this huge bolt cutter (or massive pincer) and it went through the bike lock like a knife goes through warm butter. I was happy but also shocked. I hope my Kryptonite locks are more resistant.

I love Beijing for making these things so easy. I did not need to buy any tool, the hardware store let me use his tools. And the shop owner was really helpful trying to assist me – and that being free of charge. This attitude makes living in Beijing easy.

Ditan Park Temple Fair

Dienstag, Januar 27th, 2009

During Chinese New Year celebration some of the public parks have special temple fairs. Beijing has 4 traditional parks outside the former city wall: The Temple of the Sun (Ritan) in the East, the Temple of the Moon (Yuetan) in the West, the Temple of the Earth (Ditan) in the North and the most famous one is the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) in the South. The only one of these 4 with a temple fair is the Ditan Park. So we went there by bike. That was a good choice because there was a huge traffic jam getting to the park. This picture is at the traffic light just before the park. It needs to be mentioned that the car on the right side has a green light and the pedestrians currently have a red light and should not be on the street:

Traffic Jam

I find it interesting that the girl in the center of the following picture is carrying a stick with an inflatable pile of orange-brown shit. What a weird thing to buy at a temple fair. And what do you do with it?

Shit on a Stick

On the way to the Ditan South gate the guards shouted that all the park entrance tickets have been sold out and we should all go to the East or North gates. At the East gate there was a huge line for the tickets so that we decided to rather have lunch outside the park and go in afterwards hoping it to be more empty.

We went to a hotpot restaurant and ordered „Old Beijing“style hotpot soup. When that arrived we were a bit confused to find little crabs and sea urchin as a seasoning in the soup. That is the last thing we imagined as Beijing is so far away from the ocean. It tasted a bit strange to have the thin lamb and beef meet cooked in the seafoody soup.

Tiny Seasoning Crabs

Sea Urchin Seasoning

After lunch there were no people at the gate to buy tickets and even inside it seemed quite empty. It must have been crazy earlier.

Temple Fair

People were really interested in buying cow hats as it is now the year of the cow.

Cow Hat Vendor

But not only cow hats seem to be the new fashion. There were so many booths selling all kinds of new hats especially animal hats:

New Fashion

There were different kind of performances, like this traditional long sleeve dance from a minority group from South China (maybe Tibet):

Traditional Minority Group Dance

In the center of the Ditan park is the traditional altar. Here you could wait in line to sing a karaoke song of your choice for everybody like this guy standing in front of the pink background:

Karaoke and Altar

And if you had the impression that you did not sing well or if you just want to ask for forgiveness for wearing a stupid hat or just to hope all will be well in this new year then you could buy some incense sticks and pray on top of the altar:


Chinese do not have much unemployment. They are creative in finding things that people can do. Like the guy on the left side in this following picture is holding a sign that says exit. I imagine it to be boring standing there the whole day…

Exit Sign Holding Specialist

New Years Eve

Sonntag, Januar 25th, 2009

The last day of the year of the rat! We received text messages to inform the public that fire works and rife crackers were allowed within the 5 th ring road of Beijing starting from midnight. Strangely we have been hearing fire crackers already the last few days. This is the first year that real fire works are allowed. But somehow I remember seeing them in one of the past New Years too. We made dinner at home as we assumed all restaurants would be closed or at least hardly any one open tonight. At midnight everybody went crazy with fire crackers. There were some beautiful huge fire works as well.

Back Yard Fire Works

But the main thing is fire crackers as loud as possible to scare away all the bad demons of the New Chinese Year. They have rolls and carpets of fire crackers that you just light on the one side and it goes on forever. It soon got really smokey in our yard. Especially because some people started the idea of putting the boxes of firecrackers inside a cardboard box and then lighting them hoping to make louder sounds. Instead I had the feeling that it just created more smoke and it was shooting burning cardboard pieces all over the place.

Burning Boxes

I also found it great that they just lighted the fire crackers in the middle of the road.

Streets full of Fire Crackers

Here is the link to my snap video of Chinese New Years Eve. And the noise is the actual fire crackers that in reality sound more like bombs. Happy „Niu“ Year as the Chinese say this year. Because „Niu“ means cow and this is the year of the cow.

Ice Skating

Sonntag, Januar 25th, 2009

As the weather had been cold till yesterday we decided to go ice skating on one of the lakes of Beijing. It was strange to see that the one side of the lake was not completely frozen. But it was open for ice skating.

Houhai Ice and Water

The Natural Ice Rink

They started charging entrance tickets to get onto the frozen lake last year. But I found this year it is even more horrible as they had put up a fence around the whole lake and even at the section for the swimming. but it was nice to be outdoors in the sunshine.

Frozen Houhai

As always there was hardly anybody ice skating. Unfortunately the few Chinese guys who could actually ice skate were not there. They might have been at home as it is Chinese New Year. But there is enough other things for the Chinese to play with on the ice. The most popular is the ice chairs with the screw drivers welded to poles:

Lovers on Ice Chair

Friends on Ice Chair

This year there were also more ice bikes seen:

Guy Ice Cycling

Lady with Child Ice Biking

If you feel like an emperor you can also be pulled around the lake on a yellow cushioned sheep sleigh, even though we did not see anybody do that:

The Emperors Sleigh

Maybe you need to be wearing the new hat fashion like these 2 Chinese guys to be able to sit on the sleigh:

Guys with Panda Bear Hats

This year they also started to close the lake at 4pm. We used to skate at night. When we were leaving we only left our skate rink circle behind:

Ice Skating Circle

„Biggin‘ it up Beijing-Style“ Party

Samstag, Januar 24th, 2009

Friends and me went to the Japanese bar on 35th floor with the great view over Beijing. It was nice to be there the day before New Years Eve. We could already see some fireworks in various places. That bar not only has a huge selection of mangas but also has a small room you can rent by the hour to play Wii (Nintendo game). We talked about it, but as a juggling friend of mine invited us over for a party, we went there. Sure once in a while somebody would pick up some balls and juggle at the party. But guess what: He had a Wii system because his room mate has a friend that lent it to him for the Chinese New Year week long holiday. So we were actually playing Wii the whole evening while Oli was DJ-ing us some drum and base tunes. First there were the various cute rabit games, then we finally turned to Wii sports. The guys played boxing, then we started tennis. It is really physical and a lot of fun. You start sweating a lot. I understand why people like Wii.

Chinese Toilets and Niche Markets

Samstag, Januar 24th, 2009

There are many cultural differences between Chinese and Germans. Today I had to laugh when I went for the toilets at the Western furniture store IKEA. There was a queue in the lady’s washroom. But when a looked ahead I saw all the toilet doors on the right side and half of them on the left side were all open. Guess what? They did not use them because they were toilets with toilet bowls with seats. The 2 toilets they were waiting for were the squatting toilets. The toilet seat I wanted to use had footprints of dirty shoes on it. Somebody must have squatted on the seat. And that is not unusual in China. Normal toilets in China are the squatting ones having just a hole in the ground. Often in modern places they put up signs saying „no squatting on toilet seat“.

Another interesting thing was that when you walk through the aisles of the IKEA furniture pickup floor with some long packages on your cart that people would come up to you telling you that that will not fit into a taxi. For the very long packages I believe that is true. So these people were offering to drive us home and carry our stuff and they could even help build up some of the furniture. IKEA has a delivery service, but you have to pay for that. These people were all very friendly, not pushy or annoying, just offering their services in a nice way. So for us it was much more convenient (and cheaper) to discuss a good price with one of these drivers. These things just make life easy in China. You do not have to think about „oh if this does not fit into the taxi what do we do?“ as there will be somebody coming to you presenting a solution before you can think about it. The Chinese are very good at finding niche markets and doing good business.