Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Harbin, part II - The Harbin Ice & Snow Festival

When we woke up, it was dark outside and I felt great after a lengthy nap. I asked Bryan if he was hungry and he said, "What? Are you kidding me?" Bryan is a big guy and he ate about five meals a day. We got ready as fast as we could and went out to hail a cab. A difficult effort, we discovered, during Friday evening rush hour traffic in this tourist town. We moved to different corners looking for the best spot and eventually landed and started making progress toward either dinner or The Snow & Ice Festival.

The city had undergone a miraculous change while we were sleeping. Everything was lit up like a never-say-die Christmas tree. The whole town was emphatically swathed in colored lights. Pink and magenta tree branches and swirled trunks, white-garnished doorways and green lightposts, blue hedges along the sides of the streets, red stars and unrecognizeable glowing figures, everything flashing and blipping in a strange decorative overzealousness contending with the city's restaurant and nightspot neon.

St. Mark's Basilica in Ice?We decided to head directly to The Snow & Ice Festival on the other side of the river first, and then return to find something to eat. Crossing the bridge, we could see the area for the festival which looked like a kind of ice Disneyland. Impressive! It was much bigger than any of us had anticipated. Upon arriving at the icy ticket booth, we weren't as happy to discover that the admission was a whopping 150 RMB! We weren't going back and we had come to see this spectacle so we paid and entered. We walked in and out of ice structures for about an hour, snapping pictures of the various ice renditions of famous places, and then headed for the exit, cold and hungry. I think we all enjoyed it. I would say it was unusual and I'm glad I saw it as I don't know if there's anything like it in the world, but I'm not sure I would recommend it...

Bilingual Vispo?We noticed a Russianish guard in Chinese military attire at the exit when we left and thought we would ask him if he knew where we could find a good restaurant, but he didn't seem to understand Chinese or English. We thought it was strange that there wasn't a Chinese guard at the exit, but he scooted us along without any help, seemingly distracted by his more officious tasks. Anyhow, we talked to a cluster of official Chinese military dudes in their wooly green duds with gold-starred epaulettes and such, and they directed us to a Russian restaurant. We hopped in a ready cab and motored there, and ordered a number of dishes after some debate. The food wasn't delicious, but it was sustenance. Tired and cold, we all returned back to the hotel.

The next day before leaving, we taxied quite a ways out of town to The Germ Warfare Museum, a former Japanese military compound in which various experiments were conducted during Japanese occupation. Something akin to a concentration camp. Unfortunately, we arrived at lunch time and were quaintly ushered through and not permitted to linger about longer than necessary. We returned to Harbin and had time to visit a couple of temples next to a Chinese amusement park which were interesting, but too new to really leave us feeling inspired.

Harbin, part I - Subarctic Wonderland

Bryan, Angela and me left in a soft sleeper train to Harbin at 8:30PM last Thursday evening. Angela and my farewell to China as, within the previous week, we had suddenly decided to leave China for Italy. We had wanted to visit Harbin ever since we had arrived in China 30 months ago and, now, we were finally getting our chance. We had wanted to go to Harbin because of the Ice Festival held there every Winter (at least for the past eight Winters) and the spectacular ice sculptures and structures which would be on display.

The berths were comfortable, Angela and me shared a cabin with two mild-mannered young men who were returning home to Harbin, and Bryan shared another cabin with three Chinese dudes who were, before the train even left the station, cracking sunflower seeds, eating other unidentifiable animal matter, and drinking the king of beers, Budweiser. Once the train pulled out, we left our cabins and made our way to the dining car. I had a beer while Bryan flirted with the female police officer. Angela soon returned to her room as it had become a little too smoky for a pregnant woman. Bryan and I continued to talk with each other and with the staff, splitting one final beer before heading back to sleep.

Harbin - Russian QuarterWe were awoken at 6:30AM the next morning by the automated announcements of the train and learned that we would be arriving in Harbin shortly, so we roused ourselves, collected our things together, bundled up and waited for the train to slow to a stop. I was expecting snow and fierce wind, but the weather wasn't bad. There was hardly any snow on the ground, but it was cold. The three of us exited the station and quickly found a cab to take us to our hotel. On the way to the hotel, we noticed a few ice-sculptures in different locations, but none of the impressive sights we'd heard about. In fact, the city appeared to be quite dingy par for a Chinese city.

It was too early to check-in, not even 8AM yet, but we left our bags and went out walking. We were all hungry and sought somewhere to have a proper breakfast. Unfortunately, as we had wandered into the touristic Russian quarter, most of the eateries hadn't opened yet. It's actually possible to find a coffee shop in large cities in China, which is what we were looking for, but none of them were ever open early as they are in Western countries. We found a Russian tea house and were greeted by a St. Bernard, but the menu mainly consisted of lunch and dinner fare, of which it was still too early to consider eating. We left, crossed the street and sat down in a Chinese restaurant which was quite large and deserted. The music was loud and the horrible Chinese pop finally drove up to consider another alternative.

Harbin - Ice MazeAfter wandering around in the cold and feeling as if we were going to be denied in our search, we spotted a steamy-windowed Chinese restaurant on a corner near the river, entered, and decided to stay. The restaurant was not pretty with large patches of mold in the corners and streaking the walls. Bryan said, "you can smell the mold in the air," and we all could. The restaurant was full, though, but not crowded, with Chinese, and we looked over our options: a variety of baozi (steamed stuffed bread), corn or rice porridge, and a multitude of small cold side-dishes such as pickled vegetables and tofu. It looked great to us and for 10RMB the three of us gorged.

Harbin - St. Sophia's ChurchAfter about an hour or so, we left the mold restaurant and walked to the Flood Monument and the river to look around. There wasn't much to see, another one of China's super giant cities with not much to it, and we made our way back to the hotel to check-in and get some rest. On the way, we stopped at a small park which had a bunch of ice sculptures. It was completely deserted as most people visited these attractions in the evening when all of the lights were turned on, but still impressive. We moved on and came to another of the city's attractions. Under a muzak version of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water blasting out of a speaker above the entrance, we came across this beautiful church, St. Sofia's, which has now been turned into a museum.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Went away for the weekend (Harbin Ice Festival), but I'm back now and will relate my travels soon. Just wanted to post with a quickness to say hello and let you know what's what.

Lots of changes forthcoming, including our imminent departure from China. Angela and I are moving to Italy! We will birth our baby there and then we're not sure what will happen. Needless to say, we're both excited and scared about the change as we don't have any set plans at the moment. This is our last week in Beijing and we don't expect to return for quite a while, but both of us had a superb time here and will miss the people we've met and the places we've seen.

On a poetry note, The Countdown #19 is in production and I'm hoping to have something available by the end of the month so click back when you get a chance.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Went to Hou Hai on Sunday afternoon with my three Korean students and Angela. We always study together in the morning so, after the lesson, we all left together. The weather was stunning with a crystal blue sky and bright sunshine and we couldn't have asked for a more marvelous setting. People were out everywhere enjoying the fine conditions.

Beijing - Hou Hai - Ice BicyclingI had promised to take my students to a pizza joint over there and that's what we did. After taking in pizzas and pop, and then a little walking around the hutongy residential backstreets and alleyways peeking into shops and haggling with vendors, we parted company with the high schoolers and went back to the lake. We wanted some ice skating-ish activity and that's what we got!

We went ice bicycling! We rented a bicycle with skis on it. Angela hopped on the back of the banana seat and I pedaled the two of us around the frozen lake. We had a great time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part VI - Return to Beijing

The next morning, our cellphone alarms woke us and we showered, collected our belongings, and went down to eat breakfast, which was included in the cost of the room. There was a steaming hot buffet, which smelled great, but it was otherwise fairly typical Chinese breakfast fare. We seated ourselves at an empty table and happily feasted with many other lodgers from the hotel. We were soon on our way back to the station to return to Shanhaiguan. Nearly everyone left the train when it pulled in, aside from a handful of senior citizens who eyed Angela and me warily. The trip back was quiet, we both read from the books we had brought.

When we arrived, we hailed yet another cab and asked the driver to take us to Mengjiangnu Temple. We had just enough time to sight see one more sight, and we thought we would squeeze in this. The nearly deserted grounds were well-tended and all of the buildings and pavilions were new, but we were totally disappointed. The attraction centered around the story of a woman, Lady Meng, whose soldier husband had gone off to the great wall for duty and died there. Lady Meng left to take her husband some warm clothing and, after learning of his death, ended her own life by jumping into the sea. Anyway, the attraction was not worth our time as there were a number of life-size displays from the life of Lady Meng which gave the whole place an absurd amusement park feel without the fun rides and atmosphere.

We didn't like the driver who was milking us a little by taking a longer route than necessary and then driving too crazily, so we ditched him by finding another driver to take us back. Our original driver had waited for us, even though we didn't ask him to do so, but we were able to sneak away without him noticing. Our new driver didn't say a word all the way to the station, we payed him, and went on to look for a good noodle shop when we arrived at the station in Qinhuangdao. We didn't find such a good shop, but the noodles were good. We finished, made our way to the station, and soon boarded our train and were on our way back to Beijing.

On the way back, there was a terrible looking woman with a scowling face, thick lips and high cheek bones on the train. I first noticed her when she was eating a tangerine, which she had peeled like a banana and held by the stem, sucking out the pulp and juice out of its membrane. I watched her, peeking up every so often from the pages of my book, eating pumpkin seeds for 45 minutes before tearing open a bag of dried haw berries. The woman was shaped like a large pear with legs. She was so terrible in appearance, but even more so because of her fashion sense. She wore a limp black scarf of knitted pink and brown flowers with white centers around her neck. Her loose wide-necked red sweater bore a couple of large orange buttons which were being taxed by the size of her breasts. Underneath the sweater, she wore a thin striped cotton long-sleeved shirt with a little hood, this stripes of which were orange, chocolate and tan-colored. In addition to the scarf around her neck, she also had a leather Diesel fanny pack slung around her neck and one arm in the way a shrewd Chinese clothing vendor might, and into which she would periodically rummage, pushing aside papers and tissues to find something else to shove into her face. She wasn't fat, but, I suppose, one might actually refer to her as big-boned. All of this was supported by thick legs covered with silver and black rattlesnake print with sparkles and finished off with a pair of heavy brown leather shoes. I was mesmerized...

Well, for a three-day excursion, that's possibly too much description and data. No matter. Look for more pictures of the trip in the usual location.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part V - Around Xingcheng & Haibin

Xingcheng - Sugar-Coated Candy WheelWe arrived in Xingcheng, exited the station, and quickly hailed a taxi, asking the driver to take us to the best hotel in town. We thought it better to check on our potential lodgings for the night before purchasing our tickets to return to Shanhaiguan in the event that we would be returning that afternoon or the next morning. The town was quite small and we were sure there probably weren't very many choices so we left our fate in the driver's hands. As we sped along on the busy streets full of pedestrians and vendors, the town appeared vibrant and active. Lots of bicycles, and not just your average two-wheeled varieties. Most of the cars we saw were either taxis and trucks, there were very few private cars, which shared the road with little blue plexi-cabined, three-wheeled motorbikes and horse-and-cart get-ups.

Xingcheng - Men in Fur Hats Playing CardsThe hotel wasn't far from the station, nothing was really very far from anything else in the town, and we went inside to bargain for a room. The taxi driver followed us inside, hoping to get a piece of our payment. Angela couldn't get the clerk lower than 260 RMB for the hotel's deluxe suite, and we eventually accepted after having looked at the room, which was quite nice as well as spotlessly clean. We put our things down inside the room and went back out into the world. We needed to go back to the station to get tickets for our return trip the next day. Nothing impeded our efforts and we were soon free to wander. We had come to Xingcheng to see the old town, another one with the old walls around it, and we meandered through the hutongs, passing tofu and egg vendors on bicycles until we came to the entrance to the old city. Men in fur caps playing cards and everywhere the green and blue militaristic attire circa Mao.

Xingcheng - Pheasants & ChickensThe old city was in excellent condition though nearly all of it had been rebuilt. We crossed through the old city, passing through the gate on the opposite side and went in search of food as, by this time, we were getting hungry, and we thought we should fill our bellies before exploring the various attractions of the city, of which there were only a handful, the main one being the city wall. After bumbling around the outdoor meat market and talking to some, possibly, locals, we settled on a small shop off the main road.

The waitress, beaming as she took our order, a woman who looked to be in her mid-forties and seemed to be the owner of the restaurant, recommended a couple dishes to us, which simplified things considerably, and we agreed to try them. Then the waitress suggested that we move to a small booth in the back to eat as we would be able to sit on an old, but still functioning, kang bed. This was exceptional as it was very cold and the heated surface of the kang made everything that much more cozy. We spent about an hour eating and talking when a noisy group of kids entered. We took that as a cue to move along, and we did just that.

Xingcheng - GateWe returned to the old city and unhappily discovered that the entrance to the stairs which led to the top of the wall was closed. We thought, perhaps, that it was only this entrance, there being entrances on all four sides of the wall, and began to walk to the next gate. When we arrived at the next gate, we found that closed, also, and started to think that, as it was the first of January, maybe the city's attractions had closed early. We seemed to be the only tourists in town, but we weren't disappointed and continued our walk through the old town's beautifully reconstructed streets. It wasn't crowded, the sun was beaming, and the old streets were clean and well-kept.

When we came to the southern gate in the city wall, we stood before a long street lined with shops and vendors on both the sidewalks and along the center of the road, which was closed to automobile traffic and thick with people. Everywhere, people were walking and talking and hanging about on the streets and sidewalks. Angela had her boots shined in front of a department store. At least eight other people were having the same thing done to their shoes. I spit sunflower shells while waiting for her, and watched the throng of holiday shoppers come and go, many of them giving me long looks as they passed, unused to seeing foreigners, at least at this time of year in a cold beach town.

We stopped for a coffee, lucky to find some at a bakery, and ordered tapioca drinks instead before going back into the cold and hailing a cab to take a ride out to Haibin, a seaside town wherein the little cove was almost completely frozen over. We walked around in the sub-Celsius for about an hour before going back to the cab which had waited for us on the edge of the nearly deserted beach, and returned to our hotel. We napped for a few hours and then went back out to look for something to eat, walking for a while down a long dark street which yielded no very good choices, flagged another taxi and headed back in the direction we had come. Nothing grabbed us and we settled for dinner in our own hotel's adjoining restaurant. Angela and I were the only customers. The food was good and recommended by our waitress: a bowl of pork, potato and green bean stew typical of the region and hand-made noodles. The food was good, warm and hearty, but the staff was waiting for us to leave, standing nearby with the chain for the door in their hands, so we hustled down the rest of our food and went back up to our room to sleep.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part IV - The Train to Xingcheng

The next morning, we woke up at 7AM, showered, quickly dressed, and went down to the lobby to checkout and get breakfast. We were the only two dining in the large dining hall with gigantic windows, which had a delicious view of the First Pass Under Heaven, an ancient Chinese gate. We sat down to a typical Chinese breakfast, didn't order anything, and the waitress just brought us the morning's fare: tea, a few pieces of fried bread, a large bowl of rice porridge, pickled julienne vegetable matter, and hard-boiled eggs. We finished everything and then walked through the ruins of the old city to the train station. We purchased tickets for the one-hour trip to Xincheng the day before, which cost 9 RMB each, but our train was delayed by about 30 minutes. We were praying that we could find coffee at the station, located some of the canned stuff, and sat down to drink the coffee and wait in the blue plastic seats.

The train was quite crowded, we had only been able to purchase standing tickets, but we were lucky enough to find a few vacant places next to a group of raucus yahoos who were joined by a few others right before the train departed, making their group much larger and bringing with them cold beers, baijiu (akin to Chinese moonshine), sunflower seeds and plastic wrapped sausages which they squeezed into bowls of instant noodles. Quite a breakfast combination. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits, though, including us as the train began to move, and we were on our way. Someone turned on a small radio and soon they were all spitting shells and smoking and talking and singing marvelously.

The countryside through which we passed was a variety of shades of brown. Barren, tilled fields, twiggy broken remnants of dried plants, decomposing cornstalks, defoliated birches, white patches of frozen water, old stone markers or gravestones, barbed wire, brick works, stretches of low brick housing, telephone lines and electrical wire attached to concrete poles, solitary figures in the fields or dirt roads pushing carts or stooping to examine things on the earth, yellow weed-tufted gullies, wooden fences, scattered red blue white and black piles of trash, balding rock along the track and its withered brown hair of winter, beasts of burden behind wooden limb-fences, a black cat sitting in an empty field of husks and stubs, hills off into the horizon fading in and out of view in the haze, great black swathes of control-burn and the painted white trunks of trees, greenhouses and rolls of hay, shepherds and their flocks of sheep, little brick villages each the same unfinished fashion as the next, clothes hanging out in the frozen light of the day, here a town with its apartments and its smokestacks billowing...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Check me out on YouTube!

My interpretation of a Michael McClure poem from Scratching the Beat Surface at the Beijing Actor's Workshop Improv Night at the Xinjiang Bar in Beijing, China on Friday, November 3rd, 2006. Federico Moro on balloons. Filmed by Seth Henderson.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blogram...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part III - New Year's Dinner

After sleeping for nearly two hours, we made it out of our room by 8PM. The receptionists in the lobby of our hotel called a taxi for us and, when it had arrived, we asked the driver to take us to a good restaurant. The driver took us to a street on which there were many, but none of them looked very inviting (Chinese restaurants can have an uninviting look, especially in out-of-the-way places), so we jumped in another cab and went somewhere else. There was a row of rebuilt old-fashioned restaurants outside the west wall of the city, and we though we would find something there. We settled for one which looked like it served fish (there were tanks in the entrance) and sat down to order.

We should have known by the orange plastic centerpieces on the tables (which looked like something out of a Chinese wedding gone bad) that something was amiss. While the owner or manager of the restaurant tapped out the night's totals on a talking calculator, we ordered four dishes, although we still weren't too hungry after our gigantic lunch. Barbecued squid, fish (carp?) in what the menu said was vinegar sauce and, in the picture, red-colored, steamed broccoli, hot & sour soup, and rice. I ordered a local beer and Angela stayed with tea. While we were waiting, we talked about what we were going to do afterwards as the town looked pretty dull, and thought we'd ask our waitress where we might find some New Year's action. The waitress went to inquire with the calculator woman, who proceeded to write something on a business card which the waitress then brought to us. The location on the card was close to this restaurant and we thought we would walk there after our meal. Two cooks from the kitchen walked through the dining area lugging a large heavy-looking garbage can out the front door of the restaurant.

We were surprised when the food began to arrive, because it didn't look like what we had ordered. The squid was breaded and fried, not barbequed, the fish was in a thick brownish-yellowish-curryish sauce, and the broccoli looked misshapen. All of the dishes had a strange taste. The soup tasted like the fish sauce, only spicier! Aside from these irregularities, everything was only lukewarm. We were less hungry with each bite and eventually stopped eating altogether leaving half of the food uneaten. We talked about the past year and laughed about our ending to it. We agreed that this was probably the worst New Year's meal we had ever eaten, and one of the worst meals ever, period. I finished my beer, paid the 90 RMB bill, and went out to look for this place on the card.

It turned out to be a KTV (Karaoke Television) place, and just wasn't the kind of fun we had had in mind. As we were both tired and cold, and we simply returned to our hotel to spend the rest of the evening together. We didn't last until midnight but, maybe, it was the first time neither of us cared to ring in the new year.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part II - Old Dragon's Head

We bundled up after eating and went out to hail another cab. We planned to head out to Laolongtou (Old Dragon's Head). The eastern starting point of the Great Wall which extends into the sea. I thought it would be cool, the Great Wall is cool, with a nice view of the ocean and such, but Angela had been building up my expectations. She mentioned that this place was listed as a national UNESCO AAAA World Heritage attraction. It was a little hard to believe based on some of our experiences with Chinese tourist attractions. I was wrong though and it was much more than we had expected.

Qinhuangdao - Old Dragon's Head - MazeOld Dragon's Head is an old fortress, first built in 1381, but destroyed in 1900. We each payed 50 RMB to enter. The grounds were immaculately clean and there were only a handful of other tourists, all of them Chinese, and all of the old buildings had been beautifully restored, many of them with reconstructions of Qing Dynasty life. there were many statues and displays of equipment and weapons, which were all quite fascinating. We wandered around for about 40 minutes on the superbly manicured site before coming to a large maze, a brilliant installation of stone-walls which had to be navigated in order to reach four corner checkpoints, as well as a center dais. Both of us were quite impressed and Angela charged into the maze saying "this is easy," but soon found herself at a dead end. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the center, but both of us were pleased with the experience.

Eventually, we made our way to the top of the wall and walked along the spine of the dragon and out onto the old head of the beast to admire the sea. We climbed down and exited the fortress after walking along the beach, looking through shells and stones, and visiting the Temple of the Sea God. We returned to the First Pass Hotel to check-in and take a nap before heading out in the evening. Both of us were quite tired after the long day and traveling and walking. And we wanted to be well-rested for New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part I - Departure & Arrival

It was the last day of 2006. I turned off the alarm at 5AM, rolled from one shoulder to the other and draped my arm over Angela, thinking I had another fifteen minutes before hers rang. Sleep nearly reclaimed me when her alarm clock pierced the darkness minutes later and I leaped out of bed. We had to be out the door in one hour. We both needed coffee, which I began to prepare in the little Moka in the kitchen, showers, and to pack. Once I had the coffee on the burner, I returned to the bedroom and sat down at the computer to write a few e-mails for my boss which had to be sent before leaving. For whatever reason, the usual lackluster performance of our Chinese ISP, also known as the government, wasn't cooperating, but the necessary was accomplished. Anyhow, that's a topic for another story. Angela made pancakes and we ate together as we do every morning, then we kicked it into high gear and made it out by 6:30 AM, 15 minutes behind schedule. We had one hour to get to our train at the Beijing Railway Station. Without traffic there wouldn't be any problems.

We taxied to the Xizhimen subway station, there was no traffic, and then transferred to a subway train. The subway wasn't very crowded and we arrived at the train station with about fifteen minutes to spare. It had snowed the day before, which added a nice holiday flavor to our departure as we walked in the early morning darkness through the murky slush in the light of a giant video screen blasting everyone in the square outside the station with the morning's news.

Angela - Train to ShanhaiguanWe entered the station, x-rayed our backpacks, escalatored up to our platform, had our 75 RMB tickets hole-punched, and purchased a couple of bottles of water on the dark platform with no lights aside the light which was shining on us from within the train. We boarded the train which was full, but not as crowded as I had anticipated. The train departed promptly and it was beginning to be light enough to see out of the windows at the snow-covered landscape as we rolled slowly out of the station and out of Beijing.

We rocked past brick house after brick house, hutongs with brick roofs, and row upon row of unoccupied and unfinished apartment buildings, wires and walls, people now emerging on two wheels or four, the half-dome greenhouses and nursery trees in perfect rows, all the while music, Chinese classical muzak, looping incessantly. The group across the aisle from us played cards loudly, slapping them down on the little table between them, while the sleeping man next to me snored into the dirty curtain and the woman next to Angela muttered to herself while gazing out the window. The muzak stopped after 90 minutes which, coincidentally, is when we made our first stop. The noisy card-playing group exited, but their space was taken by new passengers.

Shanhaiguan IAfter two more stops and another hour, we had arrived in Qinhuangdao. It was snowing lightly and the station workers were already sweeping snow off the platform which was dusting everything. Our first priority was to purchase return tickets as it can be quite difficult to procure tickets if you wait too long. One of the joys of traveling by train in China. We waited in line and paid 95 RMB each for them and then left the station happy to know we were going to return when we wanted. We still hadn't reached our final destination, though, Shanhaiguan, and quickly found a cab to take us the rest of the way, about 20 minutes by car. We arrived and entered the old part of the city, passing through the old city wall, and driving through the deserted city within the walls. Our initial reaction was pleasure, no tourists and none of the Chinese multitude, but we quickly discovered that our first impressions would soon be dashed. Everything was in ruin: piles of rubble, bricks and garbage were everywhere. The aluminum walls surrounding gutted blocks of what once was, now only quietly advertised the future face of the city as we bumped along in the backseat on our way to the First Pass Hotel. Hopefully, we would be getting more than this.

The cabby dropped us at the entrance, we entered the deserted hotel, and Angela began to bargain for a room. She bargained down to 150 RMB but, considering how deserted it was, I thought we could get a better rate. We decided to try our chances elsewhere and find a place to eat in the meanwhile as it was just about lunchtime and we were both quite hungry after our morning's travel. We walked through the old town which was being converted into a tourist supercenter, exited the city walls and eventually came to a Huo Guo (Hot Pot) restaurant. We were cold, it was snowing lightly still, we wanted soup, and this was the best option we could locate. We weren't displeased and settled in for a warming meal.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


First the good news and then the ARGH! You can read my latest e-book, Star-Spangled Banter, at Unlikely 2.0. Props to Jonathan Penton for getting this thing into the e-mix! I hear there's a limited (26 signed and lettered copies) to be had for the particularly adept. Also, check out a couple of my poems at Venereal Kittens. Don't let the name scare you! My name is scary enough, but if you're here, you've already gotten past that...

Removed all Christmas cheer from the apartment today. Always a sadness to it. Now the final holidayless stretch until Spring Festival vacation which rears its head at the end of this month...

The Great Firewall of China or whatever is still befuddling routine access. The earthquake in southern Taiwan or off the coast thereabouts, which snapped telecom cables beneath the sea two weeks ago, seems to still have us wallowing in i-molasses. Uploading and downloading takes forever, when possible. It's all I can do to get this text to go.

I haven't been able to upload any photos for the past week, so you have yet to see the first part of our New Year's Adventure I promised. Never fear. I hope the problem gets worked out soon, which I hear will be another week, and then we can return to our regularly scheduled program...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2007th Heaven

Beijing - Shuguan Huayuan - Balcony View w/SnowA picture of the neighborhood from the sixteenth floor balcony window. Back in Beijing and getting back into my three-dot thing. We returned yesterday evening because Angela is working today, has already left, but I'm still enjoying one final day away catching up on what I missed. I have a nice story about our adventure over the new year holiday, and I'll tell you more in the coming days as I get everything transcribed from my workbook to the blogbook.

Last year was such a good year for me, particularly once the Chinese New Year kicked into gear. Obviously, you can click through my archive if you want to find out what was going on when. Hoping to improve on things this year, which already looks to have lots of changes in store, not the least of which is a baby on its way, but I'll leave mention of those other things until the time is right.