Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Ball on the Wall

Last weekend I was staggering up the steps of the Great Wall wearing a bright orange top and a Legal Times baseball cap. This weekend, I was tripping up the steps of the Wall in a red and black ball gown and heels.

Last night’s event, organized by the Australia-New Zealand Association, felt like something one shouldn’t be allowed to do, like a picnic in the middle of Stonehenge or a bar mitzvah inside Rome’s Coliseum. But we were allowed, and thanks to some last-minute tickets that popped up and some heavy-duty pressuring of my dressing-up-averse husband, we went.

I had some moments of doubt when the dress I really wanted to wear – from the one time I went to the White House Correspondents Dinner about 12 years ago – wasn’t fitting exactly right. Well, the skirt fit, but the corset-style top was a little…tight. Without getting too detailed, I can say that while Joanna got it zipped up, there was some question about whether I would be needing to actually breathe for the evening. I suddenly had great sympathy for women who had to wear whalebone corsets, and knew why they might be subject to fainting spells. And that’s not getting into any kind of discussion about how it actually looked on me.

In any event, with some fashion consultation from Joanna, I opted for a silk halter top to go with the red skirt, plus black heels…and even a red evening purse. Yes, way too matchy-matchy for a certain twentysomething’s taste, but I needed a purse big enough to hold the tickets and my passport in case the Chinese decided that a ball on the Wall was a good time to check the foreigners’ visas. These days, we’re all feeling a little ill at ease here.

Anyway, the other issue of the skirt was that it had a kind of mermaid-style train at the back, a few inches longer than the front of the skirt. Just long enough to catch one’s heel. I spent a half-hour basting the hem of the skirt since it had ripped the last time I wore it.

Within 30 seconds of my putting the skirt on again, my heel caught in the hem and the whole thing ripped out. So I suspect I spent the better part of the evening trailing red thread.

Luckily, for most of the evening it was dark enough on the Wall that a few trailing threads didn’t amount to much.

And we had a great time, drinking, dining and dancing in the shadow of the Wall at Badaling, which was lit up for a quarter mile or so. We were sitting at a table of Germans, Australians, Norwegians, Dutch The evening stayed warm and the sky was clear enough to see a crescent moon and a few stars in the night sky.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Quite Xanadu

You really never know what you’re going to encounter when you go to a park in Beijing. Of course, the government probably pays these folks to put on folk costumes and sing and dance to entertain visitors, but that’s okay. It’s still entertainment.  

Today the International Newcomers Network had an outing to Behai Park, which is one of the prettier parks in the city, set on a spot where Kublai Khan apparently met Marco Polo (insert jokes about noodles, Xanadu, and East-meets-West here).   It was a lovely day to walk around, with “good” air quality, which was nice even with a slightly metallic taste to the air. Just inside the south gate, we encountered an “ethnic” group, men and women dancing in colorful costumes – with belly dancing hip scarves on the women and men wearing ridiculous fake mustaches and Uighar caps. Somehow we got pulled into the dancing, with Rita (who is from India) doing a sort of Bollywood shimmy, and others of us doing some kind of odd mixture of rhumba/disco/wedding-reception-freestyle dancing that would have made our offspring want to jump in the nearest lake.

The Chinese people visiting the park were delighted to see the crazy foreigners whooping it up with the fake Uighars.   Here's another one of our group dancing with a fake Uighar:

A few steps later we entered a group of men and women dressed in Cultural Revolution-style army uniforms singing Red songs surrounded by a group of very enthusiastic park-goers. The revolutionary fervor made me nervous; I was waiting for someone in the group to pull something out of the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and scream and point to the foreigners.   Instead, we ambled around for a while longer, found a decent restaurant to serve us a good lunch (48 RMB each -- $7.57), and made our way back home, some of us for a nap and some of us to flail around helplessly in Chinese class.    

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just Because I Can

The Internet has been so sluggish today that when I realized I could sign onto my blog and post something, I decided to do it even though I didn't have much to say.

Actually, I always have something to say. The question is whether I know the difference between things that should be put in print and things that should be kept to myself.

Don't answer that.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I seem to have a habit of finding ways to overcome jet lag that involve strenuous activity. After today, I may have to rethink that strategy. Then again, the feeling of jet lag hasn’t even remotely entered my head, mostly because I’ve been too busy coping with other feelings.

The feeling that I came close to fainting on the Wall and risked toppling over into the abyss of Tianjin Province.

The feeling of chafing in places I didn’t know could chafe.

The feeling of being so tired I’m not even hungry or thirsty any more.

Let’s back up: I figured I could do a 10K, no problem. I mean, I used to run five miles all the time, and 10K is not that much longer than that. So I signed up for the Great Wall Marathon (10K version) with Bob, while Joanna opted for the half-marathon (“She’s a bad ass,” said Blake. And he should know.)

When we got to Huangyaguan, where the race was held, I amused myself by scoffing at all the rather, well, large individuals who had signed up to do the half-marathon and the 10K. “Next year, I’m going to do the half-marathon,” I told Bob.  I started making snide remarks about the physical attributes of those strolling around in tight shorts and even tighter shirts.

This is a pattern, isn’t it? I get all full of myself only to get a comeuppance that matches the level of my pride. So today’s reward was my 10K race on the Great Wall.

I still love the Great Wall, but I’m not sure it loves me back. We started the race with a fun dash through a nearby village, where children waved and older people smiled – being entertained by the odd antics of laowai is kind of a national pastime.

Then we hit the Wall. Immediately we were faced with steps, so high and so steep that I had to do a long reach with my legs to get up to the next step. And that went on for about 4 K of climbing up and up and up. According to the website of the marathon it’s 5,164 steps. That’s about 5,000 steps too many, most of them up, if that makes any sense at all.

Anyway, I got a couple hundred steps in and felt as if I was going to faint. This happened more than once. It didn’t help that the air quality all day toggled between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous,” meaning that the beautiful vista of mountains traced by Wall was harder to see and the air had a taste.

Here’s where Bob became a hero: He grabbed my hand and pulled me for most of the rest of the 10K. I kept telling him to go on without me, but he didn’t, which almost makes up for the fact that he initially refused to buy me a beer at the end of the race, citing the almost-fainting as a reason beer might not be the best for me at that moment. Geesh. (For the record, I got my beer.)

Anyway, after the 5,164 steps, there were a few kilometers of flat, paved downhill, which we ran. I don’t have my score yet, but I think I came in first in the category of 5-foot-tall, female, 55-year-old two-time-cancer-survivor who is just off a 14-hour flight from Dulles to Beijing. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

And...I'm Back

So it was a quick trip to the States; many apologies to those I didn’t have a chance to call.

My welcome back to China has been very China-like. Just today, for instance, I gestured to my ayi that I was running out to the store. She handed me an umbrella even though there wasn’t a cloud in the (polluted) skies. Odd, I thought. I guess it calls for rain.

As I walked down the sidewalk in my shorts and t-shirt, I realized she was trying to protect my not-so-porcelain skin from getting even browner. She wanted me to use a parasol. Totally sweet, especially when I feel the absence of a father who would have insisted I carry a flashlight in the dark and a high-pitched dog whistle on my runs when I was back home.

But since I was going to be carrying a load of kitty litter and other household goods, there was no way I was going to also balance an umbrella, just as I carried the flashlight in Athens but never turned it on.

Anyway, I grabbed some jian bing lunch outside the grocery, extra “la,” or spicy. Yummy. Now, where was the waste bin? Oh, there it was on the other side of the bike lane. I crossed over and tossed out my bag, and started to cross back over. Suddenly there was a loud beeeep and I came within a fraction of an inch of being mowed down by a guy on a scooter going the wrong way down the bike lane. He looked annoyed to have to swerve, and I found myself saying, “Sorry!”

These moments pretty much sum up the good and the bad of China. Give me a couple more days here and I’ll be sporting a parasol and looking both ways when I move in any direction at all.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Upstate State of Mind

I've been wearing my Pratie Makes Perfect tee shirt, along with my Goofy tattoo (thanks, Asher) all day. Folks in Athens, Catskill, and Coxsackie have been giving me some strange looks. The only thing that's wrong with my dorky look is that my children are on the other side of the globe where I can't as easily embarrass them. Happy Mother's Day to all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Rocking out on the New York State Thruway to "Louie Louie" and "Mony Mony." Drinking Diet Dr. Pepper. Watching the Yankees with Mom. It's nice to be home.