Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'll Be Home for Christmas

I'm sitting here in Beijing just waiting to head to the airport, where travelers yesterday reported huge delays and difficulties.

But I figure that the end of the world didn't happen, so that bodes well for this flight. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, China engages in a last-minute bling-a-thon to herald the season. I've noticed that the large pictures of Santa are as likely to say Christmas Merry as the other way around, but who's counting?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Snow in Beijing

Beijing doesn't always get a huge amount of snow, so Beijing-ren are taking advantage of the first real snowfall of the season. You can tell what kind of snowman it is by the shop it fronts.

This one was in front of a beauty parlor:

This one was in front of a flower shop. Note the flower petals, the fronds for hands, the Chinese eyes, and the little boy in the jacket with ears:

And last night in Sanlitun, I found a scene that gave the Christmastide good cheer a little thrill of danger. Wolf statues prowl in front of a big tree:
When China decks the halls, it goes all out.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Reason to Study More

I had convinced myself that I was making progress in understanding Chinese. Why, the other day, I actually figured out that my ayi was telling me that on Wednesday, I needed to stay home because someone would be delivering a new packet of coupons to buy bottled water, for which I needed to have 800 RMB handy.

Impressive, right? So I dutifully stayed home all day Wednesday, with my 800 sitting in a neat pile on the coffee table.

Except that I was mistaken.
It turns out that what my dear, helpful ayi was trying to tell me was that on Wednesday, the water to the toilets would be turned off during the day.

So the bottom line is that I picked up two words from her “conversation” with me the other day: “water” and “Wednesday.” There was also some “conversation” about buying a new packet of coupons for our water bottles, but apparently, that information was not related to the information concerning the toilets.

When I couldn’t get the toilets to flush on Wednesday, I went over to the Seasons Park management office to see if there was some outstanding bill for toilet water we needed to pay. (Don’t laugh: China charges different rates for tap water and toilet water. Since the tap water is undrinkable, I can’t even imagine what that says about the quality of the toilet water, water that Smudge enjoys drinking when I’m not looking. It’s either going to kill her or preserve her in a kind of formaldehyde-like state.)

I used my vast reservoir of Chinese words with one of the management people. “Mei you shui,” (no water) I said, making a flushing gesture with one hand. Then I realized that the toilets in our apartment flush with a button on the top of the tank, not with a handle, so I may have been making the wrong gesture.

But I was immediately understood. She said, “Jintian repairs,” mixing Chinese and English in a way I could easily understand. “Wu dian,” she added. Okay, so the toilets would flush again at 5 o’clock.

There’s a lesson here, and it’s a good life lesson, or at the very minimum, a Debbie lesson: Don’t embroider, don’t exaggerate, don’t assume, and don’t feel smug that you know something in China.

Because you don’t.

As for the mysterious water coupons, I’m still waiting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I Stand Corrected

Oh, we have Christmas decorations now. Here's what greeted my pre-caffeine eyes in our gym this morning:
And on the outside of the actual gym:
And then, when I walked back to our apartment, a light snow was falling:
Of course, the air quality is hovering between "very unhealthy" and just plain old "unhealthy" so that gray you see is pollution mixed with snow. Ho, ho, ho.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like....

Jingle bells, season's greetings, ho ho ho, and all that. I'm sitting here in gray, polluted Beijing where it's beginning to look a lot like...winter.

Some of the shopping malls are doing their best to entice shoppers, with candy-cane colored trees and fake garland. But for the most part, there's not a whole lot around town to put me in the spirit of Christmas. Or Hanukah. Or Divali.

There is the occasional odd-looking, inadvertently religious advertisement stuck into a sleeve in the back seat of a taxi:
And you do run across workers putting up a somewhat subdued tree:
But for the most part, city life is business as usual. Of course, that business can be rather entertaining. This is the sign that my friend Rachel and I came across yesterday when we were wandering around:
There will be a special reward for the first person who can tell me what this means. I'm hoping it's something both hot and, well, heftily.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Postcards from Cambodia

10K runners head through a gate at Angkor Wat
21K runners push for position at the start of the race.
It's time for a sunrise photo at Angkor Wat.
Sunrise, December 2, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why I Love My Ayi

How could I not love this woman?

I came home from Cambodia with a raging cold, sniffling and sneezing all over the house. My ayi saw that I was drinking lemon tea, and she said something to the effect of: Don't be drinking fruit tea. And then she searched through my frig and cabinets until I figured out that she was looking for ginger. I produced some ground ginger, and she dug up some old brown sugar. She mixed a heap of brown sugar with about a half a jar of ground ginger in a saucepan, boiled it for a couple of minutes, and served it up to me in a big mug.

It isn't what I'd normally use to treat a cold, but I feel very nurtured right now.

Update: My ayi wasn't satisfied with that. I heard her leave the apartment and return about 10 minutes later. She had gone out and bought a huge piece of fresh ginger root, chopped a portion of it into fine bits, and boiled more of it with brown sugar. Now the smells of ginger waft from my kitchen and my throat really is soothed by this sticky, gingery concoction. 

Race Day in Cambodia

There are the elite runners who stand frozen at the starting line, looking only ahead, waiting for the start, ignoring the glorious sunrise as it appears in pink and salmon behind Angkor Wat. And then there are the rest of us, adventure-travel runners who use the excuse of a race to visit a location that is exotic and on our list. Angkor Wat fit that perfectly although the heat even in December is oppressive and worrisome. Some of us, ahem, nearly missed lining up for the start because we were too busy taking photos of ourselves in front of a glorious sunrise coming up behind Angkor Wat. We started lining up at dawn and were done before the tropical humidity could cause serious problems. And unlike the scene at the Great Wall marathon last May, I saw no one who had passed out and needed to be carried away on a stretcher, only tired runners getting free oil massages of their legs and feet. There were, inexplicably, runners in giant bear suits and one fellow wearing a kilt below and a Santa costume on top. There were people running with artificial legs, and one white woman with the word Kilamanjaro tattooed on the back of her shoulder. I managed to get past Kilamanjaro in the final 1K, and hearing the cheers of the spectators at the end, also managed to sprint, really sprint, for the final 50 feet. I'm such a sucker for accolades. That may be the reason my right hamstring feels a little tender today. Along the route brown skinned urchins with bare feet stared at us and collected our empty water bottles for recycling, while pencil thin Cambodians, held back from their morning commute on bikes and motorcycles, watching with thinly veiled annoyance as runners of all size and shapes, but mostly with far more body fat than them, slogged past. At the finish, race organizers gave out cans of a sport drink, water, and sweet Cambodian bananas, while a DJ played the song YMCA in Cambodian, and hoards of tuk-tuk drivers waited to take the runners back to their hotels and guest houses. We saw runners from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Sweden, America, Canada, Britain, Australia, and China, with many opting to walk at least part of the race, even though most of it was in shade and flat. We jogged slowly past ruins and working temples, with orange-robed monks lighting incense. We passed a sign for an elephant crossing with tourists being offered rides. At the very end, Bob, who wrote and sent out his own blog post about the day before I could get my iPad to cooperate (who's competitive? I'm not competitive!) claimed to be looking for the medical tent when he couldn't find me. But I did just fine. Such a great life lesson: go at your own pace and you can achieve what you want to achieve.