Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fun With Face Masks

The recent wave of Beijing's air pollution has been in the news. Right now, for instance, the reading of PM 2.5, which are the smallest particulate matter, the kind that lodge in your lungs and bloodstream, is at 541, a number the U.S. Embassy on its website calls "beyond index." The Beijing government says the number is just 491, and calls it "severely polluted."

Whatever it is, that -- along with a sore throat, headache, and stomach troubles -- caused me to skip the regular Wednesday hike. The weekly hike is one of the things that makes me happy in China, so now we're looking at a lose-lose situation. I was stuck in the apartment; spending any time outdoors was downright dangerous. The Embassy noted: "Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects, please avoid physical exertion and outdoor activities." Besides the comma splice, this is worrying news because they don't say what the "more serious health effects" might be. But I sure don't need to be told twice to avoid physical exertion.

My intrepid hiking buddies, meanwhile, set off this morning for a hike. "The better air is coming," one person wrote on our group WeChat. It's "now already in Huailai and Yanqing," so the group has a better chance of decent air by driving in that direction for a hike. I'm waiting to see how they fared.

And Bob is heading off to a business trip near Shanghai. This is what he looked like when he set off this morning, having disabled his more high-powered Totobobo face mask by unhooking the strap that is supposed to make it wrap tightly around your head. He chose a backup mask, and headed out, hoping for better air in the south. (I just checked: it's 35 in Changzhou! That's practically Alps-quality for China. Lucky Bob.)
Protection in the form of a face mask and a Yankees cap.

As for me, I made plans to watch a movie here in the apartment with a friend. The only slight glitch is that I was seriously out of food, so I made plans to head to the expat grocery store, a ten-minute walk away.

I got out my mask and followed instructions for trimming some of the edge off so that the mask would fit my face better. After I trimmed about a quarter inch from the edge, it definitely covered less face space, but I wasn't sure the clear plastic was making a full seal. Several experts have warned that if the mask doesn't completely fit against the skin, the bad air gets in, rendering the mask "useless." Not my words.

So I tried to make the headband part as tight as possible on my face.
Snap. The headband came off just like Bob's did this morning. I muttered something not in Chinese and spend 20 minutes figuring out how to thread it back onto the mask and around my head.

On the first try, the band slid down, pushing my ears out and creating a Dumbo effect that would make it hard to fit a hat on my head.
This can't be right.
Finally, I got the straps around the back of my head and the mask was firmly in place.
Flattering, right?
The cat seemed ever so slightly unnerved by my new look.
Anyway, I set off the for the grocery store, adding a hat, a heavy coat, and gloves but no makeup. I mean, why bother? So it felt as if I was incognito, just another hyper-sensitive laowei going off to buy her Raisin Bran. In fact, with this new look, I might be able to rob banks.
As I walked to the store, I saw a woman from the neighborhood. She was wearing an identitical Totobobo mask. We glanced at each other but didn't bother to extend greetings. I think the mask forced my mouth into a slight Mona Lisa smile, but I'm not sure. The plastic created a little greenhouse effect and my nose started to run.

When I got home, I took off the mask, and noticed that the lines from the clear plastic edging continued to line my face. After about a half-hour, the lines were starting to fade a bit but were still visible. I realized I may have to choose between vanity and protected lungs. For the sake of the greater good of all, let's hope the air clears soon.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ceylon Sojourn

We're back from ten days in Sri Lanka, which was a wonderful holiday, full of sunshine, leopards, curry, and very nice people. I won't do too much of a travelogue of each day but I will mention some of the highlights. There might be a few travel stories in here, too, so I'll save some stories for later.

We loved the food in particular, a vast range of curries, amazingly sweet tropical fruit, and fish so fresh we were watching it flop on the beach one minute and eating it for dinner that night. I'll also post more tomorrow when the jet lag of an overnight flight (leaving from Colombo at 1:30, but delayed about an hour, then landing at Bangkok for a stopover where no one got off the plane but all the flight attendants SHOUTED so that people could identify their bags in the overhead bins, and then another five plus hours to Beijing, where we landed into air so murky I got an immediate sore throat) is not making me a tiny bit irritable.

Here are some photographic highlights in the meantime.

Bob scales the ramparts in Galle.

The Dutch must have had future tourism in mind when they built this fort.
Here I'm teaching Bob how to take a selfie, plus embarrassing my children in my silly hat.
We admire lighthouses, because Carol would.

We admire a Dutch Reformed Church, because Mom would.

We hang out at the home of the architect Geoffrey Bawa.

Not a bad way to spend Valentine's Day.

And then we hit the beach in Hikkaduwa.

Where we watched our dinner being caught.
Then we went to a leopard safari camp,where we looked for...big cats.

If we could tear ourselves away from the amazing food.

I might have mentioned it was my birthday.
The next morning, a peacock greets the dawn. Yes, a peacock.
Saw lots of cute baby elephants.
And then there she was: a gorgeous leopard.
Slightly anticlimactically, we visited a tea factory near Nuwara Eliya.
We visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. I think it's some kind of pilgrimage place for dentists.
We visit Kandy's botanical gardens. Big trees, big roots, big big bats.

And finally we end back at the beach in Colombo, where we ponder the endless variety of the earth's magnificent sunsets. And guard our spicy deviled cashews from very impertinent crows.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So Ready for a Vacation

Inside Terminal 2, Beijing airport: a woman is stripped down to her underwear inside the ladies' room to change clothes.

I open the door to a stall, but it's already occupied. Rather than slamming the door in my face, the occupant holds the door open and continues to have a conversation with her friend, who is standing in front of the sinks, as she sits there.

Ten days from now, I may find this charming.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Winter Doldrums

One of the downsides to staying in Beijing through the holiday is that things are quiet (*with the exception of the fireworks, of course), the air is bitterly cold, and there's just not a whole lot to do (*except watch fireworks, which can be seen from every room in the house).

And yes, we are off to Sri Lanka this week, so I'll bring in my birthday with a leopard park safari, which isn't a bad way to turn 57.

Meanwhile, Smudge is happy to have me hanging around reading.

Her little spot of sun.

Lap time, with a slight hint of concern over the sound of fireworks.

Peaceful, happy.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

When Potstickers Stick

Last night's party was a fine event, with Burlington Place-like crowds, good food, and lovely guests from a United Nations of countries. I'll admit that proclaiming myself the Jiaozi Empress was a tad premature, since the little buggers fell apart in the boiling, frying process. I guess that's why they call them potstickers. But we had some delicious alternative jiaozi, plus a colorful mixture of Chinese and non-Chinese options, a brownie-crumbs-in-the-floor-paneling level of little ones, and a serious splinter group of whiskey drinkers. But even those who were not drinking for no-alcohol-January or pregnancy reasons seemed to enjoy themselves. I did.

And someday I'll wipe the hummus off the kitchen floor and wash the last wine glass. Left behind were a binkie, a backpack, and a blanket. Now that's the sign of a good party.  Year of the Horse, bring it.

An offering of deviled eggs, made with real eggs!
Looking slightly like a bio lab experiment gone terribly wrong, here are my vegetarian jiaozi.

Three of my favorite Beijing girls.

And then I found this in the laundry room. Mystery dissatisfied guests, I suspect. Or an art installation from Modern Art Toddler.