Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We are in Yun Nan (云南)

We're in Yunnan! Yunnan (云南) is a large province in the southwest of China (see map). We flew here last Sunday (the 26th) and already have spent two lovely days in Yunnan's capital city Kunming.

Yunnan -- though of course I had never heard of it before coming to China -- is famous for its many ethnic minorities and beautiful landscapes. (Also, the temperature is a bit higher than in Beijing, which is lovely.)

Today, we are taking the express bus to Dali, where we'll stay a few days to explore the country side and connect (with our five words Mandarin) with the local population. After Dali, we'll be going on to Lijiang and Shangri-La, and then return home to Beijing.

I hope everywhere else in the world you are all having a lovely Christmas and New Years break. Try to stay warm and safe in the snow!

Hoofdpunten in het Nederlands: We zijn op vakantie in Yunnan, in het zuidwesten van China. In Yunnan wonen veel etnische minderheden die je in andere delen van het land niet ziet. Ook de natuur is prachtig en het is hier een beetje warmer dan in Beijing nu.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas - Bring Your Passport

A (belated) Merry Christmas to all of you.

Friday night we went to a church to celebrate Christmas Eve (kerstavond). China, of course, is officially a non-religious country (even though many Chinese are buddhists or taoists). So while there are churches around, there are not a lot of them, and they all have a bit of an underground feeling to them.

This particular church we went to was in some sort of art expo center (see photo). We had to bring our passports to show we were foreigners, because Chinese citizens would not be allowed in. It was dreadfully cold and the few space heaters (or the words of the pastor, if you ask me) weren't able to heat up the room.

After the service we had dinner at a friend's house. All in all the evening was lovely - but as Simon said: "it was not like our old church in Washington."

Hoofdpunten in het Nederlands: We hebben kerstavond gevierd in een Katholieke kerk in een expositiecentrum. Chinezen zelf mogen niet naar de kerk, dus we moesten onze paspoorten meenemen om te laten zien dat we buitenlanders zijn en wel naar binnen mogen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Banking on Your Bank Account

Yesterday was another milestone on the path to.... well, on a path. I am not sure what path.

Bank of China logoIn any case, yesterday I opened a Chinese Bank account. It was a relatively painless experience, even though I had to come back twice.

(Going to a bank here can be pretty frustrating. Once I had to wait for two hours to deposit some money in an account. We also go to the Bank to pay our phone bill, which can take up to an hour.)

The first time I went in for my account, I just noticed that the process was very labor and paper intensive. I must have signed about 20 little papers and keyed my new pin-code in about 30 different times.

The second time, I had to come back because something was wrong with my name.

Of course, the--to a Chinese eye--six names in my passport are very confusing. Three first names (Anna...M...H....), and three pieces for a last name (van...der...Heijden). They had only used my first first name to set up my account, but they had to change it, to include all three first name, so the account information would be identical to my passport. (We would not want to make it too hard on those people who are always carefully reviewing your personal information.)

Incidentally, as I was Googling (as you do) to find the Bank of China Website, of course Wikipedia with its unbelievable supply of information popped up first. I don't think there is a Bank in the world with more history than the Bank of China in just one little century:

From Wikipedia:

Bank of China's history goes back to 1905, when the Qing government established Daqing Hubu Bank (in Chinese: 大清户部银行) in Beijing, which was in 1908 renamed to Daqing Bank (in Chinese: 大清银行). When the Republic of China was established in 1912, it was further renamed as Bank of China by President Sun Yat-sen's government, adding a new role of the central bank.

After the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, the Bank of China effectively split into two operations. Part of the bank relocated to Taiwan with the Kuomintang (KMT) government. It was privatised in 1971 to become the International Commercial Bank of China (中國國際商業銀行). It has subsequently merged with the Taiwan Bank of Communications (Chiao Tung Bank, 交通銀行) to become the Mega International Commercial Bank (兆豐國際商業銀行). The Mainland operation is the current entity known as the Bank of China.

Wow, I am feeling exhausted just reading this. I hope my new Bank account will outlive the next revolution :-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sanlitun 三里屯

Last week -- in addition to Li's cuisine and the gingerbread disaster -- I also found some time to go out.

On Friday evening, some other hip moms and I went out dancing in Sanlitun (三里屯), or San-li-turrrr, as the Beijing folk call it. Sanlitun is the place to go here - it's on the western side of the city, around the third ring road (Beijing has six ring roads that circle in and around the city, so it's always easy to say roughly where something is).

In any case, we had a blast.

Sanlitun has lots of little bars, and often those have short performances or a band playing. I've come to really like listening to music in Chinese (not the Chinese opera (not yet), but just regular pop music in Chinese). (Paul thinks I probably ate too many dumplings...)

One of the bars we went to was in The Opposite House, a truly gorgeous hotel. See the pictures below. (You will never be staying there, because if you come to Beijing, you are staying with us, right?)

I hope one day you all will make it to Sanlitun. :-)

The Opposite House.

A piece of modern art inside The Opposite House.

The bar inside The Opposite House. Great cocktails & good dancing!

Imperial Li- Eating like an emperor

Last week Saturday was a clash of cultures: China vs America. And...I have to say, China won.

First, we ended up accidentally eating imperial food for lunch. Yes, imperial--from the emperor--the kind of food that the Chinese emperor used to eat (before he got ousted from office in 1911).

We were looking for a place for lunch and I knew that one of Thomas' class mates' parents had just opened a new restaurant, so we went to check it out. I thought it would be a pretty casual Chinese restaurant, but after we walked in we quickly realized it was quite fancy. In fact, it was amazing, and I had some of the best food I've ever had.

During the lunch, we learned that the great-great-grandparent of Thomas's class mate really had worked for the emperor, way back when there still was one. Apparently he was the head of the guards and in charge of keeping the emperor safe, which included being in charge of what meals were prepared for the emperor. Apparently, the great-great-grandfather memorized all the recipes and then handed them down to his children. Years later-- after the emperor was gone and even the cultural revolution had washed across China--the grandson (the grandparent of Thomas' class mate) opened up his first restaurant, which later lead to a chain of Family Li Imperial Cuisine restaurants in Shanghai, Beijing, and Tokyo.

So the food was really imperial and certainly tasted like it. We ate from lots of little dishes that wave-by-wave arrived at our table: duck, cooked celery, lotus root, sweet and sour pork, ... delicious.

After lunch we had a quick peek at the photo gallery at the restaurant which showed Mick Jagger, Jackie Chan, and Henry Paulson (a former U.S. Treasury Secretary) visiting. We certainly were in good company! :-)

So that was China. One point for China.

Then later that same Saturday, we delved into American culture. I've lived 10 years in the U.S. and never bothered to make a gingerbread house, so I don't quite know what possessed me to try to make one last week. But our "club house" had organized an event, the kids wanted to go, so we went.

What a disaster! I'd like to blame the materials, the lighting, the table cloth, (something, anything, but me), but I could not put together these gingerbread houses. Any time I glued the roof on, the walls would be collapsing underneath. (You can see in the pictures what these houses are supposed to be like, and what mine looked like.)

Picture: what a gingerbread house is supposed to look like.

It was a "kid activity", but the kids were impatiently waiting for me to somehow build a house, so that they could just glue some candy on top. Well, around me little mansions were being erected, and all I had was 2 sets of 6 loose plates with glue all over them. (The "glue" by the way, was just cake icing, and if you ask me, it did not glue at all.)

At some point, a Chinese man came over to help me with my houses. I think that when a Chinese guy comes over to help you with your gingerbread house, you really are in trouble. The kids, at that point, were already gone, playing somewhere else in the building.

When the second house collapsed, I declared defeat. Among the sympathetic looks of my fellow gingerbread house makers, I picked up the pieces (literally) and walked out. Never again am I building a gingerbread house.

Picture: What my gingerbread houses looked like (foreground).

So that was America: 0
China vs America: 1:0

I vote for more Imperial Li and less gingerbread houses in my future.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sinterklaas in Beijing

Yesterday, I saw it with my own eyes: Sinterklaas is also in Beijing! I know that the last couple years he made an effort to visit "his" children in Washington D.C., but he certainly also has made his way to the far East.

Funnily enough, we've found ourselves in Beijing (of all places) far more surrounded by Dutch culture than ever in Washington. We had (and still have!) some Dutch friends there, but when the Sinterklaas time rolled around, it was kind of hard to keep the story alive with just a carrot and a shoe, and not a lot of Dutchies around. (Truth be told: we had some great American friends who uncovered their Dutch roots and wrote poems and songs for Sinterklaas.)

Here though, we've gone from Halloween straight into the Sinterklaas season. A few weeks ago we went to an event of the Nederlandse Vereniging Peking (the Dutch Association in Beijing). After Simon and Thomas made some picasso-level art, a--to my American friends--politically incorrect black Piet showed up to throw some of his pepernoten across the room.

Then, Friday, Sinterklaas came to the boys' school, and tomorrow we are going to the Dutch Embassy, to spot the good old man again.

I sure hope he is busy writing poems for us tonight (Dutch Sinterklaas presents typically come with a poem). Also, Sinterklaas, I would really like a nice warm sweater for the winter here. If you can bring one from Spain, that would be great. (It's OK if it is made in China).


Sinterklaas at school.

Shoes filled with a small gift from Sinterklaas.

Simon next to Zwarte (Black) Piet.

Thomas completely happy with a handful of pepernoten.