Thursday, November 24, 2011

Only in China

There are lots of things that might only happen in China (like, turning right from a left hand lane on a busy intersection) and one of them is having your children become fashion models.

As part of our cultural immersion (hehehe) we decided last Saturday to accept an invitation from a company called Paclantic to have Simon and Thomas show off some clothes for the Spring catalogue of the Chinese sports brand Lining.

Simon and Thomas -- and a bunch of other boys and girls -- changed into about 15 different sets of clothes. They posed on the beach and a street and on a basketball court and soccerfield. And that all inside a small studio on the third floor of an office building.

Make up.


The making of the beach.

Surf boys.

The road manager.

Street gang.

How is this supposed to work?

Oh, like this! (The photographer took the photo from up high looking down. Maybe it will eventually look like they are resting next to their bikes?)

"It's my 'hood'!"

Playing basketball. The court will have to be photoshopped in later.

And playing soccer. By the time the boys played soccer, the cameras had long been forgotten and they had a great match :-)

In het nederlands: Simon en Thomas hebben afgelopen weekend als model gewerkt voor het Chinese sportkledingmerk Lining. Het was leuk om een keer te doen en we zijn nu allemaal heel benieuwd naar de foto's die in de catalogus komen. Maar die zien we pas in maart 2012 -- zo gaat dat in de modewereld :-)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Modern Egg: the Chinese National Center for the Performing Arts

Earlier this week I was out on an excursion with Mingbai and China Inside to learn about and admire the National Center for Performing Arts building.

The Center, sometimes called the "Egg" or the "Birds Egg" is a brand new opera house just next to Tiananmen Square. Designed by the Frenchman Paul Andreu, the Center opened in 2007 after a bit of a rocky construction period of six years. (It wasn't helpful, for example, when in 2004 at another one of Andreu's constructions, Terminal 2E at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, part of the ceiling collapsed and four people got killed.)

China, however, decided to press on with the construction, and eventually an inaugural concert was held in December 2007.

The "Birds Egg" is made of lots of titanium and glass and is situated in the middle of an artificial lake.

Inside the Olive Hall.  I loved the many natural textures and colors that were used throughout the Center. It felt very modern, but not cold.

"Sun Li as Marcello." In a Chinese Opera House you have a lot of Chinese opera stars playing Italian roles!

An underwater walkway. You are walking underneath the artificial lake.

Marble from just about every province in China has been used for the floors.

Part of the "olives" in the Olive Hall (on the right), and part of the exterior titanium-glass construction on the left.

Just up from the Olive Hall. On the left you see two of the three large theaters that are inside.

More marble floors and wooden panels.

We were not the only visitors...

The music hall.

Brazilian wood on the ceilings in awesome bold patterns.

It would not be complete without pictures of famous people on the wall.

One of the bar areas (or at least, that is what I think it is).

Lights are off, the show is on! (We'll, sort of)

In het nederlands: Vandaag wat foto's van een bezoekje aan het "concertgebouw" van Beijing. Een mooi gebouw vond ik, maar kijk zelf maar wat je er van vindt!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two Days Till Heating Season

It is Fall in Beijing, which means the leaves are yellow, the sky is (occassionally) blue, ...and houses and buildings are really cold.

(The picture on the right shows the Fall leaves at the Western Academy of Beijing. Thomas (in black on the left) is playing soccer with his friends during recess.)

Most buildings in Beijing use central heating, which means that your heat comes from a centralized point, with heat probably supplied by coal fired power plants. So for you to have heat in your house, this central heating needs to be switched on. Where we live -- in the "Beijing Riviera" compound -- heating got switched on about two weeks ago, but that is an exception. In most other places the heating will be turned on only on November 15.

So for the last two weeks, I've been dragging my winter coat everywhere. Not to wear it outside (though that is necessary too some days), but mostly to wear it inside. The building where I take my Chinese classes for example has been super cold. If it wasn't for the small space heaters and my thick coat, I wouldn't have survived.

Here's an article from last year about this issue: "Chinese Freeze Before Gov't Turns on the Heat."

Today, we have only two more days to go till the heat goes on. I think I can make it!

In het nederlands: Beijing en veel andere plaatsen in China hebben centrale verwarming. Ons huis is in een aparte wijk (met veel buitenlanders) en gelukkig kunnen we hier nu al zo'n twee weken de verwarming aanzetten. Maar de rest van China wacht nog met smart op 15 november. Dan zet de overheid de centrale verwarming aan.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

And then there are the bathrooms

I thought I would start you all off with a nice topic today...going to the toilet.

Going to a public toilet is not a particularly pleasant experience anywhere in the world, but in China especially can be quite an event.

First of all, for most toilets you will need to squat. Yep, that's right, bend those knees and squat above a big hole. In a lot of shopping malls and offices you now also have "regular" toilets, but most often you'll find yourself hoovering above a hole. I am actually finding that the squatting is not bad at all. In fact, it can be fairly hygienic, as long as you are not wearing open shoes.

Then, what will likely happen is that you will either walk in on someone, or someone will walk in on you. Even if the locks are working, people just don't tend to use them much.

Also, sometimes you have to pee together. Or at least, you have to deal with the fact that you are squatting in an open space and someone else might join you. This actually doesn't happen much at all in Beijing--all the large buildings have nice individual bathrooms, but sometimes when we're out on a hike or at a gas station, we come across those bathrooms.

A few weeks ago, for example, we were visiting a temple in Chengde and there was only a shared toilet: one space, two holes. I really had to go, but the women in the shared toilet just kept chatting on her cell phone - squatting and chatting. So I finally gave up and joined her. I don't even think she noticed, but it was certainly aware of it  :-)

Oh, and then finally, you usually can't throw your toilet paper into the toilet--the plumbing is just too bad and it will get stuck. Instead, you throw it in a little waste bin behind the toilet. Not a bad idea, but you can imagine what that waste bin looks like by the end of the day. "Gross" is usually an understatement.

Here are my 10 tips for going to a Chinese public toilet:

1. Never wear open shoes - there's just not much of a border between what is toilet and what is the bathroom floor.
2. Bring your own toilet paper or tissue.
3. Slowly open the door of a stall and peek if anyone is inside.
4. Avoid looking at the waste bin.
5. Secure your cell phone - make sure it does not fall out of your pocket when you squat!
6. Remember to throw your paper in the waste bin (but again, try not to look too much.)
7. Use your foot or elbow to flush, and be ready to jump and run to avoid the flood.
8. If there is soap, check if there is water before using the soap.

See, it is not that hard! Just be prepared and you'll do fine.

Here you can squat.

And here you can sit!

Typical entrance of a public toilet in a hutong area. Mind you that this one was actually pretty clean. This bathroom is likely also the only bathroom for people in this hutong. They won't have a private one at home.

You can look at this waste bin. This one is not so bad.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wet Market

One of the English words I learned shortly after moving to Beijing was "wet market." Perhaps that in some foggy memory cell this word had been stored, but when people mentioned the "wet market" to me I wondered if I had to bring scuba gear. I guess that happens when you grow up in a land with supermarkets.

Turns out "wet" just refers to the fact that lots of animals and other products are still very fresh at these markets. "Fresh," as in "still alive," and thus wet (if you are a fish or a crab).

On my recent birthday, the one where I turned 21 again, my friend Meike and I went to a cooking class, which was tied to a visit to a local wet market. I loved this market. It's just amazing to watch all this beautiful food. Some of it is pretty strange for our appetites - pig feet anyone? Cow stomach? - but the more I see these things, the more I start appreciating them. (From a distance though, mind you. Not yet on my plate.)

(OK friends, a small admission: I have long ceased to be a vegetarian, and while I still don't eat much meat and do not like how the consumption of animals hurts ecosystems and endangers species, I do quite enjoy seeing those markets and seeing food presented and purchased in such an honest way.)

After this moral interlude, here are some pictures. See for yourself if you can "stomach" one of these markets...

Meat extravaganza. It's almost a puzzle game to try to match each shape with an animal...

Any kind of vinegar, oil, or spice you would like. (Well, Chinese only.)

More noodles than the eye can see.

Beautiful garlic. (I think!)

Colorful display of fruit and veggies. Most if not all of Beijing's wet markets are inside now. It's better for hygiene and also more comfortable shopping during the cold winters. Inside a huge space lots of small businessmen rent a stall to display their goods.

Animal feet.

Ground beef or pig feet - your choice.

More meat on display. Admittedly I got a bit carried away with the pictures here. I guess the omnivore in me was catching up.

I thought these were a bunch of old rags sitting in dirty water. Turns out they are stomach. I am not sure how to prepare stomach.

Kidneys or liver? Check your biology book.

Chunyi Zhou, with whom Meike and I did the cooking class. Here she shares some background information on soy sauces and vinegars for Chinese cooking. For more information about Chunyi's great cooking classes, see

The pretty courty yard in the Li Shi hutong where Chunyi holds her cooking classes.

The kitchen. About a million times cleaner than the average restaurant kitchen in Beijing, if you ask me.

Shanxi vinegar. One of the best to buy.

Everything is cooked with the wok.

In het nederlands: Voor mijn verjaardag - al begin september - gingen een vriendin en ik op Chinese kookles en naar een lokale "wet market", een markt voor verse groentes, fruit, vlees en vis. Sommige produkten ken ik niet en soms als ik ze herken (varkenspoten, koeienmaag) heb ik weinig interesse om ze te eten, maar het bezoek aan zo'n markt is wel echt een belevenis. Na de markt gingen we naar de kookschool van Chunyi Zhou om Chinees te leren koken.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beijing Meteorologists

Recently I already reported on the weather forecasting magic that happens in Beijing (see this blog post). A few quotes from the boys this week just cracked me up (in a sad way) about the pollution in this place.

Simon: "Ah, I can see it is a field day, we can play outside today!"
(After seeing blue sky in the morning).

Thomas: "Let's go see if it rained. If it rained, it is going to be a nice day."
(When opening the curtains in the morning. If it rains, the pollution is washed away.)

We see how clear it is on the way to the bus stop. (If you look carefully, you can see Simon park his bike, just behind the tree.)

Amazing sky above the bus stop. If you see clouds (instead of a haze) you know it is going to be a great, great day.

School bus and blue sky.

Beijing meteorologists on the bus.

In het nederlands: Er is toch veel vervuiling in Beijing. Het is niet altijd even erg en er zijn veel mooie dagen, maar het feit dat je kinderen erover nadenken of ze wel of niet buiten mogen spelen op school - iets wat niks met regen maar alles met vervuiling te maken heeft - geeft toch te denken.