Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fashionably White

Last weekend I spotted this lovely young bride on the Great Wall. She is wearing white, which is considered fashionable and western-style. Red would have been traditional. Apparently lots of brides now marry in white, and also -- rumour goes -- most spend more on this kind of photo session than on the wedding it self.

More wedding.

I was fashionably dressed in white myself that day.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu.

Snapshot of the Wall from inside one of the watch towers.

In Chinese, the Great Wall is called "Chang Cheng," long wall. I think you can see why.

In het Nederlands: Fotootjes van de Chinese muur. De bruid is niet in een traditionele rode jurk, maar lekker in een "Westerse" witte trouwjurk.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dust (and other stuff)

For more than a week now, I have been coughing, coughing, coughing.

I don't mean to bother you with my minor medical issues, but it did--hypochondriac that I am--make me wonder if I developed a new allergy or if the Beijing dust has already permanently clogged up my lungs.

Although I don't always feel like I'm living in a dust bowl--there are lots of nice days to be had--it is fair to say there is quite a bit of stuff in the air here (see also this earlier post about air quality).

This month has these huge clouds of seeds drifting through the air, kind of making you think you have upward-going snow in April. In the picture above, Simon is holding one of these clouds. (This is seconds before Thomas grabs it out of his hands...never a dull moment.)

In addition to those weird white clouds, there's of course also the regular dust, maybe from the desert, maybe from all the construction sites, or maybe from both, who knows. I often wear my sunglasses just to avoid the dust.

So today I learned in my Chinese class: “Wo de sangzi bu shufu” (my throat hurts, or literally: my throat is not comfortable.” Well, I can tell you, I think it's time to move on to some new vocabulary.

(There is "DUST" written here somewhere, if you can see it for all the reflection...)

In het Nederlands: Er zit hier altijd behoorlijk wat stof in de lucht, maar deze maand lijkt het nog erger dan anders. Ik hoest nou al een week, maar weet natuurlijk niet zeker waar dat van is. Op de eerste foto zie je ook wat voor grote witte zaad-pluizen hier deze week door de lucht zweven.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

High Speed Rail to Tianjin

This little post is a trip down memory lane. These pictures of the Beijing-Tianjin High Speed Rail have been gathering dust in the Blogger archive, but today they will, finally, be revealed to you.

With China rapidly developing its rail and especially high speed rail networks--there's literally construction dust everywhere--we wanted to get in on the fun and take a short trip on one of these new and super fast trains.

So...we decided to have lunch in the neighboring city of Tianjin. Like Beijing, Tianjin is actually a city-state, a city that is not part of a state and directly falls under the national government, a national central city so to speak. The whole trip of course was kind of crazy: we could have driven to Tianjin in maybe 90 minutes, but instead we drove 45 minutes to the train station in southern Beijing, waited 30 minutes or so for the train, and then zipped over to Tianjin ("oooh, we are going so fast!") in 30 minutes.

Well, that last part was cool, with the meter in front of the train telling you are going 230 km/hr, 240 km/hr, up to above 300 km/hr. Sweet. Though the kids were less excited: they probably had expected something more like a roller coaster, after all the hype from their parents. The train didn't even make a corkscrew loop--just a straight shot to Tianjin: Boring!

Here are pictures of the train and some of Tianjin's famous sights:

Waiting at the Beijing South Railway station until we can go down onto the train platform. You can buy your tickets on the spot--there are trains every half-hour, so no need to buy them in advance.

Beijing South Railway station: Lots of seats and a few out-of-place palm trees.

The high speed train.

The view from the window--no way of telling here how fast you are going.

Just like a fast bus really.

If you push it, it goes faster.

It was still the middle of winter, around Chinese New Year. "Bloody cold" I might say.

Three brave men (see Paul, Simon, Thomas on the walkway) going on to the ice to cross the river from the station area towards downtown Tianjin.

There's always another way to cross the ice.

Lunch was the main reason to come here, and it was definitely worth it. Tianjin is known for its baozi, which are steamed bread rolls with a filling of veggies or meat. Delicious.

This would be how they are steamed. Each of those boxes has a baozi.


Baozi up close and personal.

I recently read that one (or the main?) reason for stacking up all the baozi is that you can steam all of them at once, which saves a lot of energy for cooking.

We managed to do a little sightseeing beyond the baozi. Tianjin once upon a time had a lot of missionaries and European visitors, so now they have a cathedral. I am sure Beijing has one somewhere too, but this is the first cathedral I've seen since coming to China.

Nice floor.

Also in China, the cross is carried. This picture was part of Simon's effort to snap a picture of all the "Stations of the Cross." With our many visits to protestant churches, he'd never seen the graphic images that children in Catholic churches (me!) grow up with.

Another snapshot of the church. OK, we hadn't seen a cathedral in a long time.

I rest my case.

Back out on the streets.

Like anywhere else, you have a city and people shop.

Brothers in arms.

More shopping.

Another shopping street. I just want to make sure you get a good view of Tianjin! (Truth be told: There is another part of Tianjin with more European buildings, but after all the walking to get to the baozi and the cathedral, we decided to leave that for some other time.)

In a lot of cities and touristy places, you can hop on these buses for a couple kuai (couple Chinese Yuans, maybe 70 cents) and ride from one end of the mall to the other. For the kids' usually the favorite part of a walk downtown.

Coca cola rabbit. It was just around New Year's after all. (2011 is the Year of the Rabbit.)

Fireworks' leftovers. Just a typical street view this time of year.

Some more walking around along a cozy Tianjin street :-)

In the back of the pedicab going back to the train station. I correct my earlier statement: THIS is really the kids' favorite part of a city walk.

Back at the station, we actually spend the longest time trying to find the platform to board our train back to Beijing. But when we do, only another 30 minutes later we emerge 120 kilometers to the northwest, back in our old hometown: Beijing.

In het Nederlands: In februari--inderdaad al ettelijke maanden geleden--zijn we een dagje naar Tianjin gegaan, een stadje zo'n 120 kilometer ten zuidoosten van Beijing. De belangste reden om te gaan was niet zozeer de stad zelf, alhoewel er lekkere baozi te eten waren en een mooie kerk om te bezichtigen, maar we wouden zo graag eens met de nieuwe hoge snelheidslijn.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bohai or Bust

Last Sunday, we went up to Bohai Township near the Great Wall to participate in the 2011 Bohai or Bust bike event. It's a fundraiser for the elderly of Bohai, and also a great opportunity to ride around the beautiful area: lots of hills--only two were too much for me and I had to walk up, lots of little villages, trout farms, chestnut orchards, and far-way views of the Wall.

I thought the short movie about the event was pretty funny (watch it here). (It helps if you've seen a couple scenes from Chinese movies...)

Here's the cast of characters (and some views):

Blue boy.

Green boy.

Papa bear.

Mountain mama.

Biking in Bohai.

Some guys sitting around.

Nice roads for biking. The traffic was not bad at all, just a few cars now and then. We also left early for our ride, so we barely saw the other bikers. (Plus, we were on the routes for 10 and 25 kilometers, not 60 or 90 kilometers as some were doing!)

Little village playground where we had a rest. Simon stretched his legs on the swings. Can you spot the Great Wall in the distance on top of the hill?

View back to the village from the playground.

Snapshot of a village street. I have to admit I saw far more cool things on this bike ride--like intereseting murals, statues, cute village streets, running street dogs, and people hanging around drinking tea on a Sunday morning--but I could't stop each time to take a picture. Sorry!

Another stopping point. The boys climbed up this tower. Toward the top it didn't seem so solid anymore, and everyone headed down quickly.

At the foot of tower was also this little girl with both her parents and grandma. I included this picture not only for the view, but also because it is actually so typical to see the parents--like this father in the picture--doting over their son or daughter. Without a sibling (thanks to the one-child policy) there's lots of attention to be had.

Another view from the base of the tower.

The boys' bike team. Both were riding cool tag-alongs attached to our mountain bikes (all rented). At this point, we've probably done about 35 kilometer and are heading back to the starting point.

Back at the Roadhouse (part of The Schoolhouse complex of eco-tourism venues near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall).

Back at the Roadhouse we eat a big bowl of well-deserved and tasty dumplings.

We're not the only ones getting food.

Inside a music band played, the kids roamed around, and several officials spoke about the fundraiser.

It definitely was a great event. Who knows, we might be doing it again in 2012!

In het Nederlands: Afgelopen zondag zijn we wezen fietsen in het bergachtige gebied vlakbij het Mutianyu gedeelte van de Chinese Muur. Ontzettend mooi, al weten m'n benen nog precies hoeveel heuvels we opgeklommen en afgezoefd zijn. De jongens vond het ook leuk, maar moesten wel af en toe even de benen strekken bij een speeltuintje of een klimtoren. Het fietstocht was een inzamelingsaktie voor de senioren van de gemeente Bohai.