Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Recently there's been an overwhelming amount of posts on this blog that had something to do with Thomas. (Well, it happened to be his birthday in February, and then he had that crazy week with his art show and other activities.) So today I thought I would just post some homey pictures of Simon, the gege (哥哥 or big brother) in the house.

And if you ever feel my updates about Simon are lacking a bit, just check out the kids' own blog about his school work.

Walking our neighbors' dog at Shentang Yu Valley during a recent hike.

Playing soccer on a Saturday morning. (Before we moved to China I had this crazy idea that the boys would be playing soccer with Chinese kids. Instead, most of the kids' sports activities are run through a couple of expat-focused organizations. The soccer on Saturday is part of Sports Beijing. Chinese kids can certainly join in, but there is an overwhelming amount of blond kids running around...)

The new Koeman?

Insect art and proud artist.

Soccer art. The young artist himself credits his mom for his success. (Or so she would like to think!)

In het Nederlands: Vandaag wat fotootjes van Simon! Die is inmiddels ook al acht, en druk met school en sport. Voor z'n schoolwerk houdt hij ook z'n eigen blog bij.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Earthquake Readiness

Believe it or not, but in between all the fun trips and hikes, there's actual work going on here in China. The World Bank website recently posted a nice write-up of one of Paul's projects in Sichuan Province. The article is titled, China: Restoring and Improving Education in Earthquake-struck Areas, and gives a good overview of the need for some investments in this remote area. Here's an example paragraph:

"Damaging over 2,600 schools in the Longnan area, the earthquake four years ago set back an education infrastructure already in need of help. In the aftermath of the quake, a safety assessment rated more than 62% of Longnan’s school buildings as “in need of repair or worse”. The half million students and over 26,000 teachers had to make do with classes in prefab shelters or temporary camps."

For some pictures of Paul at work, check out these two earlier blogs posts about Three Years After the Wenchuan Earthquake and And What Do You Do Again?.

In het Nederlands: China: Restoring and Improving Education in Earthquake-struck Areas op de website van de Wereldbank is een kort artikel over een van Paul's projecten hier in China. Het vertelt over het gebied Longnan, in de provincie Sichuan, waar de Wenchuan aardbeving in mei 2008 bijzonder veel schade had aangericht. Inmiddels zijn veel scholen weer herbouwd--de gebouwen zijn mooier en beter dan ooit tevoren--en ook de leraren zijn beter voorbereid op een eventuele volgende aardbeving.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yunmengshan National Forest Park

Is it possible to climb a mountain by accident?

Last Saturday we decided to go on an easy hike to a part of the Great Wall. The plan was to hike for about an hour and a half, have lunch at an ancient watch tower, and return to the car.

Instead, we ended up climbing all of Yunmeng Shan, Beijing's second largest mountain.

It turns out that there must be two places with similar names. There is a Yunmengshan National Forest Park (also known by its catchy title, 云蒙山国家森林公园 or Cloud Covered Mountain Park), and--supposedly--there is a Yunmengshan Great Wall Ruins Park.

For those of you looking for the Great Wall Ruins Park, I cannot help you. I don't know where this park is, or where the ruins are hidden. It's just that my hiking book says it must be somewhere up north from us.

What we did find, online and for real, was the beautiful Yunmengshan park. It is a gorgious place and there were actually a couple more small trails than just the one to the top. But we couldn't resist, so along with many others, we made our way all the way up Yunmengshan's 1,400 meter (4,600 feet) high peak.

(An earlier blog post, Saturday Temple Hike, also describes the problem of hiking in China. You never know where the trail is, if there even is a trail, if it's open today, or possibly already developed into a shopping mall. For other Beijingers interested in this hike, I'll add: Take the JingCheng expressway North towards Huairou, exit 15. Follow Rt 111 North in the direction of the town of Liulimiao. You might also set your GPS to Latitude 40.566667 or 40° 34' 00" N, Longitude 116.7 or 116° 42' 00" E).

The boys in orange make it to the top. We salute you Queen Beatrix!

Si Ming at Yun Meng Shan

The view near the top is stunning. Glad we made it!

It's good to have a sign to tell you where to go...

We're definitely not the only ones making it up the mountain. Lots of people were scattered across the viewing platform to recover from the hike and eat some lunch or snacks.

On the way down... (I didn't actually manage to take pictures on the way up.)

Mountain guide.

You can see how fast the path goes down -- note the guy just in front of Simon.



The path was easy to follow. Never too scary. This time I did not fear for the boys' lives (as I do on so many other hikes).

I rest my case.

The peak we climbed was even higher than this  :-)

View back to the starting point.

Cool climbing down.

Excellent facilities.

Little store with snacks and drinks. We were soooo happy to buy a cold ice tea and a "Kekou Kele" (Coca Cola)!

In het Nederlands: Afgelopen zaterdag hebben we een super wandeling gemaakt. Wel lang en wel veel klimmen, maar het uitzicht was de moeite waard. Als nou alleen nog maar die spierpijn eens ophoudt...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unlucky Number Four

Friday the 13th came and went last week, which reminded me that one of my great contributions to China is my willingness to pick up all the Chinese unlucky numbers as part of my bank account number, phone number, or license plate. The number "four" is considered particularly unlucky here and our car's license plate includes two of them.

And why is this "four" so unlucky, you wonder? Well the Chinese word for "four" is  四, which is pronounced as sì (tone going down). This sì sounds almost the same as the Chinese word for "death," which is 死, pronounced as sǐ (tone going down then up).

Would you want a phone number that sounds like 139-1101-917-death? Or a license plate seemingly ending in ""?

And it's not only the unlucky "four" in my phone number that makes it bad, but also the lack of a decent amount of "lucky" numbers, such as a "two," "three," "eight," or "nine." All those "zero's" and "one's" are not doing much for me I believe.

Nice driving with a license plate that sounds like ""

The unlucky car in its natural habitat. I think I actually took this picture to show you that it's not always a pollution day here. The sky was awesome and very blue. What now unlucky numbers?!

In het Nederlands: Het cijfer "vier" is nogal een ongelukkig cijfer in het Chinees. De "" van "vier" (zeg "si" en laat de toon van hoog naar laag vallen) klinkt bijna hetzelfde als "" van "dood" (dezelfde "si", maar de toon gaat van hoog naar laag en terug omhoog). Je kan je misschien wel voorstellen dat een nummerbord dat klinkt als "...dood-dood" hier niet zo geliefd is. Voor ons maakt het natuurlijk niet veel uit (wij hadden wellicht meer problemen met het cijfer 13), dus het cijfer "vier" wordt relatief vaak aan de buitenlanders gegeven.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Trip Down South: Bangkok

Recently, through a lucky chain of events, I was able to join Paul on a trip to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. What a place! It is a big city with lots of traffic, but still it seemed fairly easy to get around--at least if you are willing to use a combination of trains, taxis, motor bikes, bikes, and boats. You want to cross the river? Just pay 3 baht (a few cents) to hop on the ferry. Tired from biking? Carry your bike onto the Sky Train. Oh, you are hungry? Here's your fresh mango, right here on the street!

I spent one day biking through the city, on a Co van Kessel bike tour. (Believe it or not, this is a Dutch guy who has now been organizing bike tours for about 30 years. Apparently about 90 percent of his customers is Dutch. )

The next day, I mainly walked through the city (though I also hopped on a ferry and got a massage...) to see some of Bangkok's main sights. On the last day, Paul and I spent a couple hours at the Grand Palace and then strolled past some more temples and through neighborhoods.

(Barely) lifting my bike up and into the train. During the bike ride we had to get our bikes in and out of trains, onto escalators, and into a boat. No wonder ninety percent of Co's clients are Dutch I thought. We are the only ones who put up with this kind of thing and in fact even enjoy it. :-)

We biked on a lot of these narrow paths along and above the water. I stopped and got off to let this motor bike pass.

Our tour lead through some of Bangkok's outskirts. Luckily the city has (until now) protected some green space.

The "icecream truck."  (De ijscoman!)

Locals hard at work.

On the boat. Our tour guide (in yellow) was Thai, but spoke a very interesting blend of English and Dutch.

Getting on the Sky Train.

Be sure to get up for monks!

Biking through all the lovely alleys in Bangkok we also crossed through the "recycling neighborhood." Never in my life have I seen this many engine parts. The whole neighborhood was kind of wild, with thousands of parts neatly organized in gigantic piles. I can barely organize my paper clips, let alone a pile of parts.

A temple in Bangkok's China Town. I almost felt home again.

Wat Arun. This picture doesn't really do it justice. The whole temple is decorated with pieces of broken Chinese pottery. Back in the days, ships from China to Bangkok were carrying Chinese pottery as ballast, but the pieces have been put to very good use.  

The whole outside of the temple is covered with Chinese pottery pieces.

Temple man.

Temple woman.

View across the Chao Phraya River from Wat Arun towards the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

What a city. Still the view from Wat Arun.

Anna & the Giant Buddha at Wat Pho.

Bigfoot pales in comparison to this guy.

After my visit to Wat Pho, I hopped in a cab to go to the Bangkok National Museum. I learned a lot about Thailand's history (occupied, but never colonized!) and found that of course the Dutch had a long history in the area. (Is there any place we haven't been?) Notice the "The dwelling of the Hollanders" reference on the map.

At the museum.

Catching up with a friend!

After all that walking I needed a rest at the pool.

Bangkok by night. This is the view from the Sky Bar, all the way at the top of the State Tower. If you know Hangover II (the movie, not your Saturday morning last week), you might recognize the view...

In het Nederlands: Ik was laatst een paar daagjes met Paul in Bangkok. Dat kwam toevallig zo uit en de kinderen waren blij dat ze even uit logeren mochten. Een leuke stad vond ik. Als je ooit gaat moet je ook maar eens met Co van Kessel gaan fietsen! :-)