Monday, November 10, 2014

A New Color on the Spectrum: APEC Blue

Thank you, President Obama, for blue skies this week.

This week, President Obama and other world leaders are in town to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings and Beijing has added a new color to the color spectrum: APEC Blue.

Because of the meetings, the government has issued a long list of restrictions to reduce emissions and traffic in the hopes of keeping the skies clean and the streets empty. As a result, the boys' school and many offices are closed for the week, in effect creating an "APEC Holiday" for everyone. (The kids, presumably, are doing two days of virtual learning from home to make up for lost time.)

The government measures include a limit on traffic, with only half the number of cars driving on one day (based on the last number of your license plate), and the other half the next; a reduction in the number of spots to see a doctor, to reduce traffic but also ensure hospitals are empty and ready for possible sick dignitaries; and even a halt on the burning of incense to honor to your ancestors. (See this article for more.)

The measures are working, so the skies are "APEC Blue."

Of course, considering that smog and pollution are pretty constant around here, this pretty blue sky that's currently over the city is in fact raising some questions among residents, who are wondering why this blue sky--which apparently CAN be created--is not always here for them to enjoy.  (Read, The Sky is Really Blue But It Isn't for Us.)

Here is APEC Blue, yesterday at the boys' school. While Thomas played soccer...

...Simon totally photo-bombed my "APEC Blue" shots.
Here's the APEC Blue over the Great Wall. A friend was visiting and we went up to Huanghua Great Wall, or the Yellow Flowers segment of the Wall. On the way there, we had to pass a security checkpoint and show our IDs because the actual APEC meetings are happening in this general area.
APEC Blue & selfie
Some firewood ready for the winter. You probably wouldn't be allowed to burn it today because of all the restrictions.
A recent APEC sunrise above our house.
(The Halloween spider still survives in the bushes next to our house.)
Some family pictures, of Thomas and Simon enjoying the beginning of their "APEC holiday" and Thomas on Skype with a good friend in The Hague.
To see how the family is doing during the APEC holiday, the best way is actually to follow Thomas' super active blog, Thomas Awesome Blog, where he carefully documents his activities (as part of his homework) and even shares other goodies, such as math strategies. :-)
In 't Nederlands: Het is hier opeens vakantie! Een paar weken geleden hoorden we dat de school dicht moest vanwege de top van de Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation die deze week in Beijing plaatsvindt. Wereldleiders zoals President Obama zijn hier en omdat het toch echt niet de bedoeling is dat zij de stad in de vervuiling aantreffen (die wij elke dag zien) zijn er veel maatregelen genomen om de emissies te beperken en het verkeer te halveren.  Hier is een artikeltje op de NOS Website: Smogaanpak Peking: halve stad vrij. De school van Simon en Thomas is dus ook dicht en vandaag doen we aan "home learning", oftewel thuis schoolwerk maken. Op de foto's zie je iedereen genieten van de onverwachte vakantie en de "APEC blauwe" lucht die deze week boven de stad hangt.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blue Sky Morning Run

Hello dear reader,
As I am sitting cozy inside with my laptop, outside the pollution particles are quickly stacking up again. Simon was supposed to have a soccer tournament today, but it was cancelled because of the 375 "hazardous" pollution level.
As you can see in the photo, our local grocery shop sells masks at the check-out counter, along with condoms and some drinks. I guess that's all you need in a rush, really!
So with this dreary, gloomy weather outside, it is about time I post some fun pictures from a recent run. It was a beautiful Thursday morning last week, three days before the Beijing marathon. So I decided to stretch my legs and go for an easy run.
This is just at the edge of our "foreigner neighborhood." The building on the right is actually from a golf court. Some people play there, others just pass it on their run :)
After the golf court, I usually run through a small orchard. Well, I don't really see the orchard, but I run through this little group of buildings where the farmers live. I guess the tea is almost ready!
Just out of the little farmer's compound, my journey continues past a more secretive complex of buildings and parks. I am not allowed in the park, and armed guards are standing at the gates. This giant lion probably knows more, but he is not telling me. Rumor has it that family members of some high-ranked party officials of China's Communist Party live here. Great for them to live so close to me!
I follow the lion's gaze and run out towards the big road. (The road through the farm field was kind of a short cut to go to this big street behind my neighborhood.) Ooh, look out, a school is coming up. It's Simon and Thomas' school. It's great to run while they are busy building their brains!
Some guys at work in the middle of my running trail. After I pass the school and a couple of shops, I turn right to zip past a little shopping malls. I think the flags are for Halloween. (They might also still be from last year's Easter.)

Basically I am still running in a big square around my own house. On the picture on the left, you see the view as you gaze back across a still empty field towards my own "villa" neighborhood. The field is empty, but for how long? Things change here overnight. I could come here tomorrow and it might be a five-story apartment building. There are also always funny cars parked everywhere. It looks like a greenhouse, but I think this contraption is to shuttle people and materials, not plants.
Did I mention it was a blue sky day?!? Wow. One good thing about all this pollution is that you absolutely learn to treasure a blue sky.

I turn right, along with this public bus. Still running in that square around my house.

But here things get exciting! I leave the big old square and turn left into this little village called Maquanying. Nice little gate to remind the innocent pedestrian where he is going.
I skip the bathroom stop and run a couple meters into this street. Oh well, I might as well tell you, I am having so much fun taking pictures that there's not much running going on anymore. But I do take little runs between the shots.

From the main street I turn left into a little alley. And this is where time starts to stand still and I just love being in China. 
So many colors and things to see!
Notice the mop on the right--one thing I actually don't understand about China is why there always have to be so many cleaning products out on the street. I don't want to be nasty, but China is not a squeaky-clean kind of place, so what on earth is everyone doing with all these mops and brooms everywhere all the time?
A village still-life.

I thought that the color of the door was so awesome, I had to take a selfie. The door's clearly up for some new paint, but Europeans like it that way, nice and rustic.


I think at this point I am getting lost in all the streets. The desk chair is a clear marker though -- if I see it again, I know I have gone full circle.

Oh, we're here!

Left at the shoes...
And right after the cute kids...


OK, now I am getting obsessed with laundry.
In addition to the cleaning products.

Just missed a wedding: The character on the right is the sign for double happiness. It's the Chinese character xi (喜), but double, so it's double-happiness for the married couple. For a divorce, you only need scissors.

Call me maybe?
Eventually I do find my way out of the maze and pop out onto the street (the one with the public bathroom in the beginning). I check out some clothing and then turn right, to head back home.

Some restaurants. The bottle of soy sauce (or is it vinegar?) reminds me of a funny story. Internet groups in China often use the phrase "I was just buying some soy sauce" to basically say "no comment," or "it doesn't concern me." The phrase comes from an interview with people on the street about some scandal, when one man commented "This has nothing to do with me, I was just buying some soy sauce!" The phrase went viral and now is used a lot in online forums.

It's hard to imagine, but just next to the little shopping street is this field of corn. I had never even seen it before myself, so you are getting first dips!

Would you like some egg on your jian bing?
Big smiles from the shoe lady, who has her shop just outside the big supermarket.

I admit it is an obsession. (But really, at the bus stop?)
Yi weihai zuguo wei chi, which I think means that if you harm your homeland (zuguo), you are in disgrace. Can't exactly understand what the guys on the right are doing, but it looks bad. The Chinese Mr. Bean on the left appears to be meditating. That, or he has a stomach ache. Luckily the other piece of street art (photo on the right) shows a more manageable objective: a yoga tree pose.

After my quick education on the vice and virtues of disgracing myself and hurting the homeland, I run (step) out onto the main road behind my neighborhood: good old Xiangjiang beilu, which means something like the "sweet-smelling river street (north)." I don't think they got that name from the little canal on the left.
No bus or bike for me today.
Lions bigger than the forbidden city watch me from across the street.
Back in my street...and home sweet home!
It was a lovely run. My own little lion peers out of his polluted eyes.

Speaking of pollution... hhm, even on my blue sky day the pollution index was 100, or "moderate." In other places that is cause for alarm, but we call it a good day. Oh well-- did you enjoy the run from the comfort of your own chair and while inhaling clean air?
In het Nederlands: Een uurtje rennen (maar vooral lopen) door de buurt. Het was een prachtige dag, al bleek het bij thuiskomst toch niet zo'n heeeel zuivere lucht te zijn.