June 22, 2010

Smuggy Dayz

Muggy + Smoggy = Smuggy

How can I describe summer days in Beijing?  Smuggy.  How can I describe the way that smuggy weather makes you feel?  Smuggy.  I pulled the above picture off the web, but it's a pretty good depiction of a bad day in Beijing.

Smog is something that we have become more or less accustomed to.  If I can see the building next to our apartment I often won't even notice that it is smoggy out (they call it "fog" here, there is no word for smog).  I had a friend say to me recently, "I heard that in Canada it doesn't get foggy like this."  I confirmed the rumor.  Then she asked me to look out the window and asked if I would consider that day's weather to be foggy.  The fact that I even had to consider it when the edges of all the buildings were unclear, shows how normal this has become.

However, summer time takes it to a new level.  In winter, it is often very dry and there may be a wind blowing.  Wind is the key to relieving smog.  It simply blows the smog away to another place and voila, you have semi blue skies.  Rain sometimes works, but it is less reliable than wind.  By contrast to winter, summer time is humid and all of the moisture in the air can trap the smog over the city for days on end.  

We are all familiar with muggy days where it is grey outside but very humid and very hot.  However it becomes far worse when you feel like the sky ends just above your head and then closes thickly and motionlessly around your sweaty body in 35C weather.  It has the capacity to make you feel really, really gross and affect your mood.  Last week was one where every day was smuggy and where the whole family was moody and headachy.  It wasn't really an option to go outside because of the air, but the boys had their usual amount of energy.  Today was moderately bad, but then the wind came!  Hurray!  

The sad truth is that if you are going to live in Beijing, this is the price that must be paid.  I comfort myself with the thought that some people have lived with it for their entire lives while I must only withstand a mere three years.  If I want to enjoy my time here then I can't spend hours feeling bothered by this. Nonetheless... there are just some really bad days (daze).  

I think that my reunion with fresh air will be a truly amazing experience!

June 17, 2010

The Tragic Life of Seafood

This fish right here is a very classic example of the tragic life of seafood here in China. Technically, I shouldn't refer to this particular fellow as "food", but regardless of that fact, food or un-food sea creatures alike all seem to meet the same horrible fate here. For your size reference, this fish is a good 15 inches long and quite fat.

As James and I peacefully ate our lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant the other day, we were startled by the sound of a wild thrashing and clattering. We looked over to see this fish in the midst of his death throws on the floor of the restaurant. He had just thrown himself out of his tiny aquarium (a shared home with nine others just like him), and knocked himself in the head on the table next to the aquarium. As he thrashed about on the floor, he traveled further away from the aquarium. James and I watched him twitch for a few seconds before informing the waitress of what had just happened. She calmly walked over to the fish, picked him up with her bare serving hand, plopped him back in the tank and went back to her serving duties.

James and I watched him skeptically as he floated belly up above his unenthusiastic friends who were lining the bottom of the tank. He failed to revive and his body eventually sunk lower and lower in the tank until he rested ontop of the other still-living fish. The other fish and the waitress were equally oblivious to the situation and I had to wonder how it would take before he was discovered.

This actually happens fairly frequently here. I have wittnessed this same thing on a number of occasions. Once I was at the grocery store when a fish that was for sale threw himself so far out of his tank that he landed in the middle of the aisle of people (can you imagine how gross it would have been to be unexpectedly hit by a flapping, wet, dirty fish when you are innocently doing you are doing your grocery shopping?). All of the customers, including myself, stopped and formed a circle around the fish, watching with mild interest as he flailed wildly. Eventually he stopped and we all went on our ways. However, I was curious to see how long it would take for a worker to pick the fish up off the floor, so I hung around the area for a while. It took at least five minutes for someone to come and get him.

You also often see turtles for sale in shallow buckets on the floor at the market. They range in size from silver dollar size to frizbee size. They are stacked two or three high in these low buckets and inevitably there are escapees that emerge at about ten minute intervals. It is very interesting to watch them. You could employ someone full time just making sure that the turtles don't get away (or just buy a bigger bucket). But since they don't have someone doing that, the turtles meet other alternative ends. For example they often die in the sludge troughs that form in the cracks in the concrete, or you might discover you were about to step on a comletely dried and desicated turtle somewhere (this happened to me the other day). I always feel sorry for these poor turtles. They probably think that they are making a daring escape back to the beach where they were born only to end up in Chinese foot traffic!

However, I'm not sure if I feel worse for these sea creatures, or for the ones that get sold into golf ball sized key chains! It is fashionable for girls (especially between 15 and 25) to have a gold fish or a live turtle in a ball that hangs on your keys or off your cellphone. I can't imagine they last very long, especially when you consider what it would be like to be bound to a set of keys. The clanking that would echo in the water as the keys get shoved in the dark purse. The volume, the vibrations and the lights of the cellphone. The swinging and dangling. And that is all not to mention the non-oxygenated environment. Did they invent anaerobic fish? The more I think about it, the more I hope that they die very quickly.

On a new topic, my friend here in Beijing took me glasses shopping. What a new and different experience it was! My experience of glasses shopping has always been extremely frustrating and irritating. Firstly, buying glasses when you can't see yourself in them and don't have contacts is a guarentee for a bad purchase. Secondly, they are very expensive. Third, you need to have the doctor check your eyes which means waiting for an appointment. Well, all three of these problems were non existant here. Beijing has me sold on its eyewear! We went to a massive warehouse that was filled with only glasses outlets. Dozens and dozens of competitors.

The first pair I saw were the ones I bought. To some people this is foolhardy, but when you hate shopping all day as much as I do it's a bonus. They examined my eyes right then and there. As for price, my friend only had to hint at us leaving after the first quote before they gave me it to me for a third of the price they origanlly asked. She also bargarined pretty hard. To summarize, I got a decent pair of prescription sunglasses (savings splurge) for around $35 including the lenses. You would pay at least ten times that amount in Canada. All of my memories of glasses shopping in Canada fizzled away into nothing. That being said, I will not be surprised if they break. However, I do consider myself to be a seasoned glasses wearer (17 years), and so I do have some idea of quality. Going with friends who can bargain is a great idea. The above is a picture of the two of us on the subway. We have a lot of fun together!

This is just a cute picture of the boys in the bath. You can see that Jude's head wound has progressed to red scar (which looks better or worse depending on whether he is crying or not!)

June 13, 2010

Excuses, Birthdays and Festivals

So I know it has been a while since posting, but I have been battling a number of blogging problems. They may not seem like problems, but here they are!

1) We finally have a proxy which allows me to blog on blogger instead of emailing the website. I was so excited about finally being able to make the blog look nice that I haven't wanted to blog until I have time to add all kinds of pictures and do some nice formatting. Well, my sad discovery as I have kept putting it off is that I have actually just become lazy! Why do fancy formatting when you can blame your bad formatting on having to email? Well, now I have no excuse!

2) I was also waiting until I had some more interesting pictures to put up here. But alas, my easiest form of taking pictures (my cellphone) died in a cup of water in the somewhat recent past. You may suspect (and rightly so) that there is a story behind this cellphone/cup of water combo. But having had to explain the situation to James and live through his endless clever jokes, I will keep the details minimal. Husbands can be quite ruthless when it comes to their wives and electronics. I will only say that at least my story is not as embarassing as my friend's (who dropped her cellphone in a Chinese public squat toilet! Imagine explaining that to a husband!). My new phone is much cheaper (James being reluctant to spend much on a "doomed" phone) and does not have picture capabilites. Suffice it to say that it is much harder to lug around a sizeable camera AND still take discrete photos.

3) Its been a very busy two weeks

4) I sometimes wonder if our news or my strange thoughts are all that interesting!

Now that I have written out my excuses, here is our lineup of newsworthy news.

Ari celebrated his fifth birthday last Tuesday, June 8. We roasted chicken wings, boiled jiaozi, layered a blackforest cake and invited his two newest heros for supper, his Australian and New Zealand English teachers. Unfortunately James only took a video and no pictures. Ari recieved a number of gifts. One of the more notable was our Chinese neighbors who randomly called us and asked what Ari's shoe size was, then showed up half an hour later with a new pair of expensive silver-bullet looking shoes for him. We were appreciative of course, but I knew that if I didn't quickly repay them back someway, we might be looking at offending them. So, the next day I promptly went to buy their daughter a Disney Princess toy camera. Waste no time!

Aiyi bought him a train that drives by itself and has sensors to know when to turn to avoid hitting something. The thing is about 1.5 feet long and maybe six inches tall and four inches wide. Such toys she buys! However, I suspect that it was less costly then Jude's car.

Recently the boys have experieced a bit of success at hiding toys under their pillows when they go to bed so that they can play with them "unbeknownst" to us. I don't always think to check their pillows before putting them to bed. Well, the other night as I put Jude in his bed, I paused to wonder why his pillow was sitting at a 45 degree angle. I moved the pillow and sure enough, there was the massive train and Jude with a very cute and mischeivious smile. I think he knew it was probably a lost cause when he hid it since he didn't even protest when I took it away, but even that small slice of hope must have been enough to inspire it. He must be a "glass half full" kind of guy!

This Wednesday is a national holiday for the Dragon Boat Festival. Last week, I started hearing mutterings about having Monday through Wednesday off at Ari's school. It seemed to me that the school would have officially notified us for such a long holiday. However since they have been known to post small square notices in Chinese characters on the huge gate and not provide a translation for us illiterate folk, I decided to ask his teacher.

So this is how it goes. Because Wedesday is a holiday, the school decided to have regular schooldays on the Saturday and Sunday beforehand so that they can instead take Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off. So essentially the kids work for seven days straight just so that they can have three days off straight. If we have a Wednesday holiday in Canada, everyone thinks its great because you only have to work two 2-day stints and then it is the weekend again. It seems a little presumptuous to me to assume that everyone in the country wants to have school (or go to work for that matter) on the weekend when this is normally not the case. Oh well, if that is how they do it, then they can go ahead. In our case it just means that Ari gets a 5-day holiday! James and I were not about to give up our weekend relaxation after a busy week just to cart Ari around when his school decides to hold class on the weekend. Have fun guys!

Another piece of news. Ari taught himself to whistle... I wish I were as excited about it as he is. It is our new constant companion! At least he hasn't started whistling BINGO... yet.

That is all for now!