Landscaper’s Challenge: Beijing

People who know me well know that I don’t have a green thumb. I think my thumb turned black sometime when I went back to work after Sophie was born. There was not enough time in the day to give attention to the plants. Unless it was a cactus, a houseplant wouldn’t survive in my house past 6 months. Now that I am here in Beijing with some time on my hands, I decided that we should get some plants. We went to the Flower Market last week to purchase some hanging pots for our front gates. The market was indoors, and in addition to plants, also sold aquarium fish, turtles, fountains, and random other items, such as bamboo computer keyboards. The flowers and bonsai were gorgeous and we had so much fun walking around looking at everything for sale. 

When we got home I realized that we would need 1-2 additional flowering plants for our  hanging pots. The next day, during Sophie’s Mandarin lesson, Hollis and I walked out to the main road outside our subdivision, where a flower seller has set up permanently. I knew she carried the same type of plant and I had my eye on this gorgeous taller shrub with purple leaves. It was time to pull out the Pleco Dictionary app on the phone. I managed to convey to the woman that I wanted her to deliver the purple plant to my home. “Ok” she says, and loads it onto her bike cart to bring it “right now”. Hollis and I walk on the sidewalk, and she follows us on the road. We have to give her access to our subdivision, as it has security gates. When we get home, the flower seller places the plants where I want them, pots the flowers, and waters them. Mission accomplished!

Our other “challenge” is in our back patio. We have a small plot of dirt in the middle of our paver stones. My original idea was to order a load of river stones to cover the dirt and then the girls could play there and set up a rock garden. (We had lots of fun playing in Uncle Andre’s rock garden in NM!) However, when I called the landlord rep, she said, “no, grass would be better”. “Who will cut the grass?” I asked.  “We will send the gardener to cut it once a week.” She replied. 

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The Problem Area

She arranged for gardeners to come yesterday. I wondered if they would show up with seed or sod. They tilled the dirt and tossed seed and watered it. They left a hose here, and I have no idea if they are coming back to check on the seed. Does grass even grow in July? I wonder how they will cut the grass? There isn’t a back entrance to my patio…they need to walk through my house. Probably a scythe. 

I would say that I got things DONE this week!

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Flower Market
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Flower Market
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The gardeners at work.
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Flower Delivery via bike cart.
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“After”
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Gorgeous purple plant! I am not sure what it is! Bonus points if you know!

Random question for my readers…any advice on using the French Press? Our brew is a little weak. I plan to purchase ground beans from Starbucks this weekend, where I think they can grind them appropriately for a press. Any other suggestions? 

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What happened Sam Walton?

Hot noodle bar
Hot noodle bar
Various imported foods
Various imported foods

Today the girls and I ventured out with Mr. Shi to Walmart. There is one about fifteen minutes from our house, and I was hoping that I would find some American brands/imports from the US. Some of the things on my list were: Tom’s children’s toothpaste, Quaker rice cakes, Kind bars, Almond Milk of any brand, tahini, sesame seeds. One of the first things that caught my eye as we walked in was a noodle bar serving hot noodles. Then we came to a huge candy department, which appeared to be mostly Asian candy, although there were some Hershey Kisses there. We didn’t buy any, since we don’t usually buy much candy at home. Then we looked through some aisles of imported goods, where you would find cereal and mustard in the same aisle. There did not seem to be much sense of order at all. A friend back home asked me if you could find American foods, and to answer her question, I think you can, but it is quite a scavenger hunt, going to multiple grocery stores to find different things. Spices are hard to find. You can find seventy varieties of soy sauce in any store. 

Next up, we walked though the bread department, where you could find sliced bread as well as French baguettes as well as pastries and Asian delicacies. Then there was a large tea department, where you could bag your own loose leaf tea and vacuum pack it. There was a stand with dried fish and meat. How would you eat a dried fish with the skin, I wonder? 

We also saw meat behind the deli counter, packaged meat, and meat simply open in a glass refrigerator with tongs for self serving. No lid on this glass compartment–no food standards here! We didn’t see any organic vegetables in Walmart. There was a huge selection of mushrooms. You could also buy rice and salt and some herbs in a bulk department. I didn’t see sesame seeds. When you buy vegetables in the store, you take it to an attendant to weigh and price it. In Walmart, there was one such weigh station, and the customers have no concept of a line. I was forced to push myself around people and plunk my lettuce on the attendant’s scale. There is no sense of common courtesy or any attention to order at all. 

So overall, I was pretty frustrated by this trip. I didn’t find any of the imported US items I was looking for. Even in the beauty department, I didn’t recognize many brands and if I did see a brand I knew (such as colgate) it was made in China, and who knows what the quality would be. Most of you know I don’t shop Walmart in the US, and I really don’t see much reason to shop Walmart in Beijing. Sam Walton’s original goal of selling American made goods is gone. 

Dried meat and fish stand
Dried meat and fish stand

Open air meat
Open air meat

Mushrooms of all kinds!
Mushrooms of all kinds!

Quail eggs
Quail eggs

Yoga in Beijing

This past Saturday I went to the Yoga Yard in the Sanlitun District for my first yoga class here. I researched yoga in Beijing before we left the US, and a friendly teacher from the Kripalu Center recommended this yoga studio. After looking at their website, I realized that this would be a pretty awesome place in Beijing! Many teachers from the US come over here to teach at this studio and there are often weekend workshops. Donna Farhi is coming in November! 

I showed up for the 9 am class, which is normally taught by one of the co-owners, Robyn Wexler. There was a sub named Sue on this particular day (many people vacation during the month of July). I was the first person there, so I got to look around a bit at the locker/shower room and the yoga mat storage room. In the lobby they have Be Present yoga pants and other clothing and books for sale. The sink basins are beautiful porcelain bowls with traditional Chinese painting on them. In the studio, there were three oscillating fans on the ceiling. I chose a spot directly in the air flow. (there was NO a/c) Sue showed up at 9am, and  the level 2 class began with a rather vigorous hip opener that would have sent my yoga teacher at home to the roof. (hmmm…not sure about this, but I approach every yoga class with an open mind.) We transitioned into a moderate hatha flow and I was really glad for those oscillating fans. There was some unintentional “hot” yoga going on. THIS is yoga in Asia! Oh, did I mention that Sue spoke in both Mandarin and English? I actually liked this, because it gave me a chance to tune her out and focus on the poses and breath. There were about 16 students in the room, which was full. The teacher walked in the middle of the mats and simply found a bare space on the floor to demonstrate. I really liked the balance poses that we did and the hip and side openers against the wall at the end. It was an excellent heat generating class for summertime and I will definitely go back. Image

What should we do on an indoor day?

Monopoly Jr.
Monopoly Jr.

Ah, the ever changing “weather” of Beijing. We had stellar weather earlier this week and now at weeks end, it is pretty crummy. Yesterday was an indoor day. The sky was smoggy and gray low into the trees.

This is how we filled our time:

Breakfast of cereal, oatmeal, and fruit for the girls; green smoothie for me. 

Strawberry shortcake playtime

Cutting up magazines for collage and “poster making”. Those magazines in Mandarin from the hotel did come in handy after all!

Monopoly Jr. for 1 hour until Hollis got bored of it. (thank you for that game LeeAnn and Al!!)

snack 

indoor silliness

lunch

nap

1 hour of Kids Yoga with mommy (lucky kids, eh?)

Creative art time with toilet paper rolls

dinner of rice and lentils and Daddy comes home!

 

 

Strawberry Shortcake in the closet nook

Balancing trees
Balancing trees

Triangle pose
Triangle pose

recycled cardboard toys
recycled cardboard toys

paper truck for Hollis
paper truck for Hollis

Settling in

Monday, July 15

        Today was a celebration of small successes and overlooking setbacks. I have learned to measure everything before I buy. I found the correct size fitted sheets for Hollis’s bed at IKEA. We found new pillows that don’t smell toxic. We found a tennis racket and balls for Sophie to use for practice. Hollis found a kick board for swim practice. We still waiting for our internet and phone connection at home. To obtain this, original passports are required, and ours are sitting in an office somewhere while our resident permits are processed. We check email at restaurants…I feel very disconnected. To cope with all of this, I have my yoga practice. I am as grounded here as I was in Raleigh with the same earth and sky. 

            It is a very rainy day today! We woke to find a big puddle in our front vestibule. The maintenance crew quickly solved this by drilling a drain hole in the side. Sidewalks are full of puddles as well. Traffic is congested. I was happy to see the girls engaged in creative play with their new pool toys in the living room. 

We still await our household goods shipments. We don’t expect them until August, so we are living with what we brought in our nine suitcases. We have a few books and minimal small toys. We do have some art supplies and coloring books. I would recommend that people moving to Beijing pack some basic spices, preferred toiletry items, clothing and detergents to last a month to six weeks in their bags. Quoted delivery times were not accurate. 

Tuesday July 17

 Today the Air Quality index was nine! This is excellent! Clear blue skies without any clouds. I am working on the daily routine for the girls, so we began with quiet creative time after breakfast. Sophie drew pictures and Hollis cut and glued a collage. Then we walked to the tennis courts where ironically, on this low pollution day, we found the landscapers spraying pesticides with a hose on trees, shrubs, and grass. We left and walked to the playground where the air was more pleasant. I cooked dinner at home today for the first time! What an accomplishment! We had a gas leak when we first moved in, and that was fixed so I could cook. I am very pleased with the efficient response to repair requests by our neighborhood management office. 

I would say that the girls are adjusting well, although each day there are moments of frustration and anxiety. We have five weeks before school starts, so this time is important to gain confidence in our surroundings and local lifestyle. As for myself, I will be ecstatic when we have internet and phone set up at home, so I can email and skype friends and family more easily. 

 

Welcome Home!

Tomorrow we move into our townhouse! It has been fun staying at the Crowne Plaza for a week, but we are all ready to get settled in at home. Earlier this week we met with the realtor and landlord representative to look at our place and to hand over the keys. The keys (all twenty of them) were presented to me in a beautiful wooden box with velvet inlay, all nicely labelled. We have a little glass foyer where we will leave our shoes. There is a small shoe/hat stand in the foyer. I love the entrance, which has dark wood and a traditional-looking glass wall. There is a coat/shoe wardrobe in the entrance, which should hold all of our outdoor accessories. The kitchen is small, but has ample storage. The oven and countertop are brand new, as the previous owner let us know of some malfunctions with those. We have a full size refrigerator, which is smaller than US standards, but should be just fine for our needs. 

Yesterday we attempted to go shopping at IKEA for linens and such. Our driver, Mr. Shi, picked us up and we started out. Foreigners in China cannot drive for one year, so we have a driver to take Brian to work and to drive us on longer outings. We drove past a lot of construction, which seems to be everywhere, on our way to the 5th ring road, which is a major highway around Beijing.

All of a sudden, Mr. Shi pulls off into a gas station. I’m not sure what is wrong. He’s making a phone call. I pull out my phone to try to pull up the navigation app. Maybe he’s lost? Finally, he hands me his phone and an English speaking woman explains that he cannot drive on the highway today because his license plate number is restricted. This is an effort by the government to control traffic. Ok, no IKEA today. We go to another local store…B and Q. I walk in and it looks like Home Depot. The girls and I begin exploring and sure enough, we do find some household items. I buy an electric kettle for making tea, some mattress covers, a fleece blanket that Hollis picks out, and trash bags. Did I mention that Mr. Shi shows up and pushes the cart for me? I am so surprised! Culture shock has arrived!
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First Impressions of Beijing

We’ve arrived! We landed around 2:30 pm yesterday afternoon. The flight was long, but manageable. The children handled it VERY well. Phew! That was a big concern for me prior to the trip. Hollis took her nap and slept at night about five hours. Sophie slept about six hours at night. It was a fourteen hour flight from DC. I slept off and on in the middle seat between the two girls. I caught up on some American comedies and House Hunters. Probably the last I’ll see for a year. Not a bad thing though, in my mind.  🙂 The best activity for the girls were wiki stix! Sophie made glasses for all of us! Hollis also really loved the watercolor pages that you can paint with q-tips. These are excellent for travel! 

I think that the information that people shared with me about Beijing and what I read online and in books made me have an extreme view of China before I arrived. As we approached the Beijing airport in the plane I was surprised to see so much farm land near the city. The tracts were neatly outlined by tall trees. It reminded me a little of France, actually. The Beijing airport is beautiful and modern. There are HUGE ancient sculptures and art specimens throughout. It was not too crowded when we arrived. People were very kind to me and offered to hold my roller bag handle on the airport train since I was holding Hollis. On the train, the voices speaking Mandarin all seemed to blend together. My brian immediately focused on the man speaking English. Mandarin lessons are moving to the top of the priority list! 

The landscaping is precise and gorgeous. Even our hotel has a zen type garden with fountains, meandering paths, and bridges over streams. We walked about ten minutes to a nearby mall/grocery (BHG) to buy bottled water. That little excursion was enough for me in my jet-lag haze. I’ll explore the grocery stores more this week. I bought a bottle of detergent for hand washing clothes (like woolite) and it was about $40. The bottle will last a long time though. 

This morning I woke up and did some yin yoga, which I think will by my practice for the next few days, since I’ll be in a fog and have really sore muscles from flying and carrying all that baggage! In yin yoga you practice a few poses and hold them for about five minutes each. It allows the muscles to really relax in each pose. It can be quite meditative as well. 

The “weather” was good yesterday with an AQI (air quality index) of only 58. We saw the mountains in the distance. Today it is at 186 at 9am, so we’ll probably take our masks with us on our afternoon excursion to Sanlutan district. 

The breakfast buffet was comprehensive and I tried the rice congee with soy milk and a little sugar. The girls tried some donuts, but they were not like American donuts, they were lighter and less sweet. Again, not a bad thing! Image