Beijing in Bloom

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I was hoping for a beautiful weekend to start Spring Break, and my wish was granted! We took full advantage of the weather by heading to the Botanical Gardens with thousands of other Beijingers. Our driver, Mr. Shi, did quite well getting us there quickly by driving on the shoulder and making a new lane. (this is pretty common in Beijing) Its located in the Haidian district, in western Beijing, along the mountains. Many locals brought tents and found a grassy knoll to camp out on for the day. They also strung up hammocks between the trees to take a nice snooze. Wish I had thought of that…with the fresh air, and the scent of the magnolia trees blooming, it is a perfect getaway from the city.

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Sophie and Hollis had some bubbles, and this little girl made friends with Hollis and followed us around for quite awhile. Those are her parents following behind, amused.

It wasn’t until we were leaving that I noticed that we were the only foreigners there at that time. No wonder we had people following us with Nikons and iPads set to video. I caught one of our paparazzi outside having some corn on the cob for lunch. He laughed.

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Capturing our paparazzi
Capturing our paparazzi
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Eggs marinated in soy sauce for sale on the street
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Meat and fried egg skewers for sale outside the Botanical Garden

 

 

 

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Signs of Spring in Beijing!

Signs of Spring!!

 

Ahhh, Spring begins on the calendar this week, and by interpreting what I see happening around me, I think I can unplug my space heaters and humidifiers. Forsythia is blooming all around. Green buds are on the trees. Two types of pollen is flying around clogging sinuses everywhere. I bought a hose this week at the Flower Market near my house. First, I selected the type of hose. I went with the middle quality, made in Italy. Then I told the lady the length needed….10 meters. Then it was cut and I also purchased two caps for the ends, so that I could attach it to the outdoor faucet. When I got home, I took Hollis with me to spray the winter dirt out of our courtyard. She caught on to the technique, and gleefully took over from me. Today, I wanted to tackle our patio in the rear of the town home, but when winter started, the workers came to detach our faucet. So we simply filled buckets and poured water on all that black dirt. I had a spare mop, and did a little mopping near the door too. This was good fun for Hollis, who poured water on our patchy plot of grass that sprouted last Fall. Next week I’m going to toss some more seeds on that and hope for a green carpet in a few weeks. I’m rambling…so later this afternoon, the workers showed up with a tuk tuk full of faucets and re-attached ours in the back! Spring “must” be here!

One of my new favorite haunts is the Panjiayuan Antique Market, or the Dirt Market. Its pretty much a flea market, with some indoor shops. Its a huge market. I have yet to see the entire place. Fake “antiques” abound, so I wasn’t even attempting to decipher what was real or not. I picked up a bone locket, some Chinese paintbrushes of good quality, and a moon cake mold. Negotiating here is tough, and its a little rougher than some of the other markets. One man haggled me into buying some (fake) Chinese coins, and then followed me around, wanting me to buy his entire coin book. Bu yao! (not interested!) Luckily I had a friend with me and we wandered over to the police officer. I really just bought the coins as souvenirs for the girls. I would definitely recommend keeping an eye on your purse here and being wary of your surroundings.

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This weekend I attended my usual yoga class and then followed it with an Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse workshop at the Yoga Yard. I learned about the three constitutions: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Since Spring has started, it is time to move from the Winter “Vata” diet to Spring “Kapha” diet. Translation: eat pungent, bitter, and astringent foods such as leafy green veggies, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cucumber, green tea, beans and SPICY foods. Honey is a good sweetener for this time of year. Good spices to use in cooking right now are: cayenne, ginger, mustard seed, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and black pepper. These are all purifying herbs that stimulate digestion and eliminate toxins.

In other news, its exciting to know that Michelle Obama and her daughters are in town, visiting schools, the Great Wall, and Peking University.

 

Zhoukoudian, the site of Peking Man

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A week ago, we drove about an hour and a half from Beijing to Zhoukoudian, where man, specifically, homo erectus, lived 700,000-200,000 years ago. Between 1929 and 1937, teeth, tools, crania, bones, and fossils were discovered. The site was re-inhabited during the Upper Paleolithic by the Homo sapiens. This isn’t a site that most tourists visit, but it was a very real glimpse into the life of early man. This is something that Sophie has learned about in school for the past three years. She knew more about the details than we did!  We were able to walk through one of the original natural limestone caves. It was very easy to visualize early man and animal life within the landscape. It was an amazing visit, and not one that you could have anywhere in North America, where man first appeared 50,000 years ago. Its fascinating to be in a place where man and beast lived so long ago…and astounding to think about how short our existence on earth will be. 

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One of the caves of Peking Man
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Reconstructions of the skulls found at Zhoukoudian

 

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Grrr….we wouldn’t want to come across this scary saber-toothed tiger!

What’s black and white and cute all over?

Last weekend we visited the Beijing Zoo to see the pandas! They really are very cute and cuddly bears. They almost look like stuffed bears that have come to life! There are three bears at the zoo. They each have their own environment, since pandas are solitary creatures, except during mating season. One was indoors, eating lots of bamboo; the second bear was the elder and wiser bear, who moved slowly and contemplated life; and the third was happy and playful outdoors on its play structure. It was the highlight of our weekend, for sure!

Basking in the sun
Basking in the sun

 

Following our zoo visit, we went to the clothing market across the street. We thought that it was a one floor market in a huge building. However, after talking with my tutor about it, I now know that it is actually four buildings on all sides of a bus depot. Summer told me that this market serves all the other markets in Beijing. Since we only saw one part of it, I’m a little skeptical about that. I didn’t really see the things there that most foreigners shopping for. It looked more like a market where locals shop. I didn’t see any foreigners there at all. I would recommend that if you visit, you choose one aisle and follow it to the end! We got a little bit lost in it.

Clothing market vendors having lunch
Clothing market vendors having lunch

There is no negotiating, and none was needed, because everything was so affordable. Most clothing items are priced at 50 RMB, or $8. My oldest daughter found a pair of purple and orange Adidas, for about $40, which is still a bargain. Though the market is 30-40 minutes from our house, I’m definitely planning to go again to hunt for hidden treasures.

In other news, I was happy to read that Michelle Obama and her daughters will be in Beijing and other parts of China later this month. She will have a travel blog on the White House website.  Its a good time to visit China. Its starting to warm up a little, and I can sense that Spring will be here in a few weeks. The little pond in our neighborhood is starting to thaw and there are some buds on the trees. We have been using the Tuk Tuk less and riding bikes to school more often. The other day Hollis rode her Skuut bike to school when we picked up Sophie. She was so proud to park her little bike next to Sophie’s big one. Now I just have to teach her road rules. This is not so clear cut in a city where drivers neglect to use blinkers. When turning left at an intersection, it is common to start a 2nd left turn lane just to get around those pesky cars taking too long to turn.

Finally, I have to add a comment about haircuts in China. I’ve written about this before. I have had my hair cut at my neighborhood clubhouse. I have had a stylist who does not yet have a salon, come to my house. Today I went to this simple salon at a small mall near my house. Its called West Hair Salon. My husband and daughter have had their haircuts there, but I was hesitant. Well, I will be going there for the rest of my haircuts in China. Why, you ask? The reason is the scalp massage post shampoo. You get a 30 minute scalp massage, and I almost fell asleep. I think I melted into that shampoo chair. I forgot about the 20 minute wait to get to the shampoo chair. I forgot about the gray skies of the past few weeks, the illnesses going around our house, the grocery store hassles, the internet lockups, all the little stressors were gone. A little bit of heaven included in your $25 haircut price. This is China.

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