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BIG MOVE

11/23/2009

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My blog has moved! You can now follow my Beijing experience at www.btay200.blogspot.com or by clicking here.
 
 
A few more photos from the Summer Palace event. Apparently we were on Chinese TV as well.
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Last night was Halloween, but the weather must have mistaken it for the Christmas holiday season. What started as a drizzle soon turned into a steady rain. Before long, the rain drops became a bit heavier and whiter. And then it started to snow.

I woke up to find about 3 inches covering the ground. Winter was officially here. It was nice, because only two days before I'd bought my heavy winter jacket and a few extra sweaters. All I needed was a scarf, pair of gloves and boots. 

I set out looking for a park to see if anyone was building snowmen, or Snow Mao's perhaps. But after searching for only 30 minutes the cold began to get to me and I retreated to my apartment.
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I haven't celebrated Halloween in about three years. And I haven't dressed up for the holiday for even longer time. But this year I almost completely forgot about that special day when kids young and old dress up and run rampant trying to acquire as much candy as possible. 

Last week, while grocery shopping I came across a small Halloween section, with Scream masks and plastic pumpkins. Feeling compelled to promote the American holiday, I bought a few things and took them into my office.

I really wasn't aware that Halloween was celebrated much outside the United States. My friends from the UK and Australia said it was picking up in their respective countries but still wasn't as embedded in their culture as it is in America. 

The mall across the street from my apartment was holding a Halloween party. The locals seemed to enjoy having their photo taken next to a giant pumpkin and the Scream killer. A few people even wanted their photo taken with me. I guess my "costume" as an American was pretty convincing.
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At various points throughout the year, BJR will take its foreign experts on sightseeing trips around China and sometimes to local attractions in Beijing. On Saturday, they took us to the Summer Palace, but not just to see the old dwelling of previous emperors. We were taking part in a friendship competition for foreigners. 

The event had been explained to me as a field trip. It eventually evolved into an organized event for foreigners from Beijing. I later heard someone mention that it was a competition. Two days before the event, one of my office friends used the word "race."

It turned out to be, as we soon found out, a "long walk" around Kunming Lake, where the Summer Palace is located. 

The weather was beautiful - not too warm, not too cold and essentially perfect walking weather.

We were given goodie bags beforehand with an assortment of gifts. We were also required to wear light blue vests to set us apart from other tourists in the area, and perhaps to prevent people from taking boats across the lake to finish the walk quicker.

It took us about two hours to walk around the lake. At various points, signs with "Come On" written on them pointed us in the right direction. Perhaps they were also meant to inspire walkers, but to me they seemed a bit bossy. 

At the end we were given free phone cards (the event was hosted by China Mobile). The Summer Palace area was great - another one of Beijing's historic landmarks and simply huge in scale. I'll have to make it a point to get back to see the whole area and not worry about speed walking around the perimeter of the nearby lake.
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Here are a few more photos from the Great Hall event I was invited to last month. The man giving toasts is the president of CIPG.
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I received a card in the mail yesterday. It was delivered to my work address. At first, I thought it was a mistake, but then I thought "How many Brandon Taylor's can there be in China?"

It was a birthday card from my aunt, and a most unexpected one indeed. My birthday this year had been dominated by the e-card, since mailing letters, not to mention packages, can be expensive.

It was a standard birthday card but it made my day. I showed my Chinese colleagues, who had been unaware that I had had a birthday, since it fell over the Mid-Autumn Festival week when we didn't work.

My one co-worker said I was very lucky to have family that cares about me.

Yes, I am lucky. Very lucky, I said.
 
 
The Fall weather here is just as crazy as it is in the States. A week ago temperatures dipped down to near freezing, only to rise again to about 70 this week. What makes the situation really interesting is that no matter how cold it gets, the Beijing authorities do not turn on the heat until November 15.

One of my colleagues jokingly (I hope) said: "Yes, until that magic date (Nov. 15) you have to find ways to survive - it gets quite cold."

My room in the attic, with its layer thin insulation, or lack there of, warms up during the day, so that when I go to sleep, it's relatively comfortable. But by morning, I'm usually shivering.

The only good thing about the cold is the fact that all the mosquitoes that had caused me many an uneasy night are now dead.

Coming from the Coal Region, and having spent four years of enduring the weather of Central Pennsylvania, I think I'm more than ready for the winter ahead. I just need to get out and buy a new winter jacket, gloves, Timberland boots and maybe even a scarf.

A former colleague from China Daily is searching for a sherpa jacket, or one of those Mongolian pure wool sweaters. I'll have to follow his lead on this.
 
 
I finally joined a gym yesterday. Conveniently located across the street/highway from where I live, the Powerhouse Gym has all my needs - a weightlifting area, relatively clean locker room and, as an added bonus, a tennis court.

It also has a pool, but that adds a few hundred kuai to the price of a membership.

Like all things in China, the price of the membership had to be bargained. A starting year membership, including full access to the pool, costs about 2980 kuai ($438). Swimming would be nice, but not necessary. Also, the presence of another gym in the area, with a much cheaper membership price, cut a bit more from the steep fee.

I settled for 2009 kuai ($295) for the year, including 10 anytime-use pool passes, a towel and a lock.
 
 
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BLOGGER'S NOTE: "Wo" is Mandarin for "I" or "me"

This week has been chock-full of birthdays. My roommate, Vivian, had a birthday on Saturday, the People's Republic turned 60 last Thursday and I hit the big two-three (23) yesterday.

My roommate Vivian, her boyfriend and one of her co-workers took me out to a Muslim-type restaurant to celebrate the night before my birthday since they all had work the next day. Afterward, they sang "Happy Birthday" in English and Chinese and presented me with a massive cake.

But after the disappointment of spending most of October 1 inside watching the celebrations on TV, I didn't want a complete repeat of indoor festivities on my actual birthday. More importantly, I also didn't want to spend it alone.

I decided to call one of my friends and former co-worker, Marisha, at China Daily to see if she wanted to go to the China Open, the equivalent of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, on Tuesday. We'd been planning to go but hadn't decided on a day. Tuesday would be perfect. I joked about getting to see my tennis idol Andy Roddick.

We bought tickets for ourselves and another China Daily worker, Mike. Exclusive seating would have cost us about 300-600 kuai (between $50 and $100). We went for the lower end tickets, costing only 100 kuai ($14).

The seats for the Center Court weren't bad. The players on the tennis court weren't the minuscule ants I'd thought they would be, since the map of the arena I'd seen on the China Open's website made it seem like our tickets were in the nose-bleed section.

The first match started at 11 a.m. between Marat Safin of Russia and Jose Acasuso of Argentina. It was a quick two-set match. I thought our tickets were only good for one game, and as I was getting ready to leave the loudspeaker announced that the next player would be played against "someone someone" (whose name I couldn't hear) and Maria Sharapova. I sat back down. Holy crap - Sharapova?!?

Soon enough Sharapova came out to cheers and shouts of "Maria!" The three of us remained seated. We thought we'd stay until the next group ticket holders ousted us. But no one showed up. The match between Sharapova and No. 7 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus lasted about three hours, with Sharapova winning.

The courts cleared again and the loudspeakers proclaimed two more names. 
Lukasz Kubot of Poland and... Andy Roddick. "Oh God," I thought. "Happy Birthday to me."

Andy must not have known it was my birthday, because from the get-go he played a lousy game. He just wasn't there. He missed shots and forced others into the net. He even smashed a racquet and yelled at one of the towel people. Losing in two sets, Roddick exited the court and my birthday was all but ruined.

It was going on 5:45 p.m. and we figured there would be one more match before the evening games, which began at 7 p.m. As a new set of line judges came onto the court the final two players were announced: Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus and Raphael Nadal. So my birthday wasn't completely ruined after all.

The match was intense, as Baghdatis took Nadal to three sets, almost forcing him into a tie breaker in the third set.

After a full day of watching tennis, it was finally time to go. Now freezing cold, since the sun had gone down and I hadn't anticipated staying the whole day, we made our way to the exit of the National Tennis arena.

All in all, and despite Roddick losing and being away from my friends and family, it was a great birthday.
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Photos courtesy Mike and Marisha