Something about lanterns and love

Once in a while, it’s nice to be in a crowd of people, and drown out the difficulties of day-to-day life amongst the noises of friendship. I don’t usually do so well in big crowds, but this day wound up being pretty fun, or pretty full. After a rather steamy and fairly delicious hotpot dinner, we went to Gui Jie (簋街) near Dongzhimen (东直门), a cute little street filled with restaurants, shops, and street food. The organization of this evening was a bit weird, the whole not-eating-at-Gui-Jie even though it’s essentially a food street and that’s the only thing to do there. I suppose the lanterns were pretty though, and offered up not only something to look at, but a nice backdrop for the atmosphere that was developing.

I would have to name this as the start of the weirdness that has been pervading my life for the past few days. I’ve been having equal parts epiphany, equal parts existential crises, and somewhere in there, an overwhelming sense that I’m not in control of my own life. Not to say that the night wasn’t fun, but I’m starting to doubt whether fun really equates to happiness for me.

We wound up at Sanlitun again, since it was so close, Smuggler’s, my usual hangout, one of the divy-est bars in Beijing. A few beers and a few laughs brought about the end of my week. On my way to Michael’s afterwards, I wound up in a covered bike, one of those little three-wheel deals they have for weaving through traffic. No cabbie was in the mood to pick me up and I figured I could do with some air on the one and a half block long journey. The wind was rough though, awakening, and refreshing, not what I wanted, but perhaps what I needed.


Location: Beijing, China


Literally one of the least interesting places I have ever been. It had little to offer and little of interest. I suppose I had some adventures with my cab driver though. He insisted on taking me out for a quick dinner before dropping me off at my hotel. And when I refused, he simply went to the restaurant anyway and ordered us food. He was about one standard deviation cuter than your average Chinese male, but I was still rather hesitant taking a meal with a strange dude I had just met. Absolutely beguiled by such service, I saved his number and promised to have him take me to the airport on my return flight.

Back to why I was in this frozen, wintry, underdeveloped dump of a Chinese city (I’m spoiled by Beijing, I know). We were doing a training camp for about 30 Chinese girls who were interested in going abroad to the States. They were a cute and friendly bunch, and we managed to get a lot of excitement and participation out of them. And I can’t say I did too bad for my first outing; I was subject to torturous hours posing for pictures with each recruit. Their English levels varied dramatically, from bad to worse, from mediocre to ridiculously excellent. I got to hone some of my non-existent acting skills — we did skits demonstrating several problem scenarios — which were very well received.

Would I come here again? Not if I were paying my own way. However, I am quite looking forward to my up-coming business trips. I’ll be in Guangzhou in late April doing a longer training camp for a bunch of foreigners, and in Qingdao in May for our quarterly meeting. Nonstop, nonstop!

Location: Changchun, China

Heading on back to Beijing

It’s official! Well, it’s been rather official in my mind for a while, but putting a signature down at the bottom of a page makes things real. I am moving back to Beijing for the next six months and working as part of the expat team of HHS center. This trip already feels so different. Instead of blindly traipsing across half the globe to an unknown place, I’m going to a city that I feel I am starting to know, filled with people, places, and things at once foreign and familiar. My excitement just cannot be suppressed.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

In other news, temperatures in Ellicott City have been above 50F/10C every day this week (I guess I don’t hate this place too much), and I’ve branched out a new food blog, dubbed Another Bite. I’ll be posting sloppy food photos, errant humor, reviews, slices of life, and other non-traveling/photography related news there. More to come soon, of course, you know, counting down those 7 days till my flight back to Beijing.

Location: Ellicott City, Maryland

A whole lot bigger

Never in the world could I have imagined enough scenarios about my move to China to have anticipated this one. I’ve been here a week and a half, and I’m still a bit lost in the clouds. Beijing is gigantic, happening, and muggy beyond belief. My first week here was marked by various sorts of detoxification and toxification: sweating from all pores and orifices, readjusting to a formally hospitable environment, and dealing with dirt, dust and tragically underrated air pollution. Yesterday, the air finally cleared, the temperature dipped below 30C, I could see mountains in the skyline, and even some stars at night.

…I am a sucker for these things.

I have to say, for all my recourse, that I rather like it here. My host mom, who the neighbors have dubbed Zhang Zong (since she owns a variety of businesses and is always running busily between her stores) and I have affectionally dubbed Ayi, is pretty fantastic. She’s gorgeous, and successful, and busy: the way I like life to be lived. She has a thirteen year old son Baofeng, who I drag most places with me to prevent becoming lost. This was all expected, and described in detail by HHS Center, but what I did not expect was the largeness of the extended family I had moved into. On the first floor lives Xiaolu Ayi’s family, who are also hosting an au pair: Matthias, from Germany. Our families hang out all the time; in fact, I can barely count the days in which we haven’t seen each other…because there aren’t any.

The other day, Ayi took us out for a welcome dinner, and we ate hot pot, even though it’s the middle of summer and no additional steam source was necessary.


Location: Beijing, China