Today I begin my record of our time in China. Hope you are amused…

John and I moved here on the 4th of July, 2010. We brought the kids: Ty, Jake, and Victoria for the month of July. The hottest month on record for Beijing. (The day we landed it was 41 degrees Celsius!) With China's long recorded history, this is really saying something. Plus side: The air is so moist here that wrinkles look healthy and full, about 5 years younger. Way cheaper than Botox!

It's always difficult to describe in words the differences living in another country.

 
We live right in the heart of Beijing in a high rise apartment. It was built by an American company, so we have comfortable amenities like filtered water in addition to bottled water, full sized appliances (this is a big deal when you're trying to dry your jeans in the dryer. Took me 4 hours in a smaller one before!), and large rooms. We live in an embassy district, so most of our neighbors are English speaking and used to moving every few years, so they are pretty friendly; and we are starting to make friends.

Here's a bit about what we've been experiencing for our first month+:


TV

Staying current with TV is a challenge. We could use your suggestions for TV shows. We get Chinese channels of course, a couple Spanish, French and German. And for English, we have CNN, BBC News, ESPN, HBO, Cinemax, Discovery, National Geographic, and Hallmark. Everything's a few months old though; for example, I just watched the Oprah where it was Elizabeth Edward's first interview about the infidelity. They hadn't heard if the baby was his or not yet. Riveting! .We need to find shows that we can download from Hulu or buy seasons of at the DVD stores. So tell us what you're watching these days.

Government & the media

The government does screen media and entertainment quite a bit. Pretty much every paper that you get is a government paper and fairly sanitized, unless it's a US paper from our building. (We have WSJ and USA Today in the coffee shop downstairs). Even the some of knock off DVDs you buy are edited to remove sexual content or extreme violence. In the latest Karate Kid (which we saw in the US two days before we moved here), there were three scenes cut out or shortened where the Chinese kids or coach were being really terrible. This past Sunday, the government shut down all but a couple of TV channels and flew the flags at half-mast for a day of remembrance for all the victims in the terrible mudslides. There were ceremonies, donations, and moments of silence on the TV all day. The government's influence has some plus sides. Making so much effort to focus the entire country of 1.5 billion people on a part of the country where there's been a tragedy helps keep these folks united a bit and reflecting on life. We wouldn't expect this kind of attention for a similar effort in the US. Didn't happen with New Orleans and there were far more people proportionally affected by it.

Eating and shopping

I was wondering how challenging it would be to get the house settled, you know finding dishes, food, etc. Finding no problem with food. In Beijing, there's all kinds of restaurants, India, Irish, French, Italian, Texan, Mexican, you name it. We're probably having Chinese food only once a week. Pizza Hut is right next to our building. The kids loved walking over and ordering pizza. Tastes pretty much the same, just not quite the volume of toppings we load on in the US. Shopping's a bit trickier. They also have an IKEA, the biggest one in Asia, and everything's the same as in the US with only a few exceptions (like no rubber spatulas - I don't think there's even 1 in this country). Quality is the same, so don't have to worry about led in your dishes there. They also have Wal-Mart, but the quality there is a few notches down from ours, closer to the Dollar Tree. For clothes, I've only found the Silk Market for cheap knock-offs with tough bargaining or super hoity-toity designer shops like Rodeo Drive. Neither are really my style, so not in shopping heaven yet.

The thrill of traffic: bikes, scooters, and cars - cars - cars!

Traffic is the most frightening thing here (well I suppose if you eat meat, there can be a few more thrills). With 20 million people in Beijing, there's a lot of traffic. Kinda like Manhattan, honking, yelling, cutting each other off, and lanes are merely a suggestion for orderliness. Yet in Beijing it's a bit more complicated. Yes, there are bicycles; but far less than what you'd expect; but more than the US. They have all kinds of bicycles too. They go from decades old single gear, no brakes, communist era beasts to motorized scooters that look like tiny minivans. (They call these motees, and some are illegal taxes). There's everything in between. I'll have to write a separate letter with pictures just about the bike scene in Beijing. It's the evolution of bi-and tri-cycle transportation!... As for the cars, the Chinese are getting into cars! They are buying cars and getting licenses. There's nearly 5 million cars in Beijing now, with more than 15,000 new cars getting on the roads here each day! And the cars have the right away. It's a bit like survival of the biggest. At the top of the right-away food chain are the cars, then the bikes, then the people. And you never forget that! Crossing the main road outside our building takes some guts. When the light turns and you didn't get your butt across the cross walk fast enough, it's quite a rush! Like Frogger in real life! And this is normal?!

Finding our groove without the kids

The kids have gone back to the US now for the school year. We miss them terribly, but are finding our groove. Chinese are very friendly and open, and we are finding lots to do, with hikes on the Great Wall on the weekends and getting massages during the weekdays. We heard that ballroom dancing is big here. People dance in the parks in the evenings. There's a dance place just behind our building, so we are thinking of taking lessons. It's Tango month!

Being "Panda-keepers" Panda = Xiong Mao (Bear cat)

The kids did provide excuses to do some really cool things though. For example, we went to the middle of China to see pandas. At a panda breeding reserve, we were "panda keepers" for a day, cleaning up their areas, feeding them apples, bamboo, and special cakes made from barley, apples and vitamins

With enough money, just about anything's possible in this country! This was just amazing. There are a total of 2000 pandas on this planet: 1600 in the wild, 326 in captivity, 12 in the US, another couple dozen sprinkled throughout the world! I must say that they take very good care of these guys though, quite pampered, as they are the pride and joy of China. Gosh, they're cute too! We are trying to figure out how we could bring a panda back to the states. We would tell everyone it was a dog. The kids were trying to figure out what mix of breed we could say it was. I tell you this country should never be underestimated. Just this week, there was a picture of a man walking his dog. Yes, he'd painted his English Sheepdog mix to look like a panda. I swear they make everything here!

In closing

Well, two pages is probably enough for now. I'm going to try to send out updates more regularly now that I have a VPN that gets me past the Chinese government's filters. I can now get to Facebook. You can find me at TJ Tennant there. Although we really miss our friends, we really appreciate our opportunity to have this experience!