Get Moving, Beijingers!

The Beijing City Government has launched yet another campaign to improve the lives of us Beijingers.  The formal name of this campaign is "Program for a Healthy Beijing–Citizen Health Action Plan for the Decade." Good grief—just saying it is a workout.  All that to say the government thinks that we Beijingers need to put down our chopsticks, move away from the table and start moving more.  The goals of the program are enumerated in a recent article in The Global Times:

1 promoting healthy knowledge
2 healthy diet
3 anti-smoking measures
4 physical exercise
5 teeth hygiene
6 eye care
7 self-estimating in health status
8 preventing and controlling malignant tumors
9 mother-baby life safeguarding

I'm particularly interested in the 'self-estimating in health status.'  That seems like it would be very beneficial for my overall physical well-being.

You'll be happy to know that I did my part tonight as a loyal Beijinger, and spent time at the gym.  Not much time, mind you, but I was there and I was moving.  A little. Now, where did I put my chopsticks?

100 Fun Things to See and Do in Beijing

As part of an orientation program for some English teachers earlier this month, I prepared this list of 100 fun things to see and do in Beijing. How many have you done?

  1. Attend
    a Chinese Acrobat performance
  2. Attend
    a concert in the National Opera House
  3. Attend
    a folk or jazz concert at the Sanwei Bookstore
  4. Attend
    a Peking Opera performance
  5. Attend
    a show at the Lao She Teahouse
  6. Attend
    services at one of the Catholic Churches
  7. Attend
    services at one of the Protestant Churches
  8. Attend
    the flag lowering ceremony at Tiananmen Square (sunset)
  9. Attend
    the flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square (sunrise)
  10. Climb
    the Great Wall at Jinshanling and hike to Simatai
  11. Climb
    to the top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park (just north of the Forbidden
  12. Climb
    up the mountain, then ride down the alpine slide at Badachu Park
  13. Dance
    with locals in the park in the morning or evening
  14. Drink
    Shaken Iced Tea at Starbucks
  15. Eat a
    bowl of Jia Zhang Mian (special noodles)
  16. Eat a
    green pea pie at MacDonalds
  17. Eat a
    Whopper at Beijing’s only Burger King inside Terminal 3 at the airport
  18. Eat at
    an outdoor café in the lakes area (Hou hai)
  19. Eat at
    Element Fresh
  20. Eat at
    Hutong Pizza.
  21. Eat at
    Pete’s TexMex
  22. Eat at
    the Old Beijing Noodle Shop across from the Pearl Market
  23. Eat
    baozi on the street for breakfast.
  24. Eat
    Beijing Roast Duck
  25. Eat
    candied fruit on a stick (bingtang hulu)
  26. Eat
    fish and chips at Fish Nation (Sanlitun)
  27. Eat
    jianbing on the street for breakfast.
  28. Eat
    scorpions on a stick at the Wangfuing night market
  29. Eat
    snacks on the street in the evening
  30. Eat
    youtiao (oil sticks) on the street for breakfast
  31. Enjoy
    a tea ceremony at a teahouse
  32. Get a
    ‘dry hair wash’
  33. Get a
  34. Get a
    foot massage
  35. Get a
  36. Go
    boating at Houhai
  37. Go
    boating at the Summer Palace
  38. Go to
    the top of the Gate of Heavenly Peace to look out over Tiananmen Square
  39. Eat at
    the Bridge Café at Wudaokou
  40. Go up
    into the tower at Deshengmen
  41. Drink
    ‘bubble tea’ at a “Be For Time” teahouse. 
  42. Hang
    out at The Village at Sanlitun (tons of Western restaurants; Apple Store)
  43. Hang
    out in an exercise park
  44. Have a
    suit or dress made
  45. Rent a
  46. Ride
    Subway Line 2 to either end.  Get
    off and explore.
  47. Ride
    the alpine slide at Mutianyu Great Wall
  48. Ride
    the tourist express train from Xizhimen to the Badaling Great Wall
  49. See
    the pandas at the Beijing Zoo
  50. Shop
    at Beijing Glasses City (low priced frames and lenses)
  51. Shop
    at Jenny Lou’s imported foods market
  52. Shop
    at Jingwuxing Wholesale Market
  53. Shop
    at Ladies’ Street
  54. Shop
    at Panjiayuan Antique Market
  55. Shop
    at the clothing wholesale market across from the Beijing Zoo
  56. Shop at
    the Harley Davidson store
  57. Shop
    at the Liang Ma Flower Market (across the canal from the Lufthansa Center)
  58. Shop
    at the Pearl Market (Hong Qiao)
  59. Shop
    at the Silk Market (Xiu Shui Jie)
  60. Shop
    at the wholesale fabric market at Muxiyuan
  61. Shop
    at the world’s second largest IKEA store
  62. Shop
    at the Yashow Market (Ya Xiu)
  63. Shop
    at Tianyi Wholesale Market (Christmas Central in November and December)
  64. Shop
    for antique furniture and reproductions at Gaobeidian
  65. Shop
    for computers/electronics in Zhongguancun
  66. Shop
    in the Xidan area
  67. Take a
    boat ride along the canal
  68. Take a
    bus to the end of the line.  Get off
    and explore. 
  69. Visit
    “The Bookworm” (restaurant and bookstore—lots of current western titles)
  70. Visit
    an art gallery
  71. Visit
    Beihai Park
  72. Visit
    Chuan Di Xia Ming Village (2.5 hours west of town in the mountains)
  73. Visit
    Nan Lou Gu Xiang (cafés and nightclubs)
  74. Visit
    the 798 Art District (galleries and restaurants)
  75. Visit
    the ancient observatory at Jianguomen
  76. Visit
    the Art Muesum
  77. Visit
    the Bell Tower and Drum Towers
  78. Visit
    the Bird’s Nest (pay to go inside)
  79. Visit
    the Botanical Gardens
  80. Visit
    the Capital History Museum
  81. Visit
    the CCTV Tower.  This is best done
    on a very clear day.
  82. Visit
    the China Minorities Park
  83. Visit
    the Confucian Temple
  84. Visit
    the Forbidden City
  85. Visit
    the Fragrant Hills
  86. Visit
    the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Square
  87. Visit
    the Military Museum
  88. Visit
    a morning market
  89. Visit
    the Museum of Ancient Chinese Architecture
  90. Visit
    the Old City Wall at Chongwenmen—Go into the Dongbianmen Tower at the east
    end to visit the Red Gate Art Gallery and view photos of Old Beijing
  91. Visit
    the Old Summer Palace
  92. Visit
    the pagoda park along the canal near the Mac.
  93. Visit
    the Planetarium
  94. Visit
    the Temple of Heaven
  95. Visit
    the tomb of Matteo Ricci.
  96. Visit
    the Water Cube (pay to go inside)
  97. Visit
    the wholesale market across the canal from the hotel (Ling Long Lu and the
    canal road)
  98. Visit
    the Yonghegong Lama Temple
  99. Walk
    around Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace
  100. Wander
    the old streets of the Da Zha Lan (Da Sha Lanr) district

Your Turn, Shanghai. Good Lucky.

With the 2010 World's Fair scheduled for next summer in Shanghai next summer, the city is taking it's turn at all the silliness that Beijing got to engage in last year: the razing of the old city, the manic building, the civilization campaigns (no pushing and spitting). And yes, even the crackdown on Chinglish, as the BBC reports:

The authorities in the Chinese city of Shanghai are
starting a campaign to try to spot and correct badly phrased English on
signs in public places.Chinglish, as the inaccurate use of the language is known, has long been a source of embarrassment for the authorities there.It is also a source of amusement to foreign visitors.But Shanghai wants to spruce up its image. It is expecting millions of visitors for the World Expo fair.Sometimes you can see what the author was getting at, such as the
sign that warns people to "keep valuables snugly", and "beware the
people press close to you designedly".Then there are signs where they have mistranslated a crucial word.One in a hotel lift advises people "please leave your values at the front desk".Sometimes
they have just got it the wrong way round, such as on the sign in the
stairwell of a department store asking shoppers to "please bump your
head carefully".My favourites though, are those which get more
surreal, like the one on the Shanghai metro from the public security
bureau that reads: "If you are stolen, call the police at once."

My guess is that this campaign will be every bit as successful as the Beijing campaign was.  Which is to say 'not very!"

A Day at Ikea

Beijing is home to one of the largest IKEA furniture stores in the world–the size of a small nation actually. But for Beijingers, it's much more than a furniture store.  It's a destination, especially on a hot summer weekend.  The Los Angeles Times just ran a great article about the fun and activities

Welcome to IKEA Beijing, where the atmosphere is more theme park than store. When the Swedish furniture giant first opened here in 1999, it hoped
locals would embrace its European brand of minimalism. A decade later,
Beijingers have done just that. Perhaps too much. Every weekend, thousands of looky-loos pour into the massive showroom
to use the displays. Some hop into bed, slide under the covers and
sneak a nap; others bring cameras and pose with the decor. Families
while away the afternoon in the store for no other reason than to enjoy
the air conditioning. Visitors can't seem to resist novelties most Americans take for
granted, such as free soda refills and ample seating. They also like
the laid-back staffers who don't mind when a child jumps on a couch. Purchasing anything at Yi Jia, as the store is called here, can seem like an afterthought.

It's really quite a sight. I had my own IKEA adventure last year and wrote about in a post titled "Rats in a Maze."

Happy Valentines Day

Today is a traditional Chinese Festival called Qi Xi.  The literal meaning is "night of sevens" because it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar.  And that's today.  This festival, which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD) commemorates a love story, so this has traditionally been the festival to celebrate love; hence it is sometimes called the Chinese Valentines Day.

Now I know why so many people were carrying around flowers today and why flower sellers had suddenly flooded the areas around the subway.

Here's the story, from a 2005 article at

As the story goes, once there was a cowherd,
Niulang, who lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law. But she
disliked and abused him, and the boy was forced to leave home with only
an old cow for company.The cow, however, was a former god who had violated imperial rules and was sent to earth in bovine form.The two fell in love at first sight and were soon
married. They had a son and daughter and their happy life was held up
as an example for hundreds of years in China.Yet in the eyes of the Jade Emperor, the Supreme Deity in Taoism,
marriage between a mortal and fairy was strictly forbidden. He sent the
empress to fetch Zhinu.Niulang grew desperate when he discovered Zhinu had been taken back
to heaven. Driven by Niulang's misery, the cow told him to turn its
hide into a pair of shoes after it died.The magic shoes whisked Niulang, who carried his two children in
baskets strung from a shoulder pole, off on a chase after the empress.The pursuit enraged the empress, who took her hairpin and slashed it
across the sky creating the Milky Way which separated husband from
wife.But all was not lost as magpies, moved by their love and devotion, formed a bridge across the Milky Way to reunite the family.Even the Jade Emperor was touched, and allowed Niulang and Zhinu to meet once a year on the seventh night of the seventh month.

So Long, Xiao Zhang

Xiao Zhang, who has been my housekeeper ever since I moved to Beijing in 1998 is leaving tomorrow.  She and her family will return to their village in Anhui Province. It’s a move they need to make in order to improve their 13 year old daugher’s chances of getting into university somewhere.  The Chinese education system is entirely test-based, and even though their daughter is attending school in Beijing, which has some of the best schools in the nation, continuing her education here would make it impossible to go to college someday.  It seems counter-intuitive, but here’s the catch:  a student can only take the college entrance exam in the province where they are legal residents.  Since she is not a legal resident of Beijing (her parents are migrant workers), she cannot take the entrance exam here.  At this point she’s just entering middle school, but she needs to go to middle school and high school in Anhui if she wants to pass the test there.  So the family is returning to Anhui to find a school for their daughter.  When Xiao Zhang came to Beijing, her daughter was only 3.  It’s been fun to watch her grow up.  And I’m sad to see them go.

Below is a photo of Xiao Zhang and her family, and the group of Americans in whose homes she worked.  Xiao Zhang is holding the bag of leftovers.  Her daughter is next to her, with her husband on the other side, and their son in the back.

So long, Xiao Zhang.  We’ll all miss you.


“Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”

More times than I can remember I've been in a local restaurant with foreigners (usually Americans), who, as I am ordering, make a point of telling me to ask for the food without MSG.  Inwardly I roll my eyes, then tell the waitress that we'd like our food without MSG, which is always greeted with a look of bewilderment that might cross the face of a waitress in the US if you asked for coconut cream pie without the coconut.  I'm 99.9% sure the bizarre message is never conveyed to the cook, who would in such an event question her sanity, but so long as I have feigned compliance of the foreigner's request, he or she usually enjoys the meal, which I am 99.9% sure has MSG as a main ingredient (why do you think the food tastes so good)?

The Guardian has a great piece up about a recent study debunking the so-called "China Restaurant Syndrome" — that ascribes all sorts of ailments (itching, watery eyes, etc.) to eating MSG.  It's called "Why MSG Allergy is Fake Science."

In May this year, the medical journal Clinical & Experimental
Allergy published a review of more than a decade of scientific research
into "the possible role of MSG in the so-called 'Chinese restaurant syndrome'".Chinese
restaurant syndrome is the popular slang for allergies or adverse
reactions that some people claim they get after eating food containing
the flavour-enhancer monsodium glutamate, or MSG, that is widely used
in many processed foods and also added to many Asian dishes.

So if you're in China, or coming to China, please don't ask the waitress for your food to be cooked without MSG.  She'll ignore you and you'll love the food anyway.