All Aboard for Ulaanbaatar

Twelve hours from now I will be on a train pulling out of the Beijing station, bound for Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, a 35 hour run that will take us over the mountains, past the Great Wall, through the grasslands, and across the Gobi Desert.  Since I-don't-know-when I've wanted to add this to the list of great train journeys I've taken.

A teammate and I are heading up to spend a week with some friends of mine who work there.

Watch this space for photos and stories of our adventures.

Stand Up and Be Counted

In those days the People's Government issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Middle Kingdom. This is the first census that took place while Hu (Who? yes, Hu) was President of China. And everyone went to his hometown to register…..(apologies to Dr. Luke)

…Only this time they didn't, because this time so many people (200-300 million??) have left their hometowns looking for work; therefore, the census was to be conducted by counting people at their place of residence instead of at the location of their hukou (birthplace registration).

And this time, for the first time ever, foreigners were to be counted. 

China's 2010 National Census has begun. We've known it's been coming because of all the green banners hanging around town urging everyone to do their patriotic duty and cooperate with the census takers.

Census banner (Small)

Earlier this evening the census takers came to my door. Apparantly I was the first big nose on her beat because she seemed a bit confused about how to fill out the special form to count foreigners. 

After the obligatory "you're Chinese is so good — no, it's terrible" pleasantries were dispensed with, she recorded my name, sex, passport # (not residence permit or visa #, interestingly), how long I've lived in this apartment, and my phone number.  That's it.

Then, because an event of this magnitude cannot pass without the giving of a gift, she presented me with a bright pink "I cooperated with the 2010 census" apron!! Iwonder what I'll do with that — leave it out for my housekeeper to use, I suppose.

I'm looking forward to next year's release of the census results.  I can see the headline now:  In 2010, China's population stood at 1.4 billion citizens and 724,000 'Big Nosed Foreigners.' One of those big noses will be mine.

I've always wanted my presence here to count for something!

We Got a Little Convoy…

Beijingers love to fuss, and there are few things we love to fuss about more than the traffic. With a thousand or so new cars added to the roads on a daily basis, it seems that we are fast approaching the day when Beijing will simply be the world's largest parking lot.

This month, though, a traffic jam of epic proportions has developed outside of town that even has locals shocked.  Inbound traffic on Highway 110 entering Beijing from Hebei and Inner Mongolia from the northwest has ground to halt. As of today, the jam had entered it's tenth day with 40,000 trucks and cars backed up for 100 kilometers (62 miles).

Traffic jam 1
Traffic jam 2

A friend of mine wrote me with this commentary: 

"I think this calls for a convoy, US 70's style, breaker 1-9, Rubber Duckie.  Maybe we need to send over Chris Christofferson to rally the troops.  The Chinese worker proves once again that with good company, sunflower seeds and deck of cards, any event can be waited out.  Well, and maybe a few counterfeit DVD's thrown in for good measure.  Crouching driver, hidden passage."

My Life as a Cartoon

A husband/wife team of cartoonists in Shanghai picked up one of my recent 'tweets' and turned it into a cartoon. 

2010-08-11 Expat Tweet from Beijing (Small)

Pondering what it means that my life has become a cartoon! 

Note the stickers on the suitcases. These cartoonists did their homework!

The original cartoon post can be found at their site

Check out to find out what I'm 'tweeting' about (or follow the twitter posts on the blog).

You’re Thinner

When I came home this afternoon, I entered the elevator in my building to return to my 5th floor apartment.  There was a man on the elevator, and he had already pressed 6, the number for our floor (I'll explain that in another blog post). When the door closed, he struck up a conversation:

He:  You're thinner.

Me:  Excuse me?  (said while stifling "who are you and why are making such a comment?")

He:  You're thinner.  You used to be a lot fatter.

Me:  Thank you, but I don't feel like I'm thinner.

He:  Are you exercising everyday?

Me:  Well, actually, I am. 

Mercifully, at that point the elevator stopped and we got off, and exchanged good-byes.

Just another conversation from the twilight zone!

You Think Funny

When I was a youngster, I had a small poster that had 2 cartoon characters (identical, if I recall correctly) facing each other.  In thought bubbles above each head were 2 different symbols.  Perhaps they were (*) and (#), but more likely they were 2 symbols that I can't reproduce on this keyboard. Underneath the characters, in big letters, was written "YOU THINK FUNNY!"

Cross-cultural living and communicating is really as much about adjusting to different ways of thinking as it is to diffrerent behaviors (we use a fork, they use chopsticks), and realizing that sometimes a person from another culture with whom you are interacting just thinks differently, which to you means they think funny (and vice versa).

Yesterday I wrote about the Chinese masseuse thinking that my backache was caused by too much cold.

Today I had another reminder of that same pattern of thinking, when I saw a friend I hadn't seen for a couple of weeks.  We normally connect on Sundays for lunch, but last week she'd sent a text telling me that she was sick with la duzi (diarrhea), so we couldn't get together.

When I saw her this afternoon I asked her how she was feeling — if she was all better.  She said yes, then proceeded to describe for me just how bad it was last week (I'll spare you the details).

I asked her if it had been caused by something she ate.  She gave me a funny look.

She said no, the problem was that her father-in-law kept the air-conditioning set too cold, and that's what caused her la duzi.  I gave her a funny look.

Clearly, to each of us, the other was thinking funny.