Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Speaking of homes...

This past saturday afternoon I went out to lunch with Chirona. I was craving some Indian food, and although it wasn't great, it was pretty good. It's no Little India, but it will have to do for now. We decided we both wanted to smoke hookah outdoors in Hou Hai, so we stopped by her hotel on the way. She's on the 4thish floor with a pretty interesting view.

One of the things I've been eager to explore more is the hutongs. When you are walking down an alley, you get the sense that there's a lot of life bustling behind those tall brick walls. Occasionally you'll pass an open door and get a short peak inside. The few times i've been brave enough to go much further, I've been confronted by residents. But from her window, I could clearly see what was behind the door.

This is fascinating to me. It's a little hard to tell what is what in the picture above, but the door from the street is at the lower right. Once you enter, there's a series of small buildings and a long hallway.

Now, when looking at this picture, you can clearly see the layout. The entryway is still in the lower right, although out of the picture. At first glance, it probably just looks like a bunch of small houses, but it's actually one family. Think about it like a normal Western home, but with the hallways being outdoors. You can see the main hallway going straight up the middle. The two small shacks on the right and the three on the left are probably bedrooms for children and grandparents, a kitchen, maybe an outhouse. The one straight back is for the parents. Now imagine putting a roof over it... suddenly it's not so different from a typical house back home.

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. We took a long stroll around the lake and finally settled on a little cafe with outdoor couches and expensive beer. That was ok, we only really wanted the hookah.

My first experience with hookah was in the Czech Republic, but it's also really common here. For those who only know it from Alice in Wonderland, it's doesn't have any nicotine and it's not a drug. It's just flavored smoke and you get no high from it. It's relaxing and more for the social aspect. We sat and watched the bike taxis pass by and tried to escape the midday heat with cold beer.

Not a bad way to pass an afternoon.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Bachelor Pad

If anyone is as anxious as I was to see what my new pad looks like... you'll be thrilled. It's pretty sweet. Three bedrooms, two bath, a little kitchen, 50" flat screen TV with surround sound, nice view, a little indoor patio like a sunroom, a luxury jacuzzi/shower with overhead rain and jets and built-in fogless mirror and radio and, um, yeah. The shower is sweet. But hard to photograph.

Here's the view when you first walk in. Dining room ont the immediate right, living room straight ahead. First sunroom all the way at the far side.

View looking back the other direction, from the sunroom.

View looking out of the master bedroom. Three doors from left to right are spare bedroom/refridgerator room, kitchen, and 2nd bedroom/office.

Kitchen, not bad. Microwave, gas range, all the utensils i need. Traditionally, the kitchen is not the focal point of a Chinese home, and I have not yet seen one that was more than just adequate. Quite the opposite from an American home. The only real only downfall in this one is no oven! I'll have to get creative to make pizza.

Master Bedroom. Not huge, but cosy and clean with a queen bed. At the far end is another sunroom with a few plants and a cozy chair.

Here's the view from outside. My apartment is in the upper right with the light on. Establishments below me from left to right: Spa, Liquor Store, another Spa. Hmmmm.

Thanks Larry, Scarlet, GG and Mayan! I took them out to dinner at my favorite Korean BBQ place to celebrate. Very nice meal and lots of good vibes.

Wow, this really feels like home. I'm happy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Be Fine Sexy

I went to the Visa Office this wednesday. I've finally got everything sorted out for my 12 month work visa! Big load off my mind. Couple that with moving into my new apartment (read: out of the hotel) on Sunday and everything's coming up Kev!

Anyway, this lady waiting in a nearby line at the office was wearing a great shirt. I studied the words on the back of her shirt for a long time. I was mesmerized. I even tried to take a picture of it, but a security guard pounced on my efforts and told me to put my camera away. *Sigh*

Anyway, I had to know what the front said. Clearly the thought is unfinished, but i couldn't think of anything that would appropriately end this fragment. Well, as is the nature of lines, I had to wait in mine and couldn't follow her when she was through. But I did catch a glimpse of the front, and it just said "BE FINE SEXY" in big bold letters. Nothing else. Awesome.

Well, i still wanted a photo and I was angry with the security guard. I did a quick search through the office as i was leaving but couldn't find her. Just as i was walking out the door i thought, if there's any justice in the universe, you'll bring this lady back to me. Sure enough, there she was waiting outside the building.

The message here is clear enough. It's both thought provoking and beautiful. Words to model your life by. I do have one small question though. What the hell could this possibly mean?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rest and Relaxation

...were completely out of the question this weekend. After the most stressful week of work yet, I was ready to let go. This particular weekend passed in a ridiculous frenzy. I slept a total of, humminahummina... 7 hours between friday and saturday nights. Although, i took a few naps that would make my dad envious.

It's started off simply enough with dinner near Sanlitun with the always lovely steph. We went to this noodle bar with a wonderfully simple decor. This place was so inviting, soft lighting, and friendly staff. With a max occupancy of 10 and the barstools flanking the kitchen on 3 sides, it was reminiscent of a sushi place. The noodles were made by hand and cooked to order. You order noodles; They start making them. They were even better then they sound. After dinner we treated ourselves to some ridiculous mango ice cream.
Turns out it's actually called noodle bar. Lowercase even.

Steph and I headed hung around in a nearby plaza for a while. We admired the moon and made fun of the people camped out inside (literally: tents) the apple store. They were waiting for the newest iSomething. I also practiced something i learned at my camera class on weds: panning! See photos below, aptly entitled Rubic's Cube Moon and Panning with Steph.

Steph left me and I went to meet denise, my date for the bars that evening. We met at the rooftop of Kokomo, and the downpour that afternoon made the night crisp and clean. The music was Brazilian and Latin, just about my favorite, and a big step up from my hotel jukebox. I have only taken one picture of denise to date, and tragically, it was inside a dance club later that night. With low light and no foresight to add flash, the result is this...
... which is too bad because she looked stunning.

We stayed out until 3am when i abruptly realized I was meeting a friend from work in the morning. At 8 am. In five hours. After grabbing a cab i got home at 4 and awoke at 7. I managed to e-mail for work at both of those times as well. My colleague in California got them and responded immediately with something like "DON'T YOU EVER SLEEP?" Sadly the answer this weekend would be no.

Lydia and I met at the subway early and made it to the Summer Palace around 11. It's within Beijing proper, but it still takes over an hour to get there. Have I mentioned Beijing is big? Anyway- you can read a little about the Summer Palace here. It's pretty spectacular. The buildings are designed to give you really cool perspectives of the palace from different angles. The whole thing surrounds a large, man-made lake and the most prominent buildings rise up on the hillside. Maybe the pictures do justice, but seeing it live is another story.

Lydia trying to decipher the map.

These flowers were amazing. They are probably 15 inches across, which makes the lillypad leaves over 2 feet wide. Strangely huge and very cool.

More cool shots.

A couple of Lydia and I.

Now just Lydia.

And me... courtesy of Lydia learning my camera.

Special Bonus: Keveyes. (term coined by Josh... where are you?)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kev Plays Herbie in Beijing

Usually it follows that when you have the most to write about, you don't have the time to do it. This weekend was awesome and busy. Many late evenings, early mornings and not enough sleep. I'll do my best to recap soon. In the meantime, a quick youtube video.

I went to Eric Wu's birthday party on saturday night. He's my ultimate frisbee co-captain for summer league. Cool dude. His parents took about 12 of us to the Hong Kong Jockey Club where the dress code is enforced, the food is exquisite, and the Jazz band is incredible. Probably the best meal I've had in Beijing.

After dinner, we went to the bar downstairs and had another drink. I talked with the bartender for a little bit and expressed my longing for the drums. He said he would ask the band if i could sit in. They didn't hesitate and before i knew it, i was onstage again. I had almost forgotten how much fun it was to play in front of adoring, screaming fans, everyone of them locked into the groove. Of course, there were only 10 of them this time, but it was great.

Chirona was awesome, as always, and captured this quick video. I owe her big. The song is Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock, and these cats i am playing with are really good.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cats, Chinese dudes, and the real Bei Hai

Yesterday was another saturday of no Big Brother practice due to most of the leadership being MIA. So I took the opportunity to go sightseeing again. The skies were crystal clear, blue and showed signs of the pollution-free olympics China promises. It was hot, but cartainly bearable. I took the subway to Tian'Anmen square and walked north, past the forbidden city and through hutongs. My destination was Bei Hai but the journey was what most excited me. It has long been my belief that the best way to explore a new city is on foot, with only a rough idea of where you intend to end up. Getting lost usually returns great rewards and today was no exception.

So yeah, i walked past the Forbidden City but couldn't resist taking a quick peak. I had been there in November and it is truely spectacular, but today i would make it no further than the west entrance gate.

This guy was chillin in the shade. He was tame, adorable, and made me miss spanky. I am seriously considering getting a cat. I mean, once i move out of the hotel, of course.

A few blocks down the road, I passed this old house whose facade probably predates the united states by hundreds of years. If you look carefully, you can spot the TV and Internet cables running up the side of the wall.

These checkers-playing dudes were one of the best discoveries. I've noticed it's almost impossible to sneak up on the locals, mostly because you draw so much attention to yourself as a white guy. But i walked past these guys and they really didn't bat an eye. I kicked myself for not taking the picture so i doubled back, crossed the street, and ended up behind them again. I snapped off a few shots and they had no idea.

I eventually made it into Bei Hai (shortly after a fly landed on my ice cream...)

Bei Hai is different from Hou Hai in that you pay for admission and it contains some historical points of interest. I couldn't tell you what any of them represent, but clearly, they are great. This guy is also great. They should charge admission to see him. Here, Greybeard is smoking a cigarette and watching passerbys. This small photo doesn't do it justice, but if you double click on him, you can see a bigger picture. The smoke and beard blend together to make one gnarly mess, and i approve.

More cat pictures, but i only posted one. This guy had an audience too. He kept changing positions and stretching out, flaunting his white coat for the public. He certainly knew how to work a crowd.

Also fish pictures. Lot's of ponds with abundant and HUGE koi. Seriously, some of them the size of a small child. I've never seen these fish so big, but that's what happens when there's a constant supply of touristy feeding them. If you look carefully here, you can see the kids open hand sending another meal aflight.

My friend Sandy came to meet me and we began exploring a little. She's lived in Beijing most of her life and, like many locals, has never really visited the sights. I wanted her to tell me stories about why this building or that statue was important. Alas, i got nothing. She did tell me about this tree though. Those are metal props holding it up. I said, "Don't you think that's a little strange?" And she said, "No, it's a very old tree. It's probably just tired." Isn't that just the most logical answer ever? Adorable.

Here's Sandy. She's moving to Finland for school. She's a really awesome Ultimate player and a good friend. She will be missed, but now i have a reason to visit Finland. So that's good.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Fly and the Drumstick

It was hot, and although I had mostly found shade to walk under, it was hot. I rewarded my endurance in the Beijing sun with an ice cream drumstick, strawberry. And I learned a valuable lesson: never eat ice cream in Beijing when it's windy. I was getting down to where the ice cream meets the cone, but there was still a good bulb on top. It was excruciatingly delicious. But the wind gusted and before I could protect my ice cream, debris was pelting me. When the chaos subsided, I knew i could not finish my ice cream, but for a moment I considered. Until I saw the fly on the far side of where the ice cream meets the cone. No more ice cream for Kev. But still, I couldn't help wonder how this fly ended up there. I presume flies experience the world much slower than we do. Regardless, this fly must have been moving at 60 mph. I imagined this little guy screaming through the air, wind at his little fly-butt, tiny legs outstretched to receive his prize, exclaiming "This is my greatest achievement!". OK little buddy, you can keep it. Into the garbage you both go.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cameras are fun!

This week has been intense. I've been really overloaded at work and there's no sign of relief to come, but i'm plugging along. Getting to the office early and staying late is burning me out, so i haven't had much time to attend to the blog. Nor have i really had anything to report on, given the workload. But, remember that camera class i was talking about? With Benj? Remember?

I went! And it was really good. This new Canon of mine is absolutely sweet, but it has many more functions than i know what to do with. Until now! Now i know what to do with them!

The class was held at a place called The Hutong. The Beijing hutongs are pretty famous. They are the small alleyways off the main streets that wind deep into the unknown. Mostly, the streets are lined with wall to wall shops and restaurants. The only way "in" is via one of these hutongs. It's a whole different world back there. Pretty soon, i'll set aside time to explore one area with my camera, and i'll no doubt report back with my findings. Anyway, The Hutong is a really cool house and the residents rent the space to people giving independent classes.

Here are some random pictures of things when i was trying new settings and features. There's a self portrait in there, a picture of The Hutong patio in full darkness, cool blurry shot of Benj in the hutong outside of The Hutong, one of the little tea room, and the Lamb and Chicken Kabobs i had for dinner.

Pretty cool evening for a wednesday. Not that i have anything against wednesdays. All you wednesday lovers, just keep your hate mail to yourself. I like "hump-day" just as much as the next guy. Maybe more.

Depending on how much he likes it, i guess.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Another Kev on the Wall

Small tribute to the awesome Roger Waters concert I saw before I emigrated.

Oh yes. There has been tourism supported by Kev. Finally. It's really the first touristy thing I've done since I arrived, almost two months ago. Yesterday I went to The Great Wall, and it was spectacular. Holy crap was it amazing. I'm pretty sure I had a big stupid smile on my face the entire day.

It was pretty random too. Here's how it happened: I was at a party (4th of july!) the night before and Stephanie, a Chinese American from Hawaii whom I know from frisbee was going with a group the morning. She asked, "Do you want to go?" and I said "Yes." End of story. I didn't even have to think about it, and it ended up being the single most enjoyable day of my time in Beijing.

So the bus left at 10 am, and it was comfortable, air conditioned, and not too crowded. The trip out there was uneventful, a pleasant 90 minute jaunt through the country. We passed small villages built along streams and on terraced hillsides. From out vantage, we could look down into courtyards and see families gathered and children playing. We ended at a restaurant called the roadhouse, a great resatuarant that served BBQ with a chill patio for us to luncheon. They cooked an amazing lunch with cheese burgers, fries, corn on the cob, potato salad, and watermelon. And beer. It was a perfect 4th of july meal. And since it was about noon on the 5th, it was still the 4th in California! Made it just under the wire!

After the lunch we stopped by a glassblowing shop and watched a quick demonstration. It was here that I really met Benj (pronounced like the first syllable-ish of Benjamin). He has the exact same camera as I do and he was giving me some pointers. Also: He's a digital photography instructor. Wow. I'm going to start taking his classes every week. That was an amazing find. Throughout the day he taught me some tricks that i had no idea my camera could do. I also caught a few cool pictures that are worth sharing.

Then the wall. But first! The hawkers gauntlet on the way to the wall! You have to walk up this steep, narrow road lined on both sides by vendors relentlessly vending t-shirts, cheap crap with your name etched into it, and hats. They mumble things that sound vaguely like english to tourists who almost entirely ignore them. Quintessential tourist trap.

That face means, "You've got to be kidding me. There's no way i'm gonna buy that crap."
We were a little short on time so we opted for the cable car ride up to the top. The rest of this requires little explanation. The views are some of the most majestic I've ever seen. The day was clear, but cloudy enough to offer some relief from the sun. It rained all the day before, so it smelled fresh and clean. It's pretty obvious why this is one of the Wonders of the World. I've never been so impressed by Man's ability to build the impossible. Large parts of the wall are build 1000's of feet up massive mountains and rugged terrain. How they accomplished over 4000 miles of this 200 years BC is unfathomable.

We took an actual chair lift from a ski resort back down. They had a tobbogen run that we could have taken, but it was closed. Which is ok, because I will be going back to this place over and over again.