Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A good weekend

Therese was chatting with her mom on Skype and i overheard her talking about this blog. She said something like, "Yeah, we checked it out. And it really IS dim... there's barely anything about you in it."

Well, fortunately, this weekend was pretty much all about Ace. Her 30th birthday was on Saturday, which is a pretty big birthday anyway, but even more so when you're getting settled into a new city. We kicked off the extravaganza with a Friday night surprise party at Kro's and the best pizza in Beijing. Fifteen or so showed up for the fun. (Many thanks to Joe for reserving the table and Chris for getting there early.)

No dinner party is complete without a good antagonizing/beating/torturing of Tao. And this party was ripe with it. Notice the red capped bottle of baijiu Tao is hiding in the first picture. He deserves all the beatings he gets.

Joe actually ran and leapt over the table, landing in Tao's lap. I'm not sure what the purpose was (a rare dual purpose beat/torture?) but it was pretty spectacular and skillfully executed.

Saturday was both lazy and productive. After a rare morning of sleeping in, i made french toast with a fruit salad and fresh coffee, a worthy birthday breakfast.

Then we got our memberships at the Gym downstairs... we're both pretty excited to start getting in there. On our way to get her birthday present, we decided to buy her a bike as well. Which is great, because Beijing by bike beats buses, barely. And then her actual birthday present, which was something she wanted for a while, a haircut plus the professional straightening. Four hours worth of it.

I hereby present: the new Ace, freshly coming off of completing her 3rd decade of revolving around the sun on this glorious planet and psyched up for hitting the fourth decade with silky, manageable hair boasting increased aerodynamics...

She looks really good.


Friday, April 24, 2009


As previously mentioned, Ace and i took a quick trip last weekend to the resort island of Jeju, South Korea. This was for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament called Gnarly Nines. Ultimate is played with seven players on the field per team, and normally a team brig 15-20 players to a tournament. For this tournament, each team is only allowed nine players total, meaning you have very few subs, which is called "playing savage". I've played a few "savage" tournaments in the past and they have been some of my favorite tournaments. This one was no exception. These were also, by far, the best fields i have ever played on: Six flawlessly maintained, professionally lined, regulation size, grass fields. They were awe-inspiring. These are the practice fields when South Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup. They were so well maintained, we were not allowed to have food or beer on them. Which was fine with us; bleachers surrounded the entire stadium and they had tents set up everywhere.

Historically, the annual Jeju Gnarly Nines tournament has horrendous weather every other year. Last year, the tournament was held under 25 mph gusts and a sunless sky. This year, we were blessed with a perfect weekend of Ultimate: Occasional breeze, partly cloudy, no chance of rain, and 68 degrees.

The Saturday night Rubik's Cube party was fantastic. Everyone came wearing all six colors on the cube. The goal was to "solve" your outfit by trading with others until you are one color. A bonus goal was to solve all the colors by the end of the night, meaning you had to wear 6 completely different outfits throughout the night to win. I made it through Green, Orange, and Yellow. Joe finished all six colors, and won the party award. The trick was to just trade your whole outfit with someone else who also has a completed outfit.

At the tournament, Big Brother finished with a record of 5-2 and out of 22 teams, ended tied in 3rd place with Japan. We lost to both Shanghai and Korea who played each other in the finals (congrats to Korea for winning and hosting a great tournament!). But we played hard and struck fear into all our opponents. We employed a trap zone defense that shut down all our opponents. We had a physically short team, but we were arguably the fastest in the tournament, with the best overall handlers. We definitely held our own.

As my fellow photographers scramble to upload their pics to facebook, i'll start with mine and add more later. I didn't bring my camera to the party, and i didn't take any action shots, but here's what i got.

The view from the bus as we arrived at the secondary fields, located on a small peninsula surrounded by volcanic rock outcroppings. Stunning!

The view from the main fields.

Big Brother sporting our fear-inspiring Black and Pink Five Ultimate uniforms. We looked good.

Some touristy thing. Took this while hanging out of the bus.

Out of sequence... but this is the airport as we arrived in Jeju Friday night.

Can i get a part-time gig as a photographer for Korean Airlines?


P.S. Happy Birthday to Therese (!!!) and happy 100th post to me!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The New Pad

The search is over. We found a place, affordable, big, nice layout, in a great neighborhood, close to subway, close to friends, good furniture, gym in the building, nice SE view from the sun room, comfy bed, easy commute for Ace, not a nightmare for me... we're happy.

Most of what we saw in our search was about 90 sqm with 2 bedrooms, but you end up with a small living space and an extra room that you rarely use. After looking at roughly 20 places with 6 different agents, we knew almost immediately this was the one. It's about the same size, but only 1 bedroom. It suits us much better, and a big step up from our current place. We just couldn't deal with the location anymore.

The rental process was smooth and akin to purchasing a home. The agent shows you a bunch of listings, you visit a few, and choose one. They write up the contract and set up a meeting between you and the landlord so you can meet and sign it. Then you pay entirely in cash. Apparently, this is the normal way to pay for large purchases. I remember Larry told me about his experience buying a house in Beijing. They came to the closing with briefcases full of cash. They have a few professional money counters on hand to count everything. Crazy.

Anyway... here are some pictures!

The bedroom, looking out to the sun room.

Our 17th floor breakfast nook.

The southern view on a cloudy day.

The view from the front door, bedroom straight and to the right, small but functional kitchen off to the left. That wall with the TV is curved.

Looking back from the bedroom at living room and circular dining room. Lot's of round edges in this place. The amoeba couches are really comfy.

The bathroom and kitchen are both small, but clean and well laid out. Good times ahead.


Monday, April 20, 2009


i apologize for completely falling off the map for about a week there. We started movin into the new place last week and had a really insane week of work. I was burning the midnight oil getting all my work and home projects caught up so there were no emergencies this weekend. Because I went to Jeju! South Korea! For an amazing Ultimate tournament!

I'll get caught up on everything in a day or two, but right now there is just no time. Rest assured, i'm happy and safe.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Smurf Cartel

This is the insanity that was yesterday's 2009 Riff Raff Kickball tournament, hosted by Candice Lee, center of the above picture. Six teams and about 100 people showed up. Standard kickball rules from grade school apply: Must have beer in hand at all time, all disputes solved by a beer chugging contest, two handed catches of fly-balls are allowed, but you have to hold your beer in your mouth. Also, every team must have a costume. We attempted to go as Smurfs, but ended up looking more like Colombian Drug Lords. Ace pulled off a good Smurfette.

The tournament itself was fun enough, but some obvious contributing factors led to a few inevitable problems.


  1. Eight kegs of beer. We finished them all and the heat from the day left a lot of people drunker than maybe they normally would be.
  2. No one really remembers how to play kickball. We've all played it at one point, but rules are subject to debate.
  3. Most people were more interested in beer than kickball.
  1. Every game was argued pretty intensely. There were some pretty heated emotions and sometimes tended toward no longer being fun.
  2. The huge amount of beer and vague understanding of the rules led to some fights. Nothing serious, and everyone ended up friendly again, but it was just kinda lame.
  3. Wrestling.

We must have been quite a spectacle. Locals came and gathered around to watch the crazy foreigners drink beer and yell at each other. The fields are surrounded by a chain link fence, so we literally felt like animals inside a cage, being watched and studied. They took pictures and little kids tried to get our attention. My favorite game was to get a bunch of us lined up and just stare back, wordless.

Cute kids.

Our captains, Jim and Joe, comteplating what to do with our bottle of Vodka. They did not drink it, which was the correct decision.

Keg on the field.

Oh, and we finally put a deposit down on a new apartment. We ended up passing on the one in the hutong; it ended up being too much trouble to sort out. Plus, we found a place in the original apartment complex we wanted, and just decided to take the plunge. We'll move in this week. Yay!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring Cleaning

China declared winter was over on March 15th. Since then, we had two miserable weeks of cold. The central heat was turned off at work so by the end of the day, your core body temp had dropped. All your joints and extremities ache. Your knees and ankles don't want to work. Your hands and wrists feel brittle and you fear tripping, lest you'd have to catch yourself and risk serious injury. All this happens so slowly throughout the day, that you don't realize how cold you are until it's too late. It take hours for the cold to leave your body.

So that was last week. This weekend, spring arrived. We are now smack in the middle of, dare i say, perfect weather. (Ok, a little rain would be nice...)

Couple that weather with a three day weekend, and it feels like spring is really here. Monday was Tomb Sweeping Day, a national holiday in China:
"Chinese visit their family graves to tend to any underbrush that has grown. Weeds are pulled, and dirt swept away, and the family will set out offerings of food and spirit money. "

I did not sweep any graves, but Ace and i continued (and probably completed!) our apartment search. That itself feels like a form of spring cleaning: making a fresh start in a new year, creating a new life, taking new roots in the city. We are close to settling on a nice hutong location, walking distance from some of our favorite hangouts. It's biking distance to work for her, and about 40 minutes for me. We'll have fruits, vegetables, meats, dry and baked goods, and liquor available just outside our door. All at separate little hutong stores. Down the street are two coffee shops and two different subway stops. Our little balcony faces east and catches the morning sun for breakfast and coffee, while looking out over the hutongs. It's a pretty charming, 98 sqm, 2 bedroom, and we're getting mentally psyched for the change.

So yeah, we spent a few days enjoying the weather. It was very refreshing and this week has started off very well. It seems everyone at work is in a good mood. It's amazing what a change in the weather can do for the human spirit.

And the avian spirit too. Even the birds are happy and getting exercise. This little flock did about 50 consecutive laps around the courtyard across from our apartment.


Friday, April 3, 2009


So there's this building next to my apartment. It's the new apartment going up in our complex. They've been working on it since long before i got here, and it's been pretty slow. Last month, they took down the bamboo scaffolding which was encasing it.

There was also a 10-ft tall brick wall in front of the work area until recently. This brick wall terrified me because it smelled like crap. My hypothesis is, it was a convenient place for the workers to relieve themselves while being sheltered from the streets view. The base of the brick wall was rotted away with a green sludge. It had slowly seeped through into the sidewalk, staining it with foul organic matter. I had to walk by this sludge everyday on the way home from work. I didn't dare walk within a 30 foot (10 meter) radius of the aforementioned sludge, so I would cross the street, even though i would have to cross back just a minute later.

Last week, the wall came down. Workers toiled for a few days in what i knew was a place of evil. The men came with no heavy machinery and used crowbars and pick-axes to tear it apart. The women loaded the debris and pedaled it away in bike carts.

Now this area is a sidewalk. It doesn't smell anymore and the sludge is buried under concrete. But it doesn't matter. I still cross the street on the way home.