The Past Tense of Fly is Flu!

The young lady (Youshaw market fake-fur-lined white leather (?) coat, black synthetic knee highs with plastic brass chains and a new Nano) beside me on the flight from Beijing to Vancouver was snivelling as we taxied down the runway. At first I thought it was the emotion of leave-taking and as I was feeling a bit of wrench myself I was sympathetic. I was even going to pat her hand in a kindly-uncle fashion, then she began to cough like Mimi in Act 3 of La Boheme. Still sympathetic I felt bad for her – it’s hell to travel when you’re under the weather. Now I realize that she had the flu – which one of the 3000 strains God only know but it was obviously not included in this year’s shot – and she passed it on to me.

Four days later and I am still have that steamroller-flatten feeling you get from flu/jet-lag/age and haven’t had the energy to boil water let alone wade through the 1583 photos that we took on this vacation. When I started confusing the Cau Dai Temple in My Tho (glaring sunshine, bright colours) with the Dugong Temple in Beijing (gray snow, muted tones) I knew it was time to take another swig of Buckley’s and head back to bed.

Once I have pulled myself up from my bed of suffering and woe I will get a few of the items on Vietnam, Hong Kong and Beijing posted. In the meantime I found this recipe for an old fashioned mustard poultice. I think I’ll give it a try.

A Snow Day in Beijing

Actually we had two snow days – December 30 and 31. By the 1st it had finally stopped and the sun came out, though there was a fairly heavy pollution cover and it was still cold. Unfortunately, Laurent and I were housebound. It appears we both had a serious – though not life threatening – case of food poisoning – and no it wasn’t overindulgence at New Years. Anyway we laid low on the first day of the New Year and let Marie-Paul go out shopping on her own as we groaned softly on our beds of pain and suffering.

The first day of the first snowfall we headed out in our newly purchased winter togs to explore the Landau area – some shopping, some eating (Peking Duck) and some temple viewing. At first the snow was lovely and the continuing light fall gave the city a romantic aura. As with most snowfalls once people had tromped through and cars driven over it, things turned dirty, slushy, icy and treacherous. So much for the romance of a winter day.

Storeowners have a strange habit of putting pieces of cardboard on steps leading into their establishments in an attempt to aid traction. But it only seems to increase the hazard – we saw a giggling gaggle of pizza box-laden young ladies slipping and sliding out of Pizza Hut and expected to see them end up on the ground covered in tomato sauce and pepperoni. But never underestimate the average Beijingers desire for Pizza Hut thick crust – they made it.

While some were reveling in the snow – impromptu snowball fights, snowmen and at least one snow angel – others were trying to clean sidewalks and walkways with brooms. Vehicles – both motor and man powered – were having a difficult time of it. Marie-Paul took a few pictures of the cycle merchants making their way around town. And I got a few shots including a pair of very feisty pups who felt they had to defend their patch of snow from anyone else who may have wanted to pee on it!

Beijing – Plus ca change….. Part I

Arriving back in Beijing after more than a year I was struck by how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

What’s the same – thank God:

• Our friend Jack’s great smile and shy charm – that’s him at the left with Marie-Paul and Laurent the other night at Ho Hai.

• The pork and shrimp dumplings at Din Tai Fun – where we saw Jackie Chan making his escape after dinner into a very large Rolls.

• The fruit and vegetable market in our area which just reopened – new stalls, lighting and Kenny G (ok not a good thing!)

• Our fruit lady at the front door recognizing us immediately – we got big smiles, Dragon Fruit, mangosteens and a few freebees.

•Taxis are still relatively cheap and the drivers amusingly unpredictable: after having Julie, Laurent’s barber, explain to one driver on the cell how to get to her new salon he handed the phone back and refused to take us. The next driver was more than happy to and accompanied the journey with a running commentary on – we assume – the weather, other drivers, the traffic and probably dumb foreigners.

• That very distinct Beijing accent – think the rolled Rs of a Scot speaking Mandarin through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

• Laurent’s bargain skills.

• The delight people take in their dogs.

• The smile on the face of a People’s Army Guard in front of an Embassy when you say “Hello. How are you?” They are so proud to be able to reply in English. In their great coats and fur hats they bear a strong resemblance to the Wicked Witch’s bodyguards in the Wizard of Oz. Yohetho… yeho!

What’s the same – Please God let it change!

• The irritatingly aggressive salespeople at Youshaw – grabbing, chasing, yelling Hello and still trying to get 1050 yuan for a 50 yuan item.

• The gentle sound of people horking on the street and in stores, and the resulting deposits on the sidewalks.

• The old hutongs and 70s apartments being torn down for developments, many of which seem to run out of money and stand half-completed. Ok the hutongs BOO! Those Soviet-style apartments – Yey!

• The aggressive beggars’ mafia that hangs around the foreign areas – you never see a local being approached and a Chinese colleague says that though there are, sadly, thousands of deserving poor in Beijing they aren’t it.

• The smell of charcoal and brown coal during the winter months – it’s the major source of heat and polution.

I’m just glad to see that the positive seems to outweigh the negative.

We Got Snow – NAH NAH!

Eat your heart out Mount Tremblant – we woke up this morning to snow! Not exactly a snowstorm but a good covering that looks like it is going to continue all day. Unfortunately it also means cloud covered skies – the first in four days – and the very distinct heavy smell of burning soft coal. I took a few shots from the apartment windows. The sidewalk sweeper (below left) had already cleaned the area in the picture at the top and has another 1000 feet to clean before she’s finished – don’t think I’ll ever complain about my front walk again.

Our friend Marie-Paul is visiting from Singapore (where it is currently 26C and sunny) for the New Year. She and I had to make a trip to YouShow Market to get warm coats, hats and gloves. Laurent worked his bargining magic – the spectacle of salesgirls crying that they were losing the store as they dropped the price of a Timberland knock-off from 1050 yuan to 250, then smilingly taking our money should be on the list of things to see in Bejing.

Riding the Star Ferry

On my first Sunday in Hong Kong, back in November 1995, I boarded a Star Ferry from the Tsim Sha Tsui Terminal on the Kowloon side heading to Victoria Island. It wasn’t a very long crossing but it had the romance of years of history behind it. There was something about the wooden seats with their thick coats of brown paint, the red fire buckets, the spray spattered windows and the crew in their church-basement HMS Pinafore sailor suits that caught my fancy, That crossing and the slightly rundown Central Terminal with its harbour-dominating clock tower were uniquely Hong Kong. And the square in front of the terminal filled with hundreds of Phillipina maids on their one day off in seven, chirping away in Tagalog like flocks of released birds, was a sight I knew I would not see anywhere else in the world.

The wooden seats, the fire buckets, the crew and Kowloon terminal haven’t changed in the past 11 years. And this past Christmas Day many of the maids seemed to be enjoying an additional day-off – including one enterprising woman who had set herself up on a bench near St John’s Cathedral doing pedicures for a line of chattering women. Sadly they no longer congregate en masse in front of the Central terminal but are scattered – a certain loss of community – in parks around the area, In a controversial move the Government has boarded up the square, torn down the old terminal, destroyed the Clock Tower – to belated howls of protest – and moved everything to a brand new Disneyfied terminal a good 10 minute walk from Central. Apparently the land is needed for a new highway – just what Central doesn’t need.

Here are few pictures of our trip over to Kowloon on December 26.