Sunday, April 5, 2009

Living at the 100 Ring Zoo

I've moved to my fourth apartment in Beijing, and the third in the Shuangjing area.

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While I haven't moved beyond a 1km-circle, I feel that I've upped my status by a degree, and I don't intend to back down. For me the selling point was the dining table; for the first time in two years I'm not bending over a tv-facing coffee table to eat every day.

The new digs weren't necessary, but certainly invited. At first I wasn't so keen on moving, as I was signed on to a one-year contract that would require breaching. But my 'family' was growing, and needed more space. My girlfriend Liuliu took the initiative of seeking a new pad. For a while I was resistant, but when she booked a viewing I obligingly accompanied her, and what I saw changed me.

My new apartment is about 50% bigger than my old one. It also has a dining table, and a large living room. But the clincher was the rent, only 4% more than my previous place. I now pay 3500CNY/month (about $630 at the current exchange rate), and I live in the same area as before, only a 10min walk from the Guomao city-centre (of course, Beijing is too big to have one downtown, but this one is the 'traditional' downtown). It's 110m²(1200sq.ft) and fully furnished. My last place was short a bed in the spare bedroom.

My area is called 百环家园 (baihuan jiayuan), which means 100-ring park. Not sure why.

The New Digs

the spare bedroom


Another good reason for the move was the small zoo I'm now supporting. I have a kitty and a puppy; my life has blissful moments, and of course, many more are absolute chaos and frustration. Our cat (Asa) was born around July '08, so is now about 10 months old. Our puppy (Bailey) was born on Feb.2nd, '09, and so is only 2 month old as of now. We had our cat first, and when they first were introduced to eachother there was some predictable furor on Asa's side, but now they play together all the time.

Here are some photos of the new members of my family.



A mature cat

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Asa - The Adventures of (acquiring) Super Kitty


Living in China is not easy. There is much to be embraced anew, and much left behind. One of the hardest parts is living away from family, and that includes my three cats in Toronto. I miss them a lot. Previously I was worried about getting a cat here. On the forefront of my worries were questions about purchasing cat-products (there are no Pet Smart's here), laws (there are so many I don't know, why not be paranoid about a law against foreigners having pets) and lastly, what to do if I have to leave the country. But my yearning grew too strong, and I caved, allowing those questions to be answered as they come. I got a kitten.

My girlfriend helped me look for it online. Picking a kitten from pictures is a tough task, since you feel like you're neglecting some because they're not cute enough. But alas, we chose the one I thought looked the cutest, an orange, long-hair female (the lady-cats tend to tear up the house a bit less in my experience).


Picking her up was an adventure in of itself. For those who don't live in Beijing, one word can summarize a lot of the character of this city: HUGE. I don't have a car, nor do I plan on buying one at any time, as driving is much slower than taking the subway. Subwaying does have its cons though: crowds and transfers. The subway system in Beijing is pretty complex now, and is on its way to becoming the most comprehensive (longest, most stations etc.) system in the world (see the wiki, or see the plan for 2012). According to Wiki, and corresponding to similar information I've heard here, ridership doubled from 2007 to 2008, to 1.2billion/year, mostly as a result of the addition of three new lines. On Jan.2nd I went to Xidan shopping district, and that day alone the subway ridership was 6.6 million, a new one-day record. That's, like, 2.5 Torontos. Though there are many lines and many cars to distribute this volume across, it still boils down to a pretty squashed ride. Rush hour is bad. On top of that, many of the transfer stations require walking distances that would be about 5min if unhindered. However the rush-hour crowd forces you to penguin-walk it, taking sometimes up to 10min depending on the transfer station.

On this day, I went to work as normal, walking to line 10, which I take from one extreme to the other (overall 16 stations), transfering to line 13 which I take for one station, and then walking a bit to work, which takes me from 65 to 70min. I got the call from my girlfriend that the kitty had been secured, but that we had to travel to a place called Shijingshan to get her. I used the very useful Baidu map of Beijing (baidu is the Chinese equivalent of google) to find that it was in the far West of the city, nearly as far as the subway can take you. I left work at 4. By the time I got home it was nearly nine.


To give you a feel of the complexity of my route, let me explain my travels. First, you must look at this map of the Beijing subway system as it is now. In the morning, I walk to Shuangjing station on line 10 (10min). I then take line 10 North and West to Zhichunlu (45min) and transfer to line 13 (5min). I take line 13 North for one station to Wudaokou (2min) then walk to work (7min). My girlfriend asked me to meet her at her work, so I walked back to the subway line 13 (7min), took it South to Zhichunlu (2min), transfered to line 10 (5min), went West three stations to Suzhoujie (8min). We then decided we should take the subway to the kitty since there was too much traffic, so we took line 10 back East to Zhichunlu (8min), transfered back to line 13 (5min), went South to Xizhimen (6min), transfered to line 2 (10min, super busy), took line 2 South three stops to Fuxingmen (8min), transfered to line 1 (6min), and took that West to Guchenglu (35min). At this point, we walked to the bus station (4min), took it one stop in the wrong direction due to bad directions by kitty owner (3min), crossed the road (4min!!!!!), then took the same bus in the opposite direction to our destination (15min). When we had acquired the kitty, we took a different bus to Bajiao Amusement Park station (15min), then boarded line 1 with the kitty in my jacket, took that East to Guomao (55min), transfered to line 10 (6min), and took that South for one stop to Shuangjing (2min). Finally, we walked to the grocery store (5min), bought some kitty things (10min), then walked home (10min).

This accounts to 298min, just under 5 hours. I also underwent 6 transfers, accruing 37min of transfer time (if someone complains about their 40min commute I may just punch them), and managed to travel in all directions using 4/6 subway lines currently open. The photo below shows this on map scale (time not accounting for walking and transfering):

Without a car, traveling 45km in Beijing, and crossing 6 transfer stations in one day, is very taxing on the soul. But Asa made it all better.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Chinese Number Superstitions - Basics

In the West, we are apparently scared of the number 13. And some people would consider seven a good number, probably because of lucky triple 7's at casino's. However, we don't really have universally agreed upon lucky number, rather individuals decide their own, unique lucky number(s). Mine is 23. More on that later.

In China, there are generally agreed upon good numbers, and bad numbers. First, the bad ones.

Some Western superstition has made its way here, in the form of 13. Many buildings will skip the 13th floor. But that's only occasional, and not deeple engrained in the general consciousness of the people I encounter.

The real bad one is 4.

In Chinese, the word four is very similar to the word for death. How does this manifest itself then? At weddings, money-gifts (yes, they only give money at Chinese weddings, so much more useful than a cheese-fondue kit), the value should never contain a 4. Also, the fourth floor is skipped in many buildings. But it goes deeper. Any floor with a four is skipped (eg. 4, 14, 24, 34, 40-49 etc.). So you could be on a floor labeled 60 and really it's the 44th floor above ground level, the worst ever. I try to educate people I know about this phenomenon, but they are certain that it is simply the 'number' four that causes problems. So why then is 'four' hundred yuan bills a problem? It's all very convoluted, as superstitions usually are.

Then there are some good numbers, many actually: 6, 8 and 9. If you consider that there are only 9 base numbers (0 doesn't really count), this is a pretty staggering proportion. Each has its own 'type' of fortune.

I'll begin with 6. In China, a series of 6's is quite good. The number of the beast, 666, is not connected to anything demonic whatsoever in Chinese culture, but rather "smooth transaction". The Chinese expression for this is "liu liu da shun" meaning "six six big smooth" in direct translation, or a more idiomatic translation would be 'six for smooth sailing'.

In Canada I could not imagine an ad with a '6' being purposely placed in a row of three in a major subway station, where I snapped this.

All-6 plates are quite common. This plate is actually a police car, but you can bet that the particular officer didn't get this by chance.

Eight is all about the cash. The expression goes "ba ba fa cai," meaning "eight eight get rich". As such, if you can afford it or have connections in the government, a typical Chinese aristocrat will have a licence plate loaded with 8's.

Here is a compilation of '8-plates' I found online by searching in Chinese "good licence plates." It is generally understood that to get these you have to have serious cash or government connections.

Nine is for longevity. "Chang chang jiu jiu" means "long long nine nine." Nine, pronounced 'jiu' in Chinese, sounds the same as another word pronounced 'jiu' which means "long time." So if you want a long life, you horde the nines.

A compilation of '9-plates' I found online, again just searching "好车牌" -> good car plates. Nines are not as common as eights.

And to completely contradict what I said earlier about 4, it also has fortune attached to it as well. Yes, it may be death under certain circumstances, but it can also represent wishes coming true. The expression goes "si si ru yi" and translates to "four four dreams come true." I guess Chinese people dream of death.

Clearly this guy didn't spend the dough on an H2 to be screwed by an ultimate death plate.

Finally, I'd just like to say that my favourite number being 23 has nothing to do with Michael Jordan, or the movie, but rather something I have preserved since young childhood. My address being 23 Clarendon Ave. in Ottawa probably got it all started. But it really kicked in when I realized (as in the movie 23) that 23 is everywhere. Seriously. Next time you're watching a random movie pay attention to the table number as characters are eating or the price, 23 makes it in there. And I'm not talking about decomposing numbers and adding them again, because you can make up any number theory doing that. As well, 23 is a prime number, and the largest multiple which fits into 69.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Another day, another step towards having seen it all

Tonight, as I was casually watching a Chinese tv program whilst simultaneously surfing, playing a game, and reading updates about the India situation, I caught glimpse of something that I really never thought I'd ever see: a 70-year old Chinese lady performing hiphop dance. There was an entire special about her, relating her experiences on tv and different performances, the way her daughter felt about it (summary: shame gave way to acceptance). But I had to see it to believe it. Thought I'd share this with you. If you know of any equivalents in N.America, please let me know. I'm not sure how I'll console myself if I find out hiphop jumped about two generations in age and penetrated a hundred generations of Chinese culture all in one fell swoop.