At the Top

Beijing is not really a city of surprises. I mean, the Chinese people are kind of predictable, in the most fantastic of ways. Even the corruption in this country (which there is, plenty of) is a fairly predictable act, certainly in comparison to the corruption that is rampant in every little crevice of East Africa. And at the very least, when the corruption here is reported on the reporting is good and well-documented. Ha.

view from atmosphere bar

This city of Beijing; this culture of China; it’s predictable for a slew of reasons, mostly because of the remnants of communism, but also because of the values of the people. Same difference? Maybe. Regardless, the values of the modern day Beijing ren, the Beijing people, shoot for the sky–I mean this quite literally, with construction cranes in every direction as I look out my 16th floor window, and more glass and concrete piled in odd forms (pants building!) than I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Also metaphorically, though, with its pursuit of higher goals in education, community, governance, youth, food; really, it seems like they want to be the best at everything. How they go about it is different than our American free-for-all, willy-nilly, Wild West sort of way. It’s with a Chinese anything-goes sense of disorganized chaos, most exemplified by their eight-lanes of moving traffic. It’s something a foreigner will only understand after spending some time here.

Plastic table

So, a thrilling and confusing ride at times, but definitely no surprises. Of course in this there are problems. With every yin there is a yang– with great infrastructure comes heavy pollution, with its shining value of the common people comes massive government oppression, in its many forms of breakthrough technology there is insane levels of censorship. With a new generation, it must attempt to remember the generations past. But in my short time here I see these negatives are tolerated and accepted, and I believe it comes because everyone knows the end game: let’s be better, let’s be Chinese and let’s let people know who we are. They will get over pollution if it means their buildings will be great. They will overlook the strict government mandates because they are One People. They will deal with censorship because they can scan a QR code and be my friend. And they are slowly learning how to use organic farming, how to re-invent their cuisine, and how to forge meaningful relationships with the West, all while remembering their forefathers.

Upstairs is more wonderful

So, I’m living in my relatively predictable state with a culture that presents no major surprises every day, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sense of new or exciting, or that there’s nothing special about it. Limits are being stretched, the culture of China is changing. I look forward to being in a country that is so quickly going through a pubescent stage of modernization, and look forward to personally getting to know this place in what will be, I’m sure, a fast four years.

Lingnan Plant Market

One of the many markets that I only recently explored was the local plant and flower market. Located just across the river from my home, I’m surprised I hadn’t ventured out sooner.

It’s too bad, because there were aisles and aisles of potted plants and flowers, from as little as $5-$10 for a fern that reached my height. I could have definitely spent a pretty penny at this market, getting some plants for our house. It’s actually probably a good thing I discovered this market so late in our tour.

Of course being in China, you can’t go to a market and not see a fire hazard. For example, this light, that was hanging down the middle of an aisle, dangling by a wire. Things like this used to scare/anger/annoy me, but now make me smile. I’m actually going to miss this stuff!!

Granted, this market wasn’t as exciting as say, the kitchen market, or the jewelry market, or the leather market. After all, they’re just plants. But as with all outings in Guangzhou, it’s interesting just to walk around and see the quantities of stuff being sold, advertised, and packed. Watching the locals go about their daily business is also akin to people watching at the airport- it provides a surprising amount of entertainment and amusement.

It was plenty hot by the time I was out- and being the middle of the day, business was slow. Shirts were off, cards were being played, women were sitting back fanning themselves. People were lounging like lazy cats all over the market, with ample amounts of shade created by the large overhang between the aisles. Where there was no overhang, there was plenty of plant shade to be found. I guess there’s definitely some benefits to be working at the plant market.


Breakfast Time in Zhangjiajie

On our way to an early morning hike in Zhangjiajie National Park, we passed by a string of local restaurants, open to their clientele for a hearty breakfast.

The local breakfast seemed to be based around noodles, boiled fresh to order and paired with your selection from a variety of spicy broths. Other options included steamed dumplings (饺子;jiaozi) or simple rice porridge with toppings such as salted peanuts, marinated cucumbers, and preserved vegetables.

Not a bad way to start the day, if you ask me. (Although, those spicy broths could be potentially dangerous)

Hangin’ with Mr. Local

A long day ends perfectly with sitting outside a local restaurant and enjoying a good local beer.

The minority group of the region call themselves tu jia (土家), which roughly translates into earth familiy. Looking at the menu, the locals prefer meat-based foods with lots of preserved and wild mountain vegetables. Also lots of spice, and as our (mediocre) dinner proved that night, very salty.

My favorite part of any trip is the chance to get chummy with the locals. Which is why it’s nice to travel with the DiploMan, who is just so good at making friends with them. I suppose it’s his “Arab” good looks or perhaps his “exceptional business skills” or his “amazing Chinese”, all of which were presumed that evening.

Don’t think we were getting wasted over the cluster of beers on the table, either- each of those light and tasty local beers were 2.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) per bottle.

Happy Memorial Day!

It’s Memorial Day, the quintessential Monday holiday, and the unofficial kick-off to summer. I hope you’re kicking back…like this guy, pictured here.

A lot of people lounge around the streets in China- on the back of wagons, on park benches, on little plastic stools….but this guy took his afternoon nap to the next level. This corner, which I’ve passed hundreds of times, had never been subjected to any piles of trash or old furniture. It’s not even really close to any major buildings. As you might imagine, it made for quite a confusing and interesting sight. I also find it funny that he took off his shoes. As if he was going to preserve the quality of the couch?

Anyway, I just got back from an amazing 2-day trip to Zhangjiajie, in the Hunan province. It was my first trip to Hunan, which is where my paternal grandmother was originally from- and I learned why that side of the family likes such spicy and salty foods so much!

Zhangjiajie is probably more appealing to the masses, however, for being the inspiration to the fictional backdrops of Avatar. For example:

In the last two days, I set foot on some of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen, and visited what seemed like a surreal world. A lot of walking, hiking, and riding of cable cars was done. A lot of avoiding Chinese tourists was also tried, but alas it was inevitable to be drowned in the masses of matching group hats and portable microphone headsets. Still, it was an amazing trip. Pictures to come!

Pretty Lady at the market


Despite all the posts about being in the Bay Area, I’m actually back in Guangzhou. It’s  been quite a good “home”coming back to China. For the past three weeks, I’ve quietly passed my 29th birthday with loved ones, celebrated a belated and wine-heavy Passover Seder in good company, saw all the friends that I’ve missed for the past two months (making me realize how hard it will be when we actually move in two-and-a-half-months, eep!), drank too much for B’s 31st, wrote a few pieces for Honest Cooking and eChinacities, re-acclimated to humidity, copy-edited like a maniac, and generally have been getting back into the Guangzhou groove.


Part of the groove includes going back to the markets and visiting my old vendors I once frequented on a weekly basis. I often wonder if they think about me like I think about them. The ladies I buy greens and leeks and scallions from is the most friendly with me, and the first thing out of her mouth when I returned after my hiatus was,

“Were you back in America again?”

I guess they do think about me!!


The Chicken Lady, though less friendly, gave me a nod of recognition as she always used to and offered me the freshest chickens she had. And the Mushroom Girl, despite my enthusiasm for the basket of asparagus she had this time, did not give one lick about my presence. Even though I know she must recognize me, her feigned ignorance makes me wonder if she does not. At least it’s a familiar ignorance.


Left and right, these vendors greet me with the term “Pretty Lady” (美女). Technically, this is how the Cantonese address young women, much like we call young ladies “Miss”. To my ears, the direct translation always throws me off a little. “Pretty lady, would you like some spinach today”? “Pretty lady, which of these chickens do you want, the freshest one”? “Pretty lady, long time no see!! Those cucumbers in the front are the best.” Everyone calls me a pretty lady (everyone except Mushroom Girl).

It’s nice being back in Guangzhou.