Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Beijing is not a city that sees a lot of snow. Even if I didn't already know that fact from having seen the seasons change, I would have known it from watching the city this evening.

This morning I woke as the sun was rising to the sight of fluttery white snowflakes sneaking past my window, disappearing before the hit the ground. An hour later I went out to walk in this most tangible sign of winter and to feel the flakes on my eyelashes as I walked down Sanlitun Jiubajie, the ground wet with the melted memory of the freeze. By noon it had stopped.

This evening I sat in a conference room with fifty others, listening to a presentation on international trade. At one point I glanced past the window and saw flurries (actual snow flurries!). By the time we walked out of the building after class there was snow on the ground. Not enough to build a snowman, almost a centimeter, but it was still enough to catch on our shoes and make people wearing shoes with no grip thing about snowboots.

A friend gave me a ride home. As her driver navigated through traffic that was curiously slow for that hour of the evening we watched as cars slid on the rode. A city bus rolled past us, pulled by a tow truck. Drivers here are not used to the wet, even if only rain, and that fact is aggravated by the lack of any traction on most tires.

I'm home now, cuddled up in cashmere, with the humidifier blowing moisture into the air and a cup of tea by my bedside. It would be lovely to see snow again in the morning, but for now I'm happy to have seen my first real Beijing snowfall.

Friday, February 13, 2009


After lunch on Thursday some friends and I retreated to a nearby cafe for tea and conversation, including a brief overview of what I ate while I was in the U.S. and what I brought back in my suitcase. No one was surprised to hear that I had bagels with me.

In addition to bagels, clothes, shampoo and lotion, I brought back four books: Joy of Cooking (a version issued prior to the inclusion of microwave directions), two poetry anthologies, and my high school copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, the writing guide known and loved by many. The conversation turned to WHY I would need or want it while in China.

Here, much of the English that we read is poorly written, grammatically incorrect, riddled with syntax errors and misspellings. It's annoying, and gets in the way of understanding meaning, but it's something with which we have to deal. Unfortunately, it also results in our writing getting sloppy.

A Venezuelan friend who spent many years in the U.S. commented that her native English-speaking friends had commented on her command of the language deteriorating during her time here. Other friends laughed as we told similar stories. I noted that I've caught myself sending emails with dangling participles and incorrect use of its/it's. We know better.

Long live The Elements of Style, and clear writing.

Back in Beijing

Wednesday night I arrived back to Beijing after a three week whirlwind tour of the east coast - five U.S. states, many relatives and friends. I didn't get to spend time with everyone I would have liked but I was able to see a lot of people. I also at a lot of great food: grilled oysters in Florida, a burrito at my favorite dive Mexican place in the East Village, Goan food on Second Avenue, bagels on the upper east side and in Queens, seared sea scallops at Cafe Des Artistes.

Beijing welcomed me back by embracing me with a gray sky and heavy air. My lungs felt tight as I walked to and from yoga class Thursday morning, but rain fell (for the first time in 110 days) while I was at lunch with friends (Hua Jia Ya Yuan on Gui Jie, Ghost Street, for shui zhu yu, carp wrapped in foil, pumpkin medallions and plum juice), clearing the way for easier breathing and a blue sky today.

When I went to the police station on Thursday to register my presence (required within 24 hours of arrival if you are in an urban area) I was told to come back today, which I did. I presented my passport and a copy of the form from the last time I registered, and the police woman entered my information into the computer. She then gave me the new computer-generated form (in triplicate) and asked me to look it over. The form includes information for the date by which you are required to leave China. My current visa allows me to stay in-country for up to 120 days after each entry, which means I need to leave for a day or longer before the middle of June. The form had an August date, probably due to a typo, showing that I can stay for 180 days. I got the attention of the officer and explained that I have a 120 day visa, 180 days would be lovely but it's longer than I'm allowed to stay on my current documents. She looked, confirmed that there was an error, made a manual correction and had her colleage double stamp it, then handed me my copy of the form. My required exit date was still incorrect, which I pointed out. We both laughed and she apologized as she corrected it manually on my form, which I would need to show to a police officer, along with my passport, if I were stopped in public and they requested it.

Glad to know that I haven't forgotten all of my Putonghua in the time I was away.