Saturday, October 23, 2010

Beijing Marathon

The Beijing Marathon was this morning. Thirty thousand runners started at Tiananmen Square and ran through Dongcheng, Xidan and Haidian districts before finishing the race in the Olympic Village.

The conditions today are cool, wet and blustery. That didn't stop people from standing at the side of the road and cheering though. The route passed right in front of my building. After watching the first runners from the warmth of my kitchen I bundled up and went outside to cheer for the non-elite runners and add my voice to the mix of fans yelling jia you. There were athletes wearing jerseys from the U.S., Italy and Thailand, as well as a number of Chinese universities. A small group of students from China Agricultural University and I stood together to cheer - they told me the names of the Chinese universities and I told them, in Chinese, the countries of the foreign runners wearing their countries' names in English (or Italian).

For the first several hours the roads were closed to vehicle traffic, other than the buses that picked up injured or over-tired runners. At 11:30 the cars started coming. The last runners didn't pass by until noon though, making it a dangerous spot for the back of the pack. After the road blocks came down the cheering squad and I went and stood first by the road, then on the sidewalk to cheer runners from close up and hand out bottles of water that we took from the race organizers, since the hydrating stations had been taken down. One foreign runner asked where I was from - he was another New Yorker.

Jia you and congratulations to all the runners! They did a great job!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The temperature yesterday was chilly enough to keep most dragonboat paddlers away from practice, even though the air quality was not bad. A few of us did show up for practice though, followed by a lazy end of season dinner at a local noodle house we started visiting this year.

Instead of our usual routine on the water we hung out on dry land at the boat house and kicked a shuttlecock around. We were perfectly happy doing that until a news crew for CNC, a Chinese-owned news channel that broadcasts overseas, showed up and asked to get footage of us on the water. After a few looks at one another we decided to oblige. The British reporter asked me a few questions on camera then we untied a boat, got our small (seven-person) crew loaded and helped the reporter get comfortable in sitting at the front of the boat. We did a few circles around the lake with her before dropping her back on dry land. She was surprised at how fast we move and was curious about our team when I explained how many of our expat members previously paddled on teams in their home countries.

There were only a couple of other small boats on the lake so we had a clear practice ground and took the boat down under the bridge to Qianhai, the smaller lake just south of Houhai, the southernmost of the three lakes that make up the Shichahai area. I stopped paddling for a few moments out of shock - the water was the cleanest I'd ever seen it, we could see the bottom of the lake in some places. Under the bridge the water is fairly shallow. There's lots of seagrass, which I expected, but there were also bottles, credit cards, plastic bags and even a few children's toys partially buried in the mud. After we paddled around the island once we headed back up to Houhai and the boathouse in the dark.

Many of the trees in the area are willow trees, but the Gold Sailing Boathouse also has a pomegranate tree on their grounds. While relaxing and warming up for a few minutes inside a few of us shared one of the freshest pomegranates I've ever eaten. The seeds were bright red and tasted amazing.

Paddling and the cold temperature piqued our appetite for a good dinner, which last night mean Zhajiangmian, or Old Beijing style noodles, tossed with a soybean paste sauce and vegetables. We also ordered several of our other favorite dishes: textured tofu in a sweet sauce with peanuts, radish salad, shredded cabbage with jellyfish, small fried fish that are lightly battered and served with a cumin powder dip and one of my favorites: green beans fried with garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers. Yum!

While we waited for our meal we enjoyed a snack the one of the guys bought from a street vendor: roasted chestnuts. The only time I'd eaten chestnuts before last night was in Paris in 1993, and I hadn't like them: they'd tasted bitter. Everyone was digging in last night though so I tried one. They were much sweeter than the ones I ate in Paris, and meatier. Totally worth the effort to peel.

A good practice on and off the water with teammates. Great food. Perfect afternoon.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sunday, Cloudy Sunday

The Mid-Autumn Festival is over and temperatures are dropping. Houhai (the lake where my dragonboat team practices) will freeze over soon and our practice season will be over. This afternoon will probably be one of our last paddling sessions for 2010. We've had clear blue skies all week but today the skies are grey.

We'll still paddle today though. The weather is grey but the air quality is 'Moderate' according to the U.S. Embassy's Twitter feed. Last Sunday the 'Air Quality Index was over 300, which counts as 'Hazardous,' but the pea-soup quality of the air when we looked out our windows made that obvious. It was the worst I remember it for months, if not this year, and we canceled our dragonboat practice.

Today we paddle under a cloudy sky. Jia you!