Saturday, April 30, 2011


Last March my sister visited me in Beijing and took home some of the Gobi Desert, in her lungs, courtesy of one of Beijing's famous spring sandstorms.

This year we haven't seen as much of the famous red silt in the air. We've been grateful for more blue sky days, when we could actually see the sky. It's made me appreciate windy days more, as the wind blows the pollution away. The weather report for yesterday and today has been slightly disappointing though - blowing sand.

My plans for the day including doing some work and meeting a friend at a lakefront cafe, indoors, then dragonboating on Houhai with my team. The outdoors activity is dependent on the amount of sand in the air though. When I'm walking outside I can easily wear a mask or a scarf to cover my face but that's harder to do when I'm paddling in the boat.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


This afternoon a friend and I set out for the Joy City shopping mall Apple store to purchase his first Mac product. The eight story den of consumerism was hopping - not with brothel-goers, as the name might imply, but with consumers itching to shop at Sephora, Calvin Klein, Zara, H&M and other international chains.

After a ridiculously bad experience in the Apple Store we decided to use several hours of waiting time to sate our appetite for Sichuan food and Dairy Queen, and then to buy me a new pair of sneakers. I decided to skip the New Balance shop, only gave cursory glances to Adidas and Nike, and headed to the Li-Ning store. Li-Ning is a Chinese sportwear brand, akin to Adidas and Nike, selling sports shoes, clothing and equipment to a mostly Chinese audience, with a reputation for quality akin to the international brands. The company has entered into the U.S. market but it is still building it's reputation for North American consumers.

Walking in, the usual "I am a giantess foreigner whose feet will not fit into anything you have" concern was foremost in my mind. I decided to try anyway. The first pair of shoes I asked about was not available in my size (European size 40-41) in women's shoes, but there was a men's version. The shop assistant did not bat an eyelash when I said I wanted to see the men's, he just said 'ke yi' (okay) and went to get them from the storeroom. Maybe it was because I'm a foreigner and I'm intimidating, maybe it was that he didn't care, but it was a complete 180° turn from my experience in the U.S. when I attempt to try on men's shoes. The whole time I was there the assistant seemed helpful and was willing to answer my questions using vocabulary for the Mandarin-impaired.

The first pair of shoes was a bit loose around my toes so I tried on several others. Mostly in blue. There was only one pair of women's shoes I tried, a fun pair of red running shoes with some black, but the largest size was too small if I actually want to do any moving in them. The final pair I tried, a men's running shoe in white and blue, was comfortable and fit well, and even stood up to the hard cornering and stopping I did as I ran laps around the shop to test them out. The chevron-like logo on the side was coming off so the assistant pulled a new pair from the storeroom for me which had the logo firmly in place.

If Li-Ning starts to make larger women's sizes I'll go back to buy the red sneakers. Until then, I'm quite happy with my new blue men's running shoes. I'll see for myself if the quality is comparable to the international brands and if they are as comfortable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Brief Conversation in the Park

Yesterday some friends and I took advantage of the beautiful, warm spring holiday and had an afternoon picnic at Liuyin Park. It's one of the smaller public parks in Beijing, but the lake and an absence of crowds made it one we will visit again.

After our picnic by the lake we took a walk around the park. My two friends, their infant daughter and I enjoyed watching the koi in the lake, feeling a breeze in the trees and looking up at the blue sky. We stopped to chat with some of the other park visitors, all locals, along the way. While we were crossing a bridge we met a ten year old girl and her family and stopped for a quick conversation.

My friend: "Do you speak English?" (in English)

10 y.o. girl: "iPod"

While we all laughed the girl decided to continue, in Chinese: "iPods are made by Apple."

She may not be learning much English at school but the Apple media machine has certainly spread its message.