Chinese New Year fireworks in Beijing

Each of the two weeks (or so) of Chinese New Year means only one thing in Beijing: Fireworks. They start before the official holiday and run well after.

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This year, the government was very strict in enforcing the period during which fireworks could be set off. Not only that, they raised the prices significantly from previous years.

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That didn’t stop people from unloading cars full of fireworks to set them off in any open space. Open space can loosely be defined as the width of any street.

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The last night when fireworks can be sold translates into discounted fireworks. After three Chinese New Years celebrations in Beijing, I finally got up the nerve to set off my own fireworks. From the local stand I ended up with this big box of American cowboy gun-shooting motorcycle-riding fireworks from the Panda Fireworks Company.

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I’m sure the Panda Fireworks Company is a reliable manufacturer of fireworks, and these were trucked across the country without incident, but they still scared the crap out of me. Seriously, everyone has reason to be scared of a box of explosives made in China for domestic consumption. After all, this is a country that can’t sell watermelons that don’t explode.

The salesman definitely found it novel that I had to ask how to light the box. He tore at a bit of tape off one corner of the box and revealed a fuse that looked much too short to be reasonable.

I proudly and nervously carried my giant box of fireworks to an open space outside of a Bentley dealership. I pulled a lighter from my pack, lit that little fuse and, as the you can tell from this photo, I ran like hell.
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I survived, and managed to get a photo of the awesomeness that erupted from my box of Panda Fireworks Company fun. The motorcycle-riding gun-shooting cowboy is an entirely fitting image for what happened. Awesome.

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Haidilao hot pot restaurant, Beijing

Haidilao is a famous hot pot restaurant in Beijing. They don’t take reservations, but while you wait you can get a manicure, have your shoes shined, and play games. Once you’re at your table, be sure to order the hand pulled noodles because they’re served by a dancing noodle puller.

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This is one of the first times I’ve been to Haidilao at a normal meal time. It’s open 24/7. I can assure you that hot pot tastes even better at 4:00 am.

Jak is aiming for world domination

Hello humans. My name is Jak. See this globe? I will rule everything on it once my plan is complete. Then I will no longer have to suffer this diet you have me on.

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In the meantime, would you be so kind as to fill up my food bowl? Seriously, I’m starving.

Why did you have to listen to that veterinarian? I’m fat. I accept it. Why can’t you just let me eat in peace instead of rationing out portions all the time?

What an Air Quality Index of 886 looks like

If you’ve ever wondered what an AQI of over 800 looks like, here’s a glimpse. It’s like fog, except it burns. The winter of 2013 was a really bad time for pollution in Beijing. It’s been significantly worse than any of the other years I’ve been here.

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There are days when I come back into my apartment and realize that I smell like coal and the water runs black when I rinse myself in the shower.  Bloomberg says that it’s akin to living in an airport smoking lounge.

Bloomberg: Beijing pollution January 2013

Swan Lake at the National Center for the Performing Arts

Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts is definitely my favourite building in Beijing.  It might actually be my favourite building period.  From the outside, it looks like a giant egg.  Inside, there’s four theaters surrounded by a gorgeous wood, titanium, and glass shell.

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The Russian National Ballet’s presentation of Swan Lake was also pretty impressive, but not as spectacular as I expected a Russian Ballet to be.  I was expecting more Baryshnikov and less walking.  That being said, any evening at The Egg is a fantastic evening.

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The history of Chinese bureaucracy

I finally made it to the re-opened Chinese national museum.

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One of the highlights for me were the documents on display.  It has continuously amazed me how organized the Chinese bureaucracy has been since the beginning of recorded history.  Some are simple records like inventories of goods or bank account ledgers.

Others are remnants of the type of bureaucracy that exists only to control populations.  Captions are directly from the displays.

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Travel Pass: This travel pass was issued in 855 AD by the Chinese Government to a Japanese monk named Enchin.   Many Japanese delegations were sent to China during the Sui and Tang Dynasties to learn about Chinese culture and technology.
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Bronze Pass: Xixia Dynasty (1038-1227) This pass was used by Xixia messengers delivering urgent documents or orders. It consists of two bronze plates that fit together into each other – each inscribed with Xixia script.
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Household Registration Certificate: Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) This certificate was issued by the Ming government in 1371 to a man named Jiang Shou of Qimen county (present day Shenxian, Anhui province).
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Chinese passport issued by Chinese Ambassador to Germany (1907).

Found: hockey sticks

Someone from the office must have left old hockey sticks in the trash. They quickly found a new home.

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A small Thanksgiving dinner

Our decision to host a small Thanksgiving dinner for friends soon spiralled into hosting dinner for 45 people. It was the exact number that fit at one long table stretching the entire length of the apartment.

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Tiananmen Square during the National Party Congress

Kyle decided to visit Tiananmen Square, but I forgot to warn him that it was the first day of the 18th Party Congress. This is the big event where every party leader comes to Beijing to “decide” on the leadership of the country for the next five years. He came back home that evening with some great photos.

On a normal day, there are tons of uniformed police around Tiananmen, but they were in full force on this day.

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For most of the morning, it seems that they kept tourists from entering the square, then changed their minds as the entry queue grew too long.

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As if the uniformed police weren’t enough, the photos of the “under-cover” police falling into step and marching around the square to and from their posts just added to the spectacle.

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It must be a tough job to be a pretend tourist for a living. I knew there were a lot of under-cover watchers in the square, but I had no idea that there were this many.

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My personal favourite is the uniformed police who walk around and scan the ID cards of “suspicious” looking people by reading the ID card’s RFID chip on a hand-held computer. They’ve taken it to a new level with these strange looking scooter vehicles.

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Fall colours in Niagara on the Lake

I had a nice short visit back home and we decided to take a walk around Niagara on the Lake. The fall colours were fantastic.

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I’ll be honest, I know it was a British fort, but I’m not quite sure why we still fly the flag over Fort George.

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Marm

Anyone I grew up with knows what a huge influence my Grandmother was on me.

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She passed away on October 1st. Jen Smalldon wrote a great letter to the editor in the Fort Erie Times which summarized what her influence meant for a lot of people. There’s also a Facebook group with a lot of great comments. Thanks to everyone who helped my family out when we really needed it.

Boarding the bus in Beijing

One of the more difficult things to get used to in China is the ruthless pushing and shoving anytime there’s a crowd.  I was walking across an overpass near Beijing West Train Station and paused to take a photo.  I ended up shooting these videos as bus after bus was boarded by pushing hoards of people.

A Beijing Guoan game

I live a big block away from Worker’s Stadium, where the hometown football club plays. We got nosebleed seats for a game against Dalian, but it was the crowd that provided most of the entertainment. The game was slightly absurd, and the referees did their best to ensure that Beijing maintained their one point lead. It seems that as long as you play for Beijing, you’re allowed to pick up the ball and walk with it.

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The white gloved People’s Armed Police occupied the first row of the stands and kept watch on the crowd from seats on the field.

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The biggest shock was that after the game, nearly everyone started collecting garbage and taking it out of the stadium. I’ve never seen anything like this, let alone in China.

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Signs that amuse me: Biem lfdlkk

English names for Chinese stores often leave something to be desired. In this case, they weren’t even trying. I think they pounded on the keyboard and decided that would be sufficient.

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Seen at the the Beijing South Train Station.