Leaving Beijing

Jak was not impressed with riding the train to the international terminal of Beijing Capital Airport.  We’re returning to Canada after 7 years away.  Hopefully more adventures will follow.


I’ll be happy to be leaving the pollution behind.  I think Beijing was buried somewhere in that smog.


China Snacks: Lay’s Numb & Spicy Hot Pot Flavour Chips

I think Sichuan peppers are absolutely awesome.  The first time I had them in a dish, I didn’t like the heat and numbness on my tongue.  It was on my second dish that I learned to like the sensation.  It wasn’t long before I learned to love Huājiāo.  The endorphin rush that comes with turning flush in the face is incredible.  I’m really going to miss hot pot.

That’s why I was excited to try numbing spice flavoured chips, especially when they’re advertised as “Intense & Stimulating.”  My assessment is that they weren’t anywhere near spicy enough.

Lay's Numb & Spicy Hot Pot Flavour Chips

400 Km per hour on the ground

I took the Shanghai Pudong express maglev train, mostly just to see what travelling at 400 kilometers per hour feels like.   It feels like nothing, until you look out the window and see that you’re flying past card on a highway that are going close to 100.

A quaint street in Shanghai

Somewhere tucked between the towering skyscrapers of Shanghai is a quaint little brick village.

Quaint street in Shanghai

The signs on the street are pretty good too.  I’m not sure what happens in a Memory Loss room.

Memory Loss Room

You need spicery and I need protection

Restaurant waste collection in Beijing

Starting around 9:00 pm every night, trucks of empty plastic barrels roll into the city to collect waste from restaurants.  The foul smell of rotting food fills the air of the back alleys as the waste is poured out of garbage cans and into the barrels.    A lot of the food scraps are used to feed pigs in the city’s farms.  But the most popular collection points seem to be from hotpot restaurants, probably because the oil is still being illegally recycled.  This recycled oil is called “gutter oil” and is particularly disgusting to read about.

Restaurant waste oil collection for recycling in Beijing, China

I’ve walked past this truck hundreds of times as it’s always being loaded out the back of a hotpot restaurant just outside of my apartment.  I’ve always wondered where the oil goes.

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.

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.


The Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

The Olympic Forest Park is a huge park just north of the Olympic park area in Beijing. It’s great because it’s huge, and there’s a subway stop right at the entrance.

Off in the distance from my apartment window, I’ve watched the slow growth of these strange towers for the past year. They’re being built right at the edge of the park, but I have no idea why.


In the event that you’re completely new to walking, there are signs helpfully posted to provide you with essential knowledge.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.



The history of Chinese bureaucracy

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


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.

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.
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.
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).
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.


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.