Friday, August 29, 2008

How to get the full story...

Anyone looking at the blog anew, well after our return to the US, should click previous posts to get the whole story!

PS: The ankle is getting better, though my doctor here ordered me back into a boot I had previously used post-foot surgery and said I had better be careful.  No swimming even for a while. Oops!  

In Jonathan's words: "One small step for Mom, one giant pain for Momkind."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Check out Jonathan's Olympics Posts

Being home, I can link freely (at least I'm not blog-blocked in the US).  His posts, both sports-related and non, provide an on-the-ground perspective from a seasoned China hand.  We found the account of a newspaper meeting to which he was the only foreign journalist invited to be especially intriguing.  

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Homecoming: a "housekeeping note" and message of summary

Now that I have had a chance to study the blog and its layout, I realize that photos on the side (those with captions) are laid out from bottom up chronologically.  I hope this has been clear and trust that my readers "get it."

A little tired, probably a little wired--hoping that the No Jet Lag pills work, so that we'll get to sleep and stay asleep at 2 a.m. and beyond. A lot to ask after 17 nights and a 15 hour time difference.

Very weird to walk into the house, turn on TV and see live coverage of Olympic marathon on streets we walked (and limped) just a few days ago.

In a way the long flight back to North America, as well as the two day stop in Shanghai, provided needed transition from the reality of life--our kids' life--in China and ours.  Beyond the excitement of being present at a really historic world event, I felt, flying back, an overwhelming emotional effect related to the Jonathan (and Amy) part of it all (hardly a surprise to those who know me, I am sure).  Rest assured, all who know Jonathan, that he is still the same cute, funny, loving Jonathan--and, despite the physical distance, he remains concerned about and engaged in news of family, friends, politics, Judaism, culture, non-Olympic US sports (especially the Packers) and other things related to his US home and roots. Experiencing him in Beijing at this time gave us a renewed sense of the nice life he has built, both as an individual and as part of a couple with Amy, there. It is an adult life replete with nice and interesting friends (and seemingly endless acquaintances/contacts) who care about him and respect him for his character and personality, for his professional acumen and achievements and for his facility for living in China that encompasses his Chinese language skills and his intense knowledge of the country and its people.  

As far away as we are most of the time, we do feel that we are part of their life and that they are part of ours.  It is not the conventional or logistically more convenient family life our friends and their adult children in the US maintain.  However, at least right now, it feels closer than I usually admit.

That said, would I trade it for less distance and the ability to visit them without visa applications, killer flights and eastern-style bathrooms?  Of course.  Will it happen?  Maybe.

But, again, please don't ask me if or when!

Another Olympic Scandal

You've heard about the stabbing, the lip synching cute little girl who replaced the unacceptable looking good singer at the Opening Ceremony, the doping of athletes and horses, the possibly underage gymnast and, most dreadful, the two old women detained for "re-education" (I thought that term went out with the Gang of Five) after applying through so-called legal channels to protest.  However, there is one previously (that I know of) unreported scandal of the Olympics: the taxi situation!

In both Beijing and Shanghai, where in the past cab drivers would pull over in droves at the sight of a fare, they became as scarce as late night in the rain after a Broadway show.  This was especially true after Olympic events.  Not only were there no designated cab queue areas just outside the Green and other venue sites, but often passing cabs simply drove by, even if their "available" lights were lit.  Sometimes drivers had someone sitting next to them in the front seat--brothers or girlfriends?--who looked to us like shills.  It was really frustrating, especially late at night, and everyone dependent on such transport complained about it.

You may remember that, during the multi-year lead-up to the Olympics, PR emanating from China advertised the English classes cab drivers were taking in preparation for the Games. The ones who took those classes must have moved on to doing who-knows-what.  As Jonathan remarked, taxi driving is a high turnover occupation in China, with new cabbies arriving daily from outlying provinces.  Also just like New York City!

Cabs that would pick us up were scarce even in central areas of town, and the word was that, with all the foreigners around who didn't know where they were going and/or couldn't communicate with the drivers, the drivers preferred to pass on the fares, rather than lose face by revealing that they couldn't understand the foreigners and also probably didn't know where to go either!  Once a driver mandated a RMB 50 up-front fare, rather than rely on the meter, for a downtown trip we knew to be less, but it was take it or try to convince another to pick us up.  Jonathan said we should have taken the registry number and motioned that we would phone in a report on this unethical action.  Even he had a hard time hailing a cab just by virtue of his Caucasian countenance; if there was a chance for him to speak Chinese to a driver, he got one.  

However, the cabs themselves were physically updated and spruced up from the past: fleets of late-model two-toned vehicles (lots of Hyundais), mainly gold on the bottom (purple-gold, maroon-gold, Packer-like green-gold) roamed the streets proudly unoccupied.

I asked him Jonathan morning (or whenever it was) before we flew out of China whether he wanted the scoop on this story, or whether I could break it!  He deferred to me.  After all, he's still at risk of being blocked in Beijing.  

Again, the dearth of cabs and the attitudes of the drivers pale compared to the human rights implications of detention and re-education.  But the situation presented visitors with great difficulties and cast aspersions on China's goal of a truly welcoming Olympics, not just a public relations smoke-and-mirrors facade.

Now that I am back on the eastern side of the Pacific, I can at last access the whole blog. Thanks for your comments to those of you who have posted same!

Shanghai Update--added in free-WIFI zone in Vancouver airport

We're in transit between Shanghai and home.  Before we flew out this afternoon (China time), we had a quick farewell visit with Amy (photo above), who came to the hotel to see us off.  She had just flown into Shanghai en route to a meeting in Hangzhou tomorrow (tonight staying with Francine, Mika and Mina and testing a Shanghai Thai restaurant for Tuk Tuk research purposes). Jonathan, obviously, had to stay in Beijing, but he called from a taxi taking him to a ping pong semi-final that he figured he might miss due to traffic and the fact that he was covering another final later.  Busy, busy....

Friday, August 22, 2008

China's Open Door Policy: the benefits of wheelchair travel

Although the sprained ankle forced me to drop out of competition in several medal-potential events and it's too late to register for the Paralympic Games that start in Beijing on Monday, we have found that a wheelchair opens doors!

The hotel staff has been wonderful--from the concierges, to maids, to breakfast dining room staff, swimming pool attendants.  We pretty much stayed put all day Friday--slept late, ate breakfast, swam, read on the outdoor terrace--and it was very restorative.  The ankle seemed to improve (a little Vicodin hasn't hurt, either).  About 5 pm we hopped (OK--Eli hopped, I slithered) into a cab, wheelchair in trunk, and went to dinner at a nearby Shanghainese restaurant; this cuisine is generally a tad greasier than other regional food, but great, if done well, nevertheless.  This place is obviously popular with locals (and Zagat- and, now, Frank-rated).  From there to Shanghai Stadium for the bronze medal football game between Belgium and Brazil.  Brazil beat Belgium 3-0.

Upon our initial approach to a gate, we were directed and escorted by one of the blue-uniformed volunteers to the Barrier Free Access area, where we were whisked through security after the plain-clothes guard (whose badge I.D. photo showed him in the green uniform of the high-level state security force) did a tushy-pushing  (try saying that fast three times!) wheelchair search.  Then up an elevator (well hidden, believe me) to a special first level viewing area mostly inhabited by guards and volunteers.  It was a great view of the field (photos soon; we didn't pay for two computers to use Internet service in the hotel, and the pics are on Eli's).

I have watched a lot of soccer in my time: Jonathan played from the age of five through his high school varsity team (and intra-murals in college and grad school; when he was buying new soccer shoes in grad school, it was time for him to pay for them himself!).  In Milwaukee either fall or spring weather conditions can range from freezing temperatures to steamy heat to rain or even early or late snow, and the non-school fields usually relegated fans to the grass.  No offense to Jonathan, but, of course, the game itself was at an entirely different level.  The opportunity to see an Olympic football game in Shanghai was exciting enough; watching from a wheelchair made it just a little more unique.

Weather: hot during the day, evening cooler with nice breeze in the stadium.

Facilities report: There was an "accessible" one adjacent to where we sat, but had used a public one (for pay) on the way in, per Eli's urgent need at the time.  Eastern, but at least I didn't slip (trying not to be graphic) and I have seen worse! 

Shanghai redux--Thursday, 21 August: Full Circle at the Hilton

In the morning we flew from rainy Beijing to sunny and steamy Shanghai and checked into the Hilton, which has been around a long time but is much refurbished and looks pretty good to us as we get close to going home (a little different from our Beijing digs).  This is the hotel where I stayed for my very first nights on my very first trip to China in 1995. That's when Jonathan spent a junior year semester studying in Beijing, and I met him here in Shanghai during his spring break.  After Shanghai, we traveled by train south to Hangzhou, a lovely city with a nice lake area, and then back north to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, a less than lovely place.  That stop led to the famous overnight bus trip back to Beijing on which I was later published in a special Asian Wall Street Journal travel section.  (It's not web accessible--maybe I can scan when we get home.) Let's just say that was a trip to remember, but Jonathan gave me major trooper credit.  I spent five days in Beijing then.  Who knew how many trips would follow?

My little accident has some advantages, as we checked in for the Beijing-Shanghai flight at the China Eastern special services desk, which delivered a good seat assignment and a wheelchair, which, in turn, afforded whizzing through security and onto the plane and another wheelchair waiting in Shanghai.  The Hilton "loaned" us a wheelchair, too.  In general, this part of the trip is about relaxing and transitioning back to real life; the sprained ankle just means even more of that, which is OK.  The pool is nice, the room is gorgeous, breakfast is included, and the hotel aiyis do clean!  We have seen the major tourist sites in Shanghai, including "the Jewish tour," numerous times.  What I really love to do here is walk the streets of the French Concession, where we're staying, but walking is not an option for me right now, and, between the heat and the sidewalk conditions, having Eli push me around to any degree is not worthwhile.  We went out for lunch a few blocks away, then came back and put in pool time.

Per the photos above, we had dinner with Amy/Jonathan friends (also ours for several years), Francine and Mika Johannsen (she's from Amy's home town, he's from Finland), at a fantastic Japanese place gave us the opportunity to meet four year Mina for the first time. She is a real live wire who loves "Aunt Amy and Uncle Jonathan."  Francine and Mika have enrolled Mina in a bi-lingual Chinese-English kindergarten, and she attends Saturday morning classes in Finnish and speaks all three pretty well already.  Mika is a shipping executive who has been in Asia for many years but mused out loud about a move to Australia.  Francine, like Amy, has done a number of marketing related business activities over the years; she now sells properties in Australia to Chinese investors, and she and Mika have bought one in Melbourne, though not originally with any intention to move.  Interestingly, he said his desire has to do with going back to living in a democratic country.  Mina is a Finnish citizen for that reason (and China does not allow dual citizenship) and also, if the need arises, for the educational and health benefits provided by Finland for its citizens.

It was a fun evening that also featured course after course of delicious food and a goodly amount of drink (a Mika hallmark)--beer and sake.  Definite medicinal value for the ankle!

Frank Guide Replaces Zagat: Ours Includes Hospitals (but everything OK!)

So, it was Wednesday, 20 August, our last full day in Beijing, very hot and sunny in that white air sort of way!  Despite no event tickets, let's just say that the day was not dull!

Jonathan had told us about a new development, called the Legation Quarter, located in, well, the former legation (aka--embassy) quarter--dating from roughly the early 1900s to the Communist takeover.  The area is a leafy enclave a couple of blocks east of Tiananmen Square. The actual new development is a square campus-like area of old rehabbed buildings that are or will be fancy restaurants with modern, glass-walled structures--future galleries, mostly, in-between.  

One restaurant already opened is Maison Boulud, the new Beijing installation of the famous (New York, Las Vegas, etc.) chef/restaurateur Daniel Boulud.  Maison Boulud is housed in the former American embassy, and a stunning restoration job it is.  The link to its web site provides a historical perspective on the building.

Foodie friends, you will be proud to know that we actually ate lunch at Maison Boulud! Patronizing the world-famous palaces of gastronomy is not our typical M.O.  (OK, we do love Boulevard in SF for special occasions, and we actually do have our first-ever Gary Danko reservation for our anniversary next month, but these are the exceptions to our rule).We also normally eat Asian in Beijing, but this was very special and a lovely (superb presentation) and delicious French lunch, pricey for China but less than New York.  Daniel himself strolled through the dining room while we were there, and I realized that I had seen him on the Today Show set (he did a demo promoting the Beijing place), apparently on the same broadcast as Wei Wei's dumpling spot.  If you go to the link to the spot, please know that we did not order the dish featured (the recipe that starts "1 whole baby pig"!).  The manager, Ignace from Belgium, told us that he had previously lived in San Francisco and worked at Gary Danko.

Now, most people don't associate Daniel Boulud with China, but for me, even before this trip, they will always be linked.  The only other time I ate at a Boulud place, the flagship Daniel in New York City, was five years ago, when I met Amy in New York for a couple of days.  She was traveling with her then bosses, real estate developers from here (whose main Beijing project is called Palm Springs, now largely a Marriott vacation ownership resort) named Nicole and William. New York was their last stop on a business trip on which she got a taste of deluxe travel: the Huntington Ritz Carlton in Pasadena, the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the St. Regis in New York (I was staying on the sofa at my friend, Toni Slotkin's, that trip!  Amy had a junior suite with fax machine and bathroom almost the size of Toni's living room.  But I digress...)  They invited me to dinner, and Toni and I correctly guessed ahead of time that it would be at Daniel, given the status-proving tendency of nouveau riche Chinese.  Nicole and William were in their 30s at the time; in the party, besides Amy and me, were two other couples--both closer to my age--one from Hong Kong and the other the operators of Chinese restaurants in New Jersey. We all had the tasting menu, which then was about $200 per person, and Nicole and William picked up the check.  Let's face it: they were the only ones from COMMUNIST China. Afterward I wrote a piece called "Mao's Children" that I pitched, unsuccessfully, to the New Yorker's Talk of the Town editors.  

After lunch, outside on the "green" that is the Legation Quarter site development, I asked Eli to take a photo of the outside of the glassed-in terrace at Maison Boulud where one couple of customers had been seated. After going over there with him, I started back to the main area, head still turned back to where he was, and missed a really tiny step down, landing on a very turned left ankle and a (now) very bruised right hand.  If I had screamed out "Free Tibet" naked in T. Square, I wouldn't have had more immediate attention than I got: first the security guard in front of the restaurant was helping me up, then a few people with an emergency kit, one of the managers (English-speaking Chinese man) and others, including one just to hold an umbrella over me as a sun shield.  They and Eli got me over to the stoop of the nearby Italian restaurant, where we had NOT eaten, and the people there got me an ice-filled plastic bag and ice water (which I figured was safe to drink from this upscale place).  The swelling bulged instantaneously, and the pain was severe.  Besides feeling dumb and aggravated, I felt almost faint from the shock, heat, etc., so the ice water was a godsend.

We had picked up a driver at the Capital Paradise gate that morning--also a Mr. Xu or Shi, but this became the EVEN (numbered and license plated) Mr. Xu.  We were to meet him back where he had deposited us on the other side of T. Square, about a 15 minute walk that I wasn't doing.  Fortunately, we had taken his mobile phone number.  The development manager called to tell him where to fetch us.  Once in the car, we called Jonathan, who talked to the driver, who was already planning to take us to United Family Hospital, the main installation of a medical clinic group owned by Roberta Lipson and Elyse Silverberg, two American Jewish women who were pioneers in business in China, having been here about 20 years.  They have also been the leading lights of Kehillat Beijing ( this web site address!), the liberal Jewish community group that preceded and still co-exisits with Chabad, which has been in Beijing for about five years.  (Jonathan plays on Kehillat's softball team, known as the "Pinyan Minyan." 

Like most other emergency departments, checking in mandated an up-front deposit (they direct bill some insurance companies, but not ours).  The doctor, whom we found out is the head of emergency medicine there, is a nice man named Martin Springer, originally from Chicago, has worked in Nepal and other interesting places, and his wife has played in bands at the Stone Boat.  The equipment seemed to be state-of-the-art (including x-ray table on which I first stood, as best I could, and then was mechanically lowered), although the film wasn't digital. 

Diagnosis: an avulsion fracture, really a bad sprain through which tendon or ligament chip off (avulse) some bone.  (Avulsion, avulse--talk about Scrabble/Bee Season words--new to us!) Treatment: ice, small air cast, ace bandages, elevation.  Since I have been the dream patient of many orthopedists in my time (my left ankle was one of my few previously untouched joints after three knee and two foot surgeries, rotator cuff, carpal tunnel), I know the drill better than Dr. Springer!  It was, however, heartening to have my son say, "Don't let this go, Mom, take care of it" while we were en route to the hospital.

Fortunately, 1) it's not that serious, 2) it was close to the end of the trip and 3) we travel with drugs!  

In the evening we had been invited for dinner by friends of Amy's and Jonathan's, Kim and Hal Fiske, at their large and lovely modern penthouse apartment.  Hal is a Boston-native attorney with Conoco Phillips (and slightly embarrassed to be a political liberal with an oil company); like Jonathan, he graduated from Brown, though eleven years ahead.  Kim is a lovely woman from Saigon, pregnant with a forthcoming new little sister for Joy, a two and a half year old whirlwind with a cute personality.  Kim and their aiyi cooked a wonderful Vietnamese dinner for the four of us, two mutual friends and Amy's dad.  A sprained ankle does not stop me--besides, as Eli said, we had to eat!  We re-engaged even Mr. Xu for the evening (he had a pretty profitable day, but well worth it to us.)

More to come from Shanghai...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beijing Wanderings--Tuesday, 19 August

Though the skies were a pleasant shade of blue, this was a very hot day, akin to the first weekend. However, we trudged around, undaunted (but "schvitzing"), in central Beijing.  First stop was Tiananmen Square:  the crowds seemed lighter than usual, probably because it has been closed to the public for much of the Games.  Despite this, there were Olympic-oriented decorations all over.

Next we went south to the Qianmen area, where much of what was a traditional hutong neighborhood has been rehabbed and replaced by a commercial--too faux to dignify by calling it gentrified-- Disneyland (or Universal Studios movie set) version of, well, Chinatown (Chinatown should look so good!).   This area makes the three-block lane we visited on Saturday look shabbily bohemian.  An acquaintance of Jonathan's, Michael Meyer (we heard him speak at the Commonwealth Club in SF during his book tour earlier this summer), wrote about such "change" from the vantage point of living in a hutong (near where we were yesterday) slated for demolition soon; his book is "The Last Days of Old Beijing."  After lunch (always!) we made our way through several blocks of real, remaining hutong and over to the impressive new China Center for the Performing Arts.  

About five o'clock, when we had had enough of the heat, we repaired to the Stone Boat for a quick cold drink while the staff prepared the place for a party to be hosted by the wife of the German Ambassador, her second "do" at the Boat.  We drank up and left quickly, though, to avoid giving potential real customers the wrong impression, as the staff was turning them away due to the forthcoming private party.  By this time the sun was nearly down, and we settled ourselves comfortably (sort of) on a shaded park bench to read before settling ourselves even more comfortably in the lobby bar of the nearby St. Regis Hotel (where GE and NBC big shots are ensconced) for a pot of tea and gorgeous bathrooms.  As Amy was the boat major domo for the party, Jonathan met us a little later and took us for a fabulous Szechuan dinner down a little alley not far.  

Note Corrections re: Wei Wei Su (Today Show) on post and photo caption

Monday, August 18, 2008

Last Night (and Today) at the Birds Nest

Last night (Monday) was our final ticketed Olympic event in Beijing, and we made it to much photographed and architecturally acclaimed Birds Nest, the National Stadium, for an exciting "athletics" (aka, track and field) event.  This is not an area where there are major Chinese stars but one where my personal sports guide to the Games, Eli, was a star (he set a Wisconsin state high school record for the quarter-mile, though it's since been shattered--let's just say that it's NOT his 10th or 25th reunion we're attending in September, but a BIG one!).  Anyway, he explained to me the differences in training that apply to the various events and how the Chinese focus on style-related events and their prevalent lithe bodies differentiate them from what it takes to succeed in track and field. However, I would not want to take on the Chinese women's discus thrower; she may not have won a medal but looks to be one tough lady.

We got out to the Green a couple of hours before our 7 pm event, entered at a new (for us) entrance and strolled north through areas we hadn't seen before or had only seen at night. We encountered a parade with elaborate floats, did some major people watching, saw the subway station with its adjacent subterranean McDonald's and came upon the Today Show set, where taping for live broadcast at 7 o'clock Monday AM in New York was due to start at 7 pm in Beijing.  

I stood at a great spot and watched the beginning of the taping for about 20 minutes into the show; Eli, of course, thought this was dumb and went into the stadium well in advance of the start of the event.  However, I was rewarded by the appearance of Michael Phelps and the US swim team as the show's first guests.  Standing there, I was spotted by a friend of Amy and Jonathan, Wei Wei Su, who came over and told me that she was translating for the Chinese speaking chef who would be doing the soup dumpling food demonstration during the show.  I just watched the video (see link above) and realized that she actually did the segment, which she really did not indicate when she talked to me.  For sure I would have skipped a little discus throwing for this, especially since I had a great spot in front of the food table.  (I just called Jonathan about this and he said, "Oh, yeh, she was on the Today Show.")  Wei Wei is a free-lance journalist also now working for the World Wildlife Fund, living here but from the Bay Area.  In addition, she has a baking business and supplies flourless fudge cakes for the Stone Boat.  She brought a flourless chocolate cake to this year's Passover Seder at Amy and Jonathan's, which she attended with her boyfriend, John, who is from Toronto.  I first met Wei Wei in the baggage claim area at SFO about 11 pm the night Amy and Jonathan arrived to see us in June, and we also saw her and John at their party Saturday night.  She's excellent on this video. Maybe I could have scored a taste, too, or a little chat with the Today Show regulars.  I have since learned that a number of the food spots on the Today Show's China broadcasts have been presented by people Jonathan knows. 

My pictures are not the greatest, as it was rapidly getting dark outside, a condition heightened by the onset of a short shower.  

By the time I trekked up to our Birds Nest seats, about 7:30, there was still plenty of athletics left, including the Olympic and world record setting pole vault by Russian Yelena Isinbayeva. As she persisted well after other events had ended, we walked out of there about 10:45 pm. The photos tell more than I can, but it was very exciting and a great finale to our Beijing Games events (we have football/aka soccer in Shanghai Friday night).

Weather: sunny, BLUE SKY, hot all day until the clouds and shower moved in about 7 pm (and more rain on our way "home" late).  Birds Nest is under cover except for a relatively small opening at the very top, and it was mighty "close" in there.  We know now why everyone seemed to be fanning themselves at the Opening Ceremony, which was a much hotter, more humid day.

Birds Nest facilities report: mostly western, black and red lacquer-looking painted decor.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

One Quick Note About Posted Comments!

Because I am still blocked in Beijing, I can only see the blog when I preview before posting.  I see that there are comments but I can't read them until I get home (I presume) and can get to the web site. But I get my email ( and really appreciate the feedback that's come so far. Thanks!

Dim Sum and Diving!

Sunday dawned cloudy and much cooler and stayed that way all day.  Other than a few sprinkles here and there, even the white sky and lack of sunshine were welcome.  It was refreshing to have to hunt for the light jacket I have with me--and to wear it in the evening.

We went back to La Gallerie, the great restaurant on the edge of Ritan Park near the Stone Boat where we had dim sum lunch last Sunday (a new weekly family tradition?  not for long, unfortunately.) Our friend from Los Angeles, Josh Peter, a sports journalist now with Yahoo Sports, came, too. Josh's mom's family and mine have been intertwined as family-like friends for over 60 years and four generations (including his aunt,  my "forever best friend," Susie Silverstein).  

After lunch and a stop at the Stone Boat, Eli and I walked with Josh over to the Silk Market, where we were accosted, as usual, by every vendor in every stall we passed.  When you don't want to stop, which is most of the time, you have to just charge ahead!  En route we were enticed off the sidewalk by a purveyor of "unofficial" Olympic tee shirts.  Note: There are several outlets of "official" Olympic goods, including just inside the Silk Market, that advertise that the prices are universal throughout China and non-negotiable--no bargaining!  And then there is the other marketplace, around corners, individuals who beckon you into a doorway or to a hidden stash behind a bicycle.  We have bought hats from one but had only seen shirts in colors that were slightly "off" (somehow, pastels just don't look right for the Olympic rings logo!). However, these shirts looked better, and Josh bought a few.  What amazed us a few minutes later, though, was that a merchant of fake Polos in a stall inside actually whispered, "You need Olympic shirts?" and took us to a contraband pile under other goods in the market, right under the noses of the ubiquitous guards stationed all around.  No doubt due to the risk, this one wouldn't match the price Josh had paid in the doorway down the street.  He did buy a cute traditional Chinese outfit for his four year old daughter from a seller whose pricing started out like she was selling an original from Shanghai Tang, but he ended up with a pretty good deal.

In the evening we had diving and saw our first finals competition and medal ceremony.  The event was the women's 3 mm springboard.  The medalists were 1/Gold--China, 2/Silver--Russia, 3/Bronze--China.  A good night for the (former) proletariat!  You can imagine the Chinese crowd's reaction. Jonathan had told us earlier that the Gold medalist Guo Jingjing (diving above left) has become an iconic pop culture figure who had to renounce and apologize for too many commercial sponsorship deals, but her boyfriend (another athlete) has refused to renounce his.

Jonathan was out at the Olympic Green, too, covering this and part of an earlier gymnastics match. Afterward the three of us went to the nearby branch of a popular upscale Taiwanese food restaurant chain with the unlikely name of Bellagio (!) for a late-night bite.

Saturday: Day of Rest (from Olympic Events)

Another sunny, clear day--though a tad more humid than Friday--and a good day to do a little exploring in the Nanluogo hutong (narrow lane) area (photo at left) newly gentrified near the Drum Tower (scene of the tragic stabbing last week).  However, all was safe and friendly on Saturday in a this three-block stretch of small shops (not so great), bars, cafes and restaurants.  We ate Indian for breakfast/lunch (not exactly brunch) at a place Jonathan had recommended.  Also strolled along a nearby thoroughfare which opened onto a few hutongs that look like most, the ungentrified, still look!

Later in the afternoon was pool time back at Capital Paradise before we got ready to go to the Stone Boat for the party Amy and Jonathan threw for their fifth anniversary and the fourth anniversary of their proprietorship of the Boat.  It was an open bar event with an hors d'oeuvre buffet catered by Tuk Tuk, her Thai restaurant, festively presented with numerous flower arrangements and rose petals scattered on the tables.  Although many of their journalist friends were busy covering Olympic events, a nice crowd of at least 50 people turned up during the evening (and a few more after we left at 11, we heard later).  As always, it was fun to talk to these engaged younger people, some we had met before and others not--plus the father of one of their friends, about our age, who has moved here to teach English as a post-business career gig, and is having a blast (also has Chinese girlfriend younger than his kids).  The non-invitee Boat customers who wandered in were pleasantly surprised to get free drinks and food, too!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Table Tennis an Afternoon Delight on a Delightful Afternoon!

Friday, 15 August: Singapore vs. Korea Women's Semi-Finals, 2:30 pm until 6:30 pm.  The match consisted of rotating singles (three players on each team, all of whom play a singles match) followed by doubles followed by one more singles match played by (the best?) two of the teams' players.  Red uniforms are Singapore, black are Korea.
Singapore Wins!

Venue: Peking University (known here as Beida) Gymnasium (facilities OK)

Lunch first at a restaurant near the venue that changed our mantra to: even if we don't die from this food, we won't come back!  Followed the Bob Grossman (my late dad) mantra: when in doubt, eat boiled chicken and rice (stems from a trip to Mexico my parents took in the 60s. They both got sick in Acapulco and were a little better when they arrived in Mexico City, where they found a kosher restaurant with boiled chicken, which they correctly assessed to be safe.) The steamed chicken version here went down without incident. 

Dinner later with Jonathan at a really good place--Three Guizhou Men, spicy food of a southwestern province--which we richly deserved!

Weather: Possibly the most beautiful day we've ever had in China, definitely on this trip! Sunny but not uncomfortably warm, blue sky, gorgeous evening.  The rain of the day before might have actually cleared the air.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Late, Great Night for us (and Bill Gates)--not so great for Venus and Federer

Thursday we had 4 pm tennis tickets.  Earler we had gone to the 798 Art district, a formerly industrial area of several square blocks where old factories and warehouses have been rehabbed and gentrified into galleries, boutiques, restaurants and business and residential lofts.  We had visited 798 three years ago, when it was still new and minimally occupied, as well as very dusty and raw.  Jonathan mentioned this time that there had been talk of abandoning it for lack of business and interest, when it suddenly sprung to life and began to flourish.  Now New York galleries (Pace was mentioned) are opening in 798!  We barely recognized the area compared to our first time there.

We ate a great lunch (sole meal of the day) at a place called Unique restaurant, self-billed as fusion cuisine.  The fusion is three different menus--Cantonese (which we used--not your, or my, childhood sweet-and-sour Cantonese), Szechuan and western.  The place is rather dark inside, but our table in a glassed-in row next to the patio (unused that day, except for a photo shoot of food) provided some light for photos. The whole place and "facilities" were very "uniquely" styled (see photos)--and, of course, there was the usual big-screen TV broadcasting the Olympics.

The restaurant may have been even darker because the day was dark and darkening.  Our stroll around 798 after lunch was curtailed by thunder and the start of a heavy downpour.  Figuring it would be brief and also that the traffic could get ugly, we hopped into a cab about a half-hour earlier than planned and rode out to the Tennis Centre.  Only to wait, of course, in a security line to get in.  We did pick up some extra plastic ponchos being handed out, handy because they never fit back into their pouches again after being opened.

We entertained ourselves during the rain delay people-watching and talking to the fun mother and twenty-ish daughter from Ohio sitting next to us.  They seemed to be huge tennis fans, only had tennis tickets here, were at Wimbledon last year (the only other sporting event I would LOVE to attend sometime in my life; the British pound is going to have to come way down before that happens!).  

We didn't take many photos of the outside areas of the Tennis Centre due to weather. Fortunately, the Centre Court venue features an overhang, which protected us during the continuous rain. There are several other courts leading up to Centre Court that are not thus protected, but their spectator seating is limited.  Our tickets gave us access to any.

About every half-hour an announcement was made about delaying the decision to start play (the court itself was under about an inch of water).  The tension was palpable, and we tried to prepare ourselves for the disappointing possibility of postponement and the uncertainty of being able to make a rescheduled time.

For other entertainment we also had our IPODs.  Eli has seven or eight books on his for this trip (and beyond).  I caught up on Nextbook podcasts (a great Jewish cultural resource:  I love my IPOD!  And I love that Steve Jobs, I was thinking about 7 pm listening, appropriately, to Yo Yo Ma Silk Road music (while on the concession line for 40 minutes to score something--they had pretty much run out, but I managed to buy two bags of rice chips, the last packaged ice cream "cone" and two bottles of water).  Bill Gates, on the other hand is a guy I respect but have often cursed (for instance,  when Windows suddenly closes a browser or unaccountably messes up a Word formatting).  But there he was across from us (in seats closer to the players, of course) at Centre Court.  Jonathan, who was there in the press section, spotted Gates first and sent us a text message!  (Texting is Eli's newly discovered favorite hobby!)                 

The rain delay lasted 3 1/2 hours.  But, once the court had been dried off (see the photos--I missed the process while in the concession line), there were three semi-final matches scheduled: two men's singles (Swiss Roger Federer vs. James Blake of the US and Spain's Rafael Nadal vs. Austria's Jurgen Melzer) and one women's (Venus Williams of the US vs. Li Na of China) in-between the men's. The winners: Blake, Li and Nadal.  It was a thrill to watch these star players compete.  We left about 12:40 a.m., once we saw that Nadal's victory was assured.  

However, just as we thought we were leaving the area, we walked past Court # 7, where the Williams sisters, BOTH of whom had lost their singles matches a couple of hours before, were about to start a doubles match against two Japanese women at 1 am!  The small seating area there was empty, and we sat down literally right next to the court, probably 10 feet from Serena and Venus warming up.  Their mom and sisters were also near us.  After a half-hour of play, though, the hour got to us.  Good thing, too, as it took a walk of probably a mile and more waiting time to get a cab, and we walked into our "home" at 3 am.  

Despite the late hour, the "dead" time before tennis and our generally sodden selves, even after the rain stopped, it was another great day and fantastic Olympic experience. (PS--venue facilities an acceptable mix of eastern and western).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Day That Went Swimmingly - Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Our AM biking jaunt out to breakfast (back to Hungry Horse American Cafe--note corrected name from previous post, in case any readers should be around the Capital Paradise neighborhood and want eggs or pancakes with TV), then to pool was followed by a trip into town with our newfound driver, Mr. Xu (an odd numbered license plate day).  We stopped at the new (and hard to find) Grand Millennium Hotel to pick up our friend, Dan Katz, and his son, Jacob, and introduce them to Mr. Xu, who will take them to the Great Wall tomorrow (Friday) morning. 

After a stop at the Stone Boat for a snack, Eli and I walked Dan and Jacob over to the nearby Silk Market, a vast, multi-story indoor spot that replaced the outdoor version several years ago, to the dismay of many of the merchants (of such items as pashmina shawls, scarves, clothes, "designer"--note quotes--labeled purses, etc.), whose rent elevated considerably.  The hawking/bargaining atmosphere remains, but somehow it was more fun outdoors.  

Dan, for those of you who have gone to Landmark Theatre movies with us in either Milwaukee, Denver or the Bay Area, is a longtime friend and the ex-client of Eli's who's responsible for "the pass."  Jacob, nine years old, has already won a major kids' running meet, sponsored by Hershey's, in south Florida, where the family lives ten months of the year (summer in Milwaukee).  He had no previous competition experience, just some training with a coach from Peru who teaches gym at the Jewish day school he attends. Cute kid, apparently very talented athletically, and really excited to be here (though pretty tired yesterday, as they had just arrived in the AM).

At 5 pm Eli and I met up with Mr. Xu again for the trip to the Olympic Green and SWIMMING at 6:30.  We saw varied individual and relay team men's and women's qualifying heats.  It was very exciting, and the Aquatics Center is a fabulous venue.  

Weather: white sky (don't want to know what that is), possibly lower temperature than Tuesday, but still humid and breeze-free, until much later in the evening.

Venue "facilities" report: Excellent, all western, purple tile a nice touch (see photo).

The photos tell the rest.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Exploring the "hood"

Yesterday morning (Tuesday) we took a little time for further exploration of the Beijing Capital Paradise environs, this time via bicycle.  I am posting some photos to illustrate.

Weather report: Sunny, hot, sticky.

Other activities of the day: swimming pool time, a little shopping in town, nails (OK, I'm still me, and yes, the manicurists here are Asian, too!), dinner with Amy and Jonathan at Tuk Tuk. In general, a day to catch up and relax a little.   

Other news: Jonathan reported from the US-China basketball game Sunday night (local time); he said the press area was remarkably close to the Bush family (here's his post with photo he took). Today he's reporting from a Michael Phelps swim competition.  Not just because I'm the mom, but also because I think his posts give one insight beyond just the sports aspect, check them all out.  Those of you who know Jonathan know he has a pretty good sense of humor, and I think that shows through in his Games reporting.  Although he is also a lifelong sports nut, he has a slightly tongue-in-cheek perspective about some of what's happening here.

We see swimming tonight.  You may wonder how we picked the events we're seeing.  One criterion was to see different venues.  Another was to see different sports.  Another was what we could get and for a "reasonable" price--though don't ask me what we paid for the tennis tickets we have tomorrow.  Most of these tickets were ordered last fall, so it was impossible to know whom we'd see compete for any particular event.  Would we love to see one of the biggies--a Phelps, Torres, Nadal or the Williams sisters?  Of course.  Will we? Who knows?  We just figure we're lucky to be here, and any athlete who is competing is at the top of his/her sport, so every event will be exciting for us.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Water, water...

Sunday afternoon and night heavy rain only upped the humidity level, but Monday dawned slightly cooler.  Eli and I took a walk in the neighborhood and discovered the shopping area nearby, complete with a Starbucks, Subway, bank, organic food store, Jenny Lu grocery (which advertises its web site to order for delivery), Domino's Pizza, etc.  This is an area mostly inhabited by expats, in case you can't tell.  We had breakfast at the American Horse Cafe (!), eating omelettes in front of TV coverage of the US Gold Medal men's swimming relay.

In the afternoon we went to the Olympic canoeing/kayaking/rowing/slalom site at Shunyi, an area far from the Olympic Green, where a real river apparently flows toward the manmade rapids used for this event.  From my perspective, this event was a "sleeper" that surprised:  I loved it!  Our seats were near the finish "line."  Only damper was the dampness, especially as rain started again just as we entered the site.  Although it ended by the time we reached our seats (the only outdoor venue so far with an overhang), the humidity stayed high.  I envied how cool it must have been in the water for the competitors, though, between their wet suits and tension, they probably weren't cool, either.

We saw two qualifying heats of men's canoeing and one of kayaking.  A lot of fun!

Bathroom report: only downside of this event--12 porta-potties lined up down a hill from the stands, and scads of people lined up in front of them.  Of course, not western, but let's just say that I cursed every drop of tea and water consumed during the day!  

One nice thing was huge, crammed shuttle bus that took us back to parking lot area over a mile away from the site (we'd walked it when we arrived).  However, we had to ask apparent English-speakers where this bus went--there was no signage, a notable lack in a lot of places, and the omnipresent young Chinese volunteers mainly smile and say "Welcome."

At the parking lot we rejoined, Mr. Shi, the driver we'd picked up (literally) at the complex when we left and couldn't find a cab.  He was stationed outside the gate, and we made a deal; the price he named seemed high at first, as we thought the site was closer than it was.  When we got there, knowing how far we were from the center of town, where we were going later, and clueless as to whether we'd get a cab, we asked him to wait for us.  There he was at 5:45, when we got back!  He stayed in town during the evening and brought us back later, all for perhaps a little more than a cab, but not much (even with the $ being down vs. the RMB, we're talking a difference of maybe $5).  We may use him again (on another odd-numbered license plate day), as he lives out this way, which is a big advantage to the cab drivers who don't know how to get here.

We drove down to Ritan Park, site of The Boat, and met Jonathan at a restaurant just inside the north gate called Little Wu's.  It was the birthday dinner of Val(erie) Wang, a friend of his from his City Weekend (magazine where he was first a writer, than editor, before Reuters and Newsweek), who's now living back in the US but is here as a "fixer"/translator hired by NBC for the Games.  There was a whole group of "kids" there, doing the same, and two full-time NBCers, one from Burbank and the other from Miami.  Also a couple of Chinese and American friends still living here.  We were a group of 15, eating from the lazy Susans on two tables.  Val did the ordering.  It's always fun to be with lively, bright younger people who are doing interesting things and are polite enough to act interested in us, too.  One woman I sat next to (who graduated from Michigan 12 years after I did but looks about Jonathan's age) was here in the 80s, now lives in Rome working for the UN. Her husband is an Italian film director (!) that I've never heard of (of course, the ones I have heard of are all dead.).  The group repaired to The Boat after dinner, where more joined the party, in addition to a nice collection of regular patrons.  A nice breeze actually flowed through, which was welcome.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

Between coming in late Friday night after the Opening Ceremony party (and the cab driver back out to our lodging stopping six times to get directions) and beach volleyball starting at 9 am on Saturday, we figured we would eat something when we arrived at the venue.  There we encountered what we now know are the ubiquitous concession offerings sponsored by Coca-Cola. In short, not great--and, according to Jonathan, generally panned.  Given the choices, Eli and I had protein: ice cream (OK, we did choose small vanilla dixie cups, with soy mentioned on the label, rather than drumsticks), followed by popcorn during a break between matches, washed down by two bottles of water each.  

At these concession stands nothing packaged was on display, so one had to ask to see what, for instance, the "biscuits" were.  I figured cookies, per the English terminology, and was half-right: a choice of Ritz crackers or Oreos!  Problem is, when you ask to see, the clerks assume you are buying (we didn't--not that an Oreo wouldn't be a treat--who's had one in years?).  Just the thought of either hot dogs or sausages in China eliminated those options (non-Kosher could be the least of the issues; let's just say that Hebrew National is not in evidence as an official sponsor of the Olympics).

The other problem was that there are no restaurants within easy walking distance of the Olympic Green, as we found out on Saturday night, when we went to the gymnastics event. Jonathan said the visiting press is complaining bitterly about this, especially because of the packaged meals they are served while covering events--he described a sandwich choice of tomato-cucumber-mayonnaise or "Hormel-type turkey" or a mini-slice of pizza (must be the pizza choice at the concession stand).  Anyway, after our sumptuous breakfast, we had a good Chinese lunch following beach volleyball--good but not huge, since we are not the expert "orderers" Amy is, and we figured we'd have dinner before our 8 pm event or a bite afterward. Wrong!  Just more water.

Do not fear, however, that we are fading away to nothing.  Dim sum lunch yesterday made up for Saturday!  We went to a new (to us) place on the edge of Ritan Park, where The Boat is, called La Gallerie.  It was Sunday lunch with the family: Amy, Jonathan, Mr. Li (our "mechuten" to those who know the vernacular) and us--plus big-screen coverage of the Olympics in this otherwise chic eatery.  Amy is really the premier "orderer."  A note on that term: when Jonathan was first here, in 1995, during his junior year at Brown, I came to visit. We went out to dinner with his Chinese roommate, Chun Tiao, whom Jonathan, only a neophyte then, called a "good orderer."  Chun Tiao he encountered later, as a fellow journalist working for a Japanese news agency here, and they are still friends--Chun Tiao came to the J and A wedding, and Jonathan reports that he is now with the Chinese embassy on Cyprus.

After lunch we went to The Boat to relax.  The day was somewhat cooler and truly overcast, with drizzle early and later huge thunderstorms.  

Artistic Gymnastics at the National Indoor Stadium

Saturday, 9 August, 8 pm--Pre-Qualifying Rotation of Teams from Germany, Japan, Russian Federation and Rumania, as well as two multi-national teams.

Weather: stickiness outside continued into the evening; despite air-conditioned venue, just the walk from cab drop-off spot and entrance to the venue ensured that we never exactly cooled off.

Ladies room report: Western facilities on the left side, the others on the right--but no platforms visible from the outside, so one had to look to figure it out.

Check out the photos of this event and our first foray onto the Olympic Green.  The buildings are spectacular at night!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And, so, the Games begin!

SATURDAY, 9 AUGUST, 9 AM, Beach Volleyball at Chaoyang Park (largest park in Asia).  Fortunately, despite Eli's fear, two of the three matches we saw were women's!

Related news: We heard later that President Bush visited the American women's team during practice in the AM.  We did see two helicopters overhead--must have been his.  

Results: Norwegian women defeated Belgian, Netherlands men defeated Swiss, Chinese women defeated Swiss. 

Weather: Hot and sticky (humidity off the charts); air color a lighter shade of gray in the morning, giving way to very light blue in a few spots with light yellow sunshine in the afternoon (but don't kid yourselves that Friday night's brief late night thunderstorm did anything like clear the air!)   We have never "schvitzed" so much in our lives--all it takes is a five-minute stroll to feel like you need to shower and change clothes again.  (But, at least, we weren't being photographed for global news consumption like a certain world "leader"!)

Ladies room report: It was easy to tell which stalls to avoid at the Beach Volleyball venue--the ones with the high platforms on the floor.  Toilet paper was available in the queuing area. Most remarkable, for China, new feature: attendants constantly cleaning!