Day 493 In Beijing: Trip To Prince Islands, Part 2.


A horse drawn carriage in front of one of the beautiful houses.

A horse drawn carriage in front of one of the beautiful houses.

Jill and I arrived at Buyukada and and checked into our room.

It was about a 3 minute walk from the port and we have a wonderful view of the rooftops, the walking street below our balcony, and the Sea of Marmara.

We loved that they had set up the bed with red roses petals and made a very cute heart design on it.

They also had a complimentary bottle of wine and a fruit and cheese plate for us in our room when we arrived.

It was a perfect way to start our island getaway and “vacation” from our vacation.

We love Istanbul but there is so much construction going on that it is quite loud.

There are also lots of cars, and with lots of cars, you get lots of horns honking.

We both grew up in small towns and forget how wonderful peace and quiet is when we don’t have it for so long.

Well, Buyukada is about as peaceful and quiet as they come.

Why?  Because cars are not allowed on the island.

It is all horse drawn carriages and a few electric vehicles.

It is wonderful because it is so quiet other than the click-clacking of hooves on stone roads.

They have paved some of the “main” roads (which are two lanes so still not very big) that circle the island but many of the streets in the town are just cobblestone.

It is truly wonderful.

We walked by the horse drawn carriage station and took a few pictures but decided to wait until tomorrow because we wanted to hang out and just take in this little town.

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Day 486 In Beijing: Trip To Tianjin, Part 3.


Traffic, and the traffic lights cameras, at the intersection.

Traffic, and the traffic lights cameras, at the intersection.

Jill, Nuria and I decided to go out to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner.

There are a lot of them around, not just because we are in China, but because we are in a Chinese district of Tianjin.

Tianjin, if you remember, has about 15,000,000 people living in it and yet isn’t really very well known.

It is a second tier city, because of many reasons, and pretty much no one knows about it, outside of China, because it is mostly a factory town.

Expats don’t tend to live here because they aren’t factory workers or middle management.  They are higher up, and therefore, live in Beijing or Shanghai where the business of business happens.

We took a taxi to the restaurant and I noticed that there were loads of flashing lights at the stop light.

I have never seen anything like this so I wanted to get a video of it to show everyone how often these cameras are taking pictures.

We talked to the cabbie, on the taxi ride home, and he said it is to see how busy the traffic is at that moment.

However, in Beijing, since there are too many cars, they have certain days, each week, that you can’t drive.

They use your license plate and if you are caught driving on that day twice in one year, you lose your license.

Pretty harsh.

We asked if that same law applies here in Tianjin and the drive said yes.

So, that means they are also tracking the amount of cars, and the people driving when they shouldn’t be, constantly.

That being said, it was a pretty cool light show.



Day 384 in Beijing: EXCALIBUR!


King Arthur's court in Beijing?

King Arthur’s court in Beijing?

My buddy, Richard Ivey, wanted to know more about American Muscle Cars in China.  And Jill’s dad, Bill, also loves hot rods and rebuilds them so here’s a little something for you guys.

Jill and I went for a walk in search of the famous Xinyuanli wet market.

A wet market, for those that don’t know, and I didn’t know, is a place that sells mostly fresh goods and foods.

This means fresh meat, cheese, fruits and veggies.

We found it and it is amazing.

I will do a blog post on it in the near future but since I’m on my 10 day green smoothie challenge, and all I’m drinking is green smoothies, we didn’t buy anything there and I didn’t want to be too tempted by staying in it for a long time.

Suffice to say it is a huge market of pretty much anything you want.

I dub these, "Excalibur!"

I dub these, “Excalibur!”

As we walked around, looking for it, since we didn’t know exactly where it was, we happened upon this car.


I was a huge Dungeons and Dragons geek, and loved pretty much everything medieval when I was a kid, so I dig that they named this car Excalibur after King Arthur’s magical sword.

Interestingly enough, while researching this post, I found out that it was originally designed for Studebaker and then privately made by a company in Wisconsin.  It is also a very classy and highly original and elegant car.  Check out the link above for some of the facts about it.  Definitely American made with love and respect.

How one ended up parked on the streets of Beijing, I’ll never know.

Day 378 in Beijing: Teeny Weeny Yellow Non-Polkadot Car.


Yep, it is a truly tiny car.

Yep, it is a truly tiny car.

This has to be the smallest car I’ve seen in Beijing so far.

And I’ve seen some really small cars.

This car makes the other ones look like monstrosities.

I was totally blown away by how small, and cute, it was.

And I cracked up when Jill noticed the tiny fan on the dashboard.

I’m guessing the thing has minimal heat/cooling and is electric.

Therefore, having a little fan, for those warm Beijing summer days, makes a lot of sense.

I honestly want to test drive this little car and see how it accelerates, handles, and rides.

I have to imagine it is pretty rough but I’ve been surprised at how fun the small car/bikes are to drive and ride in during my stay in Beijing.

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Day 364 in Beijing: More Muscle.


The need for speed.

The need for speed.

As you saw from the previous post, there are a lot of small and goofy cars in Beijing.

I’ve seen “cars” that are basically bicycles with a body.

I’ve seen “cars” that I would not ride in no matter how much you pay me.

The disparity of wealth here is enormous.

I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area and it does not compare to the people that are worth millions, or billions, here in Beijing and the truly poor that try to survive.

So, as we continued walking towards our friend’s restaurant to celebrate the move, we happened to walk by a very expensive hotel and this was parked outside.

This car is probably worth about 300,000 USD and no one seemed to really be worried or stressed about people walking up to it and taking pictures.

I looked in the window and could have easily touched it or done whatever I wanted and no one seemed to mind.

It truly is a gorgeous car.


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Day 363 in Beijing: (Lack Of) Muscle Cars.


Wings obviously makes this car fast.

Wings obviously makes this car fast.

My friend, Richard Ivey, asked me to do a blog on American muscle cars in China.

Sadly, I’ve yet to see one.

I’ve seen some incredible brand new Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Austin Martins, Cadillacs, and Bentleys.

But no real classic American muscle cars.

I did, however, see this rather interesting utterly lacking in muscle car and thought he’d get a kick out of it.

Jill and I sure did.

I can’t imagine the wings on the back would actually make this SMART car going any faster, but one never knows.

This is China, where I’ve learned, after almost one year living here, pretty much anything is possible.


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Day 345 in Beijing: Horse and Carriage. Or Cart.

Jill and I love wandering around Beijing and just looking at the sites.

Surprisingly, the sites are often not buildings or mountains but are just out of the ordinary experiences for us.

I don’t think I would have ever seen a horse pulling a fruit cart in the USA.

I know I wouldn’t have ever seen an electric bike with gerbils, birds, turtles and other living creatures cruising around the back streets in the USA.

China, and especially Beijing, is a crazy mixture of old and new.

As I’ve mentioned before, driving in Beijing is an incredibly wild ride.

If you are brand new, this comes as a surprise and seems scary and crazy.

After a bit you get used to it and take it as an everyday event.

The point that often escapes people is that the people living in Beijing probably only started driving cars about 10 years ago.

15 at the most.

To think that there are 25 million people in this city, and many of them just learning to drive recently, that is rather amazing.

That is one of the problems also: they drive as if they are on horses or bikes.  This means they do u-turns in the middle of the most busy streets and stop in the middle of the road.  It is almost as if drivers here in Beijing expect their cars to be as thin and small as a bike or a horse, and therefore, you can pass them no matter where they stop.

Sadly, this isn’t true.

Also, when there is a car crash, the people get out and start arguing about it and who will pay.

From what I’ve seen, many people just pay off the other driver so there isn’t a record of the accident and the authorities don’t have to be involved.

This also happens elsewhere but I’ve never seen such massive crowds gather around a small car crash and so many people yelling and stating how much a driver should pay, who is at fault, and what should be done, especially when they didn’t even see the crash.

It is almost as if a car crash is a spectator sport that becomes interactive.

I’m glad I’ve never been in one and it is another reason Jill and I are moving about 1 block from my work in a few weeks.

We can not wait to walk to work, or dinner, or the river beside our apartment, and not have to drive and deal with traffic and this type of frustration each day.

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Day 332 in Beijing: Traffic.


Traffic coming into Beijing on a Friday night.

Traffic coming into Beijing on a Friday night.

There are, approximately, 23,000,000 people living in Beijing.

Traffic can be pretty horrendous.

I’ve heard stories of people who are going home, about 7 miles from town, and  being stuck in traffic for over two hours.

This is a definitely a problem in a city with a population this large.

One of the ways that Beijing’s government is trying to deal with this is having days when people can’t drive.

This means, depending on your license plate number, you can’t drive one day a week.

A friend of mine has a license plate that doesn’t allow him to drive on Mondays.

So, he hires a driver and that driver drives him.

I guess this does take a few cars off the road but when things get bad, they get bad.

I would guess this also impacts the pollution problem quite a bit.

The subway system here is incredible and they keep adding more and more lines so that is helpful.

However, it is often crowded and people seem not to have figured out the fact that when you get in a subway car, you actually have to move out of the entrance for others to fit.

They also don’t seem to understand that if you want to get in a subway car, you have to let people get out first.

I’m sure you’ve all seen pictures of the subways, jammed packed with people, and this is one of the reasons why this happens: People here are not used to being in lines.  It is much like Italy, where people just pushed to the front and you ignore what many people would call “common courtesy” and wait for your turn.  This is infuriating to most expatriates because we often get ignored or pushed out of the way so it becomes a way of life in which Jill and I choose to fit into the Chinese culture and do what they do.

We leave this lifestyle change the second we get on a plane out of China and act like the people we are in the USA and don’t push, struggle or knock people out of our way, when we travel but we believe that to stay sane, we actually have to act like the populace here or we’d get trampled on.

It is not something I like or enjoy but sometimes I just get tired of getting knocked around and so I knock back.

The interesting thing is no one seems to get upset because it is only my belief system that this is wrong.  It is perfectly acceptable in the Chinese culture, at least here in Beijing, to do this.

ps. I’m not judging but the traffic in Los Angeles and San Francisco is much worse than anything I’ve experienced in Beijing.  Just stating something I’ve noticed and I’m quite surprised by this fact.  I think the bridges in the SF/Bay Area cause the major problem and the limited BART service really doesn’t help much.

Day 321 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 28-32


The butcher and her shop.

The butcher and her shop.

After we picked up the rice, the Mongolian ladies wanted to buy some beef.

Mongolian beef, from what I’ve heard, is amazing.

I’m a vegetarian so I don’t know if that is true but it sells for a lot on the black market in Beijing.

Now, you may ask, how does one get Mongolian beef across the border since it is illegal to take meat, or other perishable products, across them.

This is where a really good driver, and connections, seem to come in handy.

We drove up to a butcher and stopped.

Actually, we drove up to a house, in which a butcher shop seemed to open, and the ladies went in to buy some beef.

Jill stayed outside and rested while I went in to see what was going on.

There was a guy cutting the ribs and a woman selling it.

This obviously was a well known place and the lady knew Diana and these women.

They come here a lot obviously.

After I left the butcher house, I looked around and noticed one of the strangest advertisemnts I’ve seen in a long time.

A huge black guy, and a tall white women, all pumped up and rippling with muscles.

This was on the side of one of the buildings near the butcher house and one of the ladies pointed to it and said, “Gym!”

I’m not sure why a black man, and a white woman, who are seemingly pretty steroided up would help in advertisements, but I guess it does.  Strange.

We hopped back in the SUV and started our return voyage to Erlian, China.

We had to do the reserve trip being that we left Mongolia first, and then headed into China.

It took a bit longer because the Mongolian government really seemed to be searching cars that went back to China and we though the beef, which was hidden under the seats, was going to be found.

Luckily, it wasn’t and we jumped back in the SUV and headed for China.

By the way, after the pictures, I posted a video of Diana and the other women speaking Mongolian.  It is a beautiful language and well worth listening/watching as we drive through, “No Man’s Land.”

When we went through Chinese immigration, it got a bit dicey.

The guards there saw I had a “Z Visa” which is a work visa.  I sincerely doubt ANY person on a Z visa comes to Erlian for a visa run because the company that hired you sponsors you and you don’t have to do these stupid visa runs.

The guards really took along time and were very officious and called over their boss and he kept looking at the Passport and then back at me as if I was some kind of criminal.

They finally let me through and then gave the same treatment to Jill.

After about 15 minutes we were done and waited for Diana and her car by the Rainbow Statue.

After that she dropped us back at our hotel and we hung out until the next taxi driver, which our buddy, Moeava, set us up with, came to pick us up.


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Day 320 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 24-28


My ticket and passport stamp to leave China.

My ticket and passport stamp to leave China.

Now the fun starts.

We headed towards the border and arrived at it.

Everyone jumped out of the SUV and started walking.  No one said anything to us, so Jill and I weren’t sure what to do, but we jumped out and followed them.  We figured that they are the pros and we will just pay attention and try not to upset any border guards.

Jill’s Visa, by the way, is a one year tourist visa.  Her visa rules force her to leave China every 90 days or she becomes illegal.  The fine for having overstayed your visa in China is 1000RMB a day.  This comes out to 160 USD.  In other words, we don’t want to have to pay this absurd amount of money and we don’t want to upset any border guards.

Did I mention that this is the 90th of Jill’s 90 days?  Yep, due to circumstances of my job, Chinese holidays, and whatnot, we ended up taking this risk and were a bit concerned if anything went wrong.

So far, so good.

As we walked up, the others took out 5RMB and paid for border crossing tickets.  We pulled out 10RMB and did the same.

We continued our journey by walking near the rainbow bridge of freedom, since we are leaving China, and into their customs and immigration building.  The guards there seemed very bored, annoyed, and not happy at all.  However, after a few minutes, they let us through.

We walked out of the building and across the road was a white guy in a red track suit.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I expected to see, walking outside of the China customs and immigration building is a white guy in a red track suit.

I noticed, quite quickly, that his name was printed on his jacket.  I looked and read, “Adam” and turned to Jill and said, “How weird is that, our names are almost the same!”

There were about 15 Chinese or Mongolians hanging around outside and Adam quickly came up to us and introduced himself.

He and his buddy, Jimmy, were doing the visa run also but their ride had gotten stuck in customs so they were in “no man’s land” between China and Mongolia and had to catch a ride over to Mongolia because it is illegal to walk across the zone in between.

We said we had no idea if Diana would take someone else but they could ask her when she showed up as she seems to do this a lot and she might have room.

We found out that Adam is a tennis coach, here in Beijing, and hails from Poland.

Jimmy teaches in Beijing and is from Philadelphia.

They took the 12 hour bus ride up, the night before, and were hoping to catch the bus back down immediately after doing the run.

However, they possibly could have been stuck here for a long time if no one agreed to let them hop in.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal but we saw jeeps with 10-15 people smashed in them and with luggage on the roof and the front hood.  We even saw jeeps with people hanging out the doors.  It is sort of insane.

Diana showed up and I told Jimmy and Adam to talk to her and she agreed and they climbed into the back of the SUV and crushed themselves into the area.

Adam must be about 6 feet tall and Jimmy was probably 6’4″.  These guys were not small and it did not look comfortable.

We then went through a few checkpoints and drove over no man’s land.

We stopped at the Mongolian Customs and Immigration building and piled out.

The Mongolian immigration agent had to be the most unfriendly and rude person I’ve ever met.

She sneered at me, ignored anything I said, and when I said, “Xie xie” to thank her for giving me back my passport, she was very sarcastic and snotty.

Welcome to Mongolia!

Jill went through and decided she wouldn’t say “Xie xie” since she didn’t deserve it.

Revenge is sweet!

At that point we piled back into the SUV and headed for the main shopping area in Erenhot, Mongolia.

We sat around as the Mongolian women did some shopping and then jumped back in the SUV to do errands with Diana as we wanted to see what the city looked like other than a shopping mall.


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