Day 122 in Beijing: Cruising The Canals Of Zhujiajiao.

After taking the train down to Shanghai, Jill and I headed over to our hotel and checked in.

The incredible gracious and wonderful David Huo gave us a call.  He and is wife, Isabella, were down for the Salsamemucho festival and had told us they wanted to take us to a gorgeous little town about one hour outside of Shanghai that was famous for its canals and hutongs.  David is also known as El Chino Cubano because he won an international salsa dancing competition in Cuba in 2005 or 2006.  He now teaches salsa and rueda in Beijing and is often out of town teaching workshops in China or other countries.  I first met David at the San Francisco Rueda Festival which is an amazing yearly festival that is held in my hometown.

We grabbed some lunch and hopped in their car and drove out to Zhujiajiao.

I’m always surprised at the areas around Beijing, and now Shanghai, because they are massive cities, and yet, after getting out of the city limits, it becomes like old China with very classic houses, temples and gorgeous green countryside.  It is bucolic to say the least.

As we drove up and parked, we walked through narrow paths between houses and stores and enjoyed feeling like we were no longer in massive metropolis that go on forever.

David and Isabelle had been here a month or so ago and wanted us to experience a part of China that we normally wouldn’t see.

We noticed the boats that cruise through the canals and decided to take a ride on one.

It was romantic.  It was peaceful.  It was exactly what we needed.

Day 118 in Beijing: HSR and Expatriates.

The ticket gate.

The ticket gate.

HSR stands for High Speed Rail and it is amazing in China.

The trains are gorgeous, comfortable and quiet.

They run from most major cities in China and are almost always on time.

They are also cheaper than most plane flights and you don’t have to worry about being stuck in the Beijing airport, which has one of the worst on-time records of any airport in the world.  It does have to deal with 73 million passengers a year and it is the second biggest airport in the world.

Temple and cranes.

Temple and cranes.

To give you an idea, Jill and I recently went to Shanghai to attend the Salsamemucho salsa dancing festival.

If we had flown, it would have cost about 400-500 dollars American, each for a round-trip ticket.  And the Beijing airport is notorious for flights being delayed or canceled and then there is the 1-2 hour time you have to wait after checking in.  So, a 2 hour flight becomes a 5-6 hour ordeal.

Comfortable, clean and on time.  Perfection.

Comfortable, clean and on time. Perfection.

The HSR costs us 555RMB per person, each way.  This comes out to 170 bucks a person, round-trip, so only $340 round-trip.  We’ve already saved enough money to pay for two nights of our hotel room without doing anything except saving time and not having to deal with the Beijing airport.

The check in also saved us time.  We got there about an hour before, hopped in line, and then handed our tickets to the attendant, threw our luggage in the overhead bins, and sat down in our assigned seats.  Twenty minutes later we were picking up speed and watching the speedometer numbers rise up to a maximum of about 305 KPH which is 190 MPH.

For your viewing pleasure: Roman Holiday with Chinese subtitles.

For your viewing pleasure: Roman Holiday with Chinese subtitles.

We didn’t feel a bump, jerk or shudder.  And no turbulence at all.  Another benefit.

By the way, you can bring on your own food, and alcohol, and eat or drink as much as you want.  In fact, Jill and I asked for a bottle opener for our own beers and the train attendants started laughing as we popped ours open and had a drink instead of looking at us with scorn or derision because we didn’t buy it from them.

The trip lasted about 5.5 hours and it also allowed us to the scenery and take some pictures.

I feel the need for speed!

I feel the need for speed!

On the return ride home, we ended up one row behind a Italian couple that had been living in Australia for the last 6 years after traveling all over Asia and other parts of the world.  They were head to a wedding in Beijing, and then home to Italy, and then off to who knows where.

We had a great conversation and I have a feeling they are a couple that we will keep in touch with over the years.

The local soccer team arrived at the same time we did.  We weren't quite as celebrated as they were.

A professional soccer team arrived at the same time we did. We weren’t quite as celebrated as they were.

The happy couple on our way to Shanghai!

The happy couple on our way to Shanghai!

It is part of the expatriate life that I enjoy so much: Meeting people you would never have met in any other way, and then seeing them again, maybe years later, in another part of the world.  Everyone is transient, to some degree, and having a support system that connects you to the rest of the world, no matter how far away, becomes a second family that can be relied upon in times of need.  And in times of joy.  And in any time in between.

Day 103 in Beijing: Fantasy Football Across Two Continents.

Fantasy Football is a yearly event for my friends and me.

I grew up with almost all of them and have known one of them, Nate Pile, since kindergarten.

We have a draft at a friend’s house and then celebrate the end of the season at his house in Tahoe during Wild Card Weekend.

It is always a wonderful time with great people, great food and lots of fun.

I was in Beijing when the draft went down this year.

Luckily, my friends made adjustments and they drafted on Friday night so I could use skype to video conference with them and be a part of the draft and party.

I woke up at 9 am, Beijing time, and got out all my draft materials.  It was a little hard to hear and the video feed went down a few times, but overall, it was fantastic and a great way to feel at home even when I was 10,000 miles away.

This is something I’ve noticed form talking to expatriates in Beijing:  Find a way to be at home even when you are not.

Beijing is an amazingly multi-cultural city and I’ve met people from China, Spain, Italy, Dominica, Indonesia, Japan, USA, Canada, France, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and so many other countries it is hard to remember.  And this in only 3 months.  Even though I salsa dance and have a fairly large circle of friends, i don’t remember having this many people, from so many different countries, come together and support each other.

It is the expatriate way of life.

We come together because we are from somewhere else.  There is an acceptance and support from each other since we all feel somewhat lost and we are all living in a strange new world, no matter how long you live here.

Add to that the complexity of the Mandarin language and it becomes even more daunting.  I have met people that have been studying Mandarin for 15 years and still feel as if they are failing and they have not achieved perfection.

As in any language, is there really any perfection?  I have spoken American English for 44 years and am constantly making mistakes, learning new rules, and becoming confused on commas, semi-colons, and dashes.

Languages are hard.  Learning anything worth learning is hard.  Living doesn’t have to be.

That is where my friends from back home, and here, come in.  I can find that support, and home, whenever and whenever I need it by just calling, skyping, or reaching out.

And, I have to admit, I’m very lucky to have the family and friends that I have because they are always ready to respond and be there for me.

On day 99 in Beijing, I am home.

Wherever I am.


Day 100 in Beijing: The Whirlwind.

100 days ago I left the Bay Area for Beijing.

It is all a little surreal.

I started a new life.

In a new city.

With a new job.

With new friends.

It has been mostly amazing and fun.

There have been some hard times trying to figure out issues with the apartment, a few travel issues, and other small things that really amount to almost nothing.

I just want to thank everyone that has made this transition so easy, so fun, and so positive. That includes my brother Robert, his wife, Shan Shan and her family, my boss, my family back home in the states, my friends here and back in the States, and last but not least, my girlfriend, Jill.

I actually don’t think I can thank Jill enough: Her sense of self is excellent.  Her sense of humor is joyous.  Her sense of what she wants, how she can attain it, and how easy things are if you just keep at it, is real.  We make a wonderful team and our support of each other makes life so much easier than it would be if we were alone.

And to think that we met only 8 days before I moved to Beijing.

Jill helps reduce the whirlwind to a soft and gentle breeze.