Day 477 In Beijing: The 3rd Western China Multi-national Sourcing Fair.

 

Jill, the Kaiwai Winery owner/winemaker and me.

Jill, the Kaiwai Winery owner/winemaker and me.

The whole reason for this trip, paid for by EACHAM, was for Jill and me to go to a sourcing fair.

Now, we weren’t even sure what a sourcing fair was, but we were told the trips were fun and, so far, that had been proven true.

Basically, we got a trip, by train, and got to stay in a 5 star hotel, for free.  The tickets and transport to the Terracotta Army cost us about 75 USD, total, and that was a deal considering this trip would have cost us about 400 USD if we paid for it ourselves.

Therefore, we were obliged to go to the sourcing fair and meet the vendors.

Our vendors were chosen, in advance, by what we were interested in doing and learning about, so we were set up with some interesting machine companies (no idea what we were able to build and I’m pretty sure semi truck axles are not on my holiday shopping list.  It was still interesting to see how they were assembled).

They actually did a very good job of putting us in contact with a few wineries and a brewery.

Along with Jill’s main website and business, SF Tourism Tips, Jill has a second website, All About Red Wine, it was quite useful for her to talk to the winery owners, and winemakers, and discuss how the wine is made here and what they are doing with it.

Our favorite winery, Kaiwai, and winemaker, asked us to hang out with him and told us all about what he did and how special it is to him.  Everything is organic and handmade.  They even has some other their own grape varietals, one named “Weibei” that is delicious.

The owner asked us to come and visit his winery next time we are in Xian and, if we ever make it back up this way, we definitely will!

As mentioned before, we were also given two translators, Miranda and Lizzy, who were fun, smart and very cute.

We made sure they were able to taste the beer, and wine, and they seemed to enjoy spending time with us.

Miranda is wearing the glasses in the picture and Lizzy is not.

We hope they come and visit us in the USA when we return home so we can return the favor and tour them around San Francisco!

 

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Day 470 In Beijing: A Carrefour By Any Other Name…

 

And, as mentioned before, the desserts were to die for.

And, as mentioned before, the desserts were to die for.

Jill and I have a Carrefour near us in Beijing.

If you don’t know, and if you are from the USA you probably don’t, Carrefour is a French supermarket.

They actually have about 3 or 4 here in Beijing and we love going to them because the food is fantastic and they have an excellent selection of wines.

They are actually the 4th largest market conglomerate in the world.

One of the other reasons is that they have an “all you can drink” 4 day wine tasting party every 6 months.

The latest one was just in April and we met a bunch of wine makers, mostly from France, and partied with them for about 4 days straight.

Although, after 4 days of partying, we were pretty crooked and straight it not the word I’d use for any of us.

Anyway, Andac lives right near a Carrefour and we decided to stop by and pick up some wine, cheese and bread for our dinner one night.

We also bought some desserts as the Turkish desserts are out of this world.

Baklava is a famous one but there are so many and they are all amazing.

Just so you can see some of the delights that we had to choose from, I took some pictures.

If anything catches your fancy, let me know!

 

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Day 461 In Beijing: KKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNN!!!!

 

Me doing the famous "KHHHHHAAAANNNN!" yell popularized by William Shatner.

Me doing the famous “KHHHHHAAAANNNN!” yell popularized by William Shatner.

Any lovers of Star Trek will know immediately why I love the title of the blog post.

If you don’t know it, here is the classic over-acted scene by William Shatner, as James Tiberius Kirk, in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

Unlike the Khan in the movie, this Kaan is an very kind, generous and wonderful person.

He also didn’t have a J.J. Abrams movie made about him that utterly stunk and has basically shown that there should never be an English accented Khan.  And that Abrams is a hack who is going to destroy the whole Star Trek mythos.

Shameful.

Our Kaan met Jill in 2006 at a wedding in Istanbul.

Kaan also lived in San Francisco but they didn’t really become friends until 2010 when she came over to live in Turkey for 3 months after quitting her job and deciding to strike out on her own.

Kaan is a really funny, and enthusiast guy, who also happens to be a cheese and wine connoisseur.

Jill had told me about this but we both didn’t realize nearly how specialized his knowledge, and his skills, were until we hung out with him during the evening.

First off, we bought some cheese as a gift and then felt incredibly embarrassed by our choice since the cheeses he brought were amazing!

We bought the classic white cheese that they have in Turkey.  We love it beyond belief and it is very hard to get it here in Beijing so we thought it would be good enough.

Kaan, being the cheese guru, had bought cheeses from Italy and they were incredibly tasty.

Kaan also makes his own wine so he pulled out a few bottles, including my favorite, “the mutt” which is a blend of a bunch of different grapes, all from the Thrace region in Turkey.

It was quite yummy and went great with the cheeses.

Kaan was a fantastic host and it was a joy to meet him.   He would be traveling, most of the rest of our trip, so we sadly didn’t get a chance to see him again, but we will when we start living in Turkey in a few years.

And, seriously, how cool is it I was able to do the “KHHHHHHAAAAANNNNNNN” yell with someone actually named Kaan.

You can see he is rather bemused, and very kind to humor me, in my silliness.

 

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Day 318 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 12-18

 

The gateway to Erlian. These are the doors that soon would be chained and locked.

The gateway to Erlian. These are the doors that soon would be chained and locked.

After 12 hours on the train, we disembarked.

Dan and Krick were continuing on to Ulan Batur and than over to Moscow so we had to say our goodbyes.

Krick actually had wanted to fly up because of the 36 hour train ride to UB but Dan wanted to take the train because of the change over at the border.

This is one of the oddities of traveling across different countries.

China, and Mongolia, have different sized train tracks.

So, when a train crosses the border, the train actually has to stop for about 3 or 4 hours, and be taken apart car by car.

Each car is taken into a hangar and the wheels are replaced with different sized ones depending on which country the train is entering.

We actually couldn’t find Dan and Krick inside the station so we left and looked around outside for them.

We didn’t seem them outside the station so we walked back in and then we just getting off the train.

As we talked, exchange goodbyes and hugged, the station attendant put a huge chain around the doors and locked us inside the station with the other passengers that were continuing on the trip!

We ran over, told him we had to leave in our best pantomime, and he unlocked the lock and took down the chain so we could leave.  I’m guessing that they lock everything up so that people can leave, or board, the train while they are stopped at Erlian.

We then walked across the street, turned the corner, and checked in at our hotel, The Haifeng Hotel.

Our buddy, Moeava, who I had just met a few weeks ago at The Big Smoke in Beijing, had hooked us up with the best hotel to stay at, the driver we need to get across, and back, from the border, and a driver to take us to the airport, told us to go to this hotel as it is “the only one without cockroaches and doesn’t have prostitutes calling you are 3 am” in Erlian.

Jill and I decided that sounded like good advice and heeded it.

After we checked in, we went up to the 4th floor and found a room with two twin beds.

Not how we wanted to spend this quick vacation.

So, we went back downstairs and asked for a bigger bed.  They were very nice and gave one to us.  The room was actually reasonable and, for a place like Erlian, not too shabby.  I don’t think the floors had been vacuumed in a few months but it is what it is.  And, it is Erlian.

Jill and I went out for a quick walk and noticed that the town is pretty small and fairly limited in things to do at 9 pm on a Wednesday. This didn’t surprise us so we went back to our room fairly quickly and opened a bottle of wine to relax and hang out until we fell asleep.

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Day 316 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 4-8

 

The lovely Jill and me.  Cheers!

The lovely Jill and me. Cheers!

You may be wondering why we are going to Erlian, China and then across the border to Erenhot, Mongolia.

A simple answer is it is inexpensive.  We basically have to leave the country every 90 days for Jill’s tourist visa not to become illegal.

We have choices where we can go and what we can do.

We’ve been to Malaysia twice and love it.

However, we are planning a big trip this summer to Europe and wanted to save some cash so we decided to do the Erlian Visa Run (as it is known around here) instead of going to Hong Kong or some place else that would have been much more expensive.

Back to our journey:  We hung out in the cabin for a bit and relaxed.

Sadly, Jill’s Kindle decided to poop out on us and we didn’t want to distract our cabin mate, Zheng, with our idle conversations, so we decided to hit the dining car and see what was going on there.

It was a fairly spacious place and we were the first to show up.  It opened at 1030 so we were right on time as we walked in at 1030 on the dot.

As we hung out, and drank some water, the expatriates that we met in the Beijing Railway Station showed up and we welcomed each other.

Other expatriates and Chinese or Mongolian nationals showed up also.

We decided it was time for a beer and just watched the beautiful scenery fly by.

Now, beautiful may not be what you expect from a trip to Inner Mongolia but it was, especially just outside of Beijing.

There are a lot of mountains outside out Beijing and it is quite beautiful, and when the pollution cleared up as we exited the city, it became even more gorgeous.

As we meandered north, we actually saw some vineyards and wineries.  I have been told the the Chinese wine market is the largest in the world with the Chinese drinking 1.2 billion gallons of wine a year.  And they have really just learned about wine in the last 10 years so this will be the biggest market ever seen in a very short time.  Red China loves Red wine.  Especially if they can add Coca-Cola to it.  Yes, I’ve seen this happen before.

Anyway, two expatriates entered the dining car and they didn’t have anywhere to sit so we invited them to sit with us.

Jill and I were very glad we did.

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Day 311 in Beijing: Wine Time at Carrefour!

 

The wine, the people, and the view from Peter's apartment.

The wine, the people, and the view from Peter’s apartment.

Carrefour is a major grocery store chain in France.

It does a lot of business here in Beijing also.

We love Carrefour because they run a 4 day, all you can taste, wine event every 6 months.

We went in October of 2013, for the first time, and met a bunch of wonderful people who have become dear friends here in Beijing.

We went last night, with our friends, Brandon, from Pleasant Hill, California, Jimmy from Philadelphia (who we met the day before on our trip to Mongolia…that is a blog post that is coming up soon!), and Rachel, who was born here in Beijing but has lived in Boston and Buffalo and is sadly moving to Hong Kong in a month.  Jill and I met her at a Jing A Brewer’s Table beer event last month and we will miss her greatly.  She’s wonderful, funny and sweet.  She also helped us do the negotiations for our new apartment and is like family to us already!

The best part of the night is taking time to talk to the people selling the wine and getting so much information and seeing how friendly everyone is with each other.

We also enjoy the free wine, of course, and the chance to try wines that we normally would not have been able to try, or even afford, in many cases.

We had our palettes opened up to new wines and new wineries and we will be sure to visit them all when we go visit France in the very near future.

Some of our favorites were Chateau Coufran andChateau Verdignan, which our new friend, Federic Vicaire, was pouring for us.  He told us interesting stories about his family history and that his grandfather and his great grandfather owned two different wineries in Haut-Medoc region of France.  The family still owns them and the wine was amazing.

The other wineries we really enjoyed tasting were Albert Bichot and Jean Bouchard, which Christophe Bichot, was pouring for us and everyone else.  He had an amazing white wine,  from Mersault, named, “Les Charmes” the we loved.  Neither Jill nor I usually like whites but this was truly amazing.

We loved spending time talking to Federic and Christophe as they obviously loved the wines, the history and talking to people about them.

Last but not least, we were able to taste some wines from Margaux and Saint Emilion which were elegant and wonderful.

One of the true joys of the evening was the my co-worker, Peter, and his girlfriend, Gabrielle, came by and we were able to spend time with them drinking wine and discussing life and being expatriates in Beijing.

Peter was kind enough to invite us over to his apartment and we had pizza, wine and a great time with friends and his wonderful kids, having incredible conversations about everything we could think of and talk about together.

I honestly love being an expatriate 99% of the time.

The only time I don’t is when I miss someone’s birthday, or a wedding, or if a loss or death occurs and Jill and I aren’t able to return home for that event.

The trade offs, of missing those events, are balanced out with the chances to meet people from all over the world, see new places, and learn about our own strengths and how we can respond to adventures and changes in our own world.  We are tested, each day, by something new and we grow from it and learn more about ourselves, what we want, and what we value.

Jill and I have been thinking more and more about what we want to do in the future and where we want to live.

We probably won’t end up back in America for a very long time since we want to live somewhere by the water, live cheaply, and continue to explore places we’ve never visited yet.

According to Tripadvisor, I’ve been to 15 nations at this point, traveled 399,346 miles and seen 10% of the world.  I’m 45 years old.

I really would like to get that up to 100 nations, 1,000,000 miles and 50% of the world by the time I’m 55.

Being that Peter is from the Netherlands and Gabrielle is from Quebec, we now have connections there and will make sure to visit them if they are there when we go.

The 100 nations is not an actual goal but more of a journey that Jill and I want to accomplish as we travel, meet people, see the world, and experience life on the road.

I’m incredibly lucky and honored to have the job I have, the chance to live this way, and to be with Jill on this journey.

 

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Day 298 in Beijing: Jill Loeffler, Professional Journalist.

Sonoma Sips by Jill Loeffler!

Sonoma Sips by Jill Loeffler!

 

Jill has her own websites, SF Tourism Tips and All About Red Wine, but has wanted to expand her reach here in Beijing.

So, our dear friend, Sarah Ting-Ting Hou connected her up with the City Weekend: Beijing magazine and she was asked to write a 180 words blurb on Sonoma County Wines.

Sarah actually wrote the article about Air Quality in Beijing right beside Jill’s article.  How cool is that!?!

Jill spent a day or two, and I spent a day also, looking for Sonoma County wines here in Beijing.

That is not an easy thing to do.

It seems that American wines are very heavily taxed, while Chinese, Chilean, Australian and some other countries wines are not.

France’s wines are but they are well known and therefore easier to find.

It was almost impossible to find Sonoma County wines.

When she did find them, it wasn’t a large selection so she did the best should could to get a decent selection.

I’m proud of her and that she is now a published journalist in Beijing, China.

Cheers to Jill!

Day 190 in Beijing: Five Things I Miss Being In Beijing.

I live in Beijing, I can get most of what I want since it is a city of 23 million people, give or take a few million.  I also don’t live in an area of town where there are lots of expatriates so it is harder to find the things I want and miss.  If I did live in Sanlitun or Shunyi, I’d probably be more likely to find them and not get homesick very much.

Thinking about it, I actually don’t get homesick very often.  I think it has happened once or twice in the whole 6 months I’ve been living here.

I would have thought, with the language, culture, time, and everything else difference, that it would have happened more often.

I guess it goes to show how much I feel welcomed by my family, which includes my brother Robert here in Beijing, and the rest of my family around the world, Jill being here, my amazing group of friends, both here and abroad, and my wonderful job.

I honestly think I’ve never been so content with my life and in the knowledge of how many possibilities and adventures are out there for me every single day.

That being said, there are a few things that I do miss:

1. Being able to get somewhere easily/transportation.  This includes being able to understand bus routes, talking to cab drivers, getting simple directions from someone or giving the directions to them, and the speed of google maps back home in the USA where they download in seconds, not minutes, or more likely, never.

2.  Seedless grapes:  Yep, we have yet to find seedless grapes.  Really not a tragedy on the grand scale of things but it is interesting that the grocery stores we shop at don’t seem to have them.

3.  Yummy American wines at fair prices:  Chinese wines are young and cheap.  Which is great if you want to have some 2 buck Changyu, but not if you want some really tasty wines.  Chilean wines are quite good and they have a tax deal with the Chinese government and so they aren’t outrageously priced.  Sadly, it seems as if the EU and American wines are pretty highly taxed and so it makes it difficult to buy decent wine at a fair price.

Let me rephrase that.  It is almost impossible to even buy decent American wine.  When we do find it, it is usually Carlo Rossi, Gallo, Turning Leaf (subsidiary of Gallo), or very low grade Mondavi.  And they cost about 30 USD a bottle.  For wine that would cost about 7 bucks in the USD.  So, we tend to stick with the cheap Chinese wine which is good enough for now.

By the way, I think that Chinese wine will be very good in about 5-10 years.  They are putting loads of money, time, and effort into connecting with wineries around the world and learning everything they need to know to make the highest quality wines.  I’m interested in seeing how they progress in the next few years.

4. Spices are hard to find for everyday cooking.  We have to travel about 45 minutes, to the expatriate areas, to find them and they are fairly expensive.  This also includes other foods like pickles, olives, sauerkraut (which we LOVE), and other condiments that seem ubiquitous in america.

5. Mustard:  Oh, I miss my mustard.  I’ve never been a fan of catsup, which they seem to have in abundance, and this has only become more definite as I’ve lived in China.  I do, however, love mustard.  I love it on pretty much anything that most people put catsup on.  Or, if you are European, whatever you put mayonnaise on.  It is almost unheard of here in Beijing.  When I ask for it at restaurants, I use the Mandarin word for it and most servers are utterly confused.  Then, in their attempt to be helpful, they bring out wasabi, which we all know is used of sushi.  I have pretty much stopped even asking for it and given up hope at this point.  We also have to travel about 45 minutes to buy small mustard bottles as mentioned above.  It is a luxury here.

Day 161 in Beijing: Wine Labels Done Right…And Wrong.

Wine from Russia.

Wine from Russia.

Wine from Argentina.

Wine from Argentina.

Jill and I went shopping a few days ago.

We were checking out the wine aisle and these two wines, both with the dancing theme on them, caught out eyes.

One, we thought was incredibly classy, elegant and professionally done.

The other, a bit over the top.

I’m guessing you can decide which one we liked.

You can choose your own.

To each their own.