Saturday, August 31, 2013

AQI: PDX vs Beijing

Fantastic! Beautiful! Unheard of! Don't get used to it. We're hearing a lot of these statements at the moment. Fall is slowly knocking on the door of summertime and the days have been quite nice. Early morning walks with Audrey moved from short sleeves to a light jacket over the past week. Visibility is superb. Apparently, some people can visit Beijing for extended periods of time and not realize that mountains are close by.

The air quality is as good as it can probably get. Yesterday at school, some of my students checked out the permanent air monitoring device and obtained a reading of 2 ug/m3. This translates to an AQI index of 8! For comparisons sake, here is today's reading of Shunyi (our suburban locale of Beijing) and Portland.

 I know that we'll likely have air off the charts at some point in the near future but at the moment I'll take the green = good rating!

On a completely unrelated note, the girls are having a great time. Audrey returned from summer camp with a different attitude towards the girls - maybe being larger has helped her realize they are people after all? She lets the girls climb all over her and the process of dressing her up has begun with a few flower leis.

The girls are also enjoying the process of dressing themselves up...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Rides

Busy, busy, busy - that's pretty much the refrain for us these days. School took off at a blinding pace and the weekends so far also lined up without much breathing space. Soccer, dance chaperoning, visa acquiring, birthday parties, gym, house hunting and more have kept us running. We've been pretty happy with the stellar weekend weather that has allowed us to get out and about.

Over the summer, we traded in the Taiwan-faithful BOB for a Cougar because it has the ability to convert to a bike trailer. Payoff! Cruising around with the girls in tow has been fun.

Crashed out

Tig-tig and Doggie along for the ride

On a few occasions, our wheels guided us to the local grocery store where XO pushes a cart around as Sage serenades the store with her shrieks.

This weekend, we added another transport option to the quiver. Joining the ranks of electric machines zipping around at the high speeds of 30 mph, we purchased an electric tuk-tuk-esque three-wheeler.

We're needing a name for the new cruiser. Suggestions?

Yeah! The car seats fit in. No more crazy girls in the back.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Out and about!

The moment Audrey and I stepped outside this morning we could tell a good day was in store for us. The air was light - a reprieve from the sticky humidity - and my lungs easily breathed air in and out. Air quality numbers hung out below 50! Woo-hoo!

At the same time, our morning's agenda did not scream excitement. A long bus ride to a government building was first up. The three week mark just passed and our new teacher group headed to the government affairs building to request, in-person - a recent change - our resident permits. Without daycare this weekend, the girls also boarded the bus for a nice ride and quality time in lines and waiting for others to finish the processing.

Sage creating entertainment while waiting around. Running between seating areas.

Finally, everyone made it through the system and we got out of the building to wait for the bus.

 The girls outside of the government affairs building.

The bus ride home was fairly uneventful as Sage napped and XO protested. Later that afternoon, we took advantage of the clear skies, low pollution counts and humidity to walk with Audrey to the park.

Tigger helping Xian walk Audrey

Currently, we live in a housing area known as Dragon's Bay. It's in a nice setting with peaceful roads, places for the kids to play, and a big lake. Here, XO walks along the lake.

A tiny kids' park holds a few swings and teeter-totters that the girls enjoy romping around on. Sage works on climbing up and down by herself. When she's up, she gets the thing going back and forth and back and forth and...

Still addicted to the rush of swings, Xian typically makes a beeline to the swing set and yelps until she gets a pusher.

As the day settled down, the girls quickly moved into the zone of over-tiredness and dinner was a not-so-pleasant affair as Sage discovered the wonders of throwing food and Xian let us know her level of fatigue. Mango for dessert helped out and the girls recently decided that baths are fun so all ended well. After the nightly book read, they got tucked in and I was soon heading out the door hoping to find a hardware store for a wrench. While purchasing bikes a couple of weeks ago, we spotted a place that might sell one so I hoped to find my way back.

Many of the major roads out here have separate sections for bikes, pedestrians and some scooters. 
Cruising down the bike lane with a view over the basket
The Shunyi area is actually quite rural. Small farm plots are tucked away in many corners and beautiful, tree-lined roads wander off to who knows where. Tonight, two flocks of sheep crossed my path as I pedaled towards the store.

The way back provided a bit more adventure. Leaving the store, I decided to follow a road that appeared to go through a bustling little market. Vegetables were everywhere! The road continued after the market on a heading parallel to the road I rode in on. I hoped for a connection but eventually gave up as darkness set in and (1) I wished that the 3G advertised for my phone's SIM card was actually working so that I could use a map, (2) I had a light for my bike and (3) I was not dressed in dark clothing. The ride turned out OK though it's a bit crazy seeing massive trucks blaze through intersections as horns blow. Might is right and if you blow your horn first then actions are justified...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back-to-school BBQ

The evening air was hot. The sun relentlessly shined down as we jockeyed for a bit of shade. The evening celebrated the end of the first week of school though it felt like we were still in full summer-time mode. While we enjoyed refreshing beverages, the girls hung out beside the buckets of beer and wine and slurped down ice cubes.

XO holding a slippery cube
The intensity of the sun eventually lessened and we were treated to a wonderful evening. A large buffet was set out and hundreds of people mingled about. We wanted a good feeling of community and this was a great school event.

Krista & Sage enjoying dinner
The girls overheated a bit and the best remedy for summer heat is ice cream!
The combination of the sun setting, the awesomeness of ice cream and a steady intake of ice cubes restored the good moods of the girls. They finished dinner and were ready to play.

Kids roamed everywhere and some activities were set-up. Xian and Krista took off for the painting station and had loads of fun producing a nice piece.

Budding abstract artist?

Sage explored and was drawn to water and objects she could move.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


"Beijing? Have you heard about the air there?"

Time after time this summer that statement was said to us. Ummm, yep, we have heard about the air and it does freak us out. "Airpocalypse" settled in just after we signed our contracts and it's been on our minds ever since. Two weeks in and what do we think? We've already fallen into the pattern of checking the air quality index (AQI) on a regular basis throughout the day. The AQI is more important than the weather and we received a nice shower on the way to school the other day as the AQI was OK and we raced out on our bikes.  This number measures the level of particulate matter that 2.5 microns or less in diameter (yes, that's tiny and is a great size for hanging out in the lungs).

Source: AIRNow 

This guide provides indicators to accompany the measurements. I've been quite surprised at the daily fluctuations in the air quality. Rain storms are great - the AQI can quickly drop after a good rain - but I have not found any other patterns. With the return of Audrey, daily walks are a must so we're out there regardless. Some walks are a wee bit shorter than the others.

We've definitely had nice days below 100 though when my eyes opened this morning I hoped that the weather forecast indicated a thick layer of fog. Instead, we hit the highest reading yet - 330. Inside, we've installed air purifiers in each room and they appear to be working nicely. Unfortunately, some activities are effected. This morning we had hoped to venture into town for a big open market shopping experience but don't want the girls to get the exposure.

On the right side of this blog, a number now appears. This should be the AQI reading in Shunyi - the northeastern part of Beijing where we live. Based on stories, we expect the reading out here to be lower than closer into town though that has not been the case recently. It's an adjustment for sure and we hope that the number of poor air quality days stay few and far between. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Floating on Houhai

Two fast, fast weeks have passed as we continue to get used to life in Beijing. School started this week. Monday began with meetings as the returning teachers descended upon the campus and students appeared on Thursday. Between difficulties accessing certain sites on the web and the frantic pace at school, we've been a bit slack on posting...

Last weekend, I ventured into town with other Beijing newbies to an area once frequented as a royal playground. Houhai Lake is located in the heart of Beijing as narrow neighborhoods, hutongs, wind to this central water feature.

We walked towards the boat area and the number of people swimming in the lake surprised me. Mostly older men, they walked down a small ladder into the pond and did laps between the bank and an island in the middle. Boats appeared to avoid the swimmers though I wonder if the parasites of central Beijing also steer clear.

The island destination
Our group was a bit large so we waited for a few boat conductors to show up. The atmosphere was vibrant. People - locals, expats, tourists... - constantly flowed by, music played and folks seemed to be milling about on a beautiful summer evening.

Meeting spot
Finally, we pushed off and our boats joined the others in Lake Houhai as dusk slowly turned to darkness and the lights from the banks began to brightly shine.

Imagine watching Chinese royalty floating across the lake 
After the lake tour, we meandered through the hutong section.

Tea shop window opening onto the street
In the end, I got back on the bus for the ride home but we first made a short detour through Tiananmen Square. Even under the night sky, I was impressed with the vastness of this area.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Friday race to the doctor

“Excuse me. I’m sorry but the taxi is not coming,” the nice receptionist at our apartment informed us.

“Really?” was our immediate reaction. The taxi was called over 10 minutes ago and we had been patiently waiting as our 3:30 appointment time rapidly approached.

“Yes, he says that you are too close.”

Plan B was immediately hatched and put into place. I ran upstairs to grab the baby-backpacks and we raced to the apartment basement/parking garage to hop on our newly purchased bikes. Good thing we went out the day before to obtain some pedal power. A few moments later we were out of the bat cave and following Li Xin, our amazing ayi, to the doctors’ office.

Backpackin' on the bike. Don't worry, the helmets are being shipped.

Yes, our journeys continue. This time, Sage presented herself with a full body rash. A couple days of analyzing her diet for possible allergens resulted in little conclusion so we took her in. As it turns out, a virus ran around her wee little body, causing no fever or other symptoms, and covering her in this rash. She’s on the mend with a combination of western medicine and a Chinese remedy that gets poured into the bath. The girls are loving nightly bubble baths. “Bubbles!”

As Sage visited the doctor, XO enjoyed time at a nearby pet store. Kittens on one side and puppies around the corner.