Sunday, January 26, 2014

How most get their hot water

Fortunately, we are "off the grid" of the hot water distribution system in Beijing though I've been trying to piece together how hot water is provided to most people. (We have a natural gas hot water heater that supplies fires up cold water for us.) I didn't think of it too much until one night there was a lot of commotion at a home across the street. A problem had developed at the house. Though the owners were away, their car was parked on top of the issue. Eventually, the car was lifted up so that each of the four wheels was placed on a small "cart" and the car was rolled down the street. Workers then began pulling up bricks from in front of the house. Krista and I kept checking the window to determine what was going on. With the paving bricks removed, shovels came out and the hole digging began. Deeper and deeper they dug until it was difficult to see the man inside the hole. Lights being used to help in the evening darkness highlighted the steam rising from the depths. As it turns out, there was a leak in the hot water line to the house.

This photograph was taken not too far from our home and shows a stack that is quite common in these areas. Apparently, water is heated in local facilities such as this one and then distributed through pipes to the homes of residents. (Disclaimer - I've heard this story from a few people that seem to be credible sources.) In various articles, there has been mention of the inefficiencies of the hot water distribution systems - no kidding! Incredible amounts of heat must be lost through the pipes. - and that homes will be asked to eventually begin providing their own hot water. I guess we are fortunate to already have our own method of getting hot water.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A few possible choices from the menu

During the last break, Krista and I managed to sneak out to a local restaurant for a bite to eat. Here are a few of the items on the menu (nope, we chickened out on these...)

In many locations, restaurants may not have restrooms and you are directed to the closest hutong public facility. This one featured this fun sign:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Run like a Dog

A few weeks ago, Krista and I were sitting in our local hangout enjoying a few adult beverages before kid time and an image on one of the screens caught my attention. Take away the beautiful girl and her

scooter from this image and you have the view that splashed up on the screen. As we then reminisced about the carefree days of the past (awesome trip to the Greek Islands!), I half-tuned into the show. A running freestyle event was taking place on the steep hills of Santorini. People were doing incredible acrobatic moves as they descended downwards to the amazement of local Greeks and the mules that climb up and down the cliffs.

Where am I going with this? I later checked out the idea of freestyle running and found it paired with parkour. There are similarities and differences in the two but my, oh my, it's a different way of running than plodding along for miles on end. It's January and that means time to dust off the shoes from hibernation, brave the cold, hope that the air is decent, and get outside. My fitness hibernation time has been toddler-extended (the last two years have seen me scrubbing more diapers than lacing up my shoes), but I thing some time is opening back up. I started up as in the past by beginning to log in the minutes. Then, parkour stepped in. Here's a crazy video of some incredibly in-shape parcour'ing wonder people. Will I be scaling buildings and flying over barricades - no but I am trying to change the way I head out for a run.

I'm thinking of it more like running like a dog. If you've gone running with a dog there are two likely scenarios. 1 - the dog is leashed and hates the experience. After the brief excitement of being outside, the dog plods along hoping the torture will soon be over. 2 - the dog is unleashed and tears about everywhere. On many occasions, I have commented how Audrey must cover twice the distance because she jets off trail and explores. Several years ago, I ran with a group in Portland and a few runners took off in a similar fashion. They were up on and off the curb, jumping over walls, climbing dirt mounds...In essence, they were reading the land around them and engaging. Instead of straight-lining with the rest of us, they zigged and zagged, jumped and climbed.

So, that's what I'm up to now. Yesterday was a great run that I repeated from a week ago though last week I stayed on the road. This time, I dropped off the road and ran through the dry ditches - up and down, weaved between trees, climbed extra inclines and jumped off and over a variety of items. I'm sure that I collected all sorts of crazy looks but in the end I had a bunch of fun heading out for a routine run. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Night, night

"Night, night." These two words are part wonder and part game in our house. It's amazing when the girls are completely asleep. Now that they've moved to "big beds" it is nice to go in visit and tuck them back in as we head off for a few hours ourselves. Dolls are also put to bed - the girls tuck them in and tell them "night, night". Then, there is the party aspect.

Bedtime has been absolutely crazy around here! The latest curveball in the girls' development was thrown as they moved from cribs to beds. We kept with the same routine (naively) hoping that time would settle them. Nope. Imagine a dinner where the girls are so tired that their heads almost hit the table.

"Night, night"

Legs are so weak from fatigue that they can barely make it up the stairs.

"Night, night"

Bath time rejuvenates a little as the fun factor gets them sloshing around, throwing water and having a good time. The next stop is book time and we can feel them slowly amping up. By the time we put them down to bed, they are almost bouncing. We kiss them good night and head out. Do their cute little heads peacefully lay down with closed eyes? Of course not! That's what we would like so that we could have an evening of peace. No, the party starts.


The room is quite dark yet they manage to go crazy. Covers and pillows are flung off of beds. The poor stuffies are tossed who knows where. Closets are ransacked. The photo below shows a meter stick through cabinets. So far this protection has kept them from opening and dumping out the contents of these cabinets. On this day, the large cabinet was untied and clothes pulled out.

The beds are pushed all over the room. If anything, these girls are crafty! Together, they are a combination that is deadly to the sanity of their parents. One night, we arrived and turned on the lights to find that a bed had been pushed over to the window. This allowed them to climb up on the wide ledge and then they figured out how to open the window. Both girls were crammed onto the sill with only a screen between them and the wide open 2nd floor space. A baby gate now decorates the window.

Too short to open doors? Nope, that's why they have beds. They must be fairly coordinated in their movements as they can quickly get the bed over to the door area and use it to gain the height to reach the door knob. Then, they pour out of the room to see what extra trouble they can get into.

"Night, night" indeed. Honestly, evening times were beginning to kill us. It seemed like we were in a constant battle. They could take hours to finally calm down. All the online "suggestions" were being done and we finally searched up twin sleeping habits. Pajama party, chaos, Help!, hours and hours and hours, these were all common terms. It seems that no one with twins was finding bedtime an enjoyable time.

Instead of battling, we decided to push back into the room. Free time is over and we take turns patiently sitting with the girls. The first night was great! Within 15 minutes, the girls were both asleep. We found the golden cure. Yeah, right. The second night was 30 minutes, then 45 and we're now up to an hour or more. So, we are kind of back to the drawing board. The chaos and struggles are over but one of us commits a huge amount of time. Can we start scaling back or will they return to party central? Should we just look at this phase as a time to meditate and enter a state of peacefulness?

On the flip side, they typically snooze throughout the whole night and use their new-found ability of breaking out of their room to come on downstairs in the morning. When awake, I hear the calls of "Daddy" as they make their way down stairs. It's pretty cool. A few times they have caught me trying to sleep in. On one occasion, they decided to wake the turtle. We heard the sounds of pebbles being thrown onto the ground. I freaked at first thinking that the turtle had also been thrown across the room but it was hiding in a corner. A second time, they raided the kitchen and we came down to find them munching on oranges.

XO with shakers and Sage with her stuffies.

Tiananmen Square & Markets

Our final day out and about didn't end with the Forbidden City excursion as we continued to wander about Beijing. Some setting on our phone didn't get correctly programmed, so our mapping systems do not work. This is a big bummer. In Taiwan, maps saved us all the time. And, you know who, decided not to carry the big 'ole LP guide with the one map that would be useful so we had a few decisions to make as we left the palace. Do we aimlessly wander and risk the curse of the red wall - our long, long walk in October? Instead, we decided to loop about the moat and return towards Tiananmen Square and see the area to the south of it.

This large field ends at the moat to the Forbidden City and the tower/walls are on the opposite side of the moat. We stood at the northwest corner for quite some time hoping for an opening to cross the road. Yes, the "walk man" flashed his green tint at us but that did little to stop the swerving cars and electric scooters.  Eventually finding an small break, we dashed across to almost get plowed by a group of bicyclists. Our path led us parallel to the Forbidden City on a somewhat calm street.

The road ended on a major thoroughfare that split the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Again, the sense of a vast open space overtook us. The Square is colossal and we entered through a tunnel that passed under streets. In the tunnels, security systems are set-up that scan bags and the entire place is manned so that it can be quickly locked down. However, we were greeted with smiles as workers tried to stay warm in the tunnels that at times howled with wind.

Looking towards the Forbidden City 
After walking for quite some time, we finally reached the gates at the southern end of the Square. Along the way, we passed the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong though did not stop in. Other people were also wandering about and getting hassled by camera-wielding folks who tried to convince all that they needed to take your photo. Each person had a bag with a printer so that you could instantly get your print.

We then continued south to visit a market area. Though the weather was nice and we mostly stayed outdoors, this opening caught our attention. Corridors that seem to stretch on forever have a tendency to pull us in so we entered and roamed about for a bit before returning to the sunshine.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

to the Forbidden City

Break is rolling to an end and we managed to escape for a final outing - the Forbidden City. Fortunately, the only thing forbidden these days is children so we had to leave ours behind in order to tour. Just kidding - Xian and Sage wanted to spend a bit of time with Li Xin before the end of the break so she came on over for the day. As almost all of the days during the break, we were treated to beautiful blue skies and few people to jostle about.

Crossing the moat
When we attempted to visit during the October holiday, so many people also wanted into the city that we gave up before reaching the moat. This time, few people joined us as we crossed the partially frozen body of water.

The key word for this visit is vast. Everything is so huge. We walked and walked to pass through the entrance walls. Then, massive courtyards greeted us and we again passed beneath extensive walls to more courtyards.

The center portion of the stair case features intricate stone carvings of dragons. The courtyard expands from the center line as the city is almost symmetrical. Most people moved forward along the straight lines from one temple area to another. Maybe we all felt intimated by the sheer size of the spaces. Would stepping off the large pavers put you into an immense emptiness? We wandered off for a few photos but scurried back before being swallowed up.

I find it fascinating to think about life in the Forbidden City during the heyday of the emperors. The common person would be put to death if he entered yet did people who work there never get the opportunity to step outside of the walls? How did materials move about? Where did water come from? 

The ornate rooftops were everywhere as rounded cylinders guide rainfall down.  Below, a male lion guards an entrance to a temple. On the other side of the walkway, a female dragon is also present. These two guardians are present together and represent both the completeness of the emperor's rule (lion hand over the globe) and the maternal side of ruling (mother lion with child).

Doorways beckon from afar. What kind of intrigue takes place behind the doors? Some are open and some are closed. Doors lead to more doors which lead to...?

Huge vats were present throughout the temple areas. Apparently these held water. It would be a bad day if you were asked to fill up a vat from the moat. How many back and forth trips would that be?

Stormwater system.

A western girl in the Forbidden City

We entered on the southern side of the City and as we moved north, we eventually reached the garden area. This was my favorite as a complete sense of calmness came over the area. From the wide open spaces, trees and rocks suddenly closed in the vistas.

We exited facing north to see this large hill. It was constructed from the fill that resulted in digging out the moat of the city. Another trip of ours will be to wander through this park and take in the sights.

Celebrating the Big 2

Finally. Whenever anyone asks how old the girls are we can just say, "Two." No more hassling with months or coming up with different amounts for each wee one. They are two and today we celebrated Sage's birthday with her favorite meal, a gift from XO to Sage and a bit of cake.

Shui jiao (dumplings) are Sage's favorite. We've yet to make enough for her.
Chopsticks slow her down - she typically crams them in her mouth as fast as possible.
Someone let her know that cake was coming.
XO joined in the excitement. (No, she does not like to wear pants. Even in the winter.)
Two for 2!

Xian handing Sage her present. 
Oh so excited!
I'm ready to rock!
Xian joining in on the uke.
A great night.

Happy Birthday Sage. We love you!

Friday, January 3, 2014

2 years with the fishes!

Sage loves fish. Every image that has a fish somewhere within is treated to a loud "Yu!" as she gleefully shouts out that she spotted a fish. So, to celebrate her birthday we decided to head to the Beijing Aquarium. Our timing must have been perfect to avoid work crowds on the metro and the tourist traffic was low - a great public transport day!

Family selfie at the Beijing Zoo Metro stop
Winter break consisted mostly of blue sky days as the air pollution was low, but today the wind switched up and counts started creeping up. The girls are getting good at wearing masks that have the added bonus of keeping us a bit warmer. The Beijing Metro Zoo stop is the theoretical entry point to the aquarium. We had some difficulty realizing that in order to get into the aquarium, one has to first purchase a ticket for the Zoo, walk through the Zoo and then purchase another ticket for the aquarium. Hmm....

Sage in front of the huge aquarium mural
The first stop inside the aquarium was a tropical rainforest exhibit. The aquarium itself seems to be constructed like a huge big box superstore with tanks and special effects inserted to give a theme-park like feel. 

Here, the birthday girl checks out a tank positioned perfectly for her tip-toes.
Meanwhile, Xian was still snoozing. Somewhere during the ordeal of finding our way into the Zoo, she passed out for a nice nap. Knowing that a long day was in store for us, we let her sleep though fish get her pretty pumped up as well.

As we wandered out of the tropical rainforest, signs directed our footsteps toward the marine mammal area. Woohoo! It was feeding time. We were not fully prepared for the show that awaited us. I'm sure that someone must have learned a lot about marine mammals but the language barrier kept us ignorant as we wagered whether or not this guy would be asked to take the leap.

He did....

The final area was a coral reef exhibition with a large tank that was accessed from several stories, had a couple of walkways through it and many smaller tanks filled it out. The jellyfish were definitely a pleaser.

To return home, we again walked through the zoo area. The girls continued to draw crowds - seriously, are they that cute?

In the penguin area, one determined lady tried to get a photo of her boy with the girls. Each time she thought that all was set up, one of our girls would turn around and wander off. She then tried to reset the stage as Xian began getting fed-up with the charade. XO can throw off some attitude when needed. Making our escape!

The rest of the time was a nice wander through the grounds of the zoo.

Xian crossing a bridge - parts of the river were iced over.

Sister love