Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving: Great Food at the Great Wall

While my parents and other relatives enjoyed a cozy, wholesome Thanksgiving dinner back in the States, I was stuck in the office, working late (it was my turn for production night), eating a small, semi-warm bowl of rice, beef and what I think was pork from Yoshinoya. Dessert consisted of a few Hershey kisses I had hidden away in my desk drawers.

But last night (Saturday), I enjoyed a pleasant evening with a few of my expat pals at a small compound at the base of the Great Wall called the School House. The School House is owned and operated by American Jim Spear and his wife Liang Tang. Located at the base of the Great Wall at Mutianyu (about an hour's drive from Beijing), the out-of-the-way mini-resort is a great escape from busy Beijing (not to mention a nice break from the city air). But more importantly, at certain times throughout the year, they host special dinners. And this weekend they were serving a family-style Thanksgiving feast.

The venue was much smaller than I'd imagined, but what it lacked in scale it made up for in food, festive spirit and friendly people. My friend, Ken McManus, who has been coming here for some time noted that numbers were down this year - there were only about 20-some present and previous years had seen a much higher volume of people. But it was cozy, a real family-like gathering, small kids running around and adults chatting about "big people" matters. Live music played while everyone sipped on their choice of hot chocolate or a variety of wines. I tried a bit of everything.

The dinner itself was great. Served on those spinning table centerpieces, each plate of food - including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, baked rolls, broccoli and cheese and many other options - made its way to each person at our table. Dessert this time was for real: chocolate mousse, apple pie, chocolate pies and home-made ice cream. It was a nice alternative to my faux-Thanksgiving feast Thursday night.

And soon enough, it was time to leave the feast behind and make our way home. Before leaving, we were given tupperware containers to take leftovers home, because, as Jim Spear said, "No Thanksgiving is complete without leftovers." How right he was.

(FRONT) Mike Peters (China Daily), Brian Peach (Global Times), Brandon Taylor (Beijing Review); (BACK) Ken McManus (South China Morning Post), Jim Spear (owner) and his wife, Liang Tang

Monday, November 23, 2009

Advertorial Extraordinaire

I found myself at the Beijing International Airport this weekend dressed in a suit with an unusual amount of gel in my hair. I sat reading a copy of Beijing Review, one I'd looked at many times before as a photographer and videographer took my photo and recorded video. It was like acting in a movie and in a way, I was a star, just not in Hollywood terms.

I'd been "volunteered" to take part in a CIPG advertisement campaign for Beijing Review. My HR contact had called me Thursday with the ever-ambiguous "What are you doing Sunday?" to which I honestly answered that I had no plans. I heard a few words that sounded like "advertisement," "commercial" and "Sunday afternoon." A woman would later stop by my cubicle to tell me she would pick me up at my apartment and shuttle me off to the Beijing International Airport where a photographer and other camera people would meet us. I was to dress formally and "look good."

"Define 'good,'" I said. The woman chuckled and just walked away.

Sure enough, she picked me and my co-worker, Joseph Kirschke, up Sunday afternoon. We met the rest of the commercial crew at a Starbucks, shot up on caffeine to get us pumped for the photo shoot and met a PR guy for the airport. He gave us each tickets so we could get through security (apparently even with VIP treatment and a airport PR escort you can't just walk freely throughout the terminal) and we made our way in.

The photo shoot would take place in the First Class and Business lounge of the Air China area. Joe and I weren't given specifics on what was going on, but we went with it and did as they told. The whole event took around 4 fours (including security checks and set up) and included two separate shooting locations in the lounge. Overall, it went smoothly.

I haven't seen the final product (I doubt they finished) but I was sent a few of the photos. When they finish the actual commercial part, I'll be sure to post that as well.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Park Photos

A few more photos from the Summer Palace event. Apparently we were on Chinese TV as well.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

When It Rains It Snows

Last night was Halloween, but the weather must have mistaken it for the Christmas holiday season. What started as a drizzle soon turned into a steady rain. Before long, the rain drops became a bit heavier and whiter. And then it started to snow.

I woke up to find about 3 inches covering the ground. Winter was officially here. It was nice, because only two days before I'd bought my heavy winter jacket and a few extra sweaters. All I needed was a scarf, pair of gloves and boots.

I set out looking for a park to see if anyone was building snowmen, or Snow Mao's perhaps. But after searching for only 30 minutes the cold began to get to me and I retreated to my apartment.

Something Western This Way Comes

I haven't celebrated Halloween in about three years. And I haven't dressed up for the holiday for even longer time. But this year I almost completely forgot about that special day when kids young and old dress up and run rampant trying to acquire as much candy as possible.

Last week, while grocery shopping I came across a small Halloween section, with Scream masks and plastic pumpkins. Feeling compelled to promote the American holiday, I bought a few things and took them into my office.

I really wasn't aware that Halloween was celebrated much outside the United States. My friends from the UK and Australia said it was picking up in their respective countries but still wasn't as embedded in their culture as it is in America.

The mall across the street from my apartment was holding a Halloween party. The locals seemed to enjoy having their photo taken next to a giant pumpkin and the Scream killer. A few people even wanted their photo taken with me. I guess my "costume" as an American was pretty convincing.

A Walk in the Park

At various points throughout the year, BJR will take its foreign experts on sightseeing trips around China and sometimes to local attractions in Beijing. On Saturday, they took us to the Summer Palace, but not just to see the old dwelling of previous emperors. We were taking part in a friendship competition for foreigners.

The event had been explained to me as a field trip. It eventually evolved into an organized event for foreigners from Beijing. I later heard someone mention that it was a competition. Two days before the event, one of my office friends used the word "race."

It turned out to be, as we soon found out, a "long walk" around Kunming Lake, where the Summer Palace is located.

The weather was beautiful - not too warm, not too cold and essentially perfect walking weather.

We were given goodie bags beforehand with an assortment of gifts. We were also required to wear light blue vests to set us apart from other tourists in the area, and perhaps to prevent people from taking boats across the lake to finish the walk quicker.

It took us about two hours to walk around the lake. At various points, signs with "Come On" written on them pointed us in the right direction. Perhaps they were also meant to inspire walkers, but to me they seemed a bit bossy.

At the end we were given free phone cards (the event was hosted by China Mobile). The Summer Palace area was great - another one of Beijing's historic landmarks and simply huge in scale. I'll have to make it a point to get back to see the whole area and not worry about speed walking around the perimeter of the nearby lake.

Great Hall Revisited

Here are a few more photos from the Great Hall event I was invited to last month. The man giving toasts is the president of CIPG.