Roasted chestnuts return to Beijing 


The chestnut guy is back in the neighborhood, roasting the succulent nuts. 

Temperatures are falling in Beijing as our short but pleasant fall turns to what is sure to be another brutally cold and smoggy winter. (Winter winds regularly sweep south from Siberia and Mongolia into Northern China).

Another sign of the impending winter is the appearance this week of the chestnut guy. He parked his “tri-shaw”, a motorized cart, out on the sidewalk in front of China Daily’s main building and fired up the makeshift brazier in the back. 

Dozens of russet brown chestnuts were nestled amid the small, seed-like nuggets of charcoal inside the copper kettle used for roasting. The man regularly stirred the nuts with a shovel. Each time the iron head plunged into the smoking pile it released a heavenly aroma. 

China is the world’s No. 1 consumer of chestnuts and passersby quickly got in line to buy the snack. This batch didn’t last long - but, no problem. The chestnut guy will be back tomorrow.


The chestnuts are roasted in a copper kettle over a makeshift brazier.


Kiwis squeeze out last minute rugby victory  

Rugby fans watch the Bledisloe Cup at The Irish Volunteer.

Talk about a nail biter - the outcome of this year’s Bledisloe Cup rugby union championship between Austrailia and New Zealand came down to a thrilling kick that gave the Kiwis the points needed to win the game 29-28.

Normally I’m not a big rugby fan but the Saturday afternoon match in Brisbane was a major sporting event - like the Super Bowl - between arch rivals the Wallabies (the Australians) and the All Blacks (New Zealand). My Kiwi friend Tracie invited me to join her and some friends at The Irish Volunteer in Beijing’s Lido neighborhood to watch the big game. 

Right before the game began the All Blacks performed the Haka to intimidate their opponents from across the Tasman Sea. It’s a Maori war dance that’s impressive if you’ve never seen it before, but the Australians took it in stride.

The game itself was 80 minutes of nonstop action. The Aussies pulled ahead early in the match and it seemed that the All Blacks, considered the best national rugby union team in the world, might fall.

Late action by the All Blacks brought the score to 28-27 and the chance for the Kiwis to “convert” - or gain two extra points by kicking the ball through the poles. The ball sailed through and the All Blacks won.


Lunch at Beijing’s Alameda restaurant 


Wine glazed beef with roasted potatoes, onions and red peppers at Alameda.

My friend Mike treated me to lunch the other day at Alameda, which bills itself as a contemporary Brazilian restaurant in Beijing’s popular Sanlitun entertainment district. 

It’s restaurant week, so Alameda had a special four-course set menu for RMB128, or about $20.50 each.

We both started with a generous cup of pumpkin bisque, a nice change of pace from the usual tomato and cream of mushroom soups offered in so many restaurants here. Appetizers were a small spinach salad with prosciutto and balsamic dressing for Mike and roasted asparagus under a blanket of shaved Parmesan and diced avocado and red pepper for me.

For our mains, Mike had the pork loin with black currant sauce with couscous on the side and I had wine glazed beef served with roasted potatoes, onions and red peppers. The portions were generous and the beef was tender and cooked perfectly.

Flan rounded out the meal for Mike while I enjoyed just a small spoonful of ice cream set in a cream puff shell and drizzled with chocolate sauce. 

It was a delicious meal enjoyed with a good friend on a lovely autumn afternoon.


The entrance to Alameda in Sanlitun.


Chinese family history 


China Daily carried this story about a Chinese genealogist.

The Chinese don’t worship their ancestors but they do honor them. Now a Dutch citizen of Chinese descent is helping overseas Chinese discover their roots, China Daily online reports.

Huihan Lie, a 36-year-old ethnic Chinese who was raised in the Netherlands, and two colleagues run My China Roots, a genealogy research service that helps Chinese trace their ancestors. 

It’s a story that grabbed my attention due to my own long time interest in genealogy. It’s also fascinating from a historian’s standpoint because it explains how most Chinese families kept track of their lineage and history in a records book called jiapu, or zupu, with some dating as far back as thousands of years.

That’s a genealogical gold mine for Western researchers, who usually dig through church and civil records to find information on their ancestors.

Not all of these jiapu survived over the centuries, especially following the upheavals of the 20th Century. But for some families, they provide a head start on a journey into the past. 


Chinese government launches new English language website 


The Chinese government launches its new English language website, English.gov.cn.

China Daily hosted several high-level officials the other day to celebrate the launch of the new edition of the Chinese government’s English-language website, English.gov.cn,

The updated website aims to step up the country’s global connectivity drive, according to an article in China Daily online. It’s also a way for English-language readers to access the Chinese government’s policies and to gain an understanding of state leaders and the development of China, Gao Anming, China Daily’s deputy editor-in-chief said at the launch ceremony.

The website is supported by China Daily.

A neat, clean design is a hallmark of the new website. It’s easy to navigate and find the information you’re seeking. There are six major sections - Premier, which covers China’s No. 2 leader, Li Keqiang; News; Policies; State Council; Services and Archives.


The Birdz are still No 1! 


Irish Volunteer owner George, left, celebrates with The Birdz.

Our pub quiz team, The Birdz, held on to our championship status the other night at The Irish Volunteer.

We defeated five teams in a showdown that started out poorly for our three-member group. The first two categories, “Fish or Fowl” and “Living Things,” were peppered with questions on the obscure - who knew “cavy” was another name for guinea pig? We later picked up multiple points for scoring well in later categories that included “Space” and “Geology.”

Our prize was another 19” pizza and six Tsingtao beers. We decided to hold off on claiming our prizes and decided that if we win a couple more pizzas and beers over the next month or two, we’ll have enough refreshments to host our own Christmas party. 


Chairman Meow on the mend … and he is a she 


Chairman Meow is resting and recovering at Murray’s.

Chairman Meow, the little calico cat who lives in the China Daily garden, is recovering at my friend Murray’s.

We noticed last week he was limping and his left paw seemed to be injured, but Chairman Meow didn’t act too distressed at first. Then the limping got worse. Murray and another friend took the cat to the vet over the weekend and got the disturbing diagnosis - someone had deliberately stomped Meow’s paw and crushed it.

The vet did what he could but said the best course of action is to let the broken bones and the paw heal naturally. It will take about six weeks for that to happen. 

The vet also said Chairman Meow is not a male - something we’d suspected, as “he” is a calico, which are almost always female. Chairman Meow has been rechristened “Callie.”

So this sweet kitty has a new name and a new home. She’s recuperating at Murray’s and has her own “room” - the glassed-in balcony off his bedroom. It’s a good-sized space that can be heated and Murray’s furnished it with a nice, thick pallet, her own litter box and a food and water station. The move is permanent, as obviously it isn’t safe for Callie to return to the outdoors, even after she recovers.

How Rocky, Murray’s white cat, is going to react is anybody’s guess. Rocky knows there’s a newcomer in the house, but the balcony provides the needed distance between the two felines for now. After Callie heals, she and Rocky will be formally introduced.


First serious smog of the season chokes Beijing 

Middle school students in our neighborhood play in the smog.

Beijing is suffering through its first severe pollution of the season this week, as the Air Quality Index surged past 400 - that’s in the “hazardous” range.

Dealing with unusual foods and a new language are challenges for every expat who comes to China, but the smog in the big cities and the industrial areas has got to be the worst thing about living here. It’s what sends many foreigners back to their home countries after a couple of years of choking through the haze.

It’s not smoggy all the time. Often, the air quality is “moderate” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and most people cope. But as winter approaches, it ramps up, and Air Quality Index readings in the 300+ range several times a week will not be unusual.

Most of Beijing’s smog is produced by industry and coal-burning factories that ring the greater metropolitan area, including power plants that generate energy to heat the city. Vehicle emissions from the ever-growing number of cars on the road and constant construction throughout Beijing also contribute particulates that pollute the air.

Beijing lies in a flat valley, like Birmingham, so the effect is very similar to the Magic City in its industrial heyday.

The government has some long range plans to curb the emissions that create the smog but few in the short term.

Next month, from Nov 3-12, the city is calling a halt to construction and demolition and will restrict the use of private vehicles during the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting, according to an article at China Daily online

It will help, but I won’t be throwing out the smog mask I use outdoors or the air purifier in my apartment.


Gentle geometric curves mark Wangjing SOHO 


Wangjing SOHO’s gently curving architecture is beautiful at night.

Renowned architect Zaha Hadid designed one of the newest retail and office complexes in Beijing, Wangjing SOHO.

The other night I happened to be in the Wangjing neighborhood, also known as “Korea Town”  and saw the complex for the first time. It’s truly an impressive sight, especially at night, with the towers lit so brightly you can see them from far away. 

The three high rise and three low rise office buildings are outstanding new landmarks in the city.


It’s too early for Christmas! 

The US isn’t the only place where Christmas comes too early - this time I’m talking about background music in restaurants.

Right now, as you are waking to start a new day, I’m eating dinner at Lakers, our neighborhood bar, on the last of three 10-hour holiday shifts I’ve worked this week. Sy, the manager, is hanging paper pumpkins from the ceiling.

So what should just play now but a country version of “Jingle Bell Rock” by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert.

Now, I love the superstar couple, but really Lakers, Christmas music before Halloween? I hate that.