National Day in the People’s Republic of China 

Patriotic sculpture outside Mao’s mausoleum in Tian’anmen Square.

Oct 1 is National Day in China, the start of a seven day “Golden Week” celebration that sends millions of Chinese on visits to their families or on vacation to top domestic destinations, such as Beijing.

It was here, in the capital city, that the People’s Republic was declared on Oct 1, 1949. 

Public areas throughout the country, from the monumental such as Tian’anmen, to the mundane are decorated with flags and festive themes. 

Tian’anmen Square and other top tourist draws in Beijing will be crammed with tourists, as many Chinese families from the provinces take this time to show their kids significant sights from history. It’s akin to American parents taking their kids to Washington for the Fourth of July.



Aussie Grand Final party draws big crowd 


A small portion of the crowd at The Local tunes in to watch the Grand Final.

It was Aussie heaven Saturday in Beijing, and not just because Beijing’s popular sports bar, The Local, was swarming with about 300 hundred handsome and charming Australian men.

They were there to view the Grand Final, which is akin to the Super Bowl of Australian Rules Football. On the screens live from Melbourne: the final showdown between the Hawthorne Hawks and the Sydney Swans.

There were around 100,000 people in the stadium at Melbourne, where, instead of a halftime show, musical performances by Australian singers and headliner Tom Jones preceded kickoff.

The game itself was a bit of a disappointment, as Hawthorne crushed Sydney, 137-74. It was the greatest defeat in Grand Final history. Hawthorne fans in the crowd were jubiliant, while Sydney fans despaired.

Aussie Rules Football club the Beijing Bombers, winners of this year’s  China Cup, organized the party, which lasted all afternoon.

There were plenty of door prizes and a raffle. My friend Tym won a Beijing Bombers shirt and I won a case of Victoria Bitters, an Australian beer. The beer went home with Tym.


They’re not the Ruby Slippers 

My new house slippers

In China, as in many other Asian countries, people remove their shoes when they cross the threshold of a home.

I don’t know all the cultural reasons for doing this, but there is a very practical one: Chinese streets and sidewalks tend to be dirty, and you don’t want to track that dirt into the house. Dust and pollution get into homes already, so who wants to drag more in?

When visiting friends, I take off my shoes and walk around their apartments in my socks. When I get home in Beijing, I put on a pair of slippers, usually cheap ones from the Walmart in Wangjing, or Korea Town.

I got this pair of ruby red, traditional cloth Chinese slippers at the Silk Market the other day. At $15, I know I paid a bit too much, but the shop proprietor didn’t yell like most of the other vendors and she wasn’t willing to bargain.

But I got a very comfortable pair of pretty house slippers to pad around the place.


Fall smog ramps up, so does air-related illness 

A familiar cough remedy and a package of antibiotics.

I felt run down earlier in the week and just assumed it was due to the march of fall and increasing seasonal levels of Beijing’s infamous smog.

PM2.5 particulates in the air, that is, those are small enough to take up residence in your lungs, are a serious health concern for anyone living in China’s capital and its major cities and industrialized areas.

But when I woke up Wednesday feeling worse and couldn’t talk, it was time to see a doctor. My friend Murray took me to China-Japan Friendship Hospital, which is where our China Daily health insurance pays for our medical care.

China-Japan has an international clinic, where chances are fairly good you’ll get an English-speaking doctor. Luck was with me as the young doctor who examined me had very good English and after a test, diagnosed me with a throat infection.

Aside from seasonal colds, I hadn’t had many lung and throat related problems before I moved to Beijing. I’m convinced the bad air plays a big role in that.

Just before 6 pm Thursday, the Air Quality Index was 193, which is considered unhealthy. I’m fortunate I have a top of the line air purifier in my apartment, which I bought last winter second hand from a departing friend. It certainly helps.


New neighborhood restaurant opens 

Business was brisk at a new restaurant near China Daily.

Shops and restaurants come and go no matter where you are in the world. So it is on Huixin Dongjie, the street where China Daily is headquartered.

A new restaurant - it seems to be another noodle joint - opened the other day along a strip of shops on Huixin Dongjie near my office. 

In many ways it was like any other business opening in the US. There was a bit of fanfare with a red carpet, large baskets of flowers and the requisite good wishes written on wide red ribbons and, by the number of people in there, some grand opening specials. 


Hey 50 Cent, you’re worth 1.5 ringgits! 

Someone needs to know that 50 Cent here refers to the rapper, not a US half dollar.

We had some fun the other day at the China Daily website, when one of our colleagues brought in a clipping from an unnamed Malaysian newspaper. 

A story ranking wealthy musicians mentioned star rappers such as Dr Dre, Jay-Z and Eminem. It also included 50 Cent, followed by the value of an American half dollar in Malaysian ringgets, (RM1.50).

It’s likely the editor working on this story didn’t catch on that 50 Cent is the stage name of Curtis James Jackson III, not an amount of money. Although, as the story notes, 50 Cent has a net worth of US$260 million. And that’s a lot of ringgets - $844.5 million, to be exact.


Art exhibit opens at the Czech Embassy 

Art lovers enjoyed a delicious buffet at the Czech Embassy.

The Czech Republic is one of the smaller embassies in Beijing in the city’s Ritan Park diplomatic area. It’s a lovely setting, with a beautiful, leafy green yard, perfect for an afternoon’s entertaining. 

On Saturday, the hospitable Czechs opened their compound to host a garden party celebrating the opening of an exhibit of Czech and Chinese artists. Several works by Jiri Straka, Pavel Oponcensky, Yu Fan and Wu Yi were scattered about the garden and inside the embassy building, where guests lingered to get a good look at the interesting pieces of contemporary art.

A small orchestra played in the background while chefs grilled chicken, sausage and vegetables and served meat roulades, a variety of salads, a marinated tofu dish that was surprisingly good, plus dips and vegetables. The drinks table held a nice variety of Czech beer, along with wine and soft drinks. 

The food was great and the exhibit was refreshing. The company was, I’m sorry to say, kind of cliquish. It seemed to be mostly embassy circuit regulars. The women were not at all friendly, but I did enjoy talking with the military attaches from the Serbian, Slovenian and Turkish embassies when they graciously allowed me to share their table. 

A man gets into position to take an eye level shot of a sculpture.


Thangka painting near Beijing’s Lama Temple  

An artist adds details to a thangka painting in a shop near Beijing’s Lama Temple.

The area around Beijing’s Yonghe Temple, popularly known as Lama Temple, is a beehive of religious activity. It is a 320-year-old Tibetan place of worship and a monastary that attracts the faithful and tourists by the busload.

Shops selling religious articles - such as prayer beads, incense and statues of Buddha - line the main road in the blocks near the temple. One store on a recent visit featured something completely different, thangka paintings.

The thousand-year tradition features Buddhist themes painted and sometimes then embroidered onto silk or cotton canvas. They are beautiful and elaborate. 

My friend Karen from Birmingham was in town recently and we were lucky enough to stumble upon an artist working on a very large thangka canvas in that small shop. He worked carefully as he patiently applied paint to color the details in a tiny area near the bottom of the painting.

The artist didn’t seem to notice any passersby or people who stopped to watch him work, almost as if the act of painting itself was a form of intense worship.

A larger view of the artist’s canvas.


No second chances for stars busted in China 

When you’re an American celebrity like Queen Latifah or Willie Nelson and you get busted for pot, you pay your dues and usually go on to continued fame and fortune. In China they aren’t quite so forgiving.

China’s top media regulator recently gave notice that the country’s TV stations should think twice before hiring directors, writers and actors who’ve had brushes with the law.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television did not issue a formal written directive, an insider told a Chinese newspaper, but officials have passed the message on by word of mouth, the China Daily website reports.

A list that included the names of several Chinese celebrities involved in high profile cases was distributed to the stations. Among those named was actor and singer Jaycee Chan, the son of Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan, who recently was arrested on a drug-related charge.

Most of the celebrities on the list were busted for drug-related offenses or hiring prostitutes. One actor named, Wen Zhang, didn’t do anything illegal in China, but definitely something immoral: he cheated on his wife.


Dancing Over Kyoto: a memoir by a former Alabama expat 

I’ve just started rereading Dancing Over Kyoto, a wonderful memoir of Japan, China and India by my friend Richard Newton, a great Birmingham lawyer who wrote this book under the pen name Richard Russell.

Richard’s an Alabamian who made his first sojourn as an expat in Asia when he was a senior at the University of Alabama. As a college exchange student he lived with a Japanese family in the greater Osaka area. His book starts with this experience and winds its way over the decades through the three countries. It’s part memoir, part travel story, thoughtful and well written.

Check it out. Copies are available at Amazon.