Back to school in Beijing 

An early morning assembly starts the school year in my neighborhood.

A new school year kicked off this monring for the kids at the middle school right behind my apartment building.

It was a welcome sight to look out my kitchen window and notice the young people assembled in nearly-perfect straight lines, listening to school officials on the dais.

The school property backs up to the edge of the China Daily campus and my second floor apartment looks onto the basketball courts. When I’m home for lunch, I enjoy watching the kids play basketball and other games during their own lunch break.

So it’s been a quiet summer without the young people there, even though workers spent the last month building the new concrete and cinder block stage. The electronic sign went up in the last few days.


Arm wrestling at Lakers 

Intern Kurt, in yellow cap, about to win an arm wrestling match at Lakers.

There was a celebration amid the goodbyes a few days ago, as we wished our summer interns well at Lakers, our neighborhood expat bar. 

The evening went as you’d expect for a group of college kids, as the beer flowed and it got later and later. By the time I got there the interns (and a few of the guys I work with) were challenging a group of young Chinese men who were arm wrestling. 

Competition was fierce but good-natured, as the Chinese champion repeatedly defeated challenger after challenger.

Kurt, a senior from Michigan, sat down at the table and minutes later, emerged the winner of a spirited battle.



Chubby joy 

Baby O smiles and squints for the camera.

Oh my, how he’s growing up!

That’s O, the baby son of my colleague Sun (the family name Sun in Mandarin is pronounced “soon”).  

The little one was born at the end of April and this photo sent by his proud papa was taken earlier this month. 

O clearly has all the hallmarks of a dearly loved, well cared for baby, including the chubby cheeks, arms and legs that are adorable on an infant but not so great on a grownup.

He’s not the only China Daily baby born this year.

A few months ago, a veteran expat friend noticed there seem to be many more pregnant women this year than in any of the five other years he’s lived in China. Good observation!

In the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the Year of the Horse, which is a very auspicious sign to be born under. People born under this sign are thought to be strong, free-spirited achievers. 

Next year is the Year of the Sheep, also known as the Year of the Goat. It’s not a particularly desirable sign that a Chinese couple wants for their child. People born under this sign are thought to be pessimistic and indecisive.



Talk show debut  

I’m a guest on Easy Talk this week, China Daily online’s web television talk show. It was my debut appearance, so I was a bit nervous and fumbled some lines.

Take a look here.

The show ‘s topic was whether children today are pushed into too many extracurricular activities and overscheduled by their parents. 

I was shocked to see what I look like on TV (yes, I can clearly see I need to lose weight). And yes, there were a couple of moments watching the final cut when I thought, “I said that?” 

Overall, it was a good experience and the show’s host and producer, Hu Zhe, also known as Flora, did a great job bringing it all together.

I hope they’ll ask me to appear again. 


Hungry Ghost Festival is Sunday 

Sunday marks another special event in the lunar calendar, as the Chinese celebrate the Ghost Festival, often called the Hungry Ghost Festival. It’s a traditional Buddhist festival held on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, this year falling on Aug. 10.

It’s believed that ghosts and spirits come to earth to see their living families. In this way it’s different from two other holidays related to the deceased, Qingming in the spring and the Double Ninth Festival in the fall, as those call for living descendants to honor their ancestors. 

Ceremonies and rituals are performed to relieve the suffering of the deceased. People will prepare food for the dead, burn incense, paper money and paper figures of other items the deceased might need in the afterlife.  


Tight fit in Beijing subways 


It’s not rush hour. It’s 9:30 pm Sunday on a Beijing subway.

It doesn’t matter if it’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday or 9:30 at night on a Sunday - Beijing’s subways are always packed

It’s not surprising, given that there are about 20 million residents and close to half of them ride the subway every day. And sometimes, especially during rush hour, it seems as if all 20 million are crowding your station and pushing into your car. “Sea of humanity” is no exaggeration.

Still, the Beijing subway is a cheap, efficient means of rapid transit around this huge city. A one-way ride is 2 yuan, or about 32 cents. There are 17 lines and it’s expanding. There’s a special train to the airport, much faster than taking a taxi.

It’s also clean and safe, albeit like any other big city”s metro system, there are pickpockets. Just keep an eye on your wallet and purse. 


China Daily in Washington, DC 


Buy a copy of China Daily on the streets of Washington, DC.

My friend, the Elizabeth Anne Sclater of Washington, DC, sent me a snapshot of this China Daily newspaper box on 13th Street NW between K and L. 

When I posted the picture on Facebook, friends marveled that it’s still a print daily - and only 25 cents a copy. And my sister Theresa noted she’s seen it in her hometown, Boston.

It’s nice to see that the English-language “window into China” is available in some of America’s biggest cities.

But you don’t have to live in a big American city to see what we’re publishing. Come visit our newspaper’s website, www.chinadaily.com.cn, which is where I work. We’re open 24/7, bringing you all of China, all the time. 


Forbidden City royal animations go viral 

China Daily online ran a story today about a group of Flash animations based on royal art at the Forbidden City gone viral.

The animations of pictures of the Emperor Yongzheng (1678-1735) feature the ruler washes his feet in a river, fights a tiger and teases a monkey with a piece of fruit.

The animations have received more than 800,000 hits, say officials at the Palace Museum, the official name of the former royal residence in the center of Beijing.  


Love was all around for Qixi Festival 

Lovers everywhere in China on Saturday celebrated the Qixi Festival, often called the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day (which Chinese couples celebrate too).

Gifts, a meal in a nice restaurant and bouquets of flowers marked the festival for many Chinese couples. 

The festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, which this year fell on Aug. 2.

It’s based on a sad, sweet tale of a humble goatherd and a weaving goddess, also called the weaver girl, who fall in love, marry, have two children and then are cruelly separated. The weaving goddess is compelled to return to heaven but once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, she and her earthly husband are allowed one night together.


China Book Club  


Sky Burial by Xinran is a compelling tale of enduring love.

I just finished reading a wonderful book by a modern Chinese author. Sky Burial by Xinran, the pen name for Chinese journalist Xue Xinran, is a short work that follows a young wife’s decades-long search for her beloved husband after he disappears in Tibet.

Shu Wen is a bride in 1950s China when her husband, a young doctor in the Chinese army, is sent to Tibet. Within months, Shu Wen is told that the husband she adores is dead. There is no explanation. Unable to find the answers to the many questions surrounding his death, she enlists in the Chinese army to follow his path. 

Half a lifetime later, Shu Wen’s incredible journey leads her to the answers she so desperately sought. 

It’s a compelling story that I couldn’t put down.