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.


Aussie Rules Football and the Great Aussie BBQ 

Beijing (in red and black) and Shanghai battle it out for the China Cup.

There were no shrimp on the barbie but plenty of grilled Australian lamb, hamburgers and sausages at Saturday’s China Cup championship and Great Aussie Barbecue on the sports fields at Dulwich College in Beijing.

At least 350 people, including players representing defending champions the Beijing Bombers and the Shanghai Tigers, headed to the private international school on a splendidly sunny and warm fall day in Beijing’s Shunyi District to play for this year’s title. 

The all-day event started out with the China Cup championship game. Australian rules football, called “footie,” is sort of a mix of rugby, US football and soccer, only there’s no padding or protective gear. The players - talented amateurs who play for serious fun - also pushed, shoved and slammed into each other at regular intervals. It’s a crazy, popular sport in Australia, the way SEC football is in the American South.

About two hours later, the Beijing Bombers won the game and retained the championship title for another year.

Later in the afternoon, the Australian and British embassies played cricket. I know the game has a storied reputation in the UK and most of the Commonwealth. My former Kiwi flatmate, Nigel, is a big fan and once told me seiously, “Ah, but cricket is a thinking man’s game.”

The guys look very posh and classy in their uniforms, but sorry, I still think it’s pretty dull.

Throughout the day the scent of grilled deliciousness drifted over the field as a team of Chinese chefs roasted the meat and served it with salads, desserts and drinks. I must admit I skipped the lamb - I’m just not a fan.

We ended the day at popular Beijing sports bar The Local to watch more footie - specifically, a live feed from Western Australia of the semi-final for this year’s Aussie rule championship. Two  football clubs, Port Adelaide and Fremantle, battled it out in Perth, with Port Adelaide winning after a stunning comeback from what early on appeared to be a certain loss.

The final game will be broadcast in two weeks.   

Two players vie for control of the ball.

The Beijing Bombers defeated the Shanghai Tigers to win the China Cup. 

It’s the Australian vs the British embassies in the afternoon cricket match.

Exhausted chefs are ready to go home.


A spectacular show: Terracotta Warriors 3D live on stage at the Da Yin Theater 


Live dancers and computer graphics bring Terracotta Warriors 3D to life.

China Daily treated its employees to a night at the theater with tickets to Terracotta Warriors 3D. It’s a musical extravaganza blending live performance with 3D computer graphics, staged at the Da Yin Theater at The Place shopping center in Beijing’s Central Business District. 

Terracotta Warriors 3D is based on the life of the Emperor Qin, whose famous burial site near Xi’an contains an estimated 8,000 terracotta warriors guarding his tomb.

The 3D effects are in full force from the very start of the 90-minute show, which begins with the angry emperor’s ghost screaming in protest when intruders accidentally discover his necropolis. Some members of the audience lurched in their seats as the “ghost” “flew” right at them.

The show picks up with Qin’s rise as the first emperor to unify China in 221 BC. As the story unfolds, it focuses on mostly the personal and some political highlights of his turbulent reign - assassination attempts, his devious mother, an unfaithful favorite concubine. 

Some of it is a bit kitsch but it’s a very entertaining show that blends musical theater, dance, gymnastics, martial arts and acrobatics. The small Da Yin Theater was the perfect venue for the show. 


Women dance in a scene at the Emperor Qin’s palace.


Concubines compete to be the emperor’s favorite.


Qin becomes the all-powerful emperor of China.


Teacher’s Day in China 

Today is Teacher’s Day in China, an event honoring those entrusted with educating the nation’s young. 

In past years Teacher’s Day involved gift-giving and parents fretting over whether the gifts sent with their children would win the teachers’ favor. The austerity-minded authorities in today’s People’s Republic of China frown on gift-giving, so most teachers might receive a token gift.

President Xi Jinping visited Beijing Normal University Tuesday, the night before Teacher’s Day, called for greater respect for teachers and encouraged government at all levels to put education at the top of their agendas, according to an article at China Daily online


A bunny in a Beijing alley 


A speckled bunny suns itself in the alley next to our expat compound.

There’s a cute black and white rabbit hanging out in the alley next door to the China Daily campus, just around from where it bends right and leads to the post office. 

Next door to the kitchen entrance of a hotel … Oh no!

A large cage with an open door was nearby, so it was doubtful the chef was giving the rabbit a taste of freedom before mincing him into a stir fry.

I crept a bit closer and the rabbit didn’t flinch - in fact, he seemed to be totally cool with the attention. Maybe someone’s pet?  

Most likely, a friend said. 

I hope he’s right. I’d hate to see such a sweet bunny baked into a pie.


‘Dancing Grannies’ driving the neighbors nuts 

Square dancing in China isn’t an Appalachian-inspired good time with sets of four couples dancing to the beat of a fiddle and a caller. Instead, it’s a phenomenon that’s driving the neighbors crazy.

The dancers are almost always middle aged, retired women who gather in public spaces in the mornings and afternoons to dance for companionship and exercise.

The problem is the noise from the music they play on their portable sound systems. And the fact that sometimes these “dancing grannies” pick inappropriate places to dance, such as railway stations and bus depots. Traveling grannies have even burst into dance in front of the Louvre in Paris and Red Square in Moscow.

China Daily recently did a cover story on square dancing, which you can see here on the China Daily website

Participants say they love public dancing because it helps them stay healthy, fosters friendship and gives them a sense of purpose in life. 

The chief of the Institute of Gerontology at Renmin University say today’s elderly in China want a range of activities, including physical activity, to keep them busy, according to the China Daily story.

How to control loud speaker noise remains unresolved but it’s a problem tech designers are working on, according to a story accompanying the square dancing story. One prototype projects sound in a specific direction and controls the range of transmission, it said.

A solution can’t come too soon.


Rocky’s waiting by the door  

Rocky’s pining and waiting by the door for Murray to come home.

It’s been almost a month since our friend and colleague Murray left for an extended vacation to his home and favorite haunts in western Canada. I’m not the only one who will be glad to see him when he returns to Beijing today.

So will his beloved cat, Rocky.

While Murray’s been gone I’ve been taking care of Rocky. He’s definitely a one-man cat who desperately misses his daddy. The plaintive meows and pacing by the front door are clues.

It’s understandable, as Murray rescued Rocky from a drainpipe when he was an abandoned, four-week old kitten. He hand-fed the little fella and the two have been best pals since. 

It will be a happy reunion.


Moon cake madness for Mid-Autumn Festival  


Creamy chocolate fills the interior of this ice cream moon cake.

Amid a flurry of small sweet cakes and family visits, the Chinese on Saturday will start celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival. It ends on Monday.

It’s the second biggest festival on China’s lunar calendar, beginning on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. (The biggest is Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year).

It’s a major family-oriented event, with people cramming into planes, trains and buses to make the long journey home. 

Obviously, the moon plays a big role in the celebration and families will gather outdoor at night to gaze on the luminescent ball of light when it’s said to be at its largest and brightest. 

Baked tasty little treats known as moon cakes are exchanged, with bakeries trying to outdo each other in the lavishness of the cakes and their decorative packaging.

They come in all flavors, forms and varieties, from basic vanilla to red bean, green tea and even durian, the obnoxiously smelly Asian fruit.

Many businesses give their employees a box of moon cakes as a gift. Last year, during my first Mid-Autumn Festival, the China Daily website gave us gift certificates for ice cream moon cakes. 


Ice cream moon cakes - yum! 

Each vanilla, chocolate or tiramisu-flavored cake made from premium ice cream was enveloped in rich dark chocolate - they were delicious!

The festival has its origins in moon sacrificial ceremonies, according to the Travel China Guide website. The ancient Chinese saw that the movement of the moon was closely related to changes in the seasons and agricultural production, so they expressed their thanks with autumn sacrifices.


Ein prosit! at Beijing Oktoberfest  


Festival-goers dance through the beer hall at Beijing Oktoberfest. The party is officially sanctioned by the committee that organizes the Munich Oktoberfest.

The beer flowed freely to quench the thirst and fuel the party spirit in China’s capital at the recent Beijing Oktoberfest.

The party, held at Olympic Park in a big beer hall that looked kind of like a giant rodeo barn back home in the USA, was a hit with Beijingers. Natives and expats sitting at long picnic tables tucked into German (or mostly German) food and drank deeply from one liter-sized glasses of pale and dark beer. 


Liter-sized mugs of light (and dark) beer were the favorite beverage.


Dinner: a platter of brats, a Chinese hot dog, sauerkraut and dumpling. 

The food and drink portion sizes were generous, to say the least, and the food - except for the Chinese hot dog on my platter, was excellent. Then again, I don’t particularly care for Chinese hot dogs.


Dirndl dressed hostesses pose with Beijing Oktoberfest revelers.


The German band was heavy on the lederhosen. 

When we first arrived, the German band pumped out a string of crowd-pleasing, heavy Oktoberfest oompah hits. Later, they added more and more pop music that really didn’t fit in with the theme.

But they did manage to treat the crowd to The Chicken Dance, now a novelty favorite at Western parties and wedding receptions that apparently has its roots in oompah beer halls.

Mike and I got up and jumped in the aisle to dance along as we moved our hands like the bill of a quacking chicken, bent our arms at the elbows to “flap” our wings and wiggled our behinds like a hen settling down over her eggs. We didn’t forget to do-si-do during the chorus.

The Chinese at Oktoberfest seemed to enjoy it, as we garnered some good-natured laughter and a few bewildered stares. As the song ended and we went back to our seats, one of our fellow partygoers saluted.


Irish artist Niamh Cunningham’s solo show  


Artist Niamh Cunningham and Irish Ambassador Paul Kavanagh at the opening reception for An Eastward Calling. 

Irish artist Niamh Cunningham’s first solo exhibit in China, An Eastward Calling, opened Saturday at the Dong Yue Art Museum in Beijing. 

The opening ceremony and reception drew a large crowd, including Irish Ambassador to China Paul Kavanagh. There also was a strong contingent from China Daily - Niamh is married to one of our colleagues. 

Her artwork is stunning and the exhibit showcases scenes from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Dubai and China. Some of her textile work is featured, including a skull knit from her own hair and a monumental knitted sculpture stretched over a pillar.

Randy and Tracie study a textured painting of a saltwater creek in Dubai.


The knitted tower is amazing, created in one piece. 


A guest moves in for a closer look at the knitted tower.


Three of Niamh Cunningham’s paintings grace one wall of the gallery.