Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lost In...

...Translation Beijing

Well I'm often lost in translation but that’s another (long) subject. I just wanted to share this picture with you. Not only it is an odd looking car but it is a car from Sweden… What are they doing so far away from home - Did they miss a turn somewhere?
In fact this was the first foreign car we’ve ever saw in Beijing..

I told you to turn never listen

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Great (Fire)Wall of China

...Censored or Not Censored

Blogspot (thus C²J² Suiter) has been blocked for the better part of the month which in itself is not really pleasant but on the other hand gave me an idea of a post…you take the inspiration where you can!!

No access today either

Click on the picture to enlarge
Click on the "Back" button of your browser to come back to this page

Not long after one arrives in China (or any other country that has restricted access to the net for that matter) one learns to look for alternatives to bypass the control. Anomymouse is one of those web-based proxy sites that was originally developed to allow internet users to surf the web without revealing any personal information. In China it’s used to look at web pages that are banned by the great fire wall, and I’m not talking about web pages that you could be embarrassed about. For example the free encyclopedia Wikipedia is 99% of the time censored and my friend Blog is permanently blocked… well I’m sure that the title “Blonde in Beijing” doesn’t help!!!

What would I do without you

China operates the most extensive, technologically sophisticated, and broad-reaching system of internet filtering in the world," according to a recent report by the OpenNet Initiative. Highly sophisticated filters can block up to 500,000 ISPs simultaneously, leave some parts of a website accessible while blocking others, and make e-mails disappear. Tech surveillance is backed up with the human kind: Thousands of state employees are thought to monitor web traffic.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Little Pleasure in Life

...Jian1 Bing3 煎饼

One of the (many) small pleasures I get here in Beijing is from the street vendors that sell the Jian Bing.

Jian Bing are made with fresh crepe batter, with an egg cracked over it. It is then turned over before the addition of other ingredients: some bean sauce, hot sauce, shredded greens, cilantro and a piece of deep fried cruller (yiu tiao) is then added before being folded up in a square.

I first noticed those 3 wheel bikes selling them when we arrived but didn't know what to make of it so I took it slowly and decided to taste them from Jialefu (Carrefour supermarket) and found that they were delicious. Since I couldn't go to Jialefu each time I wanted to indulge in one of my guilty pleasure I decided that if millions of Chinese could eat from those 3 wheel bikes why shouldn't I and comforted my choice by convincing myself that it couldn't be any worse than streets vendors in New York (ok maybe a little bit worse but I convince myself the way I choose to!!)

Jian Bing is quintessential of Beijing Street food and its preparation would probably be thwarted by food hygiene laws in any western cities. But one of the attractions is having it made right in front of you. All that yummyness for 2 kuai (20 cents).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Heating is Off

Ten days after the official date, we are officially without heating (referred to this post if you want more information). I hope it doesn’t get too cold in the next few days otherwise we might have to go and buy one of these:

It looks like a fan but it’s a heating lamp

Friday, March 23, 2007

30 Millions Single Men

..."Care For The Girls"

Another interesting article from China Daily which says that the rising sex-ration imbalance is a danger and there is an increasing number of single men in China.
With the one child policy a lot of families, especially in the south and in rural areas, prefer to have a male child over a female child. Currently for every 100 female children there are 118.6 males and in some southern regions the figure has reached 130 boys for every 100 girls (the gender ration was 110:100 in 2000), which may not sound like a lot but spread that over the huge population in China and it becomes greatly magnified. By 2020 it is expected that there will be some 30 million more men of marriage age than women (half the population of France!!) due to the imbalance.

In an attempt to halt the growing imbalance, a "Care for Girls" campaign was launched nationwide in 2000 to promote equality between men and women. Cash incentives are also offered to girl-only families in the countryside. The authorities said such programs will continue to fight discrimination against girls and ensure their healthy growth. The authorities also pledged to "firmly" continue the 33-year-old family planning policy, as the country still faces huge challenges from a growing population.
Formulated in the early 1970s, the family planning policy encourages late marriages and late childbearing, and limits most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two. The policy is credited with preventing 400 million births.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ni Hui Shuo Zhongwen Ma?

...Do You Speak Chinese

Following this post about Mandarin, here’s the article I was talking about:

More Americans are dunking their children in Chinese immersion classes and hiring Mandarin-speaking nannies in the hope of giving them a competitive edge as China imposes itself as an economic giant.
The trend is such that many schools across the country are unable to meet the growing demand for Mandarin Chinese. At Potomac Elementary School, near Washington, the Chinese immersion program launched in 1996 has become so popular that about 40 children are on a waiting list to join and several of the spots available each year are given through a lottery. About 18 percent of the students are of Asian origin.
While US schools rush to fill the growing demand for Chinese, the same trend is hitting companies that place nannies and au pairs who say they are being deluged with requests for Chinese speakers. In New York, Chinese nannies are in such demand that some can command a salary of $20,000 more than an average nanny would earn.
One nanny reportedly even managed to secure a $70,000-salary after a bidding war between two families. Agencies are also reporting a surge in the demand for Chinese au pairs.
Michael DiMauro, senior vice president for marketing at the American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS), which oversees Au Pair in America, said his company in the last year has received requests from about 1,400 families nationwide interested in hosting an au pair from China. So far, the company has only been able to provide two, but about 200 more are expected to arrive in the United States this year. "There is greater demand than supply," he told AFP. (China Daily).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Back To School

...Well, More Like Back to Class.

After a few months of trying to avoid going back to my Chinese class, I’ve decided that I had enough of a break and decided to start my lessons again. A while back I talked about the difficulty of learning Chinese so I did a little bit of research about it in honor of me going back to school class.

I then stumbled upon articles like “the Hardest Language on Earth?” and find out that Chinese is in the top 5, just behind Arabic and Cantonese (Chinese from the South of China with no less than 7 tones!).
“The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages based on the length of time it takes to achieve Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3). The list is limited to languages taught at the Foreign Service Institute. So for the category III (Mandarin), languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers it requires 88 weeks (with the second year of study in-country) or 2,200 class hours.” Let me translate this for you: I have two 1 ½ hour classes a week. So I estimate it should take me 733 weeks (2200/3) or a little over 14 years (733/52) to achieve Speaking and Reading level 3!!!
(It must be kept in mind that students at FSI […] have a good aptitude for formal language study, plus knowledge of several other foreign languages. They study in small classes of no more than 6. Their schedule calls for 25 hours of class per week with 3-4 hours per day of directed self-study.)

But I got overwhelmed by all the information since I just wanted to give you a brief summary of the Mandarin Language or 普通话 Putonghua (the People’s language)

The Chinese writing system
Chinese is written with characters known as 汉字 (hànzi). Each character represents a syllable of spoken Chinese and also has a meaning.
How many characters?
The Chinese writing system is an open-ended one, meaning that there is no upper limit to the number of characters. The largest Chinese dictionaries include about 56,000 characters. Knowledge of about 3,000 characters enables you to to read about 99% of the characters in Chinese newspapers and magazines.
Characters can be used on their own, in combination with other characters or as part of other characters.
Chinese characters are written with twelve basic strokes. A character may consist of between 1 and 64 stokes. The strokes are always written in the same direction and there is a set order to write the strokes of each character. In dictionaries, characters are ordered partly by the number of stokes they contain.
When writing Chinese, every character is given exactly the same amount of space, no matter how many strokes it contains. There are no spaces between characters and the characters which make up multi-syllable words are not grouped together, so when reading Chinese, you not only have to work out what the characters mean and how to pronounce them, but also which characters belong together.*

There are approximately 1,700 possible syllables in Mandarin, which compares with over 8,000 in English. As a result, there are many homophones - syllables which sound the same but mean different things. These are distinguished in written Chinese by using different characters for each one.
Characters that are pronounced with the same tone sound different to Chinese ears however for the Westerner ears they all sound the same. These syllables can be distinguished in speech from the context and because most of them usually appear in combination with other syllables.
It is even possible to write a text in Chinese using only one sound, pronounced with different tones, of course. This is exactly what Chinese linguist, Zhao Yuanren (趙元任) (1892-1982), did when he wrote the "Story of Shi Eating the Lions" using nothing but the sound 'shi'. The story makes sense in written form, but is impossible to understand when read aloud. He did so to prove just how inadequate it would be to replace Chinese characters by a purely phonetic script as others were advocating at the time.
You can see and hear the story on:
Simplified characters
In an effort to increase literacy, about 2,000 of the characters used in China have been simplified. These simplified characters are also used in Singapore, but in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Malaysia the traditional characters are still used.

Last but not least (and if I haven't lost you yet!!) I read an interesting article about the latest rave in the USA where parents want their precious offspring to learn Chinese, but that would be the subject of later post.

*Try reading this next sentence like if it was written the way Chinese characters are written: sowhenreadingchinese, younotonlyhavetoworkoutwhatthecharactersmeanandhowtopronouncethem, butalsowhichcharactersbelongtogether.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


...Or Another Insight In The Life Of A Desperate Expat’ Wife in Beijing

Since my friend Jodi mentioned me on her Blog…twice and referred to me as the Mahjong expert I figured I had to write a post about it.
I usually play with the French Ladies (how shocking, Celine, mingling with the French, I can't believe it!!!) but I’ve been asked by my friends (The ONES I spend most of my free time with) to show them how to play 麻将 (Ma2Jiang4). First I have to say that most Chinese (and my Ayi in particular) don’t understand that we play Mahjong for fun, because what started as an innocent game became an excuse to gamble. This traditional Chinese game was banned in its homeland in 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded. The new government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of capitalist corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, and once again Mahjong has become one of the favorite pastimes of the Chinese.

Our group, on the other hand, just plays for the pleasure of being together around a nice cup of tea and we don’t even bother to keep score. Chloe even learned how to play. We usually play a game or two after dinner and she usually beat the Blip blip out of us…. Better not tell her she could play for money!!

Ready to win some money!!

The object of the game is to build complete suits or melds (usually of threes) plus a pair from 13 tiles. The first person to achieve this goal wins the game. The winning tile completes the player's set of 14 tiles.

If you want to know how to play or just know what the heck I’m talking about, you can check it out here

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Knot or Not Knot...

...Chinese Knot Tying

I had already done a few outings with the Chinese Cultural Club that I’d enjoyed, so today with some of my friends (Kim, Paige and Alicia not to name them) we went to a Chinese Knot Tying class.

These are some of the pieces the experts that were teaching us can make:

Their expertise

We were not about to try our hand on these complex knots. For our first attempt we will only do a simple knot the one you find in every store in Beijing. Well, let me tell you that I will probably not bargain anymore when I want to buy one because they look like they are easy to make but believe me they are not.

And this is my try of the simple Chinese knot…and I got a lot of help to make it this “beautiful”

My expertise

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


...The White One

I found out that today was apparently yet another Valentine Day in China. Beside February 14th which is the western Valentine’s Day, March 14th is White Valentine and the 7th day of the 7th month is Chinese Valentine.

So here you go 3 for the price of 1. Another bargain made in China. You can still apply this method for your purchase.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Queue Date

俳队日 Pai2 Dui4 Ri4

Just to let you know about another interesting fact on living in Beijing….
Beijing is attempting of fighting queue-jumping by launching a “Queuing Day” on the 11th of each month. The measure actually began last month and the date was not chosen by chance, it was described and symbolizing 2 persons queuing. The objective is to present the locals and the Chinese capital on their best behavior for the Olympics.

Only on the 11th?

What I want to know is which day is “Wait Until I’m Out Of The Elevator/Bus/Subway Before You Can Get In” day?

I, myself, prefer the 先下后上(xian xia hou shang*) way to the 先上后下(xian shang hou xia**) way

*first get out then get in - ** first get in then get out

Friday, March 9, 2007


...What Parking?

Known as the "bicycle kingdom", China is home to a world-record 470 million bicycles.
On the other hand 1,110 motor vehicles have taken Beijing’s roads every day since January 1st and the number will top the three million mark sometime in May. One million of those cars are without a parking space.

I don’t see how they can apply this method of parking…

1.3 billion people on bicycle and yet no parking problem!!!

To this kind of cars…

Not an everyday sight in Beijing
But you can spot tons of Porsche Cayenne SUVs

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

My Own MasterCard Commercial*

...And The Visa Version??!!

  • Taxi Chauffeur at my disposal: Mianfei (0€-0$)
  • Social Coffee with friends at the International Newcomers Network: 20 RMB (2€-3$)
  • “Let’s Do Lunch Group” at a Delicious and Quaint French Restaurant (with 7 friends): 70 RMB (7€-9$)
  • Pedicure and Manicure with 2 friends: 80 RMB (8€-10$)
  • Pick up my new hand-made cashmere coat: 800 RMB (80€-100$)
  • Taxi Chauffeur back to the apartment: Mianfei (0€-0$)
  • Latest Oscar-Winning Movie (already on DVD here!) at a Private Theater (aka Home!) with hubby: 10 RMB (1€-2$)
  • Another Relaxing day in the Desperate Expat Housewife’s Life: Priceless

NB 1: This is of course a parody and not a typical day….it’s usually spread out over the week it just happened that today everything was concentrated in one day!!

NB 2: I also have deliberately omitted the other side of the story (because there are always two sides of a story, aren’t there?) so another version of the Mastercard Commercial (the Visa Commercial?!!) could go something like this:

  • My Blog (and other websites) once again blocked by the “Great (Fire)Wall”
  • Another day of pollution (6.5 days out of 7 this week)
  • Barely escaping another spitting projectile from a Chinese man
  • Not daring going to the toilet for fear of another encounter with a squat toilet
  • Not understanding a word of what they are saying
  • Feeling like a 4 y.o. for not being able to read any signs on the streets, restaurants, etc
  • Choosing dishes in the restaurant because the photo looks good
  • Being too many miles/kms away from parents, sisters, brothers, friends…
  • No price, it sucks but would I change my life???….probably not, always be happy with what you’ve got.

* I have seen a similar post on a Blog a while back and though it was funny so I took the idea and run with it!!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Party is Over...

...Lantern Festival

While New Year (除夕- Chu2 Xi4) marks the beginning of Spring Festival (春节- Chun1 Jie2), Lantern Festival (元宵节- Yuan Xiao Jie), which is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar year in the Chinese calendar, marks its end (i.e finally the end of the fireworks and firecrackers). The lanterns show the way for the spirits back to the world beyond.

Traditionally children go out at night carrying bright lanterns and the date once served as a day for love and matchmaking since it was one of the few nights without a strict curfew. One of the other tradition is to eat Tang1 Yuan2 (汤圆), which are glutinous rice balls made of glutinous rice, sugar, red beans or black sesame or peanut. “Tang Yuan” sounds like "Tuan Yuan" which in Mandarin means reunion of the family.


TangYuan or YuanXiao