Monday, March 30, 2009

My Goodbyes (I)...

...To Beijing Landmarks

Showing the city to our guests, allowed me to say goodbye to many Beijing Landmarks.






Sunday, March 29, 2009

98, 99...

... 100 and 101

While some part of the world are fighting for their independence (T1b@t is once again closed to Tourists, mostly due to the 1st anniversary of last year’s riots), the mostly Muslim Indian Ocean island of Mayotte voted to become France 101st département (an administrative district)

The island’s status will change from an “overseas community” to become a French department. The move would give Mayotte progressive access to numerous new social benefits but would also force residents to adjust cultural customs, for instance raising the minimum age for women to marry from 15 to 18 and outlawing polygamy.

Both the United Nations and the African Union consider the island to be part of the Comoros archipelago even though its population voted to remain linked to France in a 1974 referendum on self-determination. The other three islands of Comoros voted for independence and in 1975 Comoros became a UN member state.

The vote in Mayotte, located between the African continent and Madagascar, 6,210 miles from Paris, comes as separatist movements are gathering pace in other French overseas territories.

All the way to the South

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day Light Saving...

...And Saving the Light

1 hour... 60 minutes... 3,600 seconds

(not to be mistaken with Earth day which is on April 22nd). It all began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global movement with 50 million people switching off their lights in 400 cities. This year hundreds of millions of people in over 4,000 cities in 88 countries joined the movement. It’s not about what country you are from, but instead what planet you’re from.

Ironically the website was blocked in China!!!

China wouldnt' be China without all that quirkiness

It’s also tonight that the clocks are adjusted forward one hour in some parts of the world (to make it simple with time zones, the changes do not happen everywhere in the world at the same time or even happen at all… that would be too easy). So while Europe will “Spring forward” their time on the last Sunday of March and “fall back” their time on the last Sunday of October, the USA will do it on the second Sunday of March and the first Sunday in November. To read more anecdotes about daylight savings, click here.

Confused? Well let me tell you about what’s going on in some part of China. China doesn’t observe DST (they only did between 1986 and 1991) and has only one time zone (since May 1, 1980): almost 5,000 kms (3,000 miles) for West to East and one time: Beijing Time.

In Xinjiang province, the Muslim Uighur minority makes a point of observing its own time, not that of local Han Chinese, who adhere to Beijing's imposition of a single time for all of China. […]

Kashgar, a city of 350,000 built around an oasis along the old Silk Road, has two time zones, two hours apart. How you set your watch depends not only on the neighborhood, but on your profession and ethnicity, religion and loyalty. People living on both sides of the time divide say there is little confusion because they have as little to do with each other as possible.

When communist China was formed in 1949, Mao Tse-tung decreed that everybody should follow a single time zone, no matter that the country is as wide as the continental United States.
But Uighurs, the dominant minority in China's northwestern Xinjiang province, balked at running their lives on Beijing time, which would have them getting up in the pitch dark and going to sleep at sunset. […]

So the Uighurs follow their own unofficial time, which is two hours earlier -- in effect following the dictates of the sun rather than of Beijing, about 2,000 miles away. […]

Schools, government offices, post offices all use Beijing time. So do the airports and railroad stations. Some bus lines use Xinjiang time and others Beijing time. […]

China is big enough to span five time zones but is the largest country in the world to insist on a single one. In contrast, Russia has 11.

"The reason goes back to a long Chinese imperial tradition in which the emperor is in control of time because it has a cosmological significance," said James Millward, a Xin- jiang scholar at Georgetown University. […]

Kashgar is almost due north of New Delhi and about the same latitude as New York. Its problems with timekeeping are worse in midwinter, when the sun doesn't rise according to a Beijing-oriented clock until past 10 a.m., and during the summer solstice, when sunset is close to 11 p.m.

Unofficially, the Chinese themselves have skewed their working hours, so most schools and many businesses don't actually open until 10 a.m. Beijing time. (Los Angeles Times)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

D/J -100...

...Next Adventure Finally Unveiled

We finally know where we’ll be going on our new adventure.

Latitude: 58° 58' 0" N - Longitude: 5° 45' 0" E

From 15 millions inhabitants in a city (Beijing) to less than 5 millions inhabitants in a country (Norway)! Stavanger and its 122 000 people will feel really cozy!

On a bright side, I might finally remember which flag belongs to which Scandinavian country. They kind of all look the same with different colors. The only one I recognize is the Swedish flag: yellow and blue like Ikea (or maybe Ikea’s colors come from their national flag!)

  • Denmark: red with a white Scandinavian cross. The cross design of the Danish flag was subsequently adopted by the other Nordic countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.
  • Norway: red with an indigo blue Scandinavian cross outlined in white
  • Sweden: blue with a yellow Scandinavian cross
  • Iceland: blue with a snow-white cross, and a fiery-red cross inside the white cross.
  • Finland: blue Scandinavian cross on a white background.

It's all clear now

One other thing that concerns me is: will I have to hibernate in the winter and when am I going to sleep in the summer?!!!

  • Longest day of the year: Thursday, June 18, 2009 from 2.46am to 9.16pm (1110 minutes): that’s almost 20 hours of light… when do I get to sleep!
  • Shortest Day of the Year: Saturday, December 19, 2009 from 8:52am to 3:03pm (371 minutes) that’s roughly only 6 hours of daylight! Yikes

Coming for a visit soon?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Great Wall...

...Even Greater

The Great Wall of China is even longer than previously thought, according to the first detailed survey to establish the length of the ancient barricade.

A two-year government mapping study found that the wall spans 8,850km (5,500 miles) - until now, the length was commonly put at about 5,000km. Previous estimates of its length were mainly based on historical records.

Infra-red and GPS technologies helped locate some areas concealed over time by sandstorms, state media said. The project found that there were wall sections of 6,259km, 359km of trenches, and 2,232km of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. The study was carried out by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping.

The wall, the world's largest man-made structure, was built to protect the northern border of the Chinese Empire. Archaeologists had lobbied for the survey to be done to provide scholars with an accurate understanding of the construction.

Known to the Chinese as the "long Wall of 10,000 Li", the Great Wall is in fact a series of walls and earthen works begun in the 5th Century BC and first linked up under Qin Shi Huang in about 220BC. It was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987.
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I always found it ironic that Henkel (a German company) was sponsoring the restoration of the Great Wall of China while a few months later the Berlin Wall was coming down (9 November 1989)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's All So...


March 15th usually marks the end of heating in every household in Beijing, but they usually keep it up for a few extra days if it’s still chilly outside. And like every year since we arrived, the weather is really nice around the 15th of the month with 26°C on Wednesday when we went to see the Great Wall with my guests (finally getting to wear a t-shirt) and just like the previous 3 years once the heating is off, the weather turn nasty with -2°c today. Better get that spare space heater plucked in!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's A Small World...

...After all

When I learned that we were moving to Beijing I started to do some research and found out about the whole “blogosphere” which turned out to be an invaluable resource about the town. I kept reading some, stopped reading others and picked up on new ones when I finally moved here.

Why am I telling you all this you must think, well one of the Blogd I used to read was written (in French) by a woman but I could never figure out who she was…. The French community, especially if you have children at the French school, is not that large and she had a similar background to myself: lived in the States, then France and now China. Well it turned out that this particular woman was part of the group to our last trip to Xiamen. The group was fairly small and we started to talk to each other about what we were doing in Beijing (living or just visiting, kids or not, single or married, etc…). A British woman was telling us what she was doing in Beijing and little by little her story started to sound familiar. It turned out that the blog (very personal and anonymous blog) I was reading a few months before (she stopped writing at the beginning of 2008) was her blog. She couldn’t believe it. You cannot hide even if you try…


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's Sponge Bob Square Pants...

...Friend's Day*

Andrea and Adam’s (our guests this week) kids made this remark when they went to the supermarket and noticed that there was a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants stuff for sale.

He's not sick...he's just getting into Sta Patrick's Day spirit!

* For those of you who don’t have a toddler in your family… Sponge Bob Square Pant’s Friend is named PATRICK!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Slice of...

...Beijing Life

Being a good 外国人 – WaiGuoRen (outside/country/people = foreigner) I went to the management office to register our guests as everyone is supposed to be registered at the local police station within 24 hours of arrival in the country/city. This not only applies to foreigners but also to Chinese people who move to a different place (whether it’s a new apartment or new city!)… The management of our complex does the paper work for us, hence saving us several hours at the police station and you just have to go pick up the completed form the next day.

So today I went to pick up the registration form for Adam & Andrea and asked if I needed to let the police know when our guests were leaving (the regulations change all the time so I wasn’t sure where to stand on this one) to which the employee answered: it depends, are they going to take some furniture?.... hum, I hope not!

Legally Blonde Beijinger

Friday, March 13, 2009

Our Last Trip...

...In China

For our last trip before we leave Beijing in July, we are going to the Southeast of China in Fuxian Province just across the bay from Taiwan.

The obligatory location map!

We are going to Xiamen to see the earthen buildings (土楼 - Tu Lou) of Hakkas people. Hakkas houses have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site

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A little (big?) explanation of what TuLou are:
The buildings are usually round in shape and ranked from small ones, 2 or 3 stories tall with a single ring (12 to 28 rooms) to medium ones with 3 or 4 stories (up to 40 rooms) with a large inner open space and large buildings usually 4 to 5 stories tall and as many as three rings and up to 72 rooms.

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Two-third of the round buildings are 3 stories high and hold roughly 20 families or 100 people. The round earth building is a "group-oriented" residence, usually with one main entrance. Its wall is around 1 meter thick. The main entrance door is padded with iron sheet and is locked by 2 horizontal wood bars that retract into the walls in order to open the door. Inside the entrance is a huge central courtyard where all the doors of the rooms and inner windows are open to.

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At the ground level the rooms are used as kitchens and dining rooms. The rooms on the second floor are used for storage. The rooms on the 3rd level are used as bedrooms. The rooms in each level are identical. In front of each room, there is an open round hallway and usually there are 4 staircases to move from one level to another. Thus each family occupies one vertical unit.

A typical room is about 10-15 square meters in size. The windows facing outside tend to be small, with the window size at the outer wall smaller and the window size at the inner wall larger enabling wider surveillance from the inside. There is usually no window at the ground level.

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The Little Story behind the big Story!
Apparently in 1985 a Western intelligence report claimed a surveillance satellite had detected a nuclear base in the southern part of China’s Fujian province. The base was ostensibly housed in clusters of large, mushroom-shaped structures that the satellite could not identify or penetrate. Some US military liaison officers stationed at the American Embassy in Beijing were sent down to Yongding to investigate. They found to their relief and embarrassment that what they thought were nuclear reactors or missile silos were in fact harmless earth buildings where the Hakkas had been living for centuries!

Since the discovery of the earth buildings by the American satellite, word of these unique buildings began to spread far and wide, resulting in thousands of tourists from all over the world coming to Fujian to take a look at the buildings.


We also visited Gulangyu island (鼓浪屿), a 10 minutes boat ride from Xiamen. It’s a tranquil island with attractive colonial buildings. Only electric-powered vehicles are permitted on the island so it is free from noise and pollution (a big change in China!). After the Opium War in 1842, 13 countries including Great Britain, France and Japan established consulates, churches and hospital, turning the island into a common concession. The narrow streets on the island, together with the European –style architecture, give the island a unique appearance.

Gulangyu is not only famous for its architecture but also apparently for hosting China’s only piano museum. There are over 200 pianos on the island (of 1 km²). The tiny community of 20,000 has more piano per capita than enywhere else on the planet –hence Gulanyu’s nickmane “Piano Isle”

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lost and...


After all the controversy about ‘who’ took ‘what’ and ‘where’ should ‘what’ be, I’m happy to tell you that I know 'where' is 'what' (?!!) because I found the 2 heads, the rabbit and the rat, at the PanJiaYuan market, aka the “antique” market.

Mystery solved!

Last week, a couple of bronze animal heads, a rabbit and a rat, which were part of a celebrated water fountain at the Summer Palace outside Beijing, were sold for more than $36 millions at an auction in Paris. The pieces were part of the art collection of the late fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, French industrialist. However, the Chinese government condemned the sale of the sculptures and argued the relics should be returned as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

A Chinese man's assertion that he sabotaged the auction of two Qing dynasty bronzes at Christie's in Paris last week handed Beijing a wry public-relations coup after it battled for months to block the sale. The man, Cai Mingchao, a collector and auctioneer, said in Beijing that he had submitted the two winning US$18 million bids (US$40 million for both heads when commissions are included) for the bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit last Wednesday, but that he had no intention of paying for them. He described himself as a consultant for a non-governmental group that seeks to bring looted artifacts back to China, and said he had acted out of patriotic duty.

Beijing had vigorously protested the sale of the heads, saying they were looted from an imperial palace outside Beijing in the 19th century and should be returned to China. A group of Chinese lawyers tried to block the auction, but a French court allowed it to proceed. Several Western experts said that whatever moral arguments might favour Beijing, it had no legal claim to the bronzes.[…]

Months earlier, Edward Dolman, chief executive of Christie's International, pointed out, Christie's privately offered the heads to the Chinese government at a price significantly less than the under bidder was willing to pay during the auction. They rejected the offer because they thought the price was too high, he said.

The two bronzes, which date from 1750, were part of a 12-animal water-clock fountain configured around the Chinese zodiac in the imperial gardens of the Summer Palace outside Beijing. In 1860 the palace was sacked by British and French forces during the Opium Wars. Around that time, the heads disappeared.

Of the 12 original bronze fountain pieces taken from the Summer Palace gardens, 7 have been located; the whereabouts of the other 5 are unknown.

The China Poly Group, an arms dealer with ties to the People's Liberation Army, bought the tiger, ox and monkey heads in 2000.

In 2003, the National Treasures Fund of China, a quasi-governmental group, brokered a deal that brought another of the bronze fountain pieces, a pig's head, back to China. With about US$1 million donated by Stanley Ho, the real estate and casino billionaire from Macao, the head was bought from an American collector, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

Ho bought another, a horse's head for US$8.84 million at an auction by Sotheby's in 2007. He gave it to China Poly, which owns a museum where it displays the Qing bronzes.


Sunday, March 8, 2009


...Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) since it falls on 8th March every year. It’s an official holiday in China (for women only!) and all the women have half of the day off (yet not even the full day and besides this year it falls on a Sunday… double bummer!)
Mao famously once said that “Women hold up half the sky”. But I’m wondering who’s holding the other half?

Gender facts found on the IWD website:


  • Women use 20,000 words a day while men only use 7,000

Global Issues...

  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km
  • Globally women account for the majority of people aged over 60 and over 80
  • Pregnant women in Africa are 180 times more likely to die than in Western Europe
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education


  • Globally women comprise 42% internet users (Italy 37% ... US & Canada 51%)
  • In OECD countries women comprise only 30 per cent of degrees in science and technology
  • Women's representation in computer and information sciences workforce is around 30% globally
  • Female inventors still only account for around 10% of the US inventor population

Business / Finance...

  • Women control $14 trillion in assets and this should grow to $22 trillion over next 10 years
  • Women comprise 21 of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the US
  • Only in Japan and Peru are women more active in starting a business than men
  • Women spend more time researching before they invest than men do

Media / Art ...

  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female
  • Women less than 1% department heads, editors, media owners but third of working journalists
  • 80% of UK purchasing decisions are made by women but 83% of 'creatives' are men


  • Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income
  • Women's education is the most powerful predictor of lower fertility rates
  • One year out of college women earn 20% less than men and 10 years later 31% less
  • Women on average are away from workforce for 14.7 years compared to 1.6 years for men


  • 56% of women who voted supported Obama compared to only 49% of men voted for Obama
  • Until 20 years ago there had never been more than 5% women MPs globally
  • Benazir Bhutto was the first woman prime minister of a muslim country (assassinated 27/12/07)
  • From the 27 EU member states, UK ranks 15 for women's representation in national Parliaments
  • From 1945 to 1995 the percentage of women MPs worldwide increased four-fold

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Now You See It...

...Now You Don't

A few weeks ago I had to go to an office located in a mall in the north-east part of Beijing. When I arrived there I put my autopilot on and followed the people in front of me to the elevator. For some odd reason I could not go to the 4th floor but everybody could go to the 5th floor. Not being able to communicate with my fellow passengers on why the lift seemed to discriminate against me, I went to the 5th floor, let everybody out and decided that I could have a private face to face discussion with the Number 4 button (ie hit it several times until it lit). Once I realized that I wouldn’t win this battle I retreated to the lobby and that’s when I realized that there was no mall anymore… nothing. I called the person I was supposed to meet and ask her if they had moved and if not how could I get to her. That’s when she explained that the mall had closed over the Chinese New Year vacation and that they were stuck in an empty mall with no access from the outside but the willingness of the guards to let them reach their office. They had left their office 4 days before the CNY and everything was in place, then when they showed up the following Tuesday the mall was empty… Ah China…

Finally realizing that building hundreds of malls all over the city in a short few years is not such a great idea

Friday, March 6, 2009

How To Win...

...According To Jeremy

Jeremy’s soccer team wasn’t winning so mid-game he changed his jersey and told everybody he switched teams… it was that simple! What do you expect from a team of 4-5 year olds?

What’s important is that Jeremy is having a great time and Thursday is now his new favorite day of the week (any school day is really his favorite day with Saturday and Sunday probably being the least favorites … French school on Saturday and no ayi on Sunday!).

Anyway their coach is teaching them the fundamentals of football (that’s soccer for my American readers!), which are

  • Kick the ball
  • Don’t pick up the ball
  • If you are in the same team, don’t take the ball from your team mate
  • Sending the ball in your own goal doesn’t help your team score, don’t try to argue!
  • Really you are not supposed to pick up the ball
  • Do not stop every 2 minutes for snack or water
  • To Jeremy he should have added: You cannot switch team mid-game no matter how badly you are losing!

All in all it is good physical exercise for the kids and parents get to compete with each other to see who can yell the loudest: KICK THE BALL, KICK IT KICK IT KIIIIIIIIIIIIICK IT.

The new Beckham

Monday, March 2, 2009

Another Case Of...

...He says, They Say*

The promoter first said:

China revoked the British rock band's performance licenses and canceled two gigs in Beijing and Shanghai scheduled for April.
The promoters say the concerts were called off when Chinese authorities discovered front man Noel Gallagher had appeared at a “Free” benefit gig in the U.S. in 1997.
"The Government deemed that the band is unsuitable to perform to their fans in the Chinese Republic," the promoters added.
The band said in a statement: "The Chinese authorities' action in canceling these shows marks a reversal of their decision regarding the band which has left both Oasis and the promoters bewildered."
China said it would tighten controls over foreign singers after Icelandic pop star Bjork shouted!!" during her Shanghai concert last year.
Artists are strictly forbidden from performing content that would harm "national unity" or "stir up resentment".
The rest of the bands tour of Southeast Asia will continue as planned including a gig in Hong Kong on April 7.

Then, the same promoter said:
Oasis had said China blocked shows scheduled for Shanghai and Beijing after they found out that band member Noel Gallagher had appeared at a "Free" benefit concert in the United States in 1997.
But a promoter from Beijing All Culture Communication Co Ltd, a small event company which promotes more ballet and traditional Chinese concerts than rock concerts, told Reuters by telephone it was canceled due to a "tough economic situation."
"I have no money. It's normal in an environment of economic crisis ... It has nothing to do at all with the problem," said the man, who gave only his surname, Luo. […]
"The Chinese authorities responsible for this, the cultural departments, have already required the organizers to provide more detailed information," he added.
The rest of the Southeast Asian leg of the Oasis tour will go ahead as planned, including a Hong Kong gig on April 7. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997. […]

No China for them...

* The first case was for Celine