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Photos

November 27, 2011 3 comments

Prompt #26: PHOTO my fourteenth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel Series

Post a photo of your favorite place and tell us what you love about it.

This should be a very easy post, but for some reason I am really struggling with it.  I am not sure if I have a favorite place.  There have been so many places i have loved.  South Africa was one of my favorite trips, filled with great sights, tastes and experiences.  I love Tibet and will always have a special place for Beijing, even with the difficulties that it can throw at you from time to time.  The United States and Michigan will always be close to my heart.  I love the mountains, and cities.  I love to experience new places.  In short, I don’t think I will ever have just one favorite place.  Instead, enjoy these five photos, some of my favorites and a representation of my favorite places.

This is also a good time to announce that I am launching a new photography only website soon that will feature a photo each day.  Look here for more details once I have them.

Passion

Prompt #17: PASSION, my fifth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel

It’s easy to be passionate about travel, but does that passion permeate the rest of your life? Do you live and work with passion? Why or why not?

Many of the travel bloggers I read have left the “normal” life of work and gone on the road more or less full time. Supplementing their life on the road with earning from websites, design projects, writing or other “location independent” work, they are able to travel more or less full time. There are times when I feel jealous of this lifestyle, wishing I could spend more time on the road, more time in places I love and free to move when I want instead of just when I have time off of work. That said, I feel very fortunate that I have found a job that allows me to follow my passion of travel as much as I do, while at the same time being something I am passionate about. I LOVE my job. I get to work with some awesome kids, teaching them something that I really enjoy doing. Swimming has taken me all over the world. From a start in a summer league, I am now teaching and coaching swimming half way around the world. Before I came to China I was able to coach across the U.S., interact with some amazing people and really look forward to my jobs more days than I didn’t.

There are times when inevitably, life at home is boring. When we travel it is something different from our everyday life and thus easy to be passionate about. The fact that I am bored some of the time, that I would rather sit on the couch watching a movie rather than experience Beijing does not mean I am not passionate about my life here. I love my job, I am doing something I am passionate about and I get to travel. How much better can life be.

Home

November 14, 2011 2 comments

Over the weekend I discovered the 30 days of Indie travel from Bootsnall.com.  While I am a bit late to the party (starting with prompt 13) it is my goal to write each and every day for the next 30 days, completing the remaining 17 prompts then finishing up with the 12 I have missed so far.  This will give me a chance to write about some past experiences and trips instead of just the most recent.  I have not forgotten about South Africa though and will continue to work on these stories from the rest of an amazing trip.

Prompt #13 – Home

I have a home, or rather two homes or is it two partial homes.  I talk about Beijing as my home but also Grand Rapids, MI.  At the end of the day I feel far more at home in Grand Rapids than in Beijing, but spend far more time during the year in Beijing.

Home is where you return to.  Home is where the heart is.  Home is where your stuff is. Home is where you feel comfortable.

        

If I am using any of these three as a metric I return to both Grand Rapids and Beijing.  My heart is more in Grand Rapids, though Beijing will always have a special place there.  Most of my stuff is in Beijing, though I do have that self-storage facility in Grand Rapids filled with childhood memorabilia and knick knacks from other key points in my life.  I suppose I feel the most comfortable in Grand Rapids which would be the tie breaker but I still remain wondering if this is really where my home is.  I am not sure if I will ever live there again.  As long as I have family there I will keep returning, but if not a permanent home can it really be home.  I may never have a permanent home again which would suit me fine.

I prefer to think of the world as my home, with each new destination a place to welcome me home. Just like Grand Rapids and Beijing there are some “home-comings” that are better than others.  For the very best I hope to be welcomed back over and over again.

Beijing Air Quality

These are pretty scary articles about the reality that we in Beijing face on a nearly daily basis.  There are a lot of ex-pats here, me included, that are seriously considering alternate possibilities to living here.  There is the very real worry about what the air quality is doing to our bodies long term.  While I realize that there are millions of Chinese that have to deal with this on a daily basis without a possibility of change, there is the question of why we are putting out bodies at risk when we are fortunate enough to have the choice of where we live.

While the air quality has never been good in my five years here, it does seem that we have had a lot of very, very bad days this fall.  At school we keep our students from going outside if the reading (from the U.S. embassy) is over 300 points.  There have been at least 10 days this year so far, more than all of last year, where the kids have not been allowed to go outside.  Days with reading that high really affect the psyche, making many of us not want to do anything but sit inside, though without air filters things are not all that much better inside.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/11/in-china-time-is-not-ripe-for-honest-air-pollution-readings/247817/

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/29/world/la-fg-china-air-quality-20111030

My Top 5 Beijing Sights

September 7, 2011 1 comment

While living in Beijing over the last five years I have visited most of the tourist sights at least once. I was first a tourist, while studying in Shanghai in 2004 we made a week long trip to see many of the sights of Beijing. Since then, I have been back to some when friend and family visit and have seen a few more when taking a weekend to “be a tourist”. Below are my top 5 sights.

1.) Temple of Heaven This is the tourist sight that I can visit over and over again. There are three main temples, all of which are worth the trip in. These restored temples are the most famous attraction in the very large grounds, but it is not why the Temple of Heaven is my favorite. Every day rain or shine the grounds are filled with Beijing citizens taking advantage of the open spaces to exercise, practice tai chi, sing and dance.

2.) Food (Ghost Street and pretty much anywhere else) Beijing is one of the great food cities in the world. As the capital of China all of the provinces food is represented here. The argument can be made that the food is more authentic in their home province, however, those provinces do not have the wide range of tastes for every palate, from adventurous to food that pretty closely resembles Chinese take-out in the U.S.. One of my favorite meals which is similar to fondue, where you cook the meal yourself in a pot of broth. It is simply delicious and the atmosphere on Ghost Street adds another dimension to the meal.

3.) Hou Hai and the Hutongs (Hou Hai, Nanluguxiang) The hutongs are the historical courtyard homes of the middle and low classes in Beijing. There are alleys of these that have been preserved in the heart of the city as Beijing has modernized around it. Today there are a number of restaurants and shops that have taken over the hutongs, especially in the areas around Nanluguziand and Hou Hai. These alleys make for a great day of just wandering around, seeing what Beijing used to look like. Hou Hai also offer two lakes where you can enjoy a beer, rent a boat or even skate in the winter.

4.) Great Wall The quintessential China tourist site. It simply must be visited if you are in Beijing. My personal favorite sections are either Mutianyu or Simatai, though Simatai is very far away and is a major hike. I heavily recommend a “wild wall” section over the restored ones, though the restored areas tend to be easier to access from Beijing.

5.) Summer Palace The Summer Palace is the former summer home of the Emperor. This palace was built on the side of a lake and offered a respite from the heat of Beijing during summer. Similar to the Temple of Heaven, there are tons of people out doing exercise and just being outside.

The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square should be on everyones list, but I just cannot put them in my top 5. They are impressive, big, Chinese and important, but I never leave them thinking this way. Instead, I think they are big, tiring, repetitive and just a bit boring. By all means, if you are in Beijing you should go see them, but they do not WOW the way my top five do.

Ferran Adria and Dani Garci

Like so many other people in the last 15 years, I started to care about food in college.  It was in college that I first had access to the food network, and in college that I first started to expand my culinary boundaries.  Part of this journey has been knowing and caring about famous chef’s.  One of the most famous is Ferran Adria, head chef of the now closed El Bulli in Spain.  For five consecutive years, El Bulli was named the World Restaurant of the Year, making reservations nearly impossible to get. I tried for years to get a reservation to his restaurant, but never even came close.  Every visit to his website always had the same message.  “We are sorry, but all tables have been booked for the 20xx dining year.  Please try back next year.”  That’s right…El Bulli has a dining year.  When open, Adria only took booking for 6 months of the year, spending the rest of the time discovering new flavors and new ways to capture these flavors.  Many credit Adria with starting the Molecular Gastronomy movement, though he has come to hate this term.  His food challenges.  His food is different.  Often, the way the food is presented does not resemble the ingredients it contains in any way, tricking the senses and making for a surprising mouthful.

The most recent attempt at getting a table was this spring when we were planning our recent trip to Spain.  I was reminded of the dream of getting a table at El Bulli and found myself once again checking for available tables.  Still, no luck.  This was not actually that surprising since a few days after we were in Barcelona, Adria shut the doors of El Bulli for good.  In the next two years he will transition from El Bulli being a restaurant to a culinary academy, working on pushing the bounds of food and flavor with groups of students and contemporaries interested in a similar conception of what food can be.

The story should end there, knowing that I will (in all likelihood) never get to eat a meal cooked by Adria.  I suppose this is still the case, but I came a lot closer than I expected.  A few days after arriving back in Beijing from Spain I was paging through a listing of August events and was thrilled to see that Ferran Adria and Dani Garcia (a 2 star Michelin Chef who uses similar techniques to Adria) were coming to Beijing for three days.  To say I was thrilled is actually an understatement.  I believe I jumped up and down for a while, saying to anyone in earshot (pretty sure that this was only Teph) Ferran Adria, Ferran Adria, Ferran Adria in a tone of disbelief.  I was pretty excited.  I quickly emailed the hotel to get a reservation for one of the dinners only to find out Adria would be in Beijing for only a single night, the first (and most expensive) dinner.  Still, for this, money was no object and I changed the reservation to that night.  Alas, I was still thwarted since Adria was just doing a cooking demonstration, not actually cooking the dinner.  Even still I was very excited to get to try this type of cooking, anxious to push my palate and my conception of food.  The 11 course meal that Garcia presented did not disappoint.  It was one of the best, most challenging, mind bending meals I have ever had in my life.

While I still have not had Adria food, I did get to meet him.  I was able to get a picture with him and have him (and Garcia) sign copies of the menu for the night.  It was an amazing occasion and I am so glad that I had the chance to experience this type of food.

I was invited to share the story of what I ate on my sister’s blog, pomelosunshine.com .  Please visit her site for a detailed look (descriptions and photos) of the fantastic 11 course meal.

HI SMS

August 14, 2011 1 comment

Many food bloggers including the fabulous Kate at pomelosunshine.com have an ongoing series called WIAW (what I eat Wednesday).  Today I am diverging from tales of travel and starting HI SMS…hopefully a one time entry.  HI SMS stands for how I spent my Sunday.
It has been a long day, at 4:30 this morning we were awoken with the sound of dripping water.  This was followed quickly by the crash of the plaster, breaking off from the ceiling.  The rest of the day has been spent trying to track down our landlord (phone turned off), our rental agent (her phone was off as well), our facilities maintenance people (upon seeing our damage we were told that it was not as bad as others despite the fact that we woke them up and they did not have time to visit any other apartments) and finally representatives from my school to see what our tenant rights are here in China.  It seemed like all of these calls went unanswered, though finally around 9:30 in the morning, 5 hours after we were first awoken we began to get through to people.

Our landlord, who does not have the greatest history in the world of being helpful has done a decent job today, though we are still stuck with a ceiling that is dripping and threatening to drop plaster on us at any moment.  The good thing is that buildings are made with mostly concrete in China so we are not too worried about a collapse.The damage is somewhat extensive and we are waiting to hear what our landlord or building managers will cover.  Our couch is covered in plaster, the floor is somewhat waterlogged, Teph had her computer ruined by the water and we had a few other odds and ends that are a bit soggy right now.  We are worried what condition our apartment will be in the future since Beijing is so humid that we are highly sceptical of the ability of all of the water to dry potentially leading to mold, expansion when it freezes and a whole range of other issues.  While the ceiling seems to have stopped dripping, it is far from the end of the this saga.

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