Some photos from rush hour on the train. It looks not too bad, but trust that it was, and is, crowded during early evening. I'm using more camera more frequently again.

高峰时间在地铁上拍了这两张照片。我最近几乎每天带着我的照相机。在想一会要开中文的fotoblog. 幸运的是我有中国朋友会把我的博客校对一下。


**__^^ SNOW DAY **--^^

It snowed endlessly this early this week. This is a rare occurrence in dry Beijing, so kids were out making snowmen and everyone was mostly marveling at it all.

Me throwing a snowball.

The target of said snowball.


Me on a very cold Beijing morning.

It's been a while. Chinese website blocking techniques are a bit more sophisticated, and it's getting harder and harder to find unblocked proxy server sites or programs that can bypass the great firewall. I'm trying to figure out another blog solution, but in the meanwhile, I found a good temporary solution with a new unblocker program, so back to blogging.

Otherwise, the semester is in full swing and I'm teaching at several schools. It's getting colder and there are red leaves all over Beijing's concrete. I'm learning calligraphy, which is beautiful and rewarding, and have but aside painting temporarily until it comes more naturally again. I've been reading voraciously since I found a new cheap source for books.

How're you?


My bed for four hours.

The town of Erlian during heavy rain.

Entering the Chinese gate to fill out exit forms. These people, all Mongolians, helped me cross the border in their jeep.

Said jeep. I was packed in with six other people.

A wonderful handpainted sign for camping supplies in cyrillic Mongolian.

/// Mongolian visa run ///

Last week I had to get an exit stamp to get my new work visa, so I decided instead of a costly Hong Kong trip, I'd try Mongolia. Americans are one of the only groups that do not need a Mongolian visa, a rarity in most countries Euro-positive visa laws. Below is what I exactly did, especially useful to other Americans in a similar situation.

First, I booked a bus ticket from Beijing to 二连 (Erlian) leaving from 六里桥路途汽车站 (Liuliqiao long distance station) at 5pm. Buy in advance, as seats sell out quick. Apparently, there are trains that also leave at infrequent hours.

The ride is a mostly enjoyable 11 hours through factory landscapes that gradually melts away to endless grasslands and a fire red setting sun. Passengers were mostly Russian and Mongolian, so Chinese won't get you so far. You'll stop at randomly for bathroom breaks and dinner. Bring snacks and water.

Once you reach the city at about 3 in the morning, you'll be hassled for a room. I'd recommend just getting a ride into the small town or walking yourself. Rain is frequent in late summer. The Mongolian locals will try to rip you off in a far more slick and intelligent way than Chinese usually do, so be smart.

In the morning, you'll need to look for someone to take you across the border. They will most likely come to you rather than the other way around, especially if you are not Asian. You need to find a car (almost all Soviet era Jeep copies) that has a Mongolian license plate. Another idea is simply head to the border (国门) and find someone willing to take you across. (I crossed for 60 yuan, far too expensive, because from Mongolia I returned for only 18 yuan.) Don't wait until too late, because after three everything shuts down and you'll need to wait another day. Regardless, it was fun and I met a Mongolian woman who lived in Washington for six years before being deported for overstaying her green card. Sort of sad and interesting.

If you need to wait in the town for any period of time, make the most of it. There are lots of interesting markets, 羊肉馅饼 (lamb pancakes) and Russian restaurants. I found a market with no Chinese on any of the signs, selling things from blenders for butter tea to henna to Mongolian language books for children to Indian snuff.

Crossing the border is easy and you'll be prompted when you need what and at what time. The whole procedure will take about two hours. Russian language skills are useful in Mongolia, but some working at the gate will know basic English and Chinese. Once you enter Mongolia, you really just need to turn around and head back out. The Mongolian side is incredibly strange, with abandoned train and construction materials, hand painted signs and flat land stretching endlessly. You cannot cross any part of the border by food, so it's another tedious search for a ride back. Even though I couldn't really communicate with the Mongolians at the border, they were gruffly helpful, literally dragging me along to different officers.

Anyway, once you get back to Erlian, you just need to head to the bus station and buy a sleeper bus ticket leaving for Beijing. If you're tall, specifically ask for seating near the front of the bus. It's very easy to head back, and if tickets are sold out, there are other private operators outside of the station. Trains are less predictable.

Good luck!


Me at Emei Shan, Sichuan.

Possibly the best noodle shop in Chengdu.

Snouts for sale at an open market.


Veronica posted a series of photos from her China trip. (I miss you, V.)


(Olympic win)
Oil on canvas
60x50 cm

This is a recently completed painting based on a package of cabbage seeds found in a village outside of Beijing. The title comes from the brand name of the seeds themselves. Although hard to tell looking at a monitor, the painting is far more fleshy and thick than I usually paint, and the size is far larger than previous work. The girl is, self consciously and awkwardly, breaking past her boundary. Anyway, I'm quite happy with it. Thoughts?


The trio by an ancient water urn used to fight fires, Forbidden City.

Veronica amazed at a overstocked market, Sichuan province.

Strange pastry and coffee at our questionable, but pleasant hotel, in Shanghai.

Smart dressed, nervous ladies on a street in Xintiandi, Shanghai.

Dad taking a picture in a Shikumen house museum, Shanghai.

Handsome Ariel in a cafe near the old drum tower, Beijing.

Mountain temple at Emei, Sichuan

North Korean restaurant karaoke madness at the DPRK Embassy. Lots of glaring, brusqueness and static ceremony.

Dad at the Simatai section of the Great Wall.

Smiling through crushing crowds.

Kitty at Grandma's Kitchen, a great lil' restaurant and guesthouse in Beijing.


I've been busy. Veronica and my father visited me recently, with a few days overlapping. Both were memorable and packed with sightseeing. Let's review:

Vero and I went to Sichuan and ate incredibly good food, lesuirely climbed a sacred Buddhist mountain, breathed in factory pollution in and around Chengdu and I struggled with the thickest accented Mandarin in the country. We saw a very traditional Tibetan neighborhood in Chengdu and had several moments of being stared at in random villages. The most wonderful moment was on Emei shan, a beautiful Buddhist mountain with several ancient temples scattered throughout the area. We spend the night in a haunting nunnery with traditionally dressed incredibly friendly nuns, the strong smell of incense and loud droning bells.

When my father came and I bid Veronica fairwell, the two of us went to Shanghai. It was a far more upscale trip, so our bathroom had a tub and I wasn't drinking packets of Nescafe out of enamel cups anymore. Lots of incredibly fancy pastry breakfasts, shopping, museums, obsure temples, strolling and long conversations. He bought a lot of antiques from a seller with a charming kind of English, who proclaimed him to be "big customer." Generous dad even bought me nice new clothes. Shanghai is a great city to wander, and we saw lots of decaying old art deco buildings, some seemingly abandoned and ghostly. Pretty.


And so, goodbye Veronica




Last day at Zhichunli primary school with my third graders.
(I remember how happy I felt to start summer vacation when I was their age.)


Thursday the 18th in Zhongguancun, a suburb of Beijing. There are dozens of skyscrapers in the distance, totally concealed in smog. One of the worst pollution days since winter.

Same day at dusk near the city center. It rained lightly; a strange, chemical smelling rain.


My first horse ride.

Drying sheets.

Ariel. Behind him are these wonderfully fake concrete yurts and Han women in Mongolian outfits.

A camel owned by the resort.


Prairie girls.


Chao in the yurt dining hall.

Happy Ariel at 乌兰花, or "Black orchid" town, which was our transfer point to reach the grasslands.

Chao and I in a moto-rickshaw in Hohhot.

Hohhot at night. Note the Muslim style domed buildings.

Mongolian restaurant by Hohhot University.

Our guide with an "aobao," or prayer mound, in the grasslands.

Wild mushroom our guide found.

Chao in front of a Mongolian white stupa. Both Tibetan and Mongolian cultures share this kind of structure.

Inner Mongolia

Ariel, Chao and I went to Inner Mongolia last weekend to see the grasslands, an endless stretch of rough green and shockingly blue skies. It was one of the most beautiful places I've seen. There is basically nothing at all for miles; no trees, no mountains, no water, just endless varieties of grass and more bizarre insects than I've seen anywhere. Giant crickets that look like hummingbirds when they fly, smooth marble slabs buried under dry earth, rabbit and snake holes. Most startling of all, for a city boy like myself, is the silence, which is almost strangely loud it's so quiet, and the dramatic temperature drop and strong winds at night.

We rode horses, ate a lot of lamb, and met a few Mongolians. One guide spoke excellent Mandarin, but was impatient to teach us a few Mongolian words. The language has very strong constant sounds and seems painful to speak, like the sounds are scraping your vocal cords. We passed by a village like one I'd never seen, made entirely out of rammed earth with beautiful, completely foreign boxy, colorful temples.

Hohhot was a surprisingly unique city. Mid-sized cities in modern China are mostly fashioned completely alike; the train station and long distance bus station are close to one another with most hotels around them, major streets are very wide with tremendous street lamps, skyscrapers are everywhere, giant monolithic Communist structures, the old part of the city is being flattened, etc. However, Hohhot had very Hui minority style structures with minarets and onion domes, all street names in Mongolian script, huge metal sculptures of horseback Mongolian warriors; all somewhat tacky, but at least it had a personality.

I believe average Chinese people view Mongolians in this dramatic, Plains Indian kind of way and enjoy putting on cowboy hats and heading to the grasslands to ride horses and drink sheep's yogurt. It's a lot like Americans' "wild west" fascination; an interest in this noble savage that has been conquered and can be safely approached. The comparison is obvious in city and place names, which are nearly all translated directly from Mongolian script into Mandarin characters, a rare thing in Chinese. Compare that to Mississippi, North Dakota, Miami and countless other American places that are named after tribes or use native languages for naming.