Friday 18 July 2008

It's raining, it's pouring...

... the Old man is... yeah well it's really raining here again this morning. This is serious heavy rain (and I come from Vancouver, so I know whereof I speak). And the thunder and lightning is setting off car alarms again. It's really cool to live somewhere where storms are accompanied by huge rolling thunder crashes and the tremendous, powerful cracks of lightning bolts.

With the exception of the tropics, I have never been anywhere where it rains so much during the Summer. For a month or more now, we have been saying we should follow everybody else and buy umbrellas to hide away in a pocket or a bag. But it always feels like we're about to leave and the rain has to stop... sometime. It doesn't seem like it's going to.

On the bright side, it does seem to help keep the ground and the air clean. I wonder how much of it is caused by meteorologists seeding the clouds (they also apparently have technology in place to reduce the chance of rain for the opening ceremonies if necessary). The western media is acting like they've only just been made aware of the air quality problem in Beijing and its potential impact on the Olympic games. All construction in the city is slated to stop this Sunday so we'll see if that makes any difference. Sadly, as a result, streams of migrant workers are packing their few possessions and returning to their home provinces for the duration of the games. I say "as a result" but of course it is equally as a result of the desire to maintain "security" and a "clean" city for the games.

On a related note, I heard a news story on the World at Six on CBC saying that spectators would be searched for banners, flags, and noisemakers and that they would be confiscated. "No flags?", thought I, "That's kind of lame." After allowing this misconception to carry on for the length of the story, they added the extra detail that only flags smaller than 1m by 2m would be allowed. Who the heck needs a flag bigger than that?! Imagine you are sitting behind the guy with a flag bigger than that! Sheesh... Apparently umbrellas will be allowed, which seems like it may be a good thing.

It feels like the anticipation in the city has, if anything, declined over the past few weeks. I really felt like it has been growing since I arrived (maybe it was just my anticipation) but, as the last details get sorted out, I just don't feel any excitement. Oh, sure, there are a few more banners, the signs for the Olympic traffic lanes are going up, and workers are setting up venues around the city with big televisions for people to watch the events. People even lined up for hours at the bank to receive newly-printed 10 RMB notes with the Olympic stadium on them. But I just don't sense the excitement. I'm guessing it will turn on by decree.

Monday 7 July 2008

The Rain!

It's 9:00am, Julia left for work 2 hours ago, and I'm listening to the morale-building going on outside one of the real-estate offices across the street. The workers in the office building kitty-corner to us often file out and do calisthenics in the parking lot early in the morning. But every morning these real-estate agents line up in two rows (one of men, one of women) on the sidewalk and do cheerleading routines involving chants, clapping, singing, and hand gestures, often to music.

The heat and humidity are already up; the former due mostly to two rare days of clear skies over the weekend. I no longer trust my key-chain thermometer as I have long suspected that it always reads between 27 and 29 degrees. I attribute this defect to the photograph I took of it maxed out at 50 degrees in northern Australia nearly 3 years ago. Google, however, says it is 27 degrees and 74% humidity right now... not bad for nine in the morning. It's amazing to me that a place can be this humid in the summer (wait for August!) and so dry in winter. If the heat doesn't dehydrate you here the air conditioning will and I wake up every morning with a dry throat.

The clear skies this weekend probably came thanks to the rain on Friday (rain seems to settle the fine particulate pollution). Julia and I met for dinner after work on Friday and then decided to go to a movie. As we emerged from the restaurant, it began to rain lightly. As we emerged from the taxi and sprinted to the cinema, it began to rain heavily. Forty minutes later, as our film was about to start, they informed us that Cinema 6 was being shut down because of water flooding into it and that we could get our money back. Upstairs, parts of the street were now flowing like rivers as the rain alternately poured and paused in 5-minute cycles. After half an hour trying to find a taxi that was (a) empty, (b) willing to pick us up (not sure why this is a problem), and (c) closer to us than to somebody else looking for the same thing, we gave up and walked to the subway. Unfortunately the subway was closed, due (as far as we could tell) to flooding. Tiring of waiting, we crossed the street and attempted to decipher the bus system. We did eventually manage to get close enough to home that we could walk the rest of the way, having become wet enough by then that we'd given up caring about staying dry anyway. In total, it took us two full hours to get home... this city doesn't deal well with heavy rain.

Friday 4 July 2008

I bowled a 162!

For as long as I've known Julia I've been trying to get her to go bowling with me. It's not like I bowl often but it's fun occasionally. Well we finally had the opportunity last weekend at a social event organized by Julia's company and while I couldn't knock down more than 9 pins to save my life in the first game, I managed nearly all strikes and spares in the second as I found my stride. People said I had "good form" which I guess I can only attribute to a few years of regular curling; I did feel pretty consistent.

Sunday was a busy day for us. Julia had uniform measurements and team building with her hospitality staff, then we had lunch and bowling, and then we had a few hours to kill before she and I went to a noodle and dumpling cooking class. Unfortunately, we really only had a demonstration and a little practice of the noodle pulling so I still can't claim to have successfully mastered the art but at least I have an idea how the dough should feel. The dumplings, or jiaozi, were quite successful: pork-and-celery and egg-mushroom-and-bok-choi. And I had left overs for lunch!

In other news, I'm currently struggling under the weight of decisions regarding employment, flights out of here, and their destinations so more to come once those are settled. I won't go into all the details of the complications of obtaining a Russian visa but, after a frustrating experience with the Russian embassy in Kuala Lumpur coloured by view of Russian hospitality, I have essentially decided to put off my trans-siberian trip for another occasion.

We're nearly within a month of the Olypmics here now so the pace is accelerating. Julia is busy at work, we have our spare room rented out, and I have an accreditation that removes the need for me to leave the country one last time. The new subways are nearly open and construction sites are racing to get their landscaping done and their walls down before the construction ban kicks in a few weeks from now. Should be interesting times ahead...