Thursday, 27 September 2007

Sexy Beijing

The popular Danwei TV program Sexy Beijing is back and on its own website. However Su Fei's new show about hip hop is not that sexy as usual that's why I am posting one of my older favorites from the 'Hard Hat Show' about four mega architectural projects in Beijing:

Meanwhile one of the four projects, the CCTV (China Central Television) building looks like in the photo from last weekend (below). Soon they will have to build the 'bridge' to stabilise the two towers. CCTV, is the biggest television company in China and aims for 1,300,000,000 spectators. The CCTV tower will host among others the TV station's headquarter and 'The Oriental Hotel Beijing'.

And that's how the 'sexy' CCTV tower designed by Rem Koolhaas will look like when it is completed in 2008.

Cool Travel Guide mentiones Beijing Notebook

Lara Dunston is a travel writer who has authored 20 guidebooks for Lonely Planet and DK, and myriad stories for glossies & papers around the globe, including National Geographic Traveler, The Independent, Lifestyle+Travel, Paperplane and USA Today. She travels and writes with her partner Terry. They have been living out of suitcases since 21 months now. Lara recently began her Cool Travel Guide blog where she writes about the places, people and things she thinks are cool and does not write about in the guidebooks.

She came across my blog via My Marrakesh and we have been emailing a bit about our travel and writing experiences. Last week she posted about me and my two blogs. Thank you for the mentioning, Lara. I will follow your travel journal and see all the cool things and links you will come up next with.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Moon Festival

The Chinese Moon Festival is always on the 15th day of the 8th month by the Chinese lunar calendar. This year it will be celebrated on September, 25th. It's also known as the Mid-autumn Festival. Similar to Thanksgiving and celebrating the harvest time, the Moon Festival is an occasion to celebrate with family and friends. It is full of legendary stories.

Children are told the story of the moon fairy living in a crystal palace, who comes out to dance on the moon's surface on the night of the Moon Festival. It is the legend about lady Chang Er who flew to the moon.

The legend behind the moon cakes says that during the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (960-1280) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule and set how to coordinate the rebellion without being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Backed into each moon cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Today, moon cakes are used as gifts to relatives in expression of their best wishes. But also companies give away beautiful boxes with single wrapped moon cakes to show their appreciations to employees and business partners. In Beijing every hotel sells its own moon cake creations with various fillings (see picture above). Some people refer the especially bad traffic before the Moon Festival to moon cakes drives back and forward.

The Moon Festival is also a romantic one. A perfect night for the festival is if it is a quiet night without a silk of cloud and with a little mild breeze from the sea. Lovers spend such a romantic night together tasting the delicious moon cake with some wine while watching the full moon. Even for a couple who can't be together, they can still enjoy the night by watching the moon at the same time so it seems that they are together at that hour. A great number of poetry has been devoted to this romantic festival. Hope the Moon Festival will bring you happiness.

About Chinese Culture
Beijing This Month (photo from this free monthly English magazine)

Sunday, 23 September 2007

My Chinese Ink-Wash Painting (I)

What do I do in China besides blogging? I also paint - from time to time.

A Chinese painter and painting teacher was recommended to me for taking lessons in traditional Chinese ink-wash painting. She even speaks English and came to my house every week. She is a strict teacher and was not very happy with me being a bit too lazy, not painting enough... She said, if I want to become a painter, I have to exercise every day. - I was flattered about her deeming it possible that I ever could becoming a painter... well, I know, I have some talent, but still painting is a craft that needs to be learned.

The picture above shows my work. The teacher made me copy a painting by Qi BaiShi, one of the greatest Chinese painters.

BTW, today was the last day of the Art Beijing 2007. It was all about modern art. Flashy colours, political correct and expensive. It was interesting to see paintings, photography and installations from so many different artists exhibited by even more different galleries. But after leaving the exhibition hall I had mixed feelings. Somehow sad to see how commercial the art business is. But can a 'starving painter' live from 'l'art pour l'art'?

Monday, 17 September 2007

New Highlight: Whampoa Club Beijing

Paris is romantic even on a grey rainy day. Venice is romantic especially on a grey foggy day. But Beijing's grey smog days are just depressing. For curing your depression in Beijing have a dinner at the new Whampoa Club and it will delight all your senses.

In Shanghai, the Whampoa Club at Thee on the Bund is already an established and successful venue. Now, the internationally acclaimed chef Jereme Leung has opened the stunning Beijing branch in a siheyuan (courtyard house) on Financial Street. He formulates his own creative New Beijing cuisine by taking inspiration form Beijing's imperial cuisine, imperial high official home cuisine, citizen cuisine, minority cuisine and temple cuisine. With modern and stylish presentation, Whampoa Club Beijing is guaranteed to delight and inspire lovers - and even non-lovers - of Chinese food.

The set lunch menu starts at 288 yuan, the set dinner menu at 488 yuan per person. The appetizers are fabulous. Especially the delicious soy-braised pomfret fillet terrine and the cabbage and spinach rolls with shrimps and scallops, flavoured with yellow mustard and wasabi jelly (left pic). My favorite main course were the Beijing pancakes with goose liver and pork fillings (right pic).

The restaurant is in the basement of the courtyard house. You can either book a table in the main dining room or in one of the more intimate separés that seats two to six people but still leave you the view of the main restaurant. The service is efficient and friendly.

Whampoa Club wouldn't be a club without a cosy stylish bar. For your private party you might rent a dining room that hosts up to 12 guests or the outside courtyard itself for a bigger event.

The interior of the courtyard house is decorated in a clean modern Chinese style. The spectacular bird cage lamps setting (above pic) is downstairs before entering the restaurant. The restrooms are more appealing than the dark unisex 'powder rooms' by Philippe Starck at the overall more kitsch-opulently decorated Lan Club.

Conclusion: Whampoa Club Beijing delights all your senses. It is an inspiring experience and a great enrichment for the restaurant scene in Beijing.

Price category: $$$

Whampoa Club Beijing
Financial Street 23 A
Xi Cheng District, Beijing, China
phone (+86 10) 8808 8828

link: Whampoa Club

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Beijing and the Risk of Drinking Water

I wanted to start painting again, this time on a daily basis. The first thing that came under my eyes was my Nestlé water bottle. While drawing and colouring I remembered what I recently read in the newspaper:

Half of Beijing's bottled drinking water could be fake. The 'fake drinking water' is either tap water or purified water of miscellaneous small brands, poured into empty barrels sealed with quality standard marks.

Another day I read that Beijing's tap water is drinkable. It passes all the tests - however before it runs through the old underground pipes to your home. So it is not drinkable. I brush my teeth with it and I cook my pasta in it. But I never would drink from the tap or buy bottled water from an uncertain source.

Instead I buy the bottled water for the cooler as well as the little bottles for the handbag from Nestlé, hoping that they have an effective quality control in place.

China Daily about fake drinking water
China Daily about potable tab water

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Beijing: Fake more Expensive then Original

In Beijing it can happen even to an experienced shopper to buy a fake that is more expensive than the original!

In my case I bought a fake (I guess so) I am not a Plastic bag by British designer Anya Hindmarch. I had no idea about the original prize, 5 GBP (or 7,50 Euro) and all the hype behind this bag. The salesgirl asked for an initial price of 230 kwai (about 23 Euro). I thought about what I would like to spend and offered her 50 kwai. But I saw that there is no way I could get it for that price. As I did not want to play around too long we made the deal at 80 kwai, about 8 Euro. This was at Beijing's Silk Market.

The same day at home I found an article about my new bag in some local magazine. Due to the unprecedented demand in South East Asia and the concerns for customers safety the launches at the stores: Anya Hindmarch Beijing, On Pedder in Shanghai and On Pedder in Jakarta have been cancelled.

A few days later, hanging out with my new bag at lunch, I met a British friend that stared at my bag and asked me where I got it. She could not believe that I found it at the Silk Market. She has tried to get in in London, but no chance, all sold out. It was then, I found out, that I had payed (slightly) more than the original sells for. Maybe, after all, it was not such a bad deal. I had not to queue or to fight for the bag. And maybe, after all, I got a 'special edition' as the letters of 'I am not a plastic bag' are stitched on my bag, not just printed.

I am happy with my new shopping bag. It is simple, comfy and stylish. And I am definitely saving on plastic bags that are given away for free at supermarkets here in Beijing. If you are coming to Beijing, check out the markets. The I am not a plastic bag is available in all kind of colours for about 4 Euro and up - depending on the quality and your negotiation skills.

No more free plastic bags at supermarkets - by law - starting June 2008
I bought another "I am not a plastic bag", for 50 kuai at the Silkmarket. That is the price for the ones without the stiching. I think it was then when the friendly vendor gave me for my 100 kuai a fake 50 kuai bank note as change. - So again! Fake more expensive then original!!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Beijing and What to Do with your Time

You are a local, an expat, an expat spouse or a visitor with no tight 3-day-sightseeing-schedule and have been there and done it all.

So what you do with your free time?

Here is my little BRAINSTORM - so no judgement, just more ideas please:

Learning and practicing
* ... Chinese (two to there time per week is recommended)
* ... Tai Chi / Tai Qi
* ... painting (traditional Chinese Style: ink and wash)
* ... calligraphy
* ... photography (to document the fading beauty)
* ... yoga
* ... mahjong (to get a feeling for decadent but fun gambling)
* ... acupuncture (you might practice after you have your certificate)

Hearing lectures about
* ... Traditional Chinese Medicine / TCM
* ... Feng Shui (not that popular in Beijing)

* Reading books about China, Chinese Culture and history

* Massage (traditional Chinese Foot Massage or Body Massage, no oil - at Tai Pan, Bhodi or Dragonfly)

* Pedicure and Manicure (cheaper than in the West)

* Writing about your impressions for the media back home, local media or on your blog

Meeting people with
* Chinese Culture Club (weekly activities, lectures and trips)
* INN - International Newcomer's Network (monthly meeting, lectures)
* Deutsche Patengruppe (monthly get-together and trips)
* British Club
* several kids groups
* several interest groups that advertise in the local magazines

The different shopping:
* Shopping at the local food market (e.g. San Yuan Le market hall in Sanlitun)
* Shopping at Jiayi cloth market, opposite Kunlun Hotel (stressless than Yashow)
* Shopping at Ritan Office Building (building at the South-East of Ritan Park - in every former little office room is a little boutique with lots of real finds). After shopping stroll a bit through Ritan Park and have a drink at the Stone Boat Bar (at the West end of the park).

The different 'sight seeing':
* Riding the bicycle around the city (between first and third ring road)
* Strolling the hutongs around the Houhai area; rent a boat, bike or rikshaw
* spending hours at Chaoyang Park where children can go on merry-go-rounds and some old fashion fair rides, just walk around the greenery, have a picnic, rent a boat, tent or 'golf cart' (Chaoyang), observe locals working out ...
* ride a boat through the 800 year old canal between Forbidden City and Summer Palace. The tour usually includes stops at the Purple Bamboo Garden and a couple of temples (book e.g. with Chinese Culture Club about twice a month)
* go on a daytrip outside Beijing with the Beijing Excursion Guide by Immersion Guides


This is about how busy you could get as an expat spouse !

Deutsche Patengruppe
International Newcomer's Network
Chinese Culture Club
A Matter of Chi (pricy Feng Shui lecture)
Oriental Tai Pan (massage)
Bodhi (massage)
Dragonfly (massage)
City Weekend (events)
That's Beijing (7 Days in Beijing, events)
Beijing Excursion Guide

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Beijing and Wondermilk - Can we trust the Organic label?

Last Friday evening in my local Jenny Lou supermarket they had run of grapes, bananas ... and milk - at least my favorite milk brand, the one with the Great Wall on it. So I had to buy that new organic Wondermilk that comes in half liter packs and is the most expensive milk of all: 13 kuai for 500 ml, that is 2,60 Euro for a liter of milk! Anyway, I wanted to try it out. The taste is just normal - like milk tastes back in Europe. I realised that other Chinese milk has a bit of sweetness. But the most alarming thing that popped into my eyes and that is why I am blogging about milk today. There was a label saying:


That means: for the last two years I might have offered my child milk with antibiotics and hormones!?! Maybe I should go to Carrefour and buy milk by the French brand Le Président, this I think, might be as safe and is less expensive. And after all, it is French and not Chinese. I am sorry, but I have lived in China long enough. I cannot trust anybody or anything. Something labeled organic does not mean it is organic. Chinese are able to fake everything. I wish I could have more confidence. Wondermilk sounds like a great project with 'happy cows and happy employees'.

For info about the project check directly Wondermilk, China

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Beijing and What you need to know about Doing Business with Chinese

A brief consultation by guest writer C.B.C.

Do you want to make business with Chinese partners? In principle, if there is a good business proposition and both partners can gain out of it, is worth pursuing. At the end of the day everybody in China wants to make money. Here, are the biggest capitalists - not in the US.

Nevertheless, before getting a culture shock you should know the following:

- Contracts can mean very little in China. They are just one agreement before the next one is reached. It is not unusual to negotiate something and then renegotiate the same point that was agreed before again and again if conditions change or there is a new opportunity. The usual tactics is to ask for the work to start before any ink is put on the contract, and then the foreign partner is locked in and cannot move back otherwise it will loose the initial investment. The other approach is to ask for an initial brand investment to be paid by the foreign party. This is not a bad idea per se but again you have made the initial investment.

- Legal protection exists but it is usually to the advantage of the Chinese side. Hardly any foreign firm wins against a Chinese partner. See the example of GM with Cherry on the QQ car. It is an exact copy of the Chevrolet but they lost the case.

- Don’t be nice in the negotiations. If you make a concession always ask for something back. If you feel that the partner does not agree to your point, never only use logic to make your point rather ask for something in return. This is more convincing for him. Remember you are not looking for a "win-win" situation. Otherwise this means there is still room for your partner to improve "his" deal. Always give the impression he has taken all he could have from you. Show signs of distress like you are uncomfortable of what you have just given in. ...

- The Chinese will try to copy all your products. Here you can buy a lot of fakes. For e.g. furniture: the "Barcelona Chair" costs in Europe around 6000 EUR. In China you can get the exact copy for 500 EUR. So do not be surprised if they will try to copy your brands or popular designs and offer it on the “other side of the street” with a slightly modified logo and company name.....(of course this does not always happen but often). In the Chinese culture a copy is not considered as "bad". It is rather "smart" if you can build more or less the same product at half the price or less. In Europe owning a copy is something "morally bad" and you would not openly talk about it. Here for many people it is different.

- One fake is not considered as one if it differentiates in at least 5 points.

- Even if they will copy your product - brand is everything. If you have "brands" and reputation you will always attract the “rich and wealthy” who want to differentiate themselves from the mass of more than 1 billion people.

- It can be very helpful especially here in China if your partner is "politically influential" as well as a good business man with proven record. Do not underestimate the bureaucracy and regulatory environment of doing business in China.

- Market growth is incredible in all the business sectors. A business plan that does not show growth rates of at least 30% are conservative or you are doing something really wrong.

- Always make sure you have the leverage. For example, it may not be advisable to share all critical details or contact names with the partner. If you wish you may try his loyalty by sharing some information but not everything. Or ask yourself what would you like to have back from him?

- Payments overseas are a story for it selves. It is not that easy to make payments overseas especially for non material goods (such as royalties, license fees, technical agreements etc.). On the contrary it is rather easy to pay physical goods if a particular contract and supporting documents exists. So your deal should be drafted in a way that you will get paid easily.

- If you are in the furniture business, from my ignorant point of view I would look at the following Business models:
a) obtain exclusive franchise of high end western brands (as mentioned before Chinese love luxury brands),
b) make furniture at relatively high quality for a fraction of the price and export it back to Europe. I am sure there is a market for furniture between the luxury design brands and the "Ikea" category. So to say Ikea price at better quality. Make sure you have a quality person on site, don’t’ trust that your drawings/specifications are implemented correctly. It is not uncommon that such tests are carried out without proper control. In China quality control is key.
c) help a Chinese manufacturer to produce a certain quality furniture and help him expand overseas.

Source: C.B.C., the author of this brief consultation on 'Doing Business with Chinese' works as Vice President and CFO in a German-Chinese Joint-Venture in Beijing. I am glad that he agreed to share his insights on my blog.


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