Friday, 23 November 2012

Ai Weiwei alive and kicking

What seems another fun, harmless, and maybe not even very artistic Gangnam style copy by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, together with a group of friends, is a way to keep him going. It looks like he enjoyed the crazy dancing. And of course, Ai Weiwei wouldn't be Ai Weiwei if the video would not transport a message. The Chinese title, "grass mud horse", sounds like a swearword and showing off in handcuffs is to criticise Chinese censorship. No surprise, that his video has been taken down from Chinese websites. Some commentators joke, it was because of the lousy dancing.

Ai Weiwei cleverly use all kind of social network to communicate with the world. Here he is just riding on the wave of success of Korean singer Psy's original song and video to transport his message: I am alive and kicking!

But much more serious is the video below. Please take a moment and watch this interview with The New Yorker from October 9, 2012 to understand a little bit more Ai Weiwei's situation and his thinking:

Friday, 24 August 2012

CCTV Tower: Ready to move in - Who would have thought it will take so long?

Beijing CCTV Tower out of a taxi cab in February 2012

The CCTV Tower, now, one of the most famous landmarks in Beijing was proudly presented to the world during the Olympics in 2008. From the outside, the building seems finished - since over for years. But who would have thought, that only now, in these days, the CCTV employees are gradually moving from their old office in a communist building to the new avant-garde headquarters?!

The construction of this futuristic monument, started in Beijing back in 2004. For the speed of China, regarding demolishing old and building new, this project is indeed an exception. But it's architecture is as well exceptional.

Rotterdam-based star architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) co-designed the building with the young German architect Ole Scheeren. OMA won the design competition for the project ten years ago. Scheeren calls the L-shaped elements, that connect the two angled towers, a "loop," a symbol of cooperation. The CCTV Tower is said to be the world's largest media building, and it contains more expensive technology than any other structure. It's completion was scheduled to be in May 2009.

But why is the tower only now ready to move in?

During Chinese New Year in February 2009, an uncompleted neighbouring building that is part of the complex, caught fire when illegal fireworks were launched by CCTV employees. It took about five hours and 600 fire fighters to get the massive fire under control. The building was severely damaged. This incident delayed the whole project. (To read more about the fire go here).

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Beijing which was supposed to be the main tenant in this building (in the one that caught fire, not in the CCTV tower) has no opening date scheduled. The building is still under construction. (If anyone has more information, please let us know.)

CCTV = China Central Television (HQ building see above photo)
TVCC = Television Cultural Center (the uncompleted building that caught fire, next to the CCTV tower)

Friday, 6 April 2012

Sanyuanli Fresh Market

my favorite market stall at Sanyuanli no 101
It is one of the best fresh markets in Beijing - quality and cleanness wise. From the main street - you will see a big sign in roman letters "Sanyuanli" over the entrance. The market stretches in one long corridor. It starts with the fruit section. Then some stalls selling tea on the left.

Chinese tea at the market

On the right you can buy some yummy fresh pastry and bread, Chinese style. It smells so good! Further on, you will find some shops selling can food, special spices and sauces in bottles, and then small household items.

In the middle section, you might not want to look too close. This is the wet section. This is why these markets are also called wet markets. There are a few butchers that cut entire veal legs on wooden blocks - right in front of you. They have cheep heads on display and all other parts of animals that are eatable - Chinese way. There is also all kind of seafood on ice. Or it still swims in containers. The ice melts slowly, and drips on the market hall floor. You do not want your pants dipping in the puddles of the wet middle section.

When you made it through the middle section - that is indeed interesting and serves for great photo shoots - you will be in the third and last section selling all vegetables you can think of. They even have those veggies usually not available at Jenny Lou or even Carrefour, not in large quantities though and slightly higher in price.

I have chosen my vegetable stall some years ago by looking at the vendors face - their products are mainly the same, so the quality and the price.  So it was the vendors smile and her stall no. 101 that I thought makes the difference.

Now, I was shopping here again at Sanyuanli, after 3 1/2 years of absence. And guess what? All the vendors I used to buy from, recognised me!

They smiled and waved and greeted. I was very touched! My veggie lady was very happy (see her smile above 1st pic) and the fruit vendor sprang up from his seat and gave my and my friends 3 big red strawberries to taste. They were very sweet and tasty indeed. Not like the other Chinese strawberries that are pale pink and even green from the outside, and white from the inside, and tasting like sugar water - because these strawberries during their growth were injected with sugar water.

fruit section at Sanyuanli market

Sanyuanli is my favourite market. Shopping their is fun. Vendors are friendly and beside the floor of the wet section, that is probably not dirty, but just wet, it is very clean. Prices are up in comparison to my last stay, but no wonder with the yuan being up 10% every year!

Sanyuanli Market (三源里市)
Shunyuan Jie, Chaoyang District (朝阳区东三环顺源街), North of Sanlitun
Open: daily 5am – 7pm

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Rap Song for Beijing

Jason Chu, a hip-hop artist from the US, had been living in Beijing for the last two years. He had been working, learning, and taking in the language and culture. Now, Jason is returning home and his latest rap song is a farewell letter to Beijing.

I am glad he sent me an email to share his video, saying the following:
"... As many expats know, leaving this country brings with it a mixture of emotions - everything from relief to a bittersweet sense of loss. As I reflect on this departure, I’ve been writing songs that talk about life here: both “the expat experience” and the local lives that I’ve come into contact with

This past weekend, I filmed and uploaded a music video for a song called City of the North, a letter to this city in all its difficulty, challenge, and unexpected beauty. It showcases the faces and lives that intersect in this explosion of culture: the students, migrant workers, expats, laobaixing, and more.

The song is the first track off the EP Goodbye, Beijing. that will be releasing on 4/21 at There will also be a release party/music video screening/farewell concert in Beijing's 798 art district. If you happen to be in town, or you have any friends or acquaintances who will be, you're definitely all invited to the event. (For more info, please contact

My music and thoughts on ABC (editor: American born Chinese) identity in China have been covered in the China Daily and on MSNBC."
I am featuring his music video, because I like it. It is something new to catch a glimpse of Beijing in a rap song! And Jason Chu is a special hip hop artist - follow the links to China Daily and on MSNBC and you will learn why. Also, I enjoyed recognising areas around Sanlitun (and very blue skies!) in his video, listening to the lyrics (the Lost Laowai printed them), and hearing a classic Chinese bow instrument embedded in a rap song. 

Thank you Jason, for sharing! Looking forward to the other songs! Good luck and safe journey home!

PS: Actually, the article over at MSNBC - "Not Chinese enough in China? Chinese-Americans caught between 2 worlds" - is a very interesting subject and worth a separate post.


Monday, 20 February 2012

How to become a legal Alien in China

When you travel by air to China, the flight attendent will hand out immigrartion forms that you need to fill in and hand over at immigration. If you turn the form, you will find the small print on the back of the departure card. Authorities ask you to register with the police shortly after arrival:

 "Aliens wishing to lodge at the home of a Chinese resident, at a foreign institution in China or at the home of an Alien in China shall register temporary accommodation."

Beijing Police Station

You won't believe, it took us three attempts.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Winter in Beijing

market sales woman
Arriving on a winter day in Beijing, you either see a thick yellowish grey sky and the air smells strange - or a striking blue sky with a very bright sun. What you won't see is anything green. The trees are bold, not a single leave, and no grass on the ground, just earthy sand. Like in the dessert, that is not far from Beijing. There is seldom snow in Beijing winters. Close to the dessert there is seldom rainfall after all.

When I arrived at Beijing airport, as soon as I have left the plane, I could smell Beijing air - the bad one, that you have on these yellowish days, especially in winter, when they burn coal for heating, when the smog limits the sight. I saw these brownish sandy grounds as far as I could see, and the bold grey trees.

That's Beijing in winter. It's dusty and cold. And I like it! It's this special charm that you don't find in other countries.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Going back to Beijing

Green T House Living

I am looking forward to my trip to Beijing! Very much. Although it is much more complicated to get a VISA then a year ago. China seems much more careful with visitors. If you plan to visit China, check out the regulations for your country in advance to have enough time to prepare all the documents. When you stay at a private home, no matter Chinese or Alien, you will need their passport copies, residence permit and an invitation letter.

And maybe, I say maybe, as I am not sure, I had to provide further documents because I did not like to be a "housewife" by profession and therefore checked "retired" instead. The Chinese Embassy asked to provide bank statements. Probably to prove a regular income which makes me less a candidate to search for a job in Beijing.

BTW, if you are a writer or journalist - you will need to indicate that in your visa request.

Nevertheless, I am looking very much forward meeting friends in my former home town, going shopping and eating in some of my favorite restaurants - and refresh my Mandarin. Also I am curious to see how much has Beijing has changed again since my last visit (15 months ago).

Monday, 23 January 2012

Happy New Year of the DRAGON !

Happy New Year of the Dragon !
Happy Chinese New Year !
xīn nián kuài lè !
(Happy New Year in mandarin)
gōng xǐ fā cái
(congratulations and be prosperous)

The Dragon is the most powerful sign of the Chinese zodiac. So I wish this will be a very happy, lucky, healthy, successful and prosperous year for all of us! Actually the Year of the Dragon starts today. Today, January 23rd 2012 is the first day of the New Dragon Year!

This photo was taken over Chinese New Year weekend in Bangkok, near Chinatown (for more pics see my Bangkok blog). And I am so excited. I am planning a trip to Beijing next month. I am looking forward to practise my new photo skills ;-) At the moment, I am learning how to use my heavy camera. Also I am saying farewell to another dear friend and family who is moving back to Europe after almost seven years in Beijing. It's the bad air quality that makes them even look forward to their move. I will be able to report from site soon.


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