Friday, 27 April 2007

Travel: The Golden Week

Millions of people are leaving town. This is Golden Week in China to celebrate May 1st. Many families go to the beaches with their kids for the fresh air. Most popular destinations are Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore. Also Hainan is an option.

We are off to Thailand, where we spent many happy years. It is still our home of hearts. We are going to see old friends and spend time at the beach (yes, it is the one in the picture ...)

I am back Monday in a week and will provide many travel links for my favorite spots in my favorite Asian country.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Beijing: Courtyard House sells for Record Price

A courtyard home in Beijing near the picturesque Houhai lake has sold for a record 14.2 million dollars (110 million yuan) earlier this month.

A courtyard dwelling, or Siheyuan in Chinese, is an enclosed atrium house, a type of residence most famously found in Beijing. Courtyard houses are also called hutongs or hutong houses while ‘hutong’ in Chinese means only lane or alley.

As Chinese people consider the hutong houses as not modern and their inhabitants as poor, many are being destroyed to make way for modern apartment buildings. However lots of foreigners would love to live in a renovated courtyard home. A renovation includes the installation of water and electricity supply. Otherwise you would need to use the public toilets in your hutong (lane). But often the houses are not easy to access through the small lanes. And it is not easy to find a suitable and affordable one.

A few courtyards are being converted into luxury residences. The Houhai one was sold for 36,324 yuan per square metre, almost double the average price of residential properties nearby, the Beijing News said. A local property developer had been trying to sell the courtyard home since late 2005 after fixing it up but few people expressed interest until early this year, it said.

Last year I was invited to one of these luxury courtyard homes. It was renovated and decorated in a modern yet cosy style. The tenant had inherited some Biedermeier furniture and added modern and Asian elements. We had a BBQ in the garden at night and the whole house was illuminated. Some months later I recognized it right away when I found these pictures in a magazine.

All three pictures are from Better Homes and Gardens magazine in China (issue no. 8 - January 2007). The residence contains even two hutong houses with two atrium. The bigger one was the main house. All single elements were connected with a corridor of glass (last picture). If you want to walk from the kitchen to the bedroom you could either walk inside around the atrium through the corridor or you could walk outside across the atrium. The second smaller atrium belonged to the guest house. The renovation was time consuming and expensive although the former resident denied the latter. Today he does not live here anymore. So I guess this beautiful hutong house is empty at the moment. What a pity. But even more pity is the uncertain future of this beautiful house. It was saved from demolition once. But the neighbouring homes are already gone.

The record selling price of the Houhai courtyard house was featured in That's Beijing (7 Days in Beijing - Today's Alarming Statistic of April 20); and in Yahoo News.

See also my other post about Beijing Courtyards

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Travel: Shanghai, Shanghai

Shanghai is more packed, more modern and more sexy than Beijing. Shanghai's skyline on both sides of the river is more impressing than the one of Hong Kong. But Shanghai has at least as many construction fields as Beijing. Beijing prepares for the Olympic Games in 2008 while Shanghai prepares for the Expo 2010. It is sad to see how many old Chinese quarters still are vanishing. With the 24/7 construction of skyscrapers the skyline of Pudong is changing every day. Shanghai reminds many people of New York, especially in Pudong. Shanghai is an exiting city for singles and young couples with double income no kids.

It definitely worth to visit the 'Pearl of the Orient'. Shanghai has many stylish restaurants and bars. But it does not have that many cultural sites as Beijing does. Most of the Chinese heritage can be seen in the lanes of the Old Town, that some call 'Chinatown'. I think this is significant when you have to call part of a Chinese city that way. Everything is going global, exchangeable. Starbucks is everywhere. And don't miss the beautiful Yu Garden (entrance fee raised up to 40 yuan). My favorite place were the lanes in Old Town and between here and the French Concession. The contrast of old Chinese style and new modern style is very photogenic. The best time in Shanghai is nighttime when the city is illuminated like electricity is for free. The views of the Bund and of Pudong are overwhelming. At 10.30pm the lights are switched off, but the bars are open until 2am and the crowed is pretty chic as well.

If you are interested in some pictures from my weekend in Shanghai, please visit my Shanghai Set at flickr. I am going to upload more pictures in the next days.

My collection of Shanghai travel links ...

... for the Bund, where 'previous taipans (heads of trading houses) erected monuments of wealth':
- Bar Rouge at Bund 18 for overwhelming night views over Pudong and the Bund
- New Heights at Three on the Bund for casual lunches or dinners with splendid 180 degree views of the Bund and Pudong

... for Xintiandi, the new 'old style' eating, drinking & shopping area:
- About Shanghai's living room Xintiandi and the one year old magazine 'Zing'
- Green Massage for a foot massage
- Shanghai Tang for Chinese style silk dresses and accessories
- Shanghai Trio for Chinese style casual wear and accessories
- Lehman & Qian for gorgeous Chinese Interior Decoration
- There are lots of trendy bars and restaurants in Xintiandi. For a drink I liked the stylish 'TMSK' Bar. But you can also find Starbucks and Paulaner.

... for Pudong, the Chinese Manhattan across the river:
- Cloud 9 & The Sky Lounge on the 87th and 88th Floor of the Grand Hyatt in Jin Mao Tower
- Jade 36, restaurant and bar in the Shangrila Hotel, 36th floor

... for Museums:
- Shanghai Art Museum, contemporary art exhibitions and host of the Shanghai Biennale - if it is lunchtime go to the 5th floor of the museum to Kathleens 5, a restaurant on the roof top with views over the People's Park
- Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
- Shanghai Museum, museum of ancient Chinese art

...for City Info:
- Wallpaper City Guide: Shanghai for the 'design-conscious traveller'
- LUXE City Guides: Shanghai, 'a glam little pocket-sized companion'
- Shanghai Daily newspaper

Photo source: Shanghai Tang Authentics brochure

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Gone travelling...

I am on my way to Shanghai. It is my first time. I am looking forward to this city with that exotic sounding name. I wish my plane would be able to travel back in times... in a time when Marguerite Duras was writing 'L'amant'... how exotic would that be?

Monday, 16 April 2007

Beijing Olympics tickets go on sale

You can apply now for tickets for the Summer Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing. When you live in China you can apply online at the official ticketing website.
In case you live outside China you have to buy your tickets through your national distributors.
In Phase two starting in October 2007 tickets will be on sale to the public. More information about the three phases to get tickets at China Daily. Find the ticket prices here. The Opening Ceremony starts at 200 USD up to 5,000 USD. (1 USD = 7,7 Yuan)


By the way, the little mascots' name is new. Before they were called the FRIENDLIES. But somehow this English name was thought to be associated with 'friend lies --> lies' and then changed to the much 'nicer' name FUWA.

Another name story...
; )

Friday, 13 April 2007

Beijing and Today's Alarming Statistic

There are
3,000,000 migrant workers in Beijing.

There are 200 million migrant workers in China and 20 million migrant children.

Read about social and education programs for migrant children at Compassion for Migrant Children

Source: Alarming Statistic from That's 7 Days in Beijing.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Beijing: You Want Fake Ferrero ?

chocolate at Jenny Lou's supermarket in Beijing
If you are craving for chocolate, maybe specifically for ‘golden pralines’ from Ferrero, you have to watch out at your local supermarket! Don’t put the box too fast in your shopping cart as you might have got a fake in your hands.
- Fake Ferrero? Yes! Not fake Rolex or fake Gucci. Fake Ferrero.

Ferrero S.p.A., the Italian chocolate producer won a court case early in 2006 against a Chinese company (Montresor) that counterfeit Ferrero Rocher pralines. Montresor even had to pay 87.000 Euro for compensation. But this seems to not have changed anything.
fake (left and right), Ferrero (middle)
Look at the pictures, can you tell the difference? - Okay, the name is different. The fake is called ‘Trésor Doré’ or 'Montrésor'. But everything else, the logo, the golden wrapping, the brown paper cases, the differently shaped plastic boxes, all details are perfectly copied. But when you unfold them, you see the difference. The fake one looks like someone has licked it….yucky. However the taste is not too bad, but it’s different. It tastes more from roughly cut hazelnuts while the real one tastes creamier and more from chocolate. So do not try to cheat your loved ones by eating up all their Ferrero Rocher pralines and replacing them with fakes. I made the test with my husband. When the fake one is unwrapped you get caught. Of course quality has a higher price. The fake one is about 30% cheaper.
the left one is the yucky fake !
Driven by my curiosity I followed up the information printed on the back of the packing including manufacturing address, telephone and fax numbers as well as e-mail. In case someone from Italy want to contact them: ‘Trésor Doré’ is manufactured by the Foreign Trade Shanghai Shengang Foodstuff Factory in 9 Zhenxing Rd., Zhangjiagang Economic Development Zone. It is the same company that was sued by Ferrero under the name 'Montresor'.

I googled and found this website which is advertising their excellent chocolate products that have won ‘prices on ministry level, a silver medal of international fair and the fame of gifts for state guests’ (if I translated well the following: ‘the honos of excellent product psize of Ministry level, silues medal of intenational fais and the fame of gibt for state gnests’).

I would guess any other effort of Ferrero to win the case is a waste of money and time. It is better just to continue producing the best ‘chocolate hazelnut praline’ since 1982 and people will continue to pay more for the quality. The perfect mix of the ingredients (hazelnuts, Nutella, waffles and chocolate) makes Ferrero’s recipe unique.

Check this link for the real Italian Ferrero.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Funny Sexy Beijing episode under attack

I have to post another episode of Sexy Beijing right now. These amateur clips are funny. But some Chinese student thought it is offending. Most people do not get it why this harmless episode about Chinese choosing funny English names for themselves is considered as 'imperial journalism'. The journalist Su Fei (alias Sophie) makes fun of herself, too. This is called humour. Nobody is loosing face in my opinion. Just watch it...

... and follow some links below for the strange discussion that is less funny than the clip:
- Danwei's reaction
- Some bad comments posted on youtube just after the discussion started.
- An American Chinese philosophy friend, Useless Tree, is defending Su Fei in an interesting post.

After the statistics Sexy Beijing's episodes seems to be even more popular among Chinese viewers than among western viewers.'s most popular program is Looking for Double Happiness which has got 272,092 views on Youtube, and 565,014 views on Chinese video sharing website

Beijing and What's new in Sanlitun

There is more than beer bars in Sanlitun.
Around noon you can see the strange situation of having ex pats in business suits and sun glasses sitting on stylish verandas of European restaurants next to the migrant workers squatting on their yellow helmets on the sidewalk - both enjoying their lunch break and the warm sunshine.

The Italian restaurant 'Assagi' has underwent major renovation work and has been closed for several months. It is going to open soon. New about the Assagi building is that downstairs it hosts now a 'Panino Teca' selling Italian sandwich and pastry. It is already fully operational and packed during lunchtime.

South of Dongzhimenwai the French Eatery 'Le Petit Paris' also got a face lift and extended their well frequented terrace. Next door is 'Gustomenta', the Italian ice parlour. Since last year it is neighbouring the construction field of a new shopping complex. The roof construction is almost finished. A few months ago there were hutong alleys with small courtyard houses and low rise red brick apartment buildings. And still more has to vanish for a luxury hotel complex (in the media it was called the 'Versace Hotel' but I have no confirmation that the interior will be designed by Versace). The new rental fee will then no longer be affordable for these charming colourful bistros and shops along the street. They will disappear - probably in favour of Mac Donald and Starbucks.

Back to Sanlitun North of Dongzhimenawai there is another construction going on since several months. The river was kept dry and an endless blue fence had been erected along the river banks. Me curious, I cycled around the construction to find little holes in the fence to see more.

There were some signs of 'no stopping' that made me feel like a spy when I took pictures of the new waterfront and the river bank reinforcement. - It looks like their will be a catwalk under the bridge of the third ring road so you can easily walk or cycle between North Sanlitun and Lufthansa Complex. It will be very nice to stroll along the river when everything is finished. I hope they will let the water back in before the Olympic Games in summer 2008.

(More pictures at my Beijing China Set on

Monday, 9 April 2007

Beijing and the Melancholy of Departure

Ex pat life is exciting and inspiring. You learn about other cultures, you meet lots of interesting people, local and other ex pats. You are a foreigner yourself in a foreign country. Your sight on things gets a wider angle. You make new friends with new neighbours and with friends of your new friends.

But then it comes to the other side of the medal. Ex pat life is normally time wise limited to the contract length set by your company. And one day it is time to say good bye. Ex pat live has indeed lots of good-byes. Not only that you have to leave your host country that you learned to like or love sooner or later as human beings get used to a lot of things quiet fast. Also your new lovely friends and neighbours a leaving sooner or later.

Today my lovely French neighbour left China for good. She and her family are going back to Paris. Their plane is at 1am. They just left the compound and are on the way to the airport with two cars, full of luggage and a friend is going to farewell them at the airport. It was 10am when a group of neighbours dropped by outside the lobby, waiting in the sun, all in this strange mood, tears in the eyes, although nobody is sick or is going to die, it is sad to hug a friend to say good bye. A period of time that you spent together has ended.

Of course we can stay in contact via email and might spend holidays together. Let the children play together. But it will never be the same again. Just catching up in front of the house. Just going on a shopping tour or having spontaneous lunch. Living together in a group of foreigners in an exotic place weaves an invisible bond.

So this post is meant to remind me to esteem precious moments with special friends you make along your ex pat life.

(Picture by Stephanie Cabrera)

Friday, 6 April 2007

Sexy Beijing's latest episode

Today, I present my favorite Danwei TV show: Sexy Beijing . The episodes are presented by sexy Su Fei who muses about love, customs, culture and street life in China's capital. On her way to find the truth she interviews young and old Beijinger in perfect Mandarin (English subtitles).

The newest episode is already the 9th clip of that great program. This time it is about 'March 8', or 'san ba'(3/8), the International Women's Day. This day is a holiday that is traditionally celebrated with much official support in China. Su Fei wants to find out whether 'san ba' is also a rather insulting way to refer to a woman and why the country that wants women to hold up half the sky uses this date to put them down.

Cosmopolitan magazine plays a role in this episode; for more on women in Chinese magazines, see this Danwei post: Images of women in Chinese magazines.

All Danwei TV programs are also archived at Here you find the comments to the program as well as on youtube.

My other favorite Sexy Beijing episodes:
Lost in Translation
Looking for Double Happiness
Weddings Gone Wild

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Beijing: Air Quality improves

The air quality is reported to improve constantly since eight years in a row. Beijing counts more blue skies in the first three months of 2007 than in 2006. And the Air Quality Daily Report by the government is available again (the link somehow was broken for about 10 days).

The air was not bad lately. Besides a little sandstorm over night last week and some windy days we do not necessarily need to wear masks when cycling at the moment.

The picture was taken by Natalie Behring in Linfen (southern Shanxi province), one of most polluted cities in the world.

More Links:
Linfen, the most polluted city in the world - an audio essay
State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA)
The Air Quality Daily Report for 84 Cities in China by SEPA
On Beijing Notebook:
Blue Sky Target for Beijing
Beijing Air Pollution 2006 (Statistic Summary)
Air Pollution in Beijing

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Beijing: Kenny G in concert 'mamahuhu' ?

As the Shanghaist I would not have listen to a Kenny G CD. And I never thought that a Kenny G concert would be entertaining. But it was last Saturday in the Beijing Exhibition Center Theater.

Kenny G, besides being the world most famous saxophonist and the best golfer among music makers (by Golf Digest) he is a smart entrepreneur. He knows that he alone could not entertain a crowd in a concert hall. So he brings along on stage some great musicians.

Among them most impressing and very charming Ron Powell (percussion) who entertained the crowd with a sensational solo performance. Powell is a star of his own, he played with Barry White, Sheena Easton, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross, to name some of them, and now he tours with Kenny G.

The second highlight of the evening was Supergirl Li Yuchun, the winner of the national singing contest 2005. She has a fantastic voice that was unfortunately not so much to enjoy in the first minutes because of technical problems with the microphone. She sang the Chinese hit ‘The moon that represents my heart’ in Chinese and ‘Tell me’ in English.

Entertaining were also the ‘subtitels’ to introduce the songs. My favourite was ‘You are beautiful’ and the explanation ‘you have qualities that delight the eyes’.

I will definitely look for a CD from Li Yuchun and Ron Powell.
And I will listen to Kenny G in elevators and when it is 9pm at Yashow I will listen to ‘Home’ played over the loudspeakers so the vendors know it is time to pack and go home. Maybe that is why Chinese people love Kenny G’s music so much.

(Photo Kenny G with Li Yuchun from


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