Monday, September 1, 2008

Japan 2


After the peaceful lull of Kyoto, we moved onto the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

We ate some sushi. The sushi chef was awesome. We told him (well, Saki told him in this funny sounding language) we thought he was cool....

He was all like "Get out of here!"

The sushi (vegetarian style) was quite good.

This ninja was so hard to see, the wall was built around him. Crazy.

They have this yellow stripe all over Beijing and Japan. I guess it's for blind people. Pretty cool.

We shopped on this street. Crazy, crazy busy.

[If I could make out more of the katakana on the signs, I’m sure it would be much more amusing. For example, the yellow sign at lower left says, “Ha-p-pi-Wa-n (Happy One)” and the second line says, “Ta-chi-pu-re-su (Touch Place).” …On second thought, this seems to perhaps be suggesting some weird services a little beyond the usual family-rated offerings, that I don’t really want to know about—Francis.]

Then we found some peace next to one of the buildings erected for the 1964 Olympics. Sadly, I hear it is now hardly ever used. I'd hate to hear that about the Bird's Nest or Water Cube.

We ate some Thai food and took about forty shots to get this one. I love the digital (camera) age.

This was the street on which we stayed in Tokyo. It was pretty calm relative to most of Tokyo.

Same street, other direction.

We hopped a bus to some temple. The upholstery on the bus was amazing!

When my dad moves onto running a marathon in each continent, I think this one deserves some consideration.

A couple of the final pictures of the trip were my favorites.

These sumo dudes were huge. As a point of reference, those muscles you see on my arms are nicknamed 24" pythons.

Here ends the posts from my trip to Asia with Saki. Such a great time! Thank you, Saki!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Japan 1

(Note: Please forgive some of the funky font and text sizes. Blogspot and I are not currently on speaking terms. [I’ve cleaned up this font-display problem for the excerpt below—Francis])

On Friday, August 22, Saki and I each flew to Japan. I flew to Tokyo a couple hours before she flew to Osaka. Upon arriving we each took trains to Kyoto, which is about an hour from Osaka and three hours from the Tokyo airport. We planned on meeting at a cafe in the Kyoto train station, just as Saki had done with her father when he visited her when she lived in Kyoto during college [see Sakamoto > Dad Visits Me in Japan > page 2].

Amazingly, we arrived at the cafe within five minutes of each other. I got there first and barely had time to eat one, let alone two, Mister Donuts Angel Creme donuts before Saki showed up.

The Kyoto train station is pretty awesome. It's all architecty, so Saki was into it.

Despite its cool structure, the station is Japan-sized, as one can see from this scaled picture with Saki and the station. Saki was all like "But, how are the passengers supposed to board the trains when they can't even fit into the building!"

With our first meal began my marvel at the niftyness that pervades all things Japanese. We ordered our food at a machine outside the restaurant, obtained tickets, handed them to the waitress, and our food was served a few short minutes later. I felt this system was clever, especially in the short-on-time environment of the train station.

What was also cool at the train station was the convergence of the public transportation and a major shopping area. At the Kyoto station, as well as other stations we have seen, there are shops lining the corridors. It makes for much prettier stations, and seem to be good for both the passengers, who may be taking the subway to get to some sort of commercial area, and the businesses, who see a lot of traffic by being close to the trains.

We had some sort of roll cake for dessert. It was ok, but I could live without it. Saki said it would be rude in Japanese culture to not eat it all. Despite this, Saki and I decided to throw half of it out. A hostess came up to Saki as she turned for the garbage can and said something in Japanese. I figured we had been outed and were going to be in trouble. I started to think of my first day in China and whether I could make it to the American embassy without getting attacked by ninjas. Turns out, the hostess was just offering to take the tray from Saki and bring it to the garbage can that was all of five feet from where we were sitting. Not only was no one hollering at us, they were trying to help us. I was very confused and kept an eye out for ninjas.

We took a taxi from the train station to our first Japanese hotel. It was called the "Holiday-san Inn-o." I thought that sounded a lot like Holiday Inn, but didn't want to question the Japanese language without knowing more. As we have spent more time in Japan, I have noticed more and more conversations in which Saki says something like "Konichiwa, Yan-san. May-o have-o tofu cheesecake-o?" or "Domo arigoto. Toilet-amoto, por favor-0?" I'm beginning to believe that Japanese is really just a made up language kind of like pig latin. I've questioned Saki on this, and her answers keep changing and conflicting. I think there's a conspiracy going on. I think I can crack the case in the next few days.

During the taxi ride, I noticed a major difference between Japan and China. Yes, they drive on the left in Japan and the right in China. But, that wasn't the biggest difference. Rather, it was the relative silence in which the traffic moved in Japan compared to the constant noise that radiates from all forms of traffic in China. In the twenty minute ride, our driver did not once honk his horn, come within inches of a pedestrian, or talk loudly on his cell phone. In China, sadly, all three of these likes often occurred at once. Horn honking is so prevalent there, that I believe each 3,000 mile tune-up comes with a new horn as well as a new oil filter.

Although this may look like a picture of Naomi Sakamoto, I believe it is some sort of doppelganger that took her place at some point during the trip from China to Japan. This Naomi lookalike isn't all tired, sad, frustrated, and overworked like the one I know in China. Instead, this one is all talkative, happy, and fluent in the local language. She's constantly pointing out things she loves about Japan to me, whereas in China, she was constantly pointing out things I should be mindful not to step in.

The transformation between China-Saki and Japan-Saki is so great that I have, as Mike and Alison did before me, talked to Saki about having her move here as soon as possible and take a few months to soak in all the happiness that bombards her as she walks down each well designed street.

This picture marks the beginning of a wild night in Kyoto. The gentleman who took the picture, who, in Pig Lat ... Japanese, goes by "Ya-san", was first kind enough to offer to take our picture, and then offered to take us to a bar for a drink. We were hesitant to accept at first. The last time we took kindly to strangers on this trip, they guilted us into buying $60 worth of junky souvenirs. But, Ya-san, while eccentric, was really just a nice guy looking to meet some new people.

Ya-san took us to three different cool bars, each of which was impressively small and unlikely to be found unless one was looking for it. Even then, I'm sure they'd be difficult to find.

Ya-san seemed to take an interest in me and kept talking to me, even though it was clear that only Naomi-chan could understand him. He ordered us drink after drink. With each drink, my Japanese got better while Ya-san's got worse. Poor Saki was struggling to understand him by the end of the night. I just kept trying to repeat some of the words he was saying while adding an affirmative tone. It seemed to work; he was jolly all night.

This was my favorite of our three stops. It was a little bar that had about five bar seats and a karaoke area with about six more seats. It was more than twice the size of the other two stops. The owner (on the left in the picture) gave us a number of tasty, excellently presented hors d'oeuvres (spelt in Japanese "hors d'oeuvres-o"). A few of them seemed like they might not be vegetarian, especially the one shaped, smelling, and tasting exactly like fish. I just told myself it was tofu and made sure to eat everything as I was still on the look out for ninjas.

While here, I karaoked All You Need Is Love. I've been intrigued by the song choices I have noticed people making for karaoke songs here. It seems they are into serious sounding songs, whereas, in the US, I feel people are into party songs.

Amazingly, Ya-san paid for everything that night and did it all with a smile. He told us not to worry about it and to simply remember him next time we ran into someone Japanese. Such a great evening with a great moral. I need to introduce Ya-san to that flag wielding American lawyer fool, I'm sure the latter could learn a thing or two.

On August 23, we met up with Saki's former coworker, Ono-san.

We met up back at the Kyoto train station.

Ono-san took us to a couple of temples, each of which, in my mind, was cooler than anything I had seen in China.

Saki and Ono-san drank from some sort of fountain of youth.

Saki, with her shirt that pops, hopped into a picture with a number of rocks that popped.

I paid a couple of dollars to bang a gong. I wanted to ham it up, but it seemed to be a sacred gong.

This was the second temple we visited [Kinkakuji, and the “Golden Pavilion.” See Sakamoto > Dad Visits Me in Japan > page 2] Saki pointed out to me just how cleverly crafted everything was. The trails, the fences, the doorways, everything seemed to have been well thought out. And this stuff was built 600 years ago. Things seem to only have gotten better since.

Ono-san sank a penny in the bowl and made a wish. I think he wished he had his penny back, which made me think he didn't really understand how wishing works. (Kidding, Ono-san)

Despite the bold gold plating of this temple, it seemed to fit in well with the natural beauty around it.

After temple touring, we went to a shopping area and browsed around for awhile [looks like the tsukemono shop at Nishiki Koji: see Sakamoto > Dad Visits Me in Japan].

We got some soft cream (aka soft serve) ice cream, which seems to be the ice cream of choice here.

My dreams of owning my own eggtart shop in Japan were smashed when I saw the name was already taken.

[The katakana (phonetic script supposedly historically reserved exclusively for foreign words, although recently it inexplicably seems to be randomly used for native Japanese words as well) reads, “ah-n-do-ryu-(dash to extend the duration of the last [u] sound)-no (a hiragana [phonetic script supposedly reserved exclusively for native Japanese words] character, indicating a possessive relationship or link)-e‘ (a small “tsu” character indicating a deliberate break in flow or emphasis on the next character, like a glottal stop)-gu-ta-ru-to.’ If you sound it out slowly and then put it all together, you slowly (and very amusingly) realize that it’s all been the Japanese pronunciation of perfectly understandable English, as written directly underneath on the sign (except for the word “original”), after all. I.e., “Ah-n-do-ryu-u (’s) E-g-gu-ta-ru-to” = Andrew’s Egg Tart — Francis]

Japan is great for funny English translations. This hat said "Beautiful Spotting" and was one of easily over one hundred such translations that made us laugh.


Despite my protests, Saki and Ono-san shopped and shopped. I begged them to give it up so we could partake in something more constructive like an academic debate comparing 16th century French literature with 17th century French literature. Despite my protests, I did come home with some sweet new shoes and, odd as this may sound, the coolest tape dispenser ever.

We then made our way to a video game arcade. Ono-san and I fought to the death in some Mario Kart. Saki joined in later. I was 3-0 on the day. No big deal.

We then played this fist fighting / shooting game.

I didn't seem to fare so well in this game. I think it was biased against left-handed people (or, as is polictically correct, people with right-handed impairment).

Ono-san threw a mean right hook.

We then bowled a bit.

For a cute, intelligent girl, Saki was surprisingly competent.

Awesome photo op bowling pin top.

We bought a Karate Kid style headband. I was originally told it read "I have no enemies", which I thought meant I was friends with everyone. I liked that sort of friendly message.

Turns out, the slogan on the headband means something like no opponent is worthy to face me. That sort of message will draw the attention of some ninjas, so I had to ditch the headband.

Saki does not fear ninjas.

After I referred to Saki as "Saki" a number of times, forgetting that Ono-san knew her as Naomi, we described to him how the nickname Saki came about. Saki then asked Ono-san if he had any nicknames. He told us that he was called Pooh-Pooh as a kid because he was a little pudgy. He also said that such a nickname motivated him to get into and stay in great shape as an adult.

Anyhoo, he won us each Winnie the Pooh toys. We will cherish them as they will remind us of the great time we had with Ono-san in Kyoto.

Beijing 9

On August 20, Saki and I headed back to the vegetarian restaurant at which we had eaten the night before. More good food.

We have tended to order too much food on this trip. I think I may have instigated this after learning my lesson in Paris with Naomi "I'll just have a bite of yours" Sakamoto.

We rented a tandem bike and rode around the lake. Sadly, it wasn't that fun as the streets were super busy. It was like trying to bike through the mall, which I do not recommend.

On our last night in China, we went to our final Olympic event.

It was also our only medal event. There were two games. In the first, the Axis powers collided with the bronze medal at stake. Germany beat Japan 2-0.

In the second, the US played Brazil for the gold.

There was a guy sitting a couple rows in front and off to the side of us. He started the game by standing and holding a six foot wide US flag out. He was blocking the views of at least 8 people in doing so. People started complaining, but he stood strong for awhile. Despite my recent wave of patriotism, I even shouted at him (sang, really, to the tune of a Bon Jovi song) "Sit your butt down; fold up that flag! Darlin', you give Americans a bad name!" I ran into this guy at the concession stand and talked to him for a bit. He was not only American, but a lawyer. Such a shame. Giving all sorts of groups with which I am associated a bad name.

More flaming hot entertainment was provided during halftime of the scoreless gold medal game.

After ending regulation at 0-0, the US scored in the first extra period. It was the most exciting moment of the Olympics for me. We cheered and cheered and cheered. Saki's feet left the ground, our voices became raspy from our "USA! USA! USA!" cheers, and the American flag was waved with pride throughout the stadium.

The US held off a strong Brazilian attack in the final extra period and won the gold medal game 1-0.

The grounds crew then went to work on building a podium.

We celebrated our way down to the front row.

There was a nice German guy there with whom we chatted during the surprisingly long wait for the medal presentation.

There was a nice Chinese boy sitting next to us as we waited. He seemed interested in us and our picture taking ways. So, I took a picture of him. After I did so, he said "thank you." I thought that was an interesting and pleasant response. It was as if he was honored to have his picture taken. I like the picture and wish I could send it to him.

Pretty cool to see a medal presentation.

The gold medal winning Americans and bronze medal winning Germans were all smiles during the ceremony. The silver medal winning Brazilians were pretty sad looking. It was interesting to realize that winning a silver medal may have been one of the saddest moment of these girls' lives. I'm sure I would have felt the same way, though, as coming so close to gold and losing the last game would not be fun.

Anyhoo, we had a blast being all Patriotic for likely the last time in the next four years.

End China transmission.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beijing 8

On Tuesday, Saki and I had a fun day.

For lunch, we went to a massage parlor and got foot massages. This sort of luxury costs about $6/hour here.

After work, Saki found this really cool vegetarian restaurant at which we had a great dinner. Then, we went down to this cool district near a lake called "the lake district." We rented a pedal boat and cruised around the lake.

I had new shoes for the occasion.

There were a bunch of kids out driving like lunatics. We had a lot of fun acting all distraught when they hit us. Saki even faked a heart attack. We would splash them as they went by, which would get a laugh. It was fun to get a laugh out of people with which we cannot communicate through spoken language.

Something about the boat really brought out our second chins.

I think my second chin is more photogenic than my first, so I didn't mind so much.

On Wednesday morning, I decided to try to get Saki's office a gift to thank them for being understanding for all the time I have pulled her away from work the last couple of weeks. It was also meant to be a sacrifice to the gods of sorts as I will not be convinced Saki is coming to Japan with me until she's on an airborne plane heading east.

Anyhoo, I went to this fruit store to try to get some sort of fruit basket. I was hoping to find a big tray of sliced fresh fruit. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to convey to the workers at the store what it was that I wanted. It was a pretty funny ordeal. As I grabbed a bunch of individual pieces of fruit, made karate chop motions across each one, and threw them into the wicker basket I had found, I couldn't help but think how my education was failing me. The six or so employees that had nothing better to do than follow the foreign looking guy around and try to understand what he was doing made a valiant effort to communicate with me. In the end, a French couple (obviously) came in and acted as go-betweens. They spoke a little English and a little Chinese. They were able to figure out for me that the store did not have a big enough plastic/glass bowl in which to put the sliced fruit. So, I had to go with whole fruit. I grabbed one of the employees and a wicker basket and tried to get her to pick all the best fruit for me. I think she got a kick out of it.

When we had all the fruit picked out, the staff went to work on putting together an impressive display.

It came out great.

I tried to get everyone who helped together for a picture. Places here are very well staffed. I'd say on average, the stores at which I have shopped have had about a 3:1 ratio of employees to customers. This place was more like 12:1 for most of the time I was there. Everyone of them chipped in.

I believe the owner is the guy in orange. He stood around and watched the construction process, but did not seem to help. When it came time for the picture, though, he was front and center. It was a bit of a shame because the two most helpful people were the girl behind the basket and the guy taking the picture (seen below).

I brought the basket to Saki. She seemed to think it was ok. She was all like "Just put it next to all my other gifts. Gosh, it's so difficult getting gifts from so many admirers everyday."

Oh, and in case Carol is keeping score at home, I believe I'm winning the gift giving game 2 to 1. Saki did mention an interest in having a foot masseuse installed under her desk. No pressure.

I rented a bike today and rode down to the Forbidden City. On my way, I saw this sign. I'm thinking their may already be an illegal Smile Inn franchise here.

Before getting to the Forbidden City, I stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. They had a tasty looking noodles and cukes (cucumbers) dish on their menu. It reminded me of my mom, who makes a mean noodles and cukes. So, I ordered it. I was sad to see that the beautifully clean image of noodles with thin cucumber strips was not exactly what I was served. I got that, but it was topped with some sort of meat infused soy sauce. I figured I should just eat it instead of wasting it. As I went to take my first bite, I was hit in the left eye with some sort of salty, meaty particle that rendered me nearly blind for like seven, eight seconds easily. I figured it was karma telling me to be more faithful to my vegetarianism.

Although I have mentioned to Max a number of things that have made me feel some aspects of Beijing's culture and society lack common courtesy, I was impressed and pleased to have a nice lady offer me her seat at the busy restaurant. I figured she was done eating and about to leave. Instead, she stood for awhile while the rest of the table sat, and then shared a small seat with her friend. It was super nice of her and a great memory for me to take away from this trip.

Not to take away from the nice moment, but, as I ate, I think the rest of the people at the table were talking about me. One woman kept looking at me and gesturing toward her and my hair. This was followed by laughter from the others. This may have just been my self-consciousness, though, as my hair is pretty long and definitely out of control lately.

It's been really interesting being a novelty for the last couple of weeks. Another odd moment today was when I was entering the Forbidden City and a guy was about to take a picture. I thought I had accidentally walked into his shot. As I ducked out of the way, I noticed his camera followed me. I bobbed and weaved a bit to try to make sure I wasn't just imagining things. He kept up with me, took a shot, and moved on. At least he was persistent.

The Forbidden City was pretty cool. It's no Water Box or Bird's Nest, but still impressive.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beijing 7

Less flashy, but just as fun, activities occupied our weekend.

We went to Pizza Hut ... twice. They have a veggie pizza with corn, tomatoes, green pepper, and pineapple. I highly recommend it.

I think Uncle Davey was so dead on with the "wow" factor of the zoom lens.

Saki forced me to take her back to Beard Papa's for some more cream puffs. I was all like "Please, no! Anything but the briar patch!"

We went to a movie - Handcock, which was in English. It seems the Chinese rating system is height dependent. Saki barely made it for the equivalent to PG-13. No chance she'd get into R rated films here.

We found a little outdoor arcade and played around a bit.

Saki was on fire from five feet out.

Great form. Francis taught her well.

After the game, she was all trash talk. "Hey, look at me; I'm Saki and I scored like ten baskets! Whatcha gonna do 'bout it?!"

I tried out this jump rope simulator game.

About three jumps in, I realized it was a terrible idea in the 80 degree humid heat.

I tried a number of fancy techniques. Like the crane.

The two foot.

The one foot.

The left foot in, left foot out.

The hold on and cheat.

The karate chop step.

And the twist.

After the game was over, I was surprised to see a group of over a dozen people watching me. I'm not sure that I did anything special. The one foot on one foot off method allowed me to keep the game going for awhile, and was a pretty clever, albeit not-technically-within-the-officially-sanctioned-rules, way of mastering the game. I think the crowd got a kick out of that. Their presence was likely more dependent on my being foreign looking and all, though.

We went to a place called Eyeglass City. Saki got not one, not four, but two new pairs of glasses. The ones above are her business glasses.

And these are her plain jane glasses. I pushed her toward getting two pairs of business glasses, but she insisted she needed plain janes, too.

Whatever the case, both pairs look great.

The business glasses have some flashy orange on the sides that turns copper colored at night and green if you make Saki angry. Don't make Saki angry. You won't like her when she's angry. Saki smash!

On Monday night, we went to see the US men's basketball team! So exciting.

The basketball venue is much more subdued than the Bird's Nest or Water Box, but still very cool.

Saki tried to start the wave before we even got to our seats.

We were up pretty high, but we still got to see the Dream Team version 5.0!

Saki played this drinking game with herself where she'd drink every time the US scored. I don't think she realized the vast difference in number of goals scored in basketball as compared to her sport of choice - soccer.

I was most excited to see Lebron James play. Saki was all about Jason Kidd. Apparently, she hasn't watched basketball since the mid '70s.

The omnipresent Olympic mascots provided some game break entertainment.

Such an awesome experience to see the dream team. We have one Olympic event left: the gold (US v. Brazil) and bronze (Japan v. Germany) medal games for women's soccer. Super cool, especially with Saki's favorite countries playing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beijing 6

Since my last post, there have been a number of new adventures. A couple of which have taught me some tough lessons in negotiating.

I've learned that one should never buy an umbrella when it's raining. The umbrella salesperson has all the power in that interaction.

I've also had a tough lesson in contract law. Saki and I brought our laundry to a cleaners on Thursday morning. She had to get to work before we figured out how much it would cost to get things cleaned. So, I was stuck "talking" to the guy, who spoke very little English. He added up the prices for each shirt, pair of shorts, pair of underwear, etc. The price he gave me for the approximately two loads of laundry was (equivalent to) about $75. I thought this price was ridiculously high, and had a very good alternative available, which would be to take the clothes to Saki's apartment and wash them for free. So, after I saw that price, I asked the guy to give me the clothes back. He refused. I asked and asked through gestures to just please give me the clothes back. Instead, he offered a price of (roughly) $60.15. That was still way higher than I wanted to pay. He then gestured for me to call Saki so that he could talk to her. I did so, but that didn't seem to help things much. Finally, he gave me the pen and paper and asked me to name my price. I wrote down a number equivalent to $15, which I still thought was high for two loads of laundry. He said "ok," shook my hand, and said "friends" as he gestured between the two of us.

I was all excited to have this cool negotiating story where I got the guy to come way down in price. Alas, that is not the story I have to tell.

I went back this morning to pick up the clothes. I brought an empty suitcase and the equivalent of $15. When I got there, he communicated to me that the price was $60. He tried to tell me that when I wrote down $15, it was meant as a subtraction from the original price. That is, when he asked me to write down a number, he was looking for x where $75 - x = total. Not, x = total, which is what I thought I was writing. I thought this was fairly unreasonable as I had already flatly rejected $60.15, so for him to think that I would then counteroffer with $60 and be very excited about the new price is pretty silly. Plus, he didn't bother writing down "$75-x= total" until I got back and he had already cleaned the laundry and had it safely in his possession. All this on top of the fact that I had really just wanted to take the dirty laundry back from him in the first place made for a rather frustrating experience.

I didn't want to give in on this issue. I really thought I had the stronger position to any outside observer. But, he had hundreds of dollars worth of our clothes, and I wasn't about to take them by force. I stood there for about ten minutes trying to get him to crack. Then, I figured I didn't want to be confrontational, as that's not really my style. So, I took on a silent protest position and sat on the floor of the cleaners for about 20 minutes. While sitting there, I tried to think of how to persuade this guy to give me the laundry. I would probably have considered meeting him in the middle, but I only had $15 on me, so couldn't actually offer more. I understood that we both had positions that were at least plausible, even though I thought my position was stronger. Anyhoo, I couldn't think of any sort of solution, so I decided to go discuss it with Saki.

We figured we'd send her as she's more of the hot shot, flaring temper, intimidate the opponent into submission sort of negotiator. So, she went in and talked to the guy. She said that as she walked to the cleaners, she thought about crying, but decided not to. Instead, she made herself relatable to this guy in a way I could not. She spoke to him in Chinese, told him how her favorite grandparent (sorry, Bob) is Chinese and that she identifies with the plight of the Chinese people. She went on to tell me, and this is where I start to question the legitimacy of the story, that the two of them broke into song, singing a number of Chinese folk songs. In the end, she told him that we did not have $60, but only $30. This contention was bolstered by the fact that she managed to pull from her purse exactly $30 in many small bills. The guy gave in and we got our laundry back.

Although, I still feel pretty bummed about the whole thing, Saki has done a good job of putting a positive spin on it. She thinks the price was actually quite good, and that we should not focus on the price we thought we had ($15) or the alternative we knew we had (do it ourselves for free).

Anyhoo, the best thing to come out of this for me is some new underwear I bought when I realized I had left all the underwear I had brought with me at the cleaners. They have this awesome Tiger on them, whom I have named Dragon.

As I am my grandmother's son, I think I may even buy some for Max as his gift from China. They're that cool.

In other news ...

We had one last meal with Mike and Alison on Wednesday before they head back to the states.

We went to a restaurant where we were able to have our own private room. It was great.

The menu was literally 5' long.

Mike and Alison got Saki a panda to remember them by. She wanted to call him Dragon, but I told her that name was taken.

Great meal. Sad goodbye.

After lunch, I went to work on making Saki a bandanna to match mine.

It came out quite nice.

After a quiet night on Wednesday, we got tickets for a field hockey event on Thursday. This would be Saki's first Olympic event!

She was all smiles the whole way to the event.

She got hung up in security for a little while. She got out of it by singing Chinese folk songs again. So clever!

We didn't actually get to the Olympic Green, in which the stadium for field hockey is housed, until about two hours after the event had started. So, we decided to just walk around the green.

Saki danced along with the entertainers greeting us as we first got onto the green.

After getting a couple of beers, we started browsing some of the building. It was interesting who had their own buildings. The biggest one seemed to be the Chinese Oil Company's. Not sure what that has to do with the Olympics.

The Oil Company's building did provide an opportunity for more hugging of Olympic mascots, though. So, that was good.

I didn't seem to get the same strong response from people with cameras this time. This kid was more inquisitive than happy.

Saki nearly got taken out by a giant globe. Her cat like reflexes saved her.

Our first view of the Water Box ! Note: It's commonly called the "Water Cube", but Saki says the architecture community is apalled by this misuse of a sacred term. Not all sides are of equal length. So, it is merely a box, not a cube.

The Water Box and Bird's Nest are crazy close to each other.

We tried a number of poses with the Olympic torch.

There's just no way to be too cool for school with a little Asian girl on your shoulders.

Saki found a sign guiding us to the building that her firm designed.

We couldn't get in, but that was probably a good thing as they likely would have put Saki to work.

The Water Box is the coolest building I've ever seen.

There were some water fountains that kids were playing in.

I tried to get this one girl who was in a rain jacket to run through while holding my hand. We only made it a little way before I realized she wasn't into it and her mother was thinking I was trying to steal her daughter. I just don't know what happened to the power of the bandanna.

Saki, however, managed to get some good shots.

There was an army of volunteers.

I think they got a call informing them there was a tourist who would like to know what time it was, and they were off like The Flash.

Some drums lined one of the escalators taking us from the subway level to the main level. A very cool prop.

On Friday, I had to head to the business district to pick up some tickets for swimming later that day. There was this English teaching business trying to associate itself with Harvard, as it had a few signs with the Harvard logo next to its advertisements. I tried to take some pictures, but they shushed me away real quick like. Guilty conscience, I say.

The Chinese Television company's building is supposed to become one of Beijing's signature buildings.

I went to the Olympic Green earlier than Saki on Friday, as our event was scheduled to start before she'd get off work. On my way, I ran into a big group of Poles. I was so excited to see them. I went up to them and tried talking with them. I was like "English? Do you speak English?" They were like "No." Then I was like "I am Polish." And they were like "Well, hello, good sir. A pleasure to meet you." I told them about how my favorite grandparent (sorry, grandma) was Polish and had very strong Polish pride.

I then made it inside the Water Box, which is not as cool as the outside.

I was surprised to see that the diving and swimming are right next to each other.

It wasn't a particularly interesting event.

We did see Dana Torres, the 41 year old American swimmer.

We cheered on the one Pole we saw swim.

Like the other events we have attended, this one had low attendance.

Saki was excited to see the Japanese team (seen here in this life size picture) cheering on their teammates.

The crowd was heavily Chinese again, and it was fun to hear the crowd react to Chinese swimmers.

The preliminary rounds for the men's 4x100 medley relay took place. Although Michael Phelps will swim in this event in the finals, he did not take part in the preliminaries.

As we headed out of the Water Box, we ran into a live filming of the Today Show.

Saki hopped up on my shoulders and took some shots. We feel like we were probably on TV as they panned the crowd.

Al Roker started chasing Meredith with a camera. He's a wily one.

Matt Lauer seemed awfully pensive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beijing 5

After hitting up the Great Wall on Sunday, Saki and I got decked out in our finest USA gear and headed down to the basketball stadium to see about getting tickets to the US v. China men's game.

No luck. Nothing even close to it. Tickets were impossible to find and it rained on us. Bummer.

We ended up watching the game at a hip sports bar with a bunch of Americans. We were hoping for a crowd that was favoring China. Our friends Mike and Alison watched the game in a pub full of rowdy China fans. They said it was not fun. They feared for their safety when Yao Ming was injured. They stopped cheering out loud very early on and by the end of the game had started speaking German to try to avoid any association with the US. So, I guess things worked out all right for me and Saki as we cheered loudly in English for the Americans.

It's interesting how Saki, Mike, Alison, and I have all noted how we have had a wave of patriotism while being here. It helps that it has been our experience to be generally well received by the Chinese.

On Monday night, we went out to dinner near the drum temple, seen in the background.

At the end of the night, Mike and Alison gave Saki a yearbook filled with pictures from the three years they had living together in Cambridge.

On Tuesday morning, I met Mike and Alison at the Lama Temple, which is, I guess, the biggest, baddest Buddhist temple in Beijing.

The security guards told us this guy is the president of some country. Neither they nor we knew which country. The lady to the right may also be a head of state.

Lighting incense and bowing to the temple is a common practice. I took part in the practice and said a prayer for my Grandpa and his first-place-in-August Cubs.

I burnt my finger while depositing my incense in the incense receptical.

Mike and Alison also took part in the incense tradition. They did not burn their fingers. Rascals.

We then headed to Saki's part of town for a quick lunch before heading to the Olympics!

Mike and Alison found tickets online for a boxing event on Tuesday afternoon. Saki couldn't make it as she had to work. But, the three of us promised to have enough fun for four people.

We were ridiculously excited about getting a chance to see an Olympic event. The whole city has such a wonderful international flavor right now (more savory than sweet). Whereas just last week, I noticed a number of times that I was the only non-Chinese on the subway, this week, I am surrounded by people from all over the world. Interestingly, I have met a lot of people, especially families, from Minnesota. So cool to see parents bringing their kids here. Such great memories, I'm sure.

There was another, larger Olympic mascot hanging out for photos outside the boxing stadium.

I think the guy appreciated the plastic and one foot of pressurized air separating him from my loving embrace.

People seemed eager to take their picture with us. I think my homemade bandanna is the key to this. I think the combination of American flag and peace symbol, which is a common gesture for photos, is the perfect thing here. People keep looking and smiling at me when I'm wearing the bandanna. Lots of people even just pull out their camera and start taking pictures of me. It's pretty cool. I've started asking them to be in a picture with me when I see them doing this. Very positive responses so far.

The bandanna also came in handy the other night when Saki was struggling to get served the beers she had ordered us ... fifteen minutes earlier. I took off the bandanna and whipped the bartender till he served us. It got a laugh out of the crowd and the bartender didn't seem to be upset by it, so I think it was all in good fun. Plus, the bartender gave us a free beer when I questioned his giving us smaller glasses than everyone else. I did nearly knock over a Canadian girl who was unluckily sitting next to me when I tried out my Indiana Jones maneuvers. I felt pretty bad, but had to accept that sometimes collateral damage is inevitable.

Alison, Mike, and I were just oozing excitement as we got ready to head into the stadium.

We had great seats. The saddest part of the experience was seeing that the stadium was not more than 2/3 full. Tickets are so hard to find and the stadiums are not even close to full!!! So infuriating! I talked to a girl who said the Opening Ceremonies were even like this! Darn it.

Although, we weren't especially excited about boxing, it turned out to be a hoot.

At first, Alison was asking us questions about how boxing worked. She was like "Why do they wear gloves? What's a 'round'? Who's the guy in white walking around the ring? Why isn't he wearing gloves?"

By the end of the event, she was all like "I believe the featherweight from Ghana has a weak left hook. He should have been defeated in his last pugilistic competition. ... I do not understand how the officials scored that for the gentleman bantamweight from Italy; his right cross clearly did not land with enough force to hurt a fly, let alone score a point. ... The judges are clearly prejudicial to the super flyweight from the Dominan Republic. I am going to contact my local World Boxing Association representative and give him a piece of mind regarding this atrocity of an impartial scoring system!"

She's a quick study.

Although I get the most positive reception from the Chinese, I figured I'd start asking people from other countries to take a picture with me. This guy from Russia was not digging it, but still went with it.

Maybe this guy was shying away from the three foot tall hair I had at this point. I don't know how to pull off the bandanna look. I need to get in touch with Brett Michaels' stylist.

One of the last fights of the afternoon involved a Chinese boxer. The place went crazy when he came out.

Alison informed me the Chinese boxer lacked technical ability, but had heart, which is, she said, something you cannot teach.

The poor British guy who fought the Chinese dude had no chance.

It's the bandanna!

This was the French couple sitting in front of us. We talked to them a bunch through out the afternoon. They both seemed to have a great understanding of boxing. One of their friends fought that day. Although it may not be evident from this picture, they were ridiculously good looking.

We were trying to mimic the poses of the mascots in the background. Mike is the only one who got his right, and the darn thing isn't even in the picture.

So, as if one awesome Olympic event wasn't enough, we ended up hearing from our French friends that there were tickets available for a soccer event just down the block from the boxing stadium. We ran (literally!) to the venue and started negotiating with the guys selling tickets.

The first of two games was set to begin fifteen minutes from the time we started our negotiations. We tried to use that to our advantage. We got stuck negotiating with a couple of guys who wouldn't budge from their high asking price. Then, a sly old guy swooped in and undersold them by at least 50%. He was awesome. Despite his lack of knowing any English and our extremely limited Chinese, he communicated with us that we should walk as we made the transaction, not pull out the money right away, and he even let Mike take one of the tickets to the gate to make sure that it was real before we paid him and got the other two tickets. Such a cool experience.

We got into the venue and I got these Swedes to take a picture with me. Sweden vs. Canada was the second game of the evening.

The first game was Nigeria vs. Brazil. It was a good game. We saw an amazing scissor kick goal (where the player kicks the ball over her head and behind herself and does a partial flip in the process). It was likely the coolest sports moment I've ever witnessed in person.

Everyone was all smiles.

The event was at Workers' Stadium. A cool venue, plus, it is not as popular as some of the other venues, so it was easier to get tickets.

The mascots and cheerleaders put on a flaming hot halftime show.

The bandanna!


I was on my way to get some water when I just jumped in this picture. It was awesome how they were all into it!

Ran into a girl from Brazil and checked another country off my list!

There were a few yellow shirted cheering sections. The people in the section were Chinese. We couldn't figure out what their connection was. It may have been a government sponsored thing to add some flavor to the event. It was a lot of fun.

We did the wave at this game. Awesome!

By the end of the day, I was hopping into pictures like Forrest Gump. Fun like a box of chocolates!

Saw some more Swedes on the way out and got some pictures with them.

Now that I've figured out how to get tickets, I am confident Saki and I will be able to go to a lot of events. I've planned out the next week's worth of events for which I'll try to get tickets in the afternoon while Saki's at work. A number of events start late enough that Saki can head over after work. The key seems to be going to the events not at the main Olympic Center, where the Bird's Nest and Water Cube are. We still hope to be able to go to an event or two in that area, though.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beijing 4

Saki had a rare day off on Sunday, so we decided to go to the Great Wall of China, not to be confused with the Great Wall of Maryland.

We took a taxi to the bus terminal. We were not sure which bus it was we had to take. But, we ran into this woman (really, she ran into us) and she showed us the way to the bus we needed. She was actually heading to the same bus. I found this odd, as she was walking away from the bus when we met her, but then took us to the bus and boarded with us.

Anyhoo, we got a picture with her after we hopped off the bus. The bus ride took about an hour and was about 60km (36 miles) long. We then had to take a taxi another 60 km. Our new bus friend pointed us toward a place where a few guys were waiting.

We got a ride with Mr. Dong of Mr. Dong's Taxi. He had a great '70s look going. Just like on the bus, Saki slept the entire ride. Mr. Dong happened to be into collecting spoons, so we talked about that over Saki's snores (kidding).

We made it to the Great Wall and started to plan our attack.

Saki used her Jedi mind trick to get this dog to pose for a picture.

We found a mini Great Wall. Saki thought it was life sized and was all excited to be able to climb on top.

I believe the characters on the reservoir wall read "Welcome to the Great Wall. Flash photography is allowed."

I'm in the lower left of this picture, the Great Wall towers are visible along the horizon.

Saki said she took the above picture to be the green version of the picture below.

I think she wanted me to have options should I decide to repaint my apartment and go with a green color scheme.

Here are the cable cars, which Saki said we didn't need to take. She was all about walking to the top of the mountain. So odd.

The part of the wall we were visiting was split by a man-made reservoir. We only climbed on towers to the right of the reservoir. We had aspirations to climb on both sides, but it was one heck of a workout going as far as we did.

We brought two cameras to capture more of the experience. It was a rainy, gray day, though. So, many of the pictures came out quite dark. On top of that, we struggled to communicate whose turn it was to take pictures. I kept motioning for Saki to put the camera away and she thought I was telling her to tuck in her shirt, which she said she couldn't do with the particular shorts she was wearing.

The first picture of the two of us together marks the beginning of our time together with a couple of locals who were just a little too friendly. They were really nice and were willing to take a number of pictures of the two of us. But, they stayed with us the entire time we were on the wall. Our party of two became a party of four, and although the the extra two were nice, they still changed the dynamic considerably.

Here's the bridge from one side of the reservoir to the other. If we had had a few more hours, we may have crossed it.

The walkable section of the Wall on the other side of the reservoir was like 18kms long. Pretty cool.

Not sure if this picture captures the steep slope well, but it was awfully steep at times.

Here, for example, I am only one step above Saki. But, due to the steep slope, it looks as though I am three or four feet taller than her. We are actually the same size.

Saki's displaying the gang symbol for the Ming Dynasty. They were responsible for building much of the Great Wall, as the inscription on the brick informed us. We learned that one should not wear yellow on the Great Wall if one does not want to get messed up by the Mings. Conversely, don't wear purple in the forbidden city or the Qing gang will rock you.

Not sure why I chose to go with flip-flops on this day. I guess I didn't realize just how much of a hike this trip would involve.

Hopefully, Saki will work her photoshop magic on this picture to make it look like I'm all alone on the wall. If I throw in an extra $5, she may also make me look like Matt Damon. To get Brad Pitt, it costs $25. So not worth it.

Saki made some friends along the way.

We started the day at the bottom of the valley in this picture. It was a long, tough climb. I'm pretty sure Saki understood the cable cars would take us to the top and they only cost like $3 to ride. I should probably confirm this with her as it seems so illogical to understand that and still make me walk to the top.

Here are our unofficial tour guides. They kept holding Saki's elbows as she climbed. It was a little silly as Saki was doing a great job climbing and not getting winded. I didn't need any breaks either, but I chose to take a few here and there to take in the scenery. It was so my choice to do so. I can quit whenever I want.

After a frustrating goodbye to our tour guides that involved them selling us some souvenirs for really high prices, we hopped on a tram that took us to the cable cars to head back down.

The tour guide thing was such a bummer. Saki and I had decided we'd give them 100RMB (roughly $15) each for their help, even though we didn't ask for it and may have preferred not having it. But, then they ended up trying to sell us some souvenirs, which I didn't want, but we felt obligated to buy. In the end, their profit was probably about the same it would have been had we just tipped them. But, instead of feeling good about giving them a tip for their help, I felt like crap for getting stuck carrying around some souvenirs about which I was not too excited.

I learned a good negotiation lesson in the exchange: Don't pull out money before you have locked down a price. I pulled out 200RMB when negotiating the price of some goods with the tour guides. Suddenly, they were having a two for 200 special. What a coincidence!

The cable cars were such a good choice on the way down. We felt we had earned the ride and were willing to hike further up knowing the way down would be super easy.

"Unrecycable"? Do any words work with two prefixes? (Admittedy, I am not sure that "re" is a prefix on recyclable, as I'm not sure that anything is first cyclable before being recyclable.)

Mr. Dong was waiting for us when we got back down. Despite the fact that Saki slept for 95% of the time she was in his presence, she felt she had a real connection with him.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Beijing 3

My second day in China was better than my first. It involved little for photo opportunities, but was still good. I cleaned Saki's room in the morning. I wish I had taken before and after pictures; it came out quite nice.

Then I headed to Saki's work for lunch. We went out with her coworker Ryan. After the main course, we stopped at a bakery for dessert.

I think Saki action shots often reveal this child like nature in her where she has this look on her face like "Is it ok that I'm doing this?!"

I like me a cream puff. This was the closest thing I had found at this point.

Day three started out with Saki and me heading to a happening part of town.

We went to the "Olympic Flagship Store". We happened to get there right at 10:00, which seemed to be the time at which it opened, and there was a crazy mad rush of people heading in. Saki said today may have been the release date for some commemorative items such as Olympic themed money and stamps.

As we were leaving the store, a woman told me she was from Hong Kong television and asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed by her. The camera man set up shop right in the middle of the busy store and she fired away some questions. The interview went something like this:

Q: So, where are you from? Are you a tourist?
A: Yes, I am a tourist. I am from California. San Diego, California.
Q: How do you like it here in Beijing?
A: I love it. I'd like to thank god and my family for helping me get here today. With a little luck, and the support of my fantastic teammates, I am hopeful that I will find myself on the podium next week.
Q: So, how do you find the atmosphere in Beijing?
A: It's great. It seems everyone is very excited to be part of the Olympics.
Q: So, you are from Los Angeles, where the Olympics were once held. How do you like the atmosphere in Beijing?
A: Um ... It's great. It seems everyone is very excited to be part of the Olympics.

If you get Hong Kong TV, make sure to tune in to the 10:00 news tonight.

Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures of the interview. It was a pretty cool two minutes, though. As I was being interviewed, a ton of people started taking pictures of me. I think it may have been my fifteen minutes.

Some of the English signs are pretty humorous. I thought this one was a little tautological. Of course, Chinese jade reflects the Chinese culture. If you told me French jade reflected Chinese culture, then I'd know something new.

We showed our respect to these ancient Chinese figures. I believe the one on the right is Confucius and the one on the left is Mulan.

This is the symbol for meat on a stick. Seriously. I think it's sort of Chinese onomatopoeia, as the symbol looks a little like meat on a stick.

[Actually, the characters in Chinese writing (from which the “Kanji” in written Japanese is taken) originated from pictographs, so the earliest characters would probably be easily recognized for the items they were meant to represent.]

Speaking of meat on a stick.

Here's seahorse on a stick, crickets on a stick, and larvae on a stick.

This guy was trying hard to sell me this hat. His what's-going-on-here look suggests that he was not interested in getting his picture taken. Pictures are not sales.

A guy was doing magic / selling magic tricks in this shopping center. He was good.

He had me tear apart this card (six of clubs) into like twenty pieces, then put it in a box except for one corner piece. He closed the box, shook it, had me blow on it, opened it, and the card was back together ... except for the corner piece I was holding!!! Amazing. I had to buy the set for Kevin just so he could teach me that trick.

Sometimes the English translations are oh so close.

We had a full morning. Saki was drinking by 10:47. Not a record, but any day that involves drinking before 11:00 tends to be better than any day that does not involve drinking before 11:00.

This was the cool, crowded part of town at which we spent our morning.

There was this little kid getting his picture taken by his parents. I decided to take a chance and get in on the picture. Although I feared the parents would shush me from the shot, they were very receptive to my presence.

It was another great moment. Just like with the interview, a whole bunch of people started snapping shots. I think there is a novelty here of having so many tourists around. So, while I was super excited to get my picture taken with this cute Chinese kid, his parents were super excited to have their kid in a picture with this American dude.

A quick handshake and flag exchange and this awesome moment was over. So glad for the pictures!

Saki managing to look like she isn't all sweaty.

Where's Saki?

Where's Drew?

We ran into the Olympic mascots and took a few good shots.

I like how this guy looks a little creeped out despite his big smile.

Francis will be happy to know there is a Beard Papa in Beijing. Beard Papa is a cream puff place. Upon finding it, my desire for a cream puff was fulfilled. So good.

I swear I've seen pictures of Saki with this same expression where she's like "really, dad, it's ok to eat this?"

The Beard Papa employees wouldn't let us take a picture, so we had to sneak one from afar.

Ladies' Night at Mr. Pizza.

One butterfly.

A flutter of butterflies.


Senior portrait pose.

Building blocks and rubber duckies. It's like an episode of Sesame Street. They call it Sesame Lu here.

We ended our morning/early afternoon adventure with Cold Stone! So nice to try all the local cuisine here.

Before Cold Stone, we had lunch at a Japanese place. While placing her order with the non-English speaking waitress, Saki stumbled for a second and said to me "Ah! I'm such a fool, I just switched from Chinese to Japanese by accident." How cool is this person who kicks herself for throwing in some Japanese as she is speaking Chinese while ordering Japanese food in China?! All that and she is better at English and geometry and pictionary than me. Come on!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Beijing 2

Wednesday continued with Saki meeting me at a subway station near her work for lunch. We went to her favorite lunch spot and had some great food for about $1.50 each. You don't have to leave a tip in China, so the already low prices are kept low by that.

After a quick lunch, we walked over to a park and took pictures of each other. The sights of Beijing have nothing on Saki's shirt that pops.

The above and below pictures show off the zoom on my camera a little. I think my wise Uncle Davey was right when he said the zoomed in shots really stand out.

After taking a bunch of photographs, Saki insisted I let her go play on the playground equipment.

She's such a cheeky monkey.

We saw some kids goofing around in the park. We both thought that these two were just having fun, so I didn't feel too guilty about taking some pictures.

Then, we realized that it wasn't so fun. This little guy got hurt. I tried to get the other kids to go console him. They brought him his flip flop, which had been lost in the shuffle, but were hesitant to do any thing else.

It's so tricky to try to communicate with people when I have no grasp at all on the language. I told Saki that it feels like I'm trying to play a game of sodoku in which no numbers are filled in.

I've had a couple of silly lapses in common sense in trying to communicate with people. I went around yesterday showing people my map of Beijing, pointing at the ground around me, and pointing at the map trying to get them to show me where we are. Most of the people could not help me. I couldn't figure out why they didn't understand my signals. The map had all these Chinese words on it like "Santin Lu" and "Gua Mao". I figured these should all make sense to the locals. But, I realized all too slowly, the words were in English, not Chinese. Idiot!

Here is Saki's Lucky Bamboo.

There's a big time bike culture here.

Here are some fun looking Chinese toys. I felt like the little differences between the toys one sees in the US and the toys one sees here was interesting. I feel like such differences can impact a child's view of the world quite a bit. The symbol of Superman in the US is so well known. I don't believe that to be the case in China. I guess Superman should work on globalizing his operations.

For afternoon entertainment, Saki recommended I go down to Super Bar Street. She advised me to bring a lot of cash. In fact, she offered to give me a stack of 100s. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I saw this sign informing me that "Super Bar Street" is "full of passion". Cheers on China, said the sign. Cheers to Saki for suggesting fun activities, said I!

Actually, Super Bar Street is home to an electronics market.

I got a cell phone there.

On my way home, I was amazed at the number of young children I saw hanging out somewhat perilously on the back of bicycles. One kid I saw couldn't have been more than two, and he was on the back of a bike, with no helmet or safety straps, just hanging on as his mom pedaled her way through some pretty gnarly traffic.

I like the idea of seeking to teach kids age appropriate responsibility. These kids had to stay focused on the bike and make sure to keep holding on, which doesn't seem like too much to ask. However, I do think the kids could both have responsibility and helmets or some sort of harnesses.

When I got back to Saki's apartment complex, my day took a turn for the worse. Saki lives in apartment B601. As the buildings look the same, I accidentally entered the A building and tried to get into A601. A guy started shouting at me from inside the apartment. I figured I must have had the wrong place. I then wandered around the A building trying to figure out where I was. After a few minutes, I noticed there were a number of police officers in the building. Then, a guy stopped me and tried to figure out who I was and what I was up to. I showed him the "B601" address Saki had given me, and tried to communicate to him that that was where I needed to be. He then took me down to a windowless room in the basement of one of the buildings and made a call. The guy was pretty nice, so I didn't get too nervous, but the dungeon-esque quality of the room and the cops swarming the building above had me feeling quite nervous. The guy who was directing me appeared to be some sort of landlord. He called Saki's roommate Linda and then took me up to the apartment.

When we got up to the apartment, he let himself in and started snooping around a bit. I guess the apartment rules allow only four people to live in this apartment. I'm person number five. So, I was told even though I am merely a visitor I probably wouldn't be able to stay here. I felt pretty crappy about putting Linda through all that hassle. But, she did a great job of explaining the situation to me and demonstrating that she was not mad at me, but just put in an awkward position due to the four person policy.

So, I started my evening worrying that my stupid mistake of going to the wrong apartment was likely to have cost me a couple thousand dollars as I doubted I'd be able to find a hotel room for the 15 nights I have here for less than $150 or so. Sadly, the worst was yet to come.

As I prepared to head out to meet Saki for dinner, the landlord came back. Linda acted as interpreter as he talked to me. I was told the police had found propaganda for some government opposition leader in the A building, the one in which I was lost. The police were, I was told, downstairs and wanted to talk to me and check my bags. At that moment, life was not good. I started to think about scenes I've seen in movies, where people run for the safety of the American Embassy. I wondered if I could sneak out of the apartment and make my way there.

Things ended up working out all right. The police found another suspect after looking at video surveillance footage. Also, Linda managed to get the landlord to let me stay here for a week.

Beijing 1

At 3:00am on Monday, August 4, I woke up in San Diego. I went for a run at 4:00, finished packing at 5:00 and was on a train to LA at 6:00. After the train came a bus, then a plane for ten hours, then another plane for four more hours. Then, finally, at 21:00 on Tuesday, August 5, I found myself in Beijing Capital airport.

Saki was there waiting. We started off the trip with a quick gift exchange.

Saki got a funky cool t-shirt.

I also got a cool t-shirt.

We took a taxi to Saki's place, and I got some much needed rest.

On Wednesday morning, I went with Saki to where she works. I took a couple shots of her in action during her commute. I figured her mom would like to see a day in the life of Naomi, or any shot with her daughter in it, really.

In the back of this alley is where Saki works.

She went to work, and I started roaming the city.

I turned down this street thinking China would be a good place to get a Chinese character tattoo. Unfortunately, they did not know the characters for "I love Rocky Road."

I stopped at the cultural exchange centre to see if I could trade in my Canadian accent for anything. It wasn't worth much. I got a pair of used Danish clogs for it.

I stopped at a cafe and had some fruit for breakfast. This was the second half of my breakfast; just like in Paris, Saki and I had to start our day with pastries.

I tried to get some cash at this 24 hour self service bank (aka ATM). It was closed. Come on!

Olympic stuff is everywhere. This is not surprising, but very cool.

Some of the cultural differences, such as in marketing or architecture, are pretty fun to observe.

I continued the day in the life shoot by photographing Saki's lunch routine, which typically involves walking down the the street smiling.

More to come soon.