Cold December

All the birds are heading down south but you're staying up north you say
I've got jackets, blankets, and sheets, it's going to be a cold December
-Matt Costa

Winter here is COLD. I have never been so cold in my life. The last few days I have been battling a vicious cold/flu, which has only exacerbated the feeling like a human icicle. Because I am in the midst of finals week, I have no choice but to leave my cozy apartment and make the cold 15 minute bike ride to work. After the ride through the frigid air, my toes and fingers scream for warmth. Fortunately, the classrooms and office are heated.

According to, the average December temperature high and low for Beijing are 37˚F (2.8˚C) and 19˚F (-7.2˚C). Today, the high and low was 23˚F (-5˚C) and 19˚F (-7.2˚C).  That's right, my California friends, the temperature is colder than freezing – ALL THE TIME. Not only is it cold, but it is about 15˚F colder than average for this time of year.

A few weeks ago, Beijing had its second snowfall. Unlike the first wet snow this season, this gentle snowfall inspired snowball fights and building snowmen. The snow transformed the gray drab building into white palaces. Barren tree branches were no longer naked, rather they were clothed in fluffy white snow. The sounds of honking horns muffled into silence. Bizarrely, the cold did not seem so cold.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 十二月 Shí'èr yuè (literally, 12 month)
English translation: December

Snowball fights!


November Rain

And when your fears subside and shadows still remain, oh yeah
I know that you can love me when there's no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness we still can find a way
Nothin' lasts forever even cold November rain
-Guns N' Roses

This blog comes a little late. We were pretty busy moving, and once we moved, we were without internet at home for two weeks. So here goes the Movember Blog Post. In case you are unfamiliar with Movember slang, the mustache is fondly referred to as Mo.

What is Movember? provides the following explanation:

Movember (a portmanteau word from moustache and "November") is an annual, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other male cancer and associated charities. The Movember Foundation runs the Movember charity event, housed at The goal of Movember is to "change the face of men's health."

We first encountered Movember in 2009 when our friend Jonathon grew a very admirable Mo. As he is of Italian descent, his upper lip was covered in a voluptuous patch of dark hair. Jonathon's mustache won birdMAN's respect and awe. I think subconsciously men believe that a lush lip coiffure is sign of masculinity and maturity. So once in every man's life, he must ignore any vain notions of hanging onto youth. He must embrace his version of ultimate manhood, a rite of passage— to grow out the hair on his lip like his grandfather.

Once the mustache idea was planted, it festered like a disease. The following spring, we traveled throughout China for three weeks. During that time, birdMAN abstained from shaving. When we returned home, birdMAN shaved his chin saving the hair on his upper lip. Every time I looked at him, I couldn't help but burst into laughter. He bore no resemblance to Burt Reynolds, the king of seductive mustaches. Rather, as his sister pointed out, he looked more like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. The humiliation was too much. That Mo only lasted about 10 hours.

In 2011, birdMAN made another attempt for a manly Mo, but caved and shaved after only 3 days of growth. Again humiliation overpowered the idea.

Fast forward to November 2012. Beijing has become our home. Ah, finally the best opportunity to display his dream 'stache. No teasing sisters or sister-in-laws curling their lips in disgust. No way-cooler-than-you college students wearing designer jeans and messy-but-cool hair dos to feel stupid around. No physical or hygienic standards to meet (people pick their noses in public here. Why would anyone care if someone grows a mustache?). Here nobody knows us.  And people that don't know us well are way too nice to say their true opinions.

Also, mustaches are rare. Chinese men don't seem to age, having smooth faces like children. Occasionally, a man may have a thin patch of hair growth, which looks more like he missed shaving the same spot for the previous four weeks. Mustaches thus belong to the realm of brawny men of the West- the descendants of Vikings, Spanish conquistadors, and Russian sailors.

November 2012 will go down in history as the month of the birdMAN Mo. Honestly, I much prefer my man clean-shaven. Now if he looked like Burt Reynolds…well, why muse over impossibilities? Thank goodness November ended.

Chinese word of the blog: 胡子 húzǐ
English translation: mustache


Expensive Tastes

Try silver spoon for size
Harder than a needle 
Through a camels eye
Folks gather around the table find a place
Boys that girl don't have expensive tastes
-Cold War Kids

Searching for an apartment here in Beijing is different than in the United States. In the United States, the apartment hunt-and-find may take months. The prospective renter will search advertisements (i.e. Craigslist), talk to friends, or visit property manager websites. The apartments are not furnished; but a decent landlord will repaint the walls, repair damaged fixtures, and ensure the home is reasonably clean. 

In Beijing, an real estate agent shows the prospective renter several apartments. Conveniently, the apartments are furnished, usually having the bare minimum of a couch, bed, coffee table, television, wardrobe, and refrigerator. Inconveniently, the state of the apartment is the state that it will be rented, even if the floors are disintegrating due to water damage. Nobody cleans it. No repairs are done. 

We commenced our apartment search as most Beijing renters do: by seeking the help of a real estate agent and letting him/her show us apartments. The first day of my apartment search, I met an agent who called himself Patrick. He spoke a little English, and was extremely pushy. He took me to a large apartment that looked like it hadn't been dusted in 10 years. The kitchen was laden with grease and extremely small. The living room had three huge velvet couches that were probably luxurious in 1975. A broken TV and computer from the same era decorated the cupboards. Dusty vases of garish colors donned the shelves. The bedroom mattresses were stained and sunk in the middle. The toilet bowl was black and crusty. I felt like I had walked into an Edgar Allan Poe short story. I walked around and pointed at pretty much everything and said "不要! 不要!" (Don't want this). He repeated over and over, "Are you satisfied with this?" I said no! This place is disgusting.

I have read about this rental tactic. First, an agent will show an apartment in deplorable condition. The second apartment will be in much better condition. The hope is that upon seeing such a nice apartment, the renter will be grateful to the agent and immediately sign a contract. This tactic did not work with us. We like to shop around and explore (or rather, exhaust) our options. Patrick just succeeded in annoying me for wasting my time.

Also different from the United States, agents will show the apartments while the tenants are still living there. They do not notify the tenants to check if the time is convenient. We followed a different agent (much more likable than Patrick) to an apartment on a Friday evening. A Chinese man wearing long underwear with his T-shirt tucked in answered the door. After they exchanged words, the man amiably invited us in to enter his apartment. This place should have been on an episode of TLC's "Hoarders."  Ok, I know he and his wife and baby were moving… I can understand disorganization. But really!!! It was ready to explode with boxes full of clothes, books, furniture and stuff in every corner. And don't get me started on the bathroom. I remind you, there were people—with a baby— living there. The bathroom floor was crusting over with black mold or dust – I am not sure what and I did not want to find out.

So the apartment hunt continued.

The following is the worst of what we saw (all from the same apartment):
  1. The bathroom floor was about a half inch higher than the hallway. The bathrooms here are usually wet bathrooms, having no division between the shower, the sink, and toilet. Obviously, the bathroom floor higher than the rest of the apartment is a big problem. The landlord tried to distract birdMAN from inspecting the extensive water damage by pointing to desk chair, "看看!很好!" ("Look here. So great.")
  2. The one bedroom apartment was actually a studio apartment with a six-foot tall panel wall enclosing a bed. The panel walls were decorated with four ornamental lights, each one a different color- yellow, purple, red, and blue. The landlord turned them on (probably to keep me from noticing that this was not actually a bedroom), and the real estate agent exclaimed," 漂亮!" ("Beautiful!") Those lights reminded me of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland.
  3. Opening a kitchen cupboard and seeing a layer of black grime inside. I don't care how cheap this place is. I am definitely not moving here.
Not all the apartments are bad. There are plenty of nice apartments here. Eventually we found an apartment with a large living room, roomy kitchen, and a nice view with minimal furniture. The landlord was friendly. We signed a contract. Since we do not have much, moving was easy—two bicycle rides and a 13 RMB taxi was all it took.  After a few trips to IKEA and some serious cleaning, we feel like we are home.

Sorry no pictures on this blog. We do not have internet at our home yet; therefore no access to our VPN (that is another story). Please anticipate our next blog with a lot of pictures. I would like to add…I love having a functioning kitchen!

Chinese word of the Blog: 太脏 tài zāng
English translation: Too filthy (say it to the agent when you are walking through a filthy apartment that you have no hope of cleaning enough to make it livable)