Adventures of Life in Beijing

If you’ve been following along, you know there’s someone special in my life I haven’t seen since the Coronavirus started in Beijing three months ago. You can read about the street food chef  gone missing in my last post. Craving Normal

I began to give up on the Baozi Guy, trying to accept the parts of my life that have changed forever. Some friends who left China will never come back. I can’t wear lipstick in public because it just gets smeared inside my mask, and going out carries an element of tension since we have to scan an app (in Chinese) and verify our health status to enter most public venues.

It seems that everyone can relate to craving “normal” – that part of your daily routine that stabilizes your life, whether it’s a lunch stop at Chick-fil-A with the kids, a sweat-inducing workout at the gym or catching up with a friend at Starbucks.

I love that you are cheering for my Baozi Guy to return right along with me.  I was savoring your words of encouragement with my morning coffee a few days ago when my phone pinged.

Who’s texting at 6 am? The kids were asleep and Mike was out running.

“Closer to normal,” the message said, with this picture:

 

In addition to Baozi, the fried dough sticks on the right are a popular breakfast food.

 

I’m not one to cry over sappy movies, but that one image caused the tears to flow. There really is hope that we’ll all come out of this OK on the other side. I wondered what battle the Baozi Guy had been fighting while I struggled with loneliness and uncertainty in my apartment?

Five minutes later Mike returned from his run, like the Messiah bringing good news.

I took the precious warm bag and cradled it in my hands, inhaling deeply.

“You only bought one bag?” I asked. Ten bite-sized buns divided by four people times two teenagers is a very small number.

“Hey, I was impressed that I was able to pay for them at all. I didn’t want to get two orders and then have to leave them there because my phone didn’t work.”

I couldn’t respond because my mouth was full. Those little fluffy, pork-filled bundles were just as good as I remembered. How does he get the dough so light?

“I think he recognized me,” Mike said. “We were both kind of excited to see each other.”

It was a milestone day. The Baozi Guy returned, and the city of Wuhan  reported that all virus patients had been released from the hospital.

Today I had to go and see him for myself, to make sure it hadn’t all just been a dream, like a mirage in the desert.

I gave a joyful wave as I approached, knowing I was probably embarrasing him with my unreserved emotion. But he waved back and stood up as I approached.

 

 

“I’m so happy ! You’re back!” I said, using the simple words I’d practiced all day yesterday. “Are you good?”

”Yes, yes, I’m good.”

In the past my camera-shy friend refused my requests for photos, but today his eyes crinkled kindly  as he smiled behind his mask.

 

I paid for my order (called a Ti from the word for basket) and headed home, sampling a warm bun from the bag. I’m sure it was my imagination but it seemed like the friendly exchange added a depth of flavor to the pork and scallion puffs that I didn’t notice yesterday.

 

A taste of normal in my day.

 

I thought about all of the pieces in our lives that  have been scattered, at least temporarily. It’s left me longing, craving for connection. At least in a small way today, normal has returned.  I hope your normal comes back soon too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (23):

  1. Angelika Sorrow

    May 1, 2020 at 11:15 am

    So happy to read this!

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:23 pm

      Thank you !

      Reply
  2. Jackie

    May 1, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    So happy for you

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:21 pm

      Thank you – hope your normal comes back soon!

      Reply
  3. Paula Kasnitz

    May 1, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    A good omen for all of us.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      I hope so! Love your pictures – you two eat well. Makes me smile.

      Reply
  4. Michelle Taylor

    May 1, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    I love this. I could feel your emotion & I’m ready to feel closer to normal as well. Big ((hugs)) my friend.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks Michelle – hope it comes your way soon!

      Reply
  5. Tina

    May 1, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    sniff…….I love this!! I think we will all look at normal a little differently after this is over. At least I know I will.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      For sure! Hope you aren’t going too stir-crazy. Thanks for the encouragement.

      Reply
  6. Ainslie Lewis

    May 1, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    I’m so excited for you! And I find it encouraging that normal will return, at least some of it. For the first time in seven weeks, I saw toilet paper on the shelf at Walmart. It was just stacked there without a large group of people gathering around to make it disappear again. And yesterday the stay at home order expired. There are still many restrictions in place however, I’m encouraged that in the coming weeks will get small bits back. I’ll continue to pray for you and your family. Thank you for your blogs.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:19 pm

      Thank you ! That’s funny about Wal-Mart. Isn’t it crazy that things that seemed so mundane are now causes for great joy? Good lesson here.

      Reply
  7. Ruth Meyer

    May 1, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Det ser rigtigt lækkert ud,Kirsten, kan du ikke sende nogle hjem til Danmark?
    Mon ikke også du selv kunne lave sådan nogle?
    Glad for, at I har det godt og at tingene bliver nemmere for jer – her er meget lukket ned.
    Pas godt på jer selv. Ønsker moster Ruth

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:18 pm

      Hi, so happy to hear from you. I wish I could send you some. I could learn how to make them but we pay about $1 for a whole bowl, so it’s cheaper to buy them. Take care – hoping things will be better this summer.

      Reply
  8. Wanda

    May 1, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Wonderful news .. I’ve enjoyed you Blog-sharing your adventures. Grateful for the JOY you experienced!

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks for following along Wanda!

      Reply
  9. Rimjhim Dey

    May 1, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    Lovely love story dear Kirsten.
    You are a wonderful writer. And, your dispatches are so heart-warming.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement Rim. Hope things are getting better in NY.

      Reply
  10. Marlyn G.

    May 1, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    Wonderful story about your new life in China. I am so happy to read that your bun guy is back; and you can feel that things are coming back to being somewhat normal.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks Marlyn, it’s been a journey for sure. Miss all you Tuesday ladies❤️

      Reply
  11. Frankie

    May 1, 2020 at 11:12 pm

    Our human connection to those people who come into our lives, makes living rich. Delighted your friend is back in business and that YOU get to share those savory treats with us.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:28 pm

      So true- I think that’s the biggest lesson in all this. We are wired for connection.

      Reply
  12. Shari

    May 3, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    I LOVE a happy ending!!! ❤️❤️

    Reply

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Stranger Things

If you read my post Strange but True you know that life in Beijing can be downright quirky at times.

Are dogs in other cities this well dressed and I just haven’t noticed?

 

Ready for the rain.

 

I wonder how dogs really feel about wearing shoes.

 

This mutt was rocking his ride; his owner had a radio blaring as they wove through traffic.

I thought it might be fun to share a few more aspects of life in China that sometimes leave us wondering.

Why stand when you can squat?

 

I’m afraid if I go that low I’d need a crane to haul me back up.

 

I thought squatting was something I did at the gym to buff my thighs. It turns out that squatting can be used as a convenient position to rest, grab a smoke, slurp some noodles or do some work. It’s preferred to sitting on the curb or the ground, which of course is where those doggies in their cute little outfits do their business.

 

Masks aren’t just for the virus.

 

Every hotel room I’ve been in in China has some variation of this mask. At first I thought they were gas masks to be used in case China and North Korea decide not to be buddies anymore, but it turns out they are to be used in case of a hotel fire. Whew. I feel better. I think.

Selfie-focused 

Chinese are a snap-happy bunch. From selfie sessions to pass the boredom on the bus to hour-long photo shoots in traditional dress, there’s no end to the opportunities to click and post. On a recent vacation I was so captivated by people posing for the camera I left without a single shot of my family. We might, however, end up in someone else’s holiday album.

 

Taking pictures of people taking pictures.

 

Make it work

Everyone in China has a job to do. If not, the government will make one for you. I’ve seen people cleaning the guardrails on freeway overpasses, wiping down trash cans on street corners and sweeping water off the street with bamboo brooms after a heavy rain.

Local villagers make a little extra money by planting flowers to beautify the roadside. The government gives them seeds and a small stipend.

 

Colorful fields in Gansu province provide beauty and jobs.

 

A large, flexible workforce is part of what has helped control the virus. Within hours, cities can mobilize testing crews, set up barricades and conduct contact tracing. In a recent outbreak in Qingdao, the government tested 10 million people in four days. Workers are simply temporarily shifted from other jobs to where they are needed.

Curious?

What are you curious about when it comes to life in China? Feel free to post questions in the comments. I might just use one for a future post.

 

Say Cheese!

Up. Down. All around. I counted 96 security cameras on my morning walk to the park which is just over a mile away. That was on my side of the street. It could have been 95 or 97. I started to lose count after awhile.

Cameras line the streets to monitor traffic.

Cameras record license plates as only certain vehicles are allowed into the city on given days to reduce traffic.

 

Crosswalks are monitored to discourage jaywalking. Sometimes names and ID numbers pop up next photos of the offending pedestrians.

 

Smile, you’re on candid camera.

 

Cameras in restaurant kitchens send a live feed to the dining area. Find a stray hair in your food? Now you’ll know whose it is.

 

I’m not sure I want to know what goes on back there.

 

Cameras are in every school classroom (keep those masks on!), and adorn entrances to hotels, apartment compounds and shops.

 

Entrance to a local store.

 

Mini-cameras hang from rearview mirrors or sit on the dash in taxis and ride share vehicles.

If there’s a place to gather, chances are there’s a camera nearby.

 

A peaceful spot at the park under watchful eye.

 

Since Beijing is the capital, it’s surveillance heavy, with around 1 million cameras watching 20 million people. The city boasts 100 % coverage. Combined with the ever-increasing technology of facial recognition, the use of cameras is a way to keep people in line.

In China, whether you sip, stroll, work or play, someone is always watching.

 

Stone sculptures stand watch

 

Thankfully, I haven’t seen any cameras patrolling the public restrooms yet. Using a sometimes less-than-clean squat toilet is stressful enough. I don’t need an audience.

 

Can I have some privacy please?

 

I’m so used to it I don’t even notice them much anymore. I guess I should put on lipstick or at least comb my hair when I go out for my morning walk.

 

Cameras at the park.

 

I did get a little nervous this morning taking pictures of them taking pictures of me (there should be a word for that).

I’ve been scolded for taking pictures at sensitive places before, like Tiananmen Square.

On one hand, I do feel  safer. I don’t have to worry about anyone spitting in my food when I go out to eat, and if my taxi driver decides to go on a joyride, the whole thing’s on tape. I haven’t seen any graffiti, looting or damaged property. I think there was one murder reported last year in Beijing that I heard about. My biggest fear is someone stealing my bicycle.

Most Chinese people who are interviewed on the subject for local news outlets don’t mind the scrutiny. It’s the government’s job to keep people safe, and the cameras are one tool. Personal privacy is foreign concept in this country anyway.

On the other hand, it’s a little creepy to think Big Brother knows everything about my day, from what time I went to the gym in the morning to what I bought at the grocery store for dinner. If I partake in any suspect behavior, I’m quite sure someone will come knocking.

And I’ve only told you about the cameras. Maybe another time I’ll explain the tracking apps, bank monitoring and media censoring that’s part of everyday life.

How would you feel living under such tight surveillance? Do you think life in your hometown would change if people knew they were being watched? Drop a comment. I’d love to hear.