Beijing Almanac: The sun rises at 4:45am up here in Beijing, and it sets at 7:42pm. There is no daylight savings time, and there is only one time zone for a country that is 3040 miles or 4892 km wide. Compare that to the US which has 3 time zones in the contiguous 48 states and is 2680 miles or 4313 km wide. Lately the temp has gotten up to 95 degrees F or 35 degrees C with lows in the high 60s or low 70s degrees F or 21 degrees C, humidity 20%. In Dunsmuir, CA today, by contrast, the high was 79 degrees F or 23 degrees C with a low of 52 degrees F or 7 degrees C and 87% humidity, its been a real rainy cold spring they tell me. In Dunsmuir sunrise is at 5:35am, about an hour later, and sunset is at 8:45pm, about an hour later, and there's your daylight savings time. I have an AC over the bed and another in the office. I prefer to sleep with a few windows open to catch a cross breeze. I only revert to the AC when I rarely hear a mosquito, they HATE the AC and go elsewhere. We had a tremendous thunderstorm the other night, hours-- or so it seemed-- of thunder like canon artillery, lightning like a strobe in my bedroom, and rain pouring down. Made me think of pictures I've seen of India during the monsoons. By morning clear sky with puffy clouds at the horizon and huge puddles. The whole weather impression more like Houston than New Delhi.
Early in the morning, when the campus internet connection is turned off, my attention goes out the window. Below in the street the hutong is up and at it. A young man is walking his dog, carrying a scooper. The guard shack ladies are inspecting their flowers, tiny seedlings in a myriad of pots-- portulaca and marigold. Transplanting is going on, succulents like jade plant, no potting soil, just Beijing dirt.
The many small wheeled traffic is weaving around pedestrians going to work. A long arching trail of water on the pavement where someone has carried a dripping mop around the corner from the bathhouse to their little hobbit room to mop the floor.
The most interesting is the sewer repair going on all around the apartment. A survey team marked the areas with white chalk on one day. Since then, every day, they dig up a prescribed length of street, and install new flexible pipe about 10-12-inches by 20-feet. They fill it all in by the end of the day. Work hours are 7am to 6pm, 11 hours less time off at lunch. Ten men with square and spade shovels, sledge hammer, pick axe, individual tampers that look like fat post hole diggers. I am happy to see this work started. The dirt alley between rows of hutong houses that I can see from my living room has a permanent puddle, and of course we know what that means, chronic leak and health safety hazard.
To make it through the day working consistently, they go in spurts 5 work while 5 rest, work, rest. Bricks and rocks are picked out and placed in a pile. The boss wears a panama straw hat, clean blue work pants and black shirt, his uniform.
The workmen wear whatever, no gloves generally. He sets the pace and works a spell, then crosses the street and supervises from the shade, sitting and smoking or drinking from his thermos. At night the work site is a kid magnet for playing in the dirt.
On Friday the workmen are setting big street pavers in mortar over the new sewer pipe. They use an X-shaped two-man grip to move and position the big pavers.
On the other end of the project, two guys are installing a new sewer well. One man is in the hole, mortaring bricks in circles, going up. The other man mixes the mortar in the street-- no electric mixer, no power tools at all for this crew. He makes a pile of concrete, pours water into a depression from a large water can, then goes around in a circle, shoveling the dry into the wet. When the boss needs sand at his end, this guy stops and fills the big square wheel barrow for him.
I have discovered an internet jazz radio station from San Diego. Is that distant thunder rumbling with a syncopated jazz beat? After dinner I took a stroll around the neighborhood. A tiny drop hit my foot a few steps from Puji, almost unnoticeable.
Migrant men, cleaned up after a week of work, were hanging out on the corner. Some were huddled over ramen and 3.50 Y $.54 bottles of beer (pi jiu) in the dark next to the tiny neighborhood quick mart. All the construction going on in the street and major work at the nearby elementary school has been a bonanza for them.
Blue shadows, gusts of wind, more drops, hurry home before the storm!
I had my first language class on Friday. I have signed up for 50 classes, twice a week, that's about 6 months. They are one-on-one and cost 160Y each or $25 for two hours. Chen is letting me do this on my work week Mon and Fri 8-10 as long as I keep ahead on my work and they don't interfere with the job.
Saturday night I hosted a little party at my apartment. Mostly FE (foreign expert) couples and families-- 5 children about drove me crazy-- and my Chinese next door neighbor. We had on the menu:
- ratatouille with Chinese characteristics, slow cooked in my electric wok with 3 kinds of peppers, cilantro and 2 kinds of eggplant.
- pan fried stuffed wonton with steamed asparagus, sauteed morels and sweet red pepper salsa with garlic chives, ginger over a bed of lettuce and grated carrot and sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds.
- hot sour shrimp soup with cubed silk tofu, slivered pea pods, thread mushrooms and chopped tomato
Yan Jiang, Chinese wife of Prof Mike from Chemistry dept (been here 11 years with 4 children!) brought homemade cherry cheese cake made with fresh cherries. My Chinese neighbor Dr ZHANG Wei Yong brought a big bunch of lychee and a big box of Dove chocolate.
Sorry about all those pictures in the street of workmen. I'm just fascinated with the way things can get done here without a backhoe. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have.
Hui tou jian