Journal Entry #7
New York to Beijing – Exercise, Shopping, and Wine
It had been four whole days since we settled into our new apartment in Beijing. Jet lag was easing away, the children’s school schedule and bus pick-up was routine, and I was learning my way around the neighborhood with new friends. I wanted to see if it was possible to exercise in the facilities provided on campus. Munyiva and I agreed that we would try to workout each morning since we both currently do not have jobs, a first in 28 years for me – more if you count all the years I worked as a teenager and through college. Taking a sabbatical for this year is supposed to allow me to recharge and focus on taking care of my family and self while we are abroad.
I donned my black yoga capris and my short sleeve NY Giants t-shirt, my very loud and colorful Asics, and headed out with the kids to the school bus. After passing them to the bus matron, Munyiva and I headed to the workout room around 8:00am. It is used primarily for the high school students, but staff has access when class is not in session and on the weekends. Mornings are a good time to use the equipment since classes don’t run until later in the day. They also have an outdoor football/soccer field surrounded by a beautiful track and stadium where folks exercise and the students have sport practices and recess.
To get to the workout room, we walk back across campus, past the cafeteria and into a large building, fairly identical to the other buildings. Directly inside, on the right wall, there are windows that overlook an Olympic size indoor swimming pool with some stadium seating for audiences during swim meets. Directly past the pool in the hallway, on the right, it is an entry door to brand new treadmills, life cycles, weights, and a variety of other fitness apparatuses. It was completely empty in the entire building when we arrived.
I had brought my small Bluetooth speaker that I play music through my iPhone 6. I was not sure it would work because I need to be on the school’s wifi to reach the cloud – where most of my music lives. This was still hit or miss. I spent a good 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get to my music and gave up. (This is a common feeling I have for most of my technology efforts for the next few weeks in China.) I had a few fairly peppy albums on my iPhone and decided to just play one of those.
With the “Best of the 2014 Grammy Nominees” blaring through my speaker, we settled into some cardio exercise. I chose the stationary bicycle and Munyiva stepped onto the treadmill. We both finished 15 minutes on our machines then did some light stretching and weight lifting. It was the first time I had been able to workout like that in over 10 months. It felt hard – but good. I committed to trying to do this each morning of the school week to take advantage of the facilities and my time off. I might just get in shape.
Afterwards, because it was another beautiful day in Beijing, Munyiva asked if I wanted to go check out another place to get groceries and shop in the neighborhood. We were already sweaty and warmed up in our gear and thought walking a few miles would be nice. We headed off campus with the goal of finding a shopping center that we call the “giant Wumart”. We were told that it was a good place to shop. The Wumart near the school was small and apparently the giant Wumart would have many more options than the Bravo grocery store we went to the other day. It was only seven avenues away – but remember, the avenues here are really long.
We walked down the right side of “scooter road”, the term we use to describe the avenue we take to get to Bravo and giant Wumart. We still do not know the road’s official name. Like other streets, it has been given an english nickname to help expats on campus talk about the neighborhood in terms we can all remember and landmarks to recognize. It is called scooter road because it has several bike shops, car repair shops, and took-tooks for sale, all side-by-side lining the street.
As we were walking, we passed what appeared to be a park. Munyiva and I decided to investigate. We entered into a tree-lined lane that opened up into a lovely area with landscaped cement lots for playing badminton, basketball, and other activities. We noticed a circular walkway surrounding the outside of an amphitheater. We also noticed an activity that was new to both of us. There were a few men who were standing in the center of a half-basketball-court-sized area. They had what looked like very long bullwhips. They were practicing their skills. They would swing the bullwhips around and around, then…. “CRACK!” It would make a sound that was amazing because they actually broke the sound barrier.
Here is a video of someone practicing in a different park and a teacher instructing how to make it “CRACK!”
We heard some music and walked around the circle in the general direction of the sound. There were several people standing around a boombox that was playing Chinese music. There was a dance instructor in the front of about 30 people. She was showing the crowd some moves and everyone was smiling and trying out the steps. Several grandparents were participating or watching from the sidelines as they pushed strollers back and forth or played with infants. We thought of trying to join in, but decided to continue on our way to the giant Wumart and come back to the park with our families on the weekend.
The video footage in the link below was not taken by me but it shows a clip that captured, almost exactly, the dancing in the park we witnessed. It is very popular to dance or exercise in the parks in China.
By the time we got to the giant Wumart, we were feeling exhausted. We had already worked out in the gym and then made the additional two mile trek on a very hot day. Our shopping was a success, however, and we found better produce and additional selections for our pantries. This big Wumart was also part of a big shopping center, so we could come back to find clothes or other necessities we might usually buy in a mall. We carried our purchases to the curb and negotiated with a took-took driver our return to campus just in time for lunch in the cafeteria.
During lunch, Munyiva and I joined Soren and a family from Australia. Emma, Dean, and their two girls had been at Keystone last year. They really knew so much more that we did about the neighborhood and shopping. I found out that Emma teaches first grade with Soren, and Dean, while a “dependent” like Munyiva and me last year, was poised to start a job teaching pre-school in a few days. Even though we just met each other, Dean, offered to take us around Shunyi on his motorcycle. Who were we to turn down such an offer?
After lunch we followed him to the bike and scooter parking area behind the apartment building and loaded into a wonderfully retro black motorcycle with a spectacular sidecar. Munyiva settled into the sidecar and I rode behind Dean on probably the coolest back seat I have ever seen. It was shaped like a large bicycle/saddle seat and had a handle for me to hold onto that was shaped like a triangle.
Helmets are not required in China so we set off, excited, hair blowing, and feeling free. Dean drove us around, shouting out landmarks and shops. I found that I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. It seems that one of the hardest accents I have trouble deciphering is Australian. I have lived in New York for over 20 years and have heard english accents from around the world, and like carrying groceries for blocks, I have developed a city skill in listening and hearing words surrounded by accents. I was surprised that the Aussie one would give me so much trouble.
While we were driving around the neighborhood, I realized that there was a clothing trend I was picking up on. Over the course of the past few days, I had spotted Chinese men walking around with their shirts rolled up, exposing their stomachs up to their sternum. It definitely was hot out, but I had never witnessed this style of dress until this week in China. I found out that it was a fashion statement called the “Beijing Belly”. Mostly middle-aged or older men stand around with their shirts rolled up like this, patting their stomachs, rubbing their round bellies. Even the young men, who adopted this style, were not doing it to show off a six-pack of muscles. It was like being a Buddha statue. It reminds me of the trend that swept America – men and boys wearing their pants saggy and low, exposing their boxers. Some things I will just never understand. Add the Beijing Belly to that list.
Dean said he wanted to drop by an international market called Pinnacle Plaza to pick up a few groceries. I was very excited about this prospect because I had been hearing all week about the existence of places where you could buy the food selections familiar from the US. Munyiva and I unanimously agreed and we zipped along the roads with Dean the Aussie to the grocery store.
We parked outside Pinnacle Plaza, a cute little area of shops that had windy lanes connecting one-story high restaurants and shops. Dean took us on a tour. He pointed out the best BBQ, Mexican, Korean, and Italian restaurants. There were pet shops, nail places, and a Starbucks of course. The grocery store to get western food is called, Jenny Wang’s, and is apparently a very lucrative chain store that caters to expats.
My first impression of the store, past the plastic doorway flaps, was, “YES! I can live here.” I noticed familiar brands and the produce was beautiful and fresh. Dean and Munyiva had both been to Jenny Wang’s and knew where to go to find their items. We agreed to shop quick and meet back at the checkout in 15 minutes. Dean and Munyiva were going to buy liquor and wine for the weekend. Places that sell good spirits are scarce and more expensive than in the US. So, when you are in Jenny Wang’s, stock up.
I walked around the store. Whenever you go into a new grocery store for the first time, it is disorienting, even in the US. I was trying to be quick and take it all in at the same time. And, remember, we had already been to the giant Wumart just a few hours ago. I was approaching my quota of over-stimulation for the day. There are only so many new experiences a person can have before their brain starts to melt.
I beelined for the area that looked like it had cereal. I grabbed Quaker oatmeal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Frosted Flakes. Then I grabbed Eggo frozen waffles and Log Cabin syrup. I also found a good brand of pepper jack cheese, corn chips, and salsa. So far, so good! I knew we were riding back on the motorcycle, so I could not get that much more to fit in my backpack or storage. I headed toward the wine section of the store to find some Pinot Grigio or Cotes du Rhone – my faves. I also thought I would pick up some cheap vodka for Soren while I was there.
Well, this turned out to be harder than it sounds. First, it was disorienting the way wine was displayed. It was not categorized by type of wine, like Chardonnay or Merlot. It was categorized by country – Italian, Chile, American, Australian. While I love wine, I do not really pay attention to the country of origin. I know – many of you do. I do not. So, it was really hard for me to find Pinot. I was at the end of my long day of learning new things and was having trouble reading and finding the labels. And, the wine and liquor section was as big as the rest of the entire store. I approached the Chinese woman who was facilitating a wine tasting in the liquor section. FYI – they use full glasses of wine for the tastings, which was surprising, and after a tasting, did not help me be more lucid.
Because it was a western store, I assumed that the clerks would speak at least occupational english. So, I attempted to ask about Box Wine. I thought a box would travel well on the motorcycle. Well, it was a fiasco trying to explain what I was looking for to her. “I am looking for wine that is in a box.” Ahhhh, she looked like she understood. Then she brought me a bag that you put wine in after you purchase it. Hmmm. I could tell that this was not going to go well. I tried one more time with hand signals, trying to describe a square receptacle that holds liquid. She looked really confused so I gave up. I quickly perused the large wine section and found one familiar bottle that I call “chicken wine”. It has a picture of a rooster on the label. La Vieille Ferme, a Cotes du Luberon. I know that I love this wine, so I grabbed a few bottles and walked quickly to the checkout to meet Dean and Munyiva.
Photo of “Chicken Wine” Label
After a confusing exchange of figuring out the RMB money amount compared to the US dollar, I paid with my US credit card. I was curious if it would work. Most places only take a Chinese credit card and because we just arrived four days ago, we have not had time to get a bank account or card. I thought I had enough Chinese currency, but this place, luckily, took my VISA. I made my purchases and we loaded our groceries into the motorcycle “boot” and head back to Keystone.
It was a full day. I found two markets – one is Chinese and we can walk there and the other we can take a quick cab to for international food. I developed a greater understanding of our neighborhood from the motorcycle tour. I committed to exercising everyday. And, I met new friends. I was appreciating our journey so far and ready for more experiences.
(I wondered how Soren’s day went and what the kids’s experienced. Plenty to talk about at the dinner table in the cafeteria.)
Next Episode- Going to IKEA and a Pub in Bejing