New York to Beijing – Look at That! – Journal Entry #13

New York to Beijing


Look At That!

Journal Entry #13

When I as not quite two-years old, my family went on a road trip driving from Indiana to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It was back-in-the-day when we didn’t have to wear seat-belts and I apparently rode most of the way either curled up on a blanket on the floor of the backseat or in the back window, looking out at all the sights as they passed by. I am told that I came back from that trip saying, “Look at that!” over and over. 

It is with that spirit that I write this blog entry. Living in China, there are so many points of interest and curiosities that bring out my inner, child-like wonder.

(FYI – seatbelts, like back-in-the-day, are not required here, but rather recommended. Same goes for talking on cell-phones while driving.)

After living in China for a few weeks now, I have made some curious observations in our surrounding neighborhood of Shunyi that folks back home might also find interesting, fascinating even. Some I can explain, some still leave me perplexed.

Like this for instance:


Corn Drying on the Highway

(My friend visiting from New York and I call them corn rows.)

*pictured in photo is my daughter Hanna who is also visiting for a few weeks

I did a little research on this practice and found that this is how Chinese farms traditionally dry corn. They do not have all the fancy contraptions and machinery used in, say, Indiana. Therefore, they meticulously spread the corn out on roads and dry it the old-fashioned way- in the sun. They do the same with rice.

I have ridden my bike past this road several times in the past few weeks and have noticed how the farm laborers manipulate the grain. First, it is on the cobs in large piles. Second, I noticed that they were separating it into long, low, rows. Then, I noticed that the cobs were being separated from the grain. Last, the grain is the only part left on the road, spread out thinly. Surprisingly, there were only a few birds pecking away at the grain. I would have thought all the wild animals would have a “field” day with all that food. I have an article attached here that explains the process and has more photos of this interesting practice.


This particular road, pictured here in Shunyi, is part of a highway that is not yet in use. We live on the literal edge of Beijing. The city is growing outwards and some of the highways out here come to a dead-end. Munyiva and I discovered this highway on our bike rides to our children’s school. There are large cement columns currently stopping traffic from driving on the road, and we would usually turn left on Tianbei Highway at the columned-tee in the road. She and Richard explored the un-opened highway one weekend and found a shortcut to BSB. Then we started taking this off-road ride every time we needed to get to their school. (It is about a 4 ½ mile ride.) The shortcut is more interesting than riding on the highway with all the traffic and smells.  We now weave around the drying corn, a lake, and a small village organized in something called a “hutong” (to be explained in a future blog.)

Three other things to notice on this same bike ride:

  1. Big piles of coal lining the ally of the hutong. Just sayin’….



2.  Men fishing in what is some of the dirtiest water I have seen. I used to be grossed out by the guys fishing off the docks at 125th street in Harlem, by Fairway. That Henry Hudson water, while better than it used to be, must be a toxic home for any fish growing there. Well, here, it has the same feel as when I see folks fishing right next to the water sewage treatment plant by NYC Riverbank State Park near 145th. Really? You gonna eat that?


The water looks cleaner in this photo than it actually is.

*Also, notice how all the willow trees have had an even trim on the bottom. Very uniform and neat.

3. There are stray dogs everywhere and no leases in sight. We were warned to get our rabies shots before coming here due to this phenomena. Always makes me a little nervous, having been bitten by dogs a few times in my life – especially while riding my bike. (Tips for what expats should do when they come upon a stray dog) 


Another interesting sight I noticed on my bike rides is also on Tianbei Highway. As I was pedaling along one day to BSB, I saw a man on the side of the road, in the tree-lined edge separating the highway from the residential villa walls. What made this man interesting was the 10-or-more goats he had on thin leashes with him. (Dogs don’t need them, but goats do?) These goats were being used to “mow” the lawn. I have seen this in roundabouts and even closer to downtown Beijing. I thought it was very clever use of the animal. Goats give us milk and wool and you can put them to work and feed them at the same time. Brilliant! And, as Nona commented, it made the grass on the sides of the road look more “natural.”




I did a little research and found that you can rent-a-goat for an eco-friendly way to landscape your lawns in the US and in other countries. This will probably be trendy back home soon. All those “Lumbersexuals” in Brooklyn with their beards and axes need a goat and a purpose. Then they can even knit their own sweaters and make craft goat-cheese! I can see it now.  Just please do not send the man-bun trend this way to China.

images-1Spotted in Brooklyn – The Lumbersexual

Here is a link if you are interested in changing your mowing and landscaping habits. Rent-a-Goat 

These are just a few tidbits to help you understand some of the differences and similarities between the US and China. I figure if I go, “Look at that! What’s that about?”, you might too. A little cultural exchange from the other side of the world.

Next up: Hutongs and History

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