I spent Wednesday traveling out to a Beijing suburb to visit the site of an orphanage/school being built by Children's Hope. Our friend Melody is the associate director in Beijing and she knew of my interest in woodworking, so she put me in touch with their contractor. John was kind enough to take some time to let me watch his crew and see some of their work. I will try and post some more pictures later, but it was really a very, very nice facility that was being built. I really like the hutongs because they seem so much more Chinese then the modern apartments.
Yesterday was my birthday and everyone got together for dinner at Three Guizhou Men in ZhongGuanCun. The dinner was very good and I can highly recommend this place. The food is spicy but not overwhelming. The staff was great, the only thing is at the ZhongGuanCun location their English is not strong. My brother-in-law did the ordering so I cannot name the specific dishes, but we had an awesome pork loin of some kind with peanuts... very good. Another great dish was some type of whole fish covered in a bed of spicy lettuce... incredibly good.
The ZhongGuanCun restaurant is easy to get to as the subway station is right next to the building, but they have several other locations too. I am sure I will look up their place at Jianwai Soho and try out the ribs. It is a quick walk from Central Park Apartments. Pricing was good too - you can eat for less then 100 RMB and its best to go with a large group so you can try more dishes.
It has been a long search but I have finally found a good bar in the CBD, with a great bartender and drinks. My Life Bar
is about halfway between Central Park Apartments and the Place. It was a bit hidden but once I found it and got my first drink it was well worth it. So many times in Beijing you get crappy drinks. I had almost given up hope of getting a decent pour let alone decent variety. Ansen is a great bartender, but the nice part about this place is it has great decor and feel. You will not be disappointed if you bring friends or business associates here.
I just finished this article
from the Times that explains some of the challenges here with inflation. I have wanted to build an application to track grocery costs for myself but have not done it yet. It might be interesting to see how things change over the next year or two. People back home really do not understand how incredibly expensive it is to live here.
On Sunday I was out walking and found another open market just west of Blue Zoo. This was a fairly large market with lots of vegetables, fruit and mushrooms. The only downside of this market was that it is setup in a dirt lot, so if it is a windy day there is a layer of dust on the produce. Not a big deal for most things, but I probably wouldn't get my mushrooms here.
I look down at the shade of red on my thumb from the light passing through the glass. It is a deep red. A deep, beautiful red. I am thinking about what I want to write about my meal and experience at LM Plus, Central Park, Beijing. To explain the experience in text is difficult because it would require me to explain more about myself and what I enjoy - much more then the simplistic description of my menu choice.
a great meal occurs what? maybe once per hundred meals? maybe even less. It is the special space of time where everything comes together perfectly. Every bite gives something new, and also revisits the bite before. And when it is done and they take the plate away you feel regret that it is over. But that regret is soothed by the thought of what treasure you may find on the desert menu....
I am a critical S.O.B. when it comes to cooking. But I am also a nice guy, and in Beijing I never, ever, never expect a restaurant to live up to the standards from back home or Europe. I know what it takes to get it right. Even as much as the food etc is vitally important, it is also the atmosphere of the restaurant, and the people who run the place. I have come to be happy with what would even be below average back home. I am sure others feel the same. But that wasn't what happened to me tonight.
I got the real deal. The one in a hundred moment. Where the thin slices of pork that were pan fried to perfection. And the broccoli, mushroom stuffing was perfect. Many people would not know a) how effing god damn hard that is, and b) how even harder to do it in a commercial setting where the chef has tens of other things going on at the same time. The juices were carmelized perfectly. And the chef did it in a kitchen the size of a large coat closet with only electric appliances. It made me look at my own skills and want to cry.
Even better the suggested wine was so good. In Beijing - the wine was good. Who the hell even knew that phrase was possible? After my meal Massimo Masili
sent a very special glass of red wine to my table. It is those types of gestures that show you are in a place where the owner and staff also understand the special moment when a great meal experience occurs. Yes I dine because I am hungry. And yes I eat out sometimes to stay within a certain price point. But really, what we are all looking for is one of those rare moments when everything is perfect and you walk out with the glow. Thats what I got at LM Plus.
I received a depressing email this morning that Pantry Magic is going to shut down in Beijing. It seems they are looking for a new owner to reopen later, but as of now there are no certain plans. Items are up to 50% off for the close, so I nabbed a great cast iron casserole dish, and some ceramic bakeware. Pantry Magic was really the only decent store for cooking items that I knew of in Beijing. The stores at Lufthansa Center were ridiculously priced. At least Pantry Magic had great quality at close to U.S. prices.
Flew into Beijing on United. Direct and business class.... I tried to enjoy it as much as possible as those days are probably gone. It is back to economy plus. I hate flying more and more - and this from a guy who loves airplanes. Flying is ok, its the people that suck.
There is no way I could survive in China without VPN access. I need access to unfiltered/blocked/censored Internet content, plus I am definetly not comfortable viewing financial info or even getting my email in the clear through a Chinese ISP. Up until this last year I used the Cisco PIX 501 with the Cisco client to create the tunnel between Beijing and Chicago. The 501 was ultra cool back in the day and I paid what now seems like a ridiculous amount of money for it. It is still my firewall in Chicago but its time is coming to an end. You can't access the admin interface if you are running a version of java newer then the Stone Age. So for the last couple of years I would have to uninstall my Interactive Brokers TWS and java, then install a old version of java, make changes to the firewall, and then reinstall everything (plus my settings) to get back to square one. It was ridiculous. And its mostly CLI and I am definetly not a Cisco guy, so it was always a combination of brute force and swearing that even allowed me to use the thing effectively. I think it was the phallic symbolism of having a PIX in my house that made me use it anyway. Though it is damn cool.
So I had to switch to StrongVPN which is a service from Reliable Hosting. I use it both on the laptop and the iPhone and its ok. Not great, it has some performance issues, but it works. I really want a hardware solution on both ends but I just can't justify the expense. It sucks because with the PIX I had full access to both servers in the US home. All my files, source control, test instances - everything. But there is neither the budget nor the time before I leave to change.