walking the legation quarter

Map of the Legation Quarter circa 1912

Earlier this week, I decided to take a walk from the Beijing by Foot series. (One of my goals, before I leave Beijing, is to go through all 40 of the walks. They are like doing a giant treasure hunt.)  I chose the Legation Quarter walk as I’ve meandered through the Qianmen area many times and never quite managed to hit the Quarter itself.

Located near Tian’anmen Square, the tree-lined Legation Quarter is Beijing’s oldest embassy area, dating back to the end of the Second Opium War. Located on Dongjiaomin Lane, the area was first designated by the Emperor Yongle for farming and animal husbandry; during that time, it was known as Dongjiaomi Lane. Its name was later changed during the Legation Quarter period.

From J.E. Hoare’s book Embassies in the East, a history of British embassies in East Asia (this book is partially available on Google Books and even with missing pages, it’s a fascinating read), the beginning of the Legation Quarter as it is now:

While in Beijing for the exchange of ratifications, both the English and the French ambassadors demanded accommodation for the permanent missions they wished to establish. This the Chinese were obliged to provide under the terms of the treaties. That autumn of 1860, the French and the British were each assigned a palace to the south-east of the Forbidden City near the long established Russian Orthodox Church. This was an area long associated with the presence of foreign envoys in Beijing, for it was near the site of the hostel where the Korean, Annamese, Burmese and Mongolian envoys who arrived on their regular tribute missions were lodged.  There they were also coached in the elaborate etiquette necessary for their presentation at court. Now it was also to see the beginning of the official French and British presence in Beijing, and the birth of the Beijing legation quarter.

The Legation Quarter was also a locus for anti-foreigner sentiment in the years leading up to the Boxer Rebellion, as Chinese citizens were forbidden to enter the area, and was famously under siege during the uprising itself. Hoare’s book has an account of the siege from the British legation’s point of view, where as the siege went on, the inhabitants found themselves eating horsemeat and mule meat.

Ironically, as many of the former legations have become government buildings, they are still largely forbidden to the public. I was even forbidden from entering the Ch’ien Men 23 entertainment and restaurant complex, formerly the American Legation.  I must have looked too poor to eat at Maison Boulud.

Formerly called Rue Hart, this street is now Taijichang Toutiao; it was named for British Inspector General Sir Robert Hart.

 The Rue Hart sign is still faintly visible at the end of the street, across the street is his former residence.

St. Michael’s Church

I love that this massage parlor is now housed in what might have been a gentleman’s sports club.

The former French Legation.

Old French post office, now a Sichuan restaurant.

Not exactly sure what this building used to be, possibly part of the Japanese legation according to the map above, but the detailing is stunning.

The Yokohama Specie Bank.

Inner courtyard of the Yokohama Specie Bank. (Technically, you’re not supposed to enter, but I promised the guards I wouldn’t move beyond my vantage point at the front gate.)

Statue in Zhengyi Lu Park. This street used to be a canal.

The British Legation. Before it became the legation, it was the residence of the Dukes of Liang. Now it is the Ministry of State Security.

The Japanese Legation is now the headquarters of the Beijing municipal government.

Possibly the Russo-Asiatic Bank. No matter what it is, it’s a gorgeous building.

Perhaps the gate into the Netherlands Legation.

No idea what this lovely building with its age on its sleeve is!  Maybe the building for the Russian Guard.

I will likely take this walk again after reading through the Legation Quarter chapter of The Search For a Vanishing Beijing and Embassies in the East, and especially, armed with the 1912 map found at the beginning of this entry.

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mapping beijing, isometrically


Google Maps are pretty cool, but if you ever wanted to know what Beijing and other Chinese cities would look like if they were in Sim City, check out these maps created by Edushi.com.  Not only can you “walk” around a cartoon version of the city, you can also search by streets and landmarks.  I found both my apartment building in Beijing, mysteriously the only one in the complex that is NOT numbered, and my apartment building in Hong Kong.

The site includes such famous cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu, Chongqing, Urumqi, as well as second and third-tier cities like Shijiazhuang and Zibo; the complete list of cities is here.

(via Metafilter!)

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what’s in and what’s out in chinese popular culture


A few months ago in my spoken Chinese class, my teacher displayed this fascinating list of what was in and out in Chinese popular culture as part of her lesson about the internet and slang. Through the miracle of Baidu, I managed to track down the original list to the June 1st edtion of The Information Times. Since I’m on my summer holiday and not doing much (and certainly not updating this blog as much as I had hoped!), I decided to translate the list into English as a way to practice my hard-earned Chinese skills.

There were a few things that I was extremely confused about, that no amount of keyword searching/Baidu image searching would clarify. Obviously, I am totally not IN. For instance, why is the 。out and why is the …… in? Does 清炖 really mean clear soup and 萌 sprouts in this context? I have a feeling that it’s really a pun on purity since 萌 can mean “cute, adorable girls” (or something like that). And what the heck does 恶搞串烧 mean? Any feedback and clarification would be most welcome.

Out In
郁闷 melancholy 纠结 mood swings
牛仔裤 jeans 裤袜 leggings
艺术人生 Artist (CCTV show) 康熙来了 Kangxi Has Arrived (game show)
博客 blogs Twitter
绿色食品 green food 有机食品 organic food
节能灯泡 fluorescent lights 有设计感的白炽灯 well-designed luminescent lights
王家卫 Wong Kar-Wai 宁浩 Ning Hao
注册聊天网站 registering on chat sites 路人申网站 anonymous expression on websites
单机麻将 offline mahjong 开心网种菜 growing plants on kaixin001.com
安妮宝贝 Annie Baby (author and blogger) 不生病的智慧 The Wisdom of Those Who Are Healthy (a book)
星巴克 Starbucks 高档茶馆 high-grade teahouses
请问… Question… google
地图 maps GPS
闹钟 alarm clocks 手机闹铃 cell phone alarms
MP3 网上试听 streaming music
电影院 movie theatres 土豆网 Tudou.com (a website where you can stream full-length films)
电视烹饪节目 TV cooking shows 高价烹饪课程 high-priced culinary courses
天籁之音 the sound of heaven / the sound of nature 恶搞串烧 Internet parody culture created by mashing up random things?
假如给我三天光明 (If You Gave Me) Three Days to See 假如给我一千万 If you gave me 10 million RMB
卡耐基 Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People 杜拉拉 Du Lala, the fictional heroine of Du Lala Gets a Promotion
清炖 clear soup 萌 sprouts
灵魂伴侣 soulmate 存折 bank passbook
祖母的毛衣 grandmother’s sweater 男友的牛仔裤 boyfriend’s jeans
摇滚乐 rock music 非主流 underground music
豆瓣 douban.com 开心网 kaixin001.com
惊艳的美女 breathtakingly beautiful women 惊艳的PS技术 breathtaking Photoshopping
LV Louis Vuitton 高级订制 high-quality custom tailoring
匡威 Converse 回力 Warrior Shoes
忧郁 depressed 不想上班 not wanting to go to work
单位 work units 年薪 annual salaries
跟贴 Threads? 建楼 First post?

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a life displayed: song dong’s ‘waste not’

Song Dong: Waste Not

From the New York Times is this wonderful slideshow and related article of a thought-provoking exhibition in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Created by the artist Song Dong, the exhibition displays the accumulated everyday possessions from the life of a Beijing woman, the artist’s mother Zhao Xiangyuan. Even the most ordinary and inconsequential items are displayed.

She was born in China in 1938 and died in Beijing in January. For nearly 60 years she lived in the city with her husband and two children in a tiny house crammed with domestic odds and ends — clothes, books, kitchen utensils, toiletries, school supplies, shopping bags, rice bowls, dolls — which were used, then recycled, then indiscriminately hoarded. Now the entire cache, every odd button and ballpoint pen, is at MoMA, along with Ms. Zhao’s fridge and bed…It is at once a record of a life, a history of a half-century of Chinese vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence.

Thank you to Brae for sending this to me!

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The fish named Paul

When my friend came to visit, she was staying at one of the Orange Hotels. Her room was not empty when she arrived, however. There was a little tenant already there. Paul the Fish was clearly a very clever fish, since he was armed with a Rubik Cube.

Paul the Fish and his Rubik Cube

Ever the polite houseguest, he even came with a bilingual calling card:

Sadly, Paul died very quickly after my friend’s visit, undoubtedly because his little cube was just barely large enough for him to swim around. Lovely idea, terrible execution. Paul was replaced by Paul II, who was looking none too healthy by the time my friend left.

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Chairman Obama!

Great leaders of China: Hu, Wen, Mao Deng, and Obama! The Republicans are right! Obama IS a Socialist! Here he is, rocking the Chairman Mao look.

Never mind the Cultural Revolution, bring on the Capitalist Revolution. You can buy these little cards for 5 RMB each, as seen in Joy City in Xidan.

* As others have noted, that’s Deng on the cover of Time…embarrassing mistake to make for a former history major!

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Beijing Traffic Cop Dances Cha Cha, Directs Traffic

Just when I’m about to give up on this blog, I come across this most awesome video that reminds me why I started this blog in the first place!

This video is of Beijing traffic police officer He Changqing, directing traffic and doing the cha cha in what is sure to be the patented “He Changqing Traffic Direction Method.”

Via ChinaSMACK, who also has translations of the comments left by Chinese netizens. They range from “so niu (awesome)” to “should be more professional.” Personally, I think if all of Beijing’s traffic cops danced the cha cha, it’d be great. Probably not any more orderly because of all the gawkers, but still more fun than it is now!

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To Be Frugal Is Glorious: In Summation

So, I have not been the best at keeping up this blog. It has simply been too hectic!

At any rate, I failed to keep to my 1000 RMB challenge, especially as my CSC scholarship application fees and sending it to America via DHL totaled about roughly 700 RMB alone. This last month was not a good time to try this project, as I should have taken my scholarship application into account! Keeping track of all my expenses also proved to be too time-consuming, even though it shouldn’t have been because some days the total was 0.

All the same, I learned some valuable things:

1. By reducing my subway trips to about roughly 5 times a week, my temper was much improved and putting on 20 RMB onto my IC card lasts for an entire week. Previously, I could easily spend 150 RMB a month on my IC card alone.

2. Biking is the best way to go, not only is it free–except when I have to park it in a paid lot–but my carbon footprint is much reduced. Also, my usage of taxis is now reduced to once a week, when I go off to tutor a student during the evening.

3. The farmer’s market behind me is a super cheap place for food. The hierarchy of grocery shopping: Jenny Lou’s > Walmart > Sanyuanli > my university > shops in my complex > farmer’s market. I prepared all of my meals for the week on the first two days of the week, so not only did I save money on groceries but I also had a meal waiting for me on all the days I got home at 8 pm. In general, 50-70 RMB on vegetables and small amounts of meat went a long, long way, especially as I always make enough to have leftovers for another meal.

4. Not reading expat magazines helps a lot, since the temptation to spend 100 RMB on one meal is greatly reduced when you’re not comparing your meals to say, the Westin brunch.

5. My spending patterns are generally: M-F spend very little, Saturday and Sunday spend a lot.

6. It’s okay to order in sometimes, otherwise I end up going crazy and blowing far more money than I should because I have finally eaten everything I have available.

7. During this project, it’s remarkable how easy it is to feel guilty about spending 10 RMB on street food.

8. Sometimes it is better to spend more money and save time. I learned this especially when I was racing against the clock to reach the medical center for my health check that I needed for my scholarship. I took a bus, got on it at 7:30 am, was still on it at 9:30, and panicked since the center closes at 11 and they have been known to turn people away when they are too busy. In this case it would have been much better to take the subway and then a 13 RMB taxi, although it was so tempting to only spend 4 mao on two buses to get there. In the end, I ended up blowing 35 RMB on a taxi because I didn’t want to get all the way out to the medical center (which is in some obscure corner of Haidian district) and not do my medical check. Bureaucracy is bad for the wallet!

9. As I live out between the fourth and fifth ring roads, the further out you go, the cheaper it is. In fact the cheapest area for food is definitely my university, where if you spend 15 RMB that’s pushing it.

10. The best free thing to do is take the walks in Beijing by Foot.

Also, I would like to thank all of my wonderful friends who treated me to lunch or dinner while I was doing this project. It was greatly appreciated.

So given my spending patterns, I should say that 1500 RMB is more than enough to cover all of my expenses outside of rent, and that includes eating out two or three times a week. I am saving up for a trip to the UK any way, so I’m going to keep this up. I am probably healthier than I’ve ever been because of all the biking I’m doing.

Finally, I am debating the existence of this blog. Not only do I not have the time to update it, but it is certainly a struggle to find truly quirky things in Beijing. Perhaps what I will do is change the focus since what I am really interested in nowadays is the green lifestyle. In other words, more worms, all the time! XD

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To Be Frugal Is Glorious: 7.3 RMB in 3 Days!

Photo originally from Jalopnik

(Photo originally from Jalopnik.)

After my bad start, I have managed to only spend 7.3 RMB (1.07 USD) in the last 3 days. The only things that I bought on Tuesday were 5 RMB of strawberries (going to make Mark Bittman’s easy sorbet) and 2.3 RMB worth of lettuce, scallions, and bean sprouts. I love living in China, it’s probably more expensive for me to grow vegetables in my container garden than to buy them from the local market.

Here is what I ate in the last few days, mostly shopping in my fridge and cupboards:

- Ate random things throughout the day, including roast potatoes with rosemary, oatmeal, and cereal.
- Shrimp fettucine, I happened to have some shrimp and Parmesean cheese from Sanyuanli market.
- Roast asparagus, very possibly my favorite way to eat asparagus.

- Oatmeal with honey from my local honey guy, that jar of honey that I bought from him lasted 4 months!
- Shrimp fettucine again for lunch
- Fried rice with lettuce, bean sprouts, scallions and Cantonese sausage
- Vegetable soup with a carrot, potato, and spinach.

- Oatmeal
- Fried rice again for lunch
- Vegetable soup
- Dinner was stir-fried broccoli and garlic and vegetable soup, with some freshly ground coffee (very free! as a friend of mine gifted me with three bags of Ugandan coffee beans a while back, bless him.)

- Going to eat fried rice and vegetable soup again. Discovered some frozen potato and sweet potato that I keep around for hotpot, so I tossed that in too.
- Haven’t decided what to eat for dinner yet, probably some winter melon and dried shrimp because I’m definitely craving it. Maybe this roast cauliflower and eggplant recipe because it is one of my favorite things to eat.
- Sorbet when I get around to making it!

Snacks during class, because you try sitting through four hours of Chinese class without starving!:
- Apples
- Edamame
- Celery

Tomorrow, I’m going to definitely have to buy some more vegetables. I never eat that much meat while I’m at home anyway, unless I’m in the mood to make stock.

To be honest, this is not that different from my normal life, as waking up at 6:30 every morning and getting back around 6-7 pm does not leave me a lot of energy or time to spend any money.

Thanks to a tip from Ashleigh that there is a bus system in Beijing!, I have been taking the bus more often, which costs 4 mao to 2 RMB for the subway. The subway is the biggest source of anger and aggravation for me here in Beijing, so I was happy to give that up. In the meantime, discovered that there is a bus that will take me directly from university to work, bypassing two subway transfers, a lot of people pushing and shoving, and years of stress. In fact, it is faster to take the bus, I even showed up at work fifteen minutes early instead of five minutes late.

Mapbar is a handy website where you can plug in where you want to start and end for a bus trip, and then it gives you all kinds of options for the easiest journey. Chinese-only, but a great way to practice Chinese!

And so on, if I can keep this up, not only will I make my goal, but heck, I might even save some money!

My total after 5 days: 209.3 RMB

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To Be Frugal Is Glorious: The 1000 RMB Challenge


For a variety of reasons that can be filed under Being a Student Without Medical Insurance, Visa Problems, and The Unstable Life of Freelancing, once I’ve set aside my rent, I only have 1000 RMB (146.32 USD) for the month for all of my expenses, including bills. Alas, Beijing is an expensive city, not only for China, but in general.

Because I have a tendency to worry about money to the point where it would keep me up at night, I decided to blog this month of expenses. It’ll be more fun that way! Also, it’ll keep on the path of the straight and narrow since it’ll be too embarrassing if I don’t make it. I do have a healthy amount of savings, but savings are savings for a reason, and to be used only for emergencies! I did this before in Changchun, but there you could spend 2000 RMB a month and live like an absolute king.

My friend tells me that for Chinese university students, 1000 RMB is entirely possible. Hey, if there are office workers who are trying to get by on 100 RMB a week, then 1000 RMB for a whole month is practically a luxury! In the meantime, I’ll be discovering and enjoying all of Beijing’s free offerings, few and far between though they may be.

Anyway, I decided to do this a few days ago, so the challenge for me will last from April 4th to May 4th. Depending on how it goes, perhaps I will do it longer since these are perilous times anyway.

So far:

Saturday, April 4th:
- Jianwai Soho Hong Kong Cha Ting: 25 RMB for wonton noodles
- Sequoia Cafe: Book Swap and Board Games Event (I’m an organizer): 23 RMB for a mocha

I spent my Saturday night making a tasty dinner and preparing a compost bin for worm composting, so that was free entertainment. ;)

Total: 48 RMB, not bad but technically I should only be spending 33.3 RMB a day.

Sunday, April 5th:
- Red Wriggler worms for composting and composting spray: 100 RMB (eek!)
- Taxi to Tang Yuan: 20 RMB
- Tang Yuan Dim Sum: 34 RMB

After Tang Yuan, I took a walk using the Beijing By Foot cards, and that was excellent and free fun. For dinner I biked to my friend’s house and we cooked together. Bless her, that was free. XD

Total: 154 RMB
Total so far: 202 RMB, that’s 1/5 of my budget in two days, half of it on worms! Doing my bit for the environment is expensive.

Monday, April 6th:
Today is Tomb Sweeping Day, and I’ve decided to make my super frugal ancestors proud by not spending any money today! So I’m staying at home, doing Chinese homework, correcting student notebooks, and blogging. All of these things are free! My food shopping is being done in the fridge and cupboards, I shan’t waste any food this month!

Well, as you can see, I have already blown a large amount of money on worms and the taxi was not necessary. Not doing too well already! Good thing I’m blogging this, I’m already embarassed.

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