Fine Dining in the Middle Kingdom

April 13th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

Last Friday night (April 11), I went with my new dear friend Shaohan (AKA Gloria) Zhang to a wonderful “western” restaurant in Beijing called “Capital M.” (Here’s the restaurant’s website: My former colleague in China, Deb Reigel, and I found this place 3-4 years ago when both of us were just yearning for some warm bread and butter and (for me) a dry martini! If you look at the restaurant’s website, you can see that it has a full bar (“heaven, I’m in heaven”) and tables with white tablecloths and napkins, and (how do these work again?) forks and knives, and spectacular views of the south gate of Tian’anmen Square.

Here are Shaohan and me on the Capital M terrace:

capital mAnd more of the south gate:


We had a wonderful dinner: A delicious antipasto to start, then “duck in croute” (in a puff pastry) for me and a pork medallion for Shaohan. And of course a martini for me, followed by a glass of a lovely sauvignon blanc and a “frou-frou girlie” drink of some kind for Shaohan. (Probably the same drink Deb ordered when she was there last!)

Then off we went to a huge western hotel somewhere in a business district, where we took the elevator to the 60th floor and Shaohan bought us drinks in the lounge. Another sauvignon for me; another frou-frou drink for Shahan. See here:


Dinner for two, with drinks, came to about $160 USD. Worth every penny!

谢谢亲爱的学生 (Thank You, Dear Students)

April 10th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

I finished teaching my full-time class today. To be sure I won’t forget them, here are my students:

IMG_3043From left to right, front row: Betty, Emerald, Shirley, Cin, me, Yiyi, Miya, Juliana, Grace; second row: Frank, Maggie, Sangyan, Jingyi, David, Jae Woo; back row: Phillip, Teddy, Mikko, Ken, Jason, Tom, Vic, and Joshua! Aren’t they a lovely bunch?

P.S. If you click on the picture, it will get bigger.

Bloomin’ Beida!

April 9th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

The air quality has once again reached the “very unhealthy” stage, requiring me to wear my face mask, but for at least a few days ago, the campus of Beijing University (AKA Beida) was the place to be to see and smell the spring flowers. This is what I see on my walk to class on teaching days:

spring in beijing

The area around “No Name Lake” is full of besotted photographers, taking close-ups of forsythia and lilac blossoms, and whatever those pink flowers are. The BiMBA complex, where I teach, is also full of flowering trees:


Here is my classroom building (AKA Zhifuxuan):


Even the BiMBA restroom is lovely:

bimba bathroom

But most lovely of all was this Chinese bride, whom I spotted on my walk back home after class, having her wedding picture taken by the lake:

bride 2

Ahhhh. May she have many days of such loveliness to come.

The winds were blowing pretty gustily today, so maybe they will blow all the pollution away so we all can stop and smell the flowers with an unmasked nose.

The Summer Palace, Part 二 (er, 2)

April 4th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

These pictures just in!

Betty, Xin, Grace, and I are auditioning to become one of Cixi’s ladies-in-waiting.

ladies in waiting

And here are the lovely Grace and Xin among the flowers:

Grace and Xin

And finally the whole group of us:

motley crew

Thanks again to our students for their hospitality!


Thursday in the Park with Martin (and Vic, and Matthew, and Betty, and Mikko, and Xin, and Phil . . .)

April 4th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

Glory hallelujah, but Thursday was a beautiful day in the Beijing University neighborhood. The pollution rating was actually “GOOD”! So off my colleague Professor Phil and I and some students from both our classes went to visit the Summer Palace (not much more than a stone’s throw from the campus, if you have a really aerodynamic stone and a really strong throwing arm).

I had been to the Summer Palace twice before on previous trips here, but both times I saw the park in mid-winter and it was somewhat stark and bare. This time, spring was busting out all over, and the place was really beautiful.

The Summer Palace was, of course, the summer retreat of the Chinese emperors (“It is good to be the emperor!”) and it is quite vast, covering 720 acres, 3/4ths of it water. The last royal to reside there was the Empress Dowager Cixi, who lived from 1835 to 1908. Empress Cixi was, as we Americans might say, a real piece of work, and she has gone down in history as either a tyrant or a powerful ruler, depending on your assessment of strong-willed women.

My own theory is that Cixi was simply cranky most of the time, as she had teeny tiny bound feet that must have hurt like hell all of the time. (At least she didn’t have to worry about walking; she was carried on a litter by bearers every where she needed to go.) [Note to the Beijing administrators: See about arranging a litter and bearers to carry me around the campus.] Here’s a picture of Cixi:

CixiGreat outfit, yes?

So meanwhile, we all spent the time moseying around some of the park, enjoying the beautiful weather (I knew those winds would come sooner or later to blow the smog away!), chatting, and eating delicious snacks, provided by our dear students. Here are some more pictures:

summer palaceThe first climb up to the Summer Palace. (See why I am requesting that litter? Thanks to Matthew and Vic for lending me their arms to get DOWN the stairs. Bad knee, remember?)


And lovely willows wafting in the breeze.

me & empress boat

And me in front of Cixi’s marble boat. Yes, an entire boat made of stone. Not meant to be sailed. Just meant to PARTY! (It is good to be the empress.)

me & spring

And me enthralled by the spring flowers.

Thanks again to our wonderful students for a wonderful day!

Mystery Solved

March 29th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

So I went down to dinner again to the restaurant in the Shaoyuan hotel (where I’m staying) and this time I realized why they had not let me eat from the buffet on my first night here: The buffet is only for breakfast! There is actually no food in the serving dishes after the morning service. So sorry, lovely fuwuyuans (waitresses), for doubting you!

But speaking of the lovely fuwuyuans, I managed to communicate with my waitress that I wanted the vermicelli dish and the eggplant dish, but no rice (which is listed on the menu as a “staple”). OK, she was surprised, but fine. Then sometime later, in the middle of my meal, another waitress runs over to give me a fork! And here I thought I was using my chopsticks so expertly! I politely declined the fork, of course. Chopsticks or die!

Wouldn’t that be a great name for a rock band?

Jiaozi! (Jow-zuh!)

March 27th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

Some of my current and one of my former students took me out to lunch today for an absolutely fabulous meal of mostly jiaozi (dumplings), my all-time favorite Chinese food. We had 5 different kinds, I think, from dumplings stuffed with shrimp and veggies, to lamb, to pork, to who knows what else, every one of them delicious. Plus a delectable fish soup, some fried pork thingies, spicy chicken and peanuts, and sauteed snow peas. I was told that some of the dishes (the soup in particular) was in the style of Dongbei Province.

Here we are (Miya, Jason, me, Vic, and Xu Fang), stuffed and happy:
jiaoziThank you again, dear students, for a most enjoyable outing!

I told them that jiaozi were especially dear to me because they were the first food I ever had in China. In 2006, the first time I went to Beijing to teach, on my first day the school sent a grad student to give me a tour of the Peking University campus. At lunch time, he took me to a dumpling restaurant on campus and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The only incident marring the sublime experience occurred when I tried to pick up a slippery dumpling with chopsticks, lost control of my fingers, and flipped the dumpling up in the air so that it landed in the middle of the table next to us. The diners there were most surprised. (I wanted to tell them that it was just an American tradition called “dumpling flinging,” but I figured they just wouldn’t understand.)

I Can’t See My House from Here

March 26th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

One of the most amazing insights one gets from finding oneself on another continent is the sudden realization that there is so much more to the world than just the United States.

For example, tonight I was watching the only English language channel I can get here on the Peking University campus, CCTV9, where they were broadcasting a breaking news story about the debris found in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean (so sad, so sad). Suddenly, the station switched to “Africa Live” and a very professional, very attractive female anchor proceeded to tell us about what is happening in various African countries. Does anyone in the US pay any attention to what is happening in Johannesburg (besides the Pistorius case)? Well, of course we are more interested in our own little corner of the world, and we want to know if they’ve found any more survivors of that terrible mudslide in Washington, or if it’s still snowing in New York City, what’s up in DC, and whether Brad Pitt is going to make a new movie. I am more interested in knowing what’s up with my family members than in what yours are doing.

But then you go to, say, Asia, and you get this strong sense that you are not just a citizen of the United States–you are a citizen of the WORLD, a much bigger proposition. Even the weather report on CCTV9 tells us the highs and lows in Dubai and New Delhi and Dublin, and (once in a while) Los Angeles. When I am in Beijing, I feel like I am somehow on top of the world, with a broader view than I could ever get at home in New Mexico.

Oh, but wait: CCTV9 is now reporting that Michelle Obama and her daughters spent the day in Chendu visiting the Giant Pandas. Yes! News from home! (Sort of.)

So sad . . .

March 24th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling 1 comment »

PKU hazardousToday the air quality in Beijing was over 300, which is HAZARDOUS. It’s so sad, because otherwise the PKU campus is so pretty, especially in the spring, when the forsythia is just starting to bloom. Above is what the usually lovely “No Name” lake looked like today (would that it were fog . . .).

And here is what the well-dressed Beijinger looks like: mask

Everyone is hoping that the spring winds will come soon!

Adventures in Eating, Day One

March 23rd, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

On my first full day in Beijing, I decided to check out the restaurant in the hotel for dinner because I had seen yesterday that they seemed to have some sort of a buffet set up (and of course buffets are great if you’re eating in another language, as you just have to select various foods that simply look tasty, without having to worry about translating the menu). At 6 PM, the restaurant was almost empty, which is always a better situation if one is dining alone (“Yi ge ren” = one person), as you don’t take up too much space. (Most Chinese restaurants have these large round tables with a large “lazy susan” on them, obviously encouraging the patrons to eat in large groups, not singly.) And that’s when things got a little weird.

I tried to figure out how to ask the “fuwuyuan” (waitress) if I could just have the buffet, but of course there is no equivalent of “buffet” in Chinese (apparently) and she was completely flummoxed by my request. Then a second fuwuyuan came over, and between the two of them, they were able to make it clear to me that I could not partake of the buffet; I had to order from the menu. (I still don’t know why I couldn’t eat from the buffet.)

So I took a look at the menu and TGBD (Thanks be to God, as my mother would say), there were English translations of the dishes. I decided to forgo the “pigeon stew” (which appeared to contain an ENTIRE pigeon, head and all) in favor of BBQ’d spareribs and an egg/chicken/tender green onions stir fry and “mi fan” (rice). When the food came, I was reminded of how generous the portions are here: I was served enough food to give me 3, maybe 4 more dinners. (Two years ago I learned how to say “da bao”—the Chinese equivalent of “doggie bag”—a very useful thing to know!) I also knew how to ask for a beer (“Wo yao yi ping pi jiu, Tsingtao pi jiu.”) without having to look at the menu. Ah, all those Chinese lessons are really paying off.

So I am stuffed, I have enough leftovers to heat up for 3 or more days, and I still don’t know why I couldn’t just have the buffet.

Oh, and BTW, the whole feast cost me 99 RMB ($15 US).



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