Spring, I hardly knew you

The best time of the year to visit Beijing is Spring. The temperatures are comfortable, gusty winds generally keep the skies blue and trees begin to bloom.

Dormant streets come to life, as old men hunker over small tables to watch card games. Vendors pack up their tents and grill barbecue in the open. Children who have been cooped up all winter shed a few layers of clothes and run freely in the warm air.

It sounds romantic, but the truth is Beijing’s Spring is more of an intense fling. That’s because it passes in the blink of an eye. After five months of extreme cold (this winter, which saw the coldest temperatures in Beijing in more than 30 years and long stretches of dangerous air pollution, was especially trying), we get about one month of good weather in May, followed by four months of blazing-hot summer. Continue reading

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White male seeking red roses

Finding a flower shop had never been so hard. Then again, this was the first time I’d tried to do it on an island in China.

It was Valentine’s Day, which unfortunately also happens to be my girlfriend’s birthday. I say unfortunate because the stakes are twice as high. Choose a lame gift or a less-than-spectacular restaurant and the consequences are exponentially bad.

We were visiting Gulangyu, a small island off the coast of Xiamen in the southeastern province of Fujian. Gulangyu became a treaty port after the First Opium War (1839-42), and 13 countries — including the US, Spain and Japan — established consulates, churches and businesses. Continue reading