Sunday, November 13, 2011


Before I moved to China I had questions about how I would access my favorite things for entertainment. I remember thinking, "How will we watch Survivor?" Survivor has been the one and only show that all four members of my family enjoy equally. We would weekly gather to watch it together...I cannot emphasize enough how much we all enjoyed it equally as that NEVER happens with any other show or movie.

Here is a breakdown on how we access things to entertain us.
TV Shows~ There are a few ways to watch TV shows here. 
First, there is live t.v. We get 5 English speaking stations (AXN-Asia, CNN World, MSNBC world, HBO Asia, Discovery). I cannot emphasize enough that the stations that are common to the US are not the same stations. For example, HBO and CNN are not showing the same shows that the US is. CNN mostly reports world news, but Anderson 360 and Piers Morgan is on in the morning. HBO shows older movies and none of the big HBO series shows. AXN-Asia does show a couple of reality shows (Top Chef and The Amazing Race) but the digital transmission is so messed up you can't see the images. They also have some different shows that are cooky called "Cash Can Asia" and "Kitchen Musical" (which is supposed to be like Glee but in the kitchen of a restaurant).  The  big bummer about live t.v. is that there is no DVR here. How did we ever watch our shows when they actually aired?
A second way to watch t.v. shows is by buying DVD seasons. DVDs are a way of life here because they are so cheap. It is really great to buy an entire season of a show, but they are always a season or two behind. This works well when you are beginning to watch an older show. For example,  we got hooked on Hawaii 5-0. Unfortunately, when you watch all the DVDs and get caught up to the States, it is hard to wait an entire year before the next season comes out on DVD. We are currently waiting patiently for "Modern Family" & "The Middle", so no spoilers please!
When our patience just runs out and we cannot wait for the season to come out on DVD we turn to downloading t.v. episodes onto our Apple TV from iTunes. We have done this with Hawaii 5-0 because a) last season left on such a cliffhanger we could not possibly wait and b) I needed my McGarrett Hawaii fix and c) I wanted to discuss the ongoing story line with fellow watchers from the States instead of after the fact. On iTunes an episode for a show costs $1.99 ($2.99 for HD) or you can buy a season subscription. I have had to really hold back or else I would be racking up an enormous itunes bill.
The funny thing about t.v. shows are the ones I thought I couldn't live without (Survivor and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) are ones we haven't even watched.

Internet~ Our VPN (virtual private network) allows me to Facebook and blog, but it doesn't help with the speed of the internet. Therefore, YouTube is something that we rarely use. Likewise, watching free episodes of t.v. shows is impossible.  I tried watching a 44 minute episode of Hawaii 5-0 one time on CBS. com and it took me three hours and pausing after each line (I couldn't pause it to download in it's entirety). I also uploaded a three minute video to YouTube and it took me two and a half hours. Anything where I am downloading or uploading (even pics to FB) I dread. But I am thankful to be able to access websites that I never thought I would be able to.

Movies~ Going to the movie theater is not something we have done yet. China only allows 20 foreign movie titles a year into their box offices. They are quite expensive and there hasn't been anything released that we just had to see.
As I said earlier, DVDs are really inexpensive here so that is the way we go. We pay 8 RMB ($1.20 USD) per DVD. There are moral questions about purchasing the DVDs, but we quickly learned that if you buy a DVD at Wal-Mart (do not even think this is the same as Wal-Mart in the states) they are the same "type" of DVDs as the market, you just pay 40 RMB for them. It is impossible to find legitimate movies here. The funny thing about the DVDs are they all have Chinese subtitles at the bottom. While watching "The Help" this weekend we noticed the subtitles were for a completely different movie, "Crazy, Stupid Love". We have also heard from friends that while they were watching "Kung Fu Panda 2" in Chinese, with English subtitles, there were racial slurs and profane! Needless to say, we now own many DVDs of current and recent movies, the quality is always questionable.

Reading Material~ I really miss magazines. I never really appreciated them until I could not get them. But the other day I saw a copy of "Better Homes & Gardens" and squealed with joy, only soon to find out it was all in Chinese. I think I may research if I can get a subscription to a favorite magazine sent to me here...daring!
I brought eight books with me, thinking that would last me until my visit home in December. I was so wrong. I read those books in about three weeks (have I mentioned I have time on my hands?). Foreign bookstores are few a far between here in Beijing. I do have one about a 30 minute walk from my apartment. The prices run about $15-$20 USD for a paperback.  Some ways I have been able to get my hands on more books is having E check them out from her school library for me, buying from a foreign bookstore while on vacation in Japan, and downloading them onto my iPhone from iTunes. I always knew a Kindle, Nook or iPad was a great thing but I am the type that likes the actual book. Here, digital books are totally the way to go, for access but also because I can pull out my "book" on the subway, in a waiting room or in a taxi to read. With these digital books I have been reading an average of a book a week. I hope to begin a book swap with friends. Any good recommendations? Currently I am reading the biography of Steve Jobs...I owe a lot to this man since I couldn't function in China without my iPhone and Apple TV.

Podcasts~ Speaking of Apple products...I have come late to the game of podcasts, but am now so grateful for them. First of all, they are FREE! If they are audio podcasts I download them straight to my iphone. I have listened to spiritual podcasts, mandarin language podcasts and comedy podcasts. I am always searching for something interesting to listen to for free! If they are video podcasts we download them to our Apple TV. Each night we all gather around and watch Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News. Funny that US news was not something that I was particularly interested in while in the States, but now I grasp onto it for the connection. I also like podcasts because they don't take as long to download as TV shows.

Games~  I knew that games would be important to us here, so I brought along our favorite board games and Wii. There is nothing like bonding over a round of "Egyptian Rat Slap" or "Dominoes". We try to play together at least three times a week. Puzzles are popular here and readily available to buy, but American board games are something we will always need to bring from the States. 

Of course, entertainment is always important to us as humans and I am so grateful that I have access to some of the American entertainment we had at home. I hope that by the time we head back home we will have acquired some forms of Chinese entertainment.


Liz R. said...

i love LOVE love the armstrong and getty podcast. it's on talk 910 am radio here. they are hilarious, a bit political mixed in with current events and good dads. they keep me current on events w/o being bored. i listen to it every chance i get! they feel like family to me. the one's guy's wife is preggo w/ their second child and i'm seriously considering sending him a baby gift!

Liz R. said...

oh yeah - and they are local, so you'll hear NoCal craziness!

Heather said...

I've been using Zinio for years to get digital magazines. And now they have tons of titles to choose from (I'm pretty sure Better Homes & Gardens is there.) Check for details.

As for books, I find more and more that ebooks and audiobooks (I like are the way to go, but I do love browsing the "library" at The Bookworm. For 200RMB (may be 300?) per year, you get access to all the books for checkout (except for the bookstore section.) They have a pretty good selection. Occasionally I give in and pick up a book from Page One, which is a new bookstore in the China World Mall (In section 3, the newest and furthest north.) It has a great children's section and I particularly love the craft and cooking sections. Prices are better than the Foreign Language Bookstore on Wangfujing. Sometimes I just go there to feel like I am back in the US. It is actually a Singapore chain that has branches all over Asia.

There is also a cute little cafe/book shop that sometimes has American magazines at The Place mall, on the second floor of the section that has a French Connection store. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it is called. It has mostly Chinese books but what I go for is to browse the English art books and they always have cute artsy/craftsy things for sale that make great, unique gifts for family back home.

I swap books among friends and sometimes pick up a couple to read when I go to the British Club meetings. British Club is a social group for all nationalities in Beijing. They have a few boxes of books at every meeting for borrowing. And maybe you've heard of the Roundabout charity store in Shunyi? They are not open at the moment, but they occasionally put on great book sales at some of the schools out there. Last, but not least, there is a monthly book swap/board game afternoon at the Sequoia Cafe inside the Jianguomen Diplomatic Compound not far from Ritan Park. They do them on Saturday afternoons once a month. Usually they are advertised on The Beijinger website.

Are you on the Yahoo Group Beijing Cafe? It is invite only. If you are not, you should be, as that is where I hear about all the Roundabout Book sales, book swap, and other useful things. I can help you get an invite.

Anyway, if you need more advice or directions, please feel free to email me! imaglobalgalATgmailDOTcom In case you're wondering why I have written a novel here about books in Beijing, I am a librarian and so quite passionate about the subject!