Saturday, May 31, 2008

stadiums galore

So last Friday I went to see a track and field event at the big fancy Olympic Stadium with my office, and took a bunch of pictures but forgot to put them up. The event was the China Athletics Open, basically a bullshit track and field invitational of almost entirely Chinese athletes so that Olympic organizers could test everything out with the stadium. The highlight was seeing Liu Xiang, the world record hurdler, compete in a semi-final heat. Right before the runners set he switched jerseys from the local Shanghai team to the China Olympic team jersey. He was broadcast on the big screen and when he took off his shirt you could literally hear every woman in the stadium twitter with excitement. It was also a really smoggy day, which you can see in some of the pictures even inside the stadium.

For comparison, check out the north gate of Worker's Stadium, built back in the late 50s I believe and the venue for the soccer games. It's actually fairly large, seats about 80,000, and was the host of many a mass rally during the Cultural Revolution during the 1960s. I live right across the street from here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


It is Sanlitun, and not Sanlituan. Thanks for pointing that out. However, it will still from here on out be known as The Tuan and the reason for this will be first because it sounds better to me than Tun and second, well there is no second. If you want something creative just say I combined the tu from tun with the an from san to get Tuan, The Tuan.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where Did All the Blockbusters Go?

In China, the equivalent to Blockbuster Video is the bootleg DVD shops. And as I mentioned before they are all closing because of the Olympic crack downs, I also mentioned that the only one that is probably open is in The Tuan (The Tuan is Sanlituan and from here on out and forever going forth will only be known as The Tuan), but I was so wrong about that, well...sort of. The other day, I went to The Tuan to meet the Golzer for some drinks at Saddle, more about that in like five more sentences. But because I arrived early, I had some time to kill and decided to check out the DVD story that is pretty popular in The Tuan, well it used to be anyway. Upon arrival, I look in and the place looks almost completely empty, except for a few Chinese DVDs in the front of the store. I see this lone girl standing, in the store and ask her where are all the dvds. She looks at me looks outside left to right and the says follow me. As I am following her and not knowing where she is taking me except that I can tell it is to the back of the store to some room, she is constantly looking over here shoulder. I am like okay, this is shady, but whatever its China. We go threw one door that leads outside and then another that looks like an apartment and through this apartment looking door is pretty much where the whole DVD store has moved to. It looks almost exactly like the old store accept the room is slightly more narrow. I think they were working on a secret knock when I left.

After learning the secret knock, I met the Golzer at Saddle. It is this new hip new Mexican place. That I have kept seeing from Kokomos and could never figure out exactly how to get to it. The entrance is hidden by the blatantly obvious. I heard from someone one who heard from someone else that a Mexican said it is the best Mexican food in Beijing. So I will take that is fact. And it is definitely the best authentic Mexican food I have had in China. What makes the place great is not its nice outdoor seating and not even its bucket of 5 Sol beers for 100 kuai (which I don't think is that great of a deal), but what makes the place great is on Tuesdays, they have special for three big ass tacos for 40 kuai. And you get your choose of chicken, beef, poor, or veggie filling. The veggie filling was my favorite. Definitely, a good place to go on a Tuesday to have a quick drunk happy hour. If you go, make sure you go with Jimmy, he's crazy.

Today, I had a nice debate something I have absolutely no idea about, like most of the the time, with a Chinese female colleague, who is probably much more knowledgeable about the subject because she has a kid, about pregnancy. We were having a debate about how long pregnancy last. I was saying like I was taught in health class that pregnancy last 9 months and she was saying like she was probably told from her doctor when she was pregnant or from experience that it last 10 months. And I was like no way that is crazy, why do Chinese people stay pregnant longer? I was like in the states it is 9 months. I was like how are Chinese people different? But finally after another female colleague chimed in who recently had a baby and googling it, the correct answer is 40 weeks which translates to about 9 months and ten days depending on a leap year. So we were both wrong, but I was more right if you round.

Highlight of the Day: My sister finally turned 35 and I can't wait to make fun of how old she is.

some thoughts about beijing traffic

So everybody's heard about how bad the traffic is here. Of course, living in the Bay Area and Washington, DC, I've been stuck in worse traffic. But I think what's striking is how fast it's gotten bad, as more and more Chinese people get rich enough to buy cars. Even three years ago we would hop in a cab and haul ass across the entire city. Now the roads seem full of cars almost 24 hours a day.

However, I am convinced that the vast majority of traffic is caused by simple bad driving. I mean, Beijing really doesn't have all that many cars, only 129 private vehicles per 1000 people, compared to 455 for the Bay Area and 338 in the New York City metro area. (I actually went out and calcuated these numbers from census data. That's how much I care about this blog.)

The problem is that Beijing drivers, especially the ones driving private cars, haven't been driving for very long. For example, I don't know why, but there is this obsession with backing into regular spots. I guess it makes it easier to pull out, but I think driving straight in and then backing out is easier overall. There's also a lot of parallel parking going on, because not many parking lots have been built and so a lot of parking is on the street (or in the bike lanes). Remember how hard it was to do this stuff when you were 16? Basically you've got a city full of 16-year-olds. Luckily in China cheap labor abounds, so there is an army of parking attendants whose main job is to shout at people about to back into somebody else's Audi.

And this all translates onto the road itself. People driving too slow, cutting people off, deciding to turn right from the left-turn lane, etc. Throw in cabbies and bus drivers, all of whom know how to drive and yet drive like maniacs, and you've got a dangerous mix.

At the same time, pedestrians just don't quite help either. Instead of waiting for the light to change, they all continously edge into the street, often forcing three lanes of traffic down to one. Just so, what? you can save five seconds when the light actually does turn green? And risk getting run over by a cement truck because there is an absolute universal disregard to stopping for a right turn on a red light? Bikers are worse, because bikes are so big. It's not unusual to see some old lady just kind of hanging out in the middle of an intersection, blocking several buses.

Durrell said that he's surprised at how many accidents he doesn't see, and I have to agree.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Olympics Are Screwing Things Up for My World

Although I found out that I have Olympic tickets to all the Track and Field finals, I am still unhappy about what the Olympic in Beijing is doing to my way of life here in China. They seem like minor things but they are major for me. The first one that I have slow noticed is happening and complete turned my world up side down is the fact that the DVD stores are no long selling the cheap bootlegged copies that they were once selling. Because of China's crack down on the shops many of the stores are selling more expensive copies, at least many of the stores around where I live. I am sure I can still go to Sunlituan and find some bootlegs, but I am not even sure how long that will last and I can always buy from the guy standing on the corner but he doesn't live near me and I don't no much about his quality.

The second thing that I noticed and I knew was going to be a problem , but I didn't expect it so soon. Is that the bars are so crowded now. I don't know exactly if it is an Olympics influence or just because it was sunny this weekend or because there was a birthday part. But my favorite bar was so crowded and I couldn't even get on the terrace. And I am not sure if all the terraces were like this, but I am positive during the Olympics it is going to be like this. I got make sure that I found some hidden bar that no one is going to know about. But with so many people coming, I doubt that will happen.

And another thing is the visa problems that are being caused by the Olympics. It is causing so many people to have to leave, which also causing so many going away parties, and part of the reason the bars are crowded. If the government would have not changed the rules for visas, I wouldn't have to go to so many going away parties and not have to keep making new friends. It's so annoying.

I had something else to complain and ramble on about, but I forgot it. So we can stop here.

Non-Highlight of the Day: Sending Audrey to the graveyard, I am sure in some way her death has to do with the Olympics as well.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Off to the 9th or 12th Ring

Today or yesterday, depending on when I finish writing this blog, I went to the Summer Palace which is way the hell out there in Beijing, some where around like the 9th or 12th ring of Beijing. The area is shrouded in dust and the remains of giants. It looks much like what you think Beijing looked like in the old days, like in 1990. I am not talking about the Summer Palace but the area around it like the little streets adjacent to it. But besides the copious amounts of dust, that makes it seem you are in a wild wild west movie, it is a cool area. It makes you feel like you are really in China, obviously the CBD is China but doesn't feel like the China experience. Out here in the 9th ward (really like the 5th or 6th ring) it feels more like small town China, with its open area fruit and vegetable market and other misc thing market and small shops.

The Summer Palace was totally BOOK. It didn't really go inside the actually buildings of the Summer Palace but spent most the time hanging out on a pedal boat. It reminded of me being on Lake Washington in the summer time. Parts of the Summer Palace even look a little bit like Seward part except with a lot more Chinese people everywhere. There where not that many white people yet (this will probably bring even more people searching that to our blog, which brings me to another point, as more and more people use the internet or the information gatherer as I like to call it, more and more people are searching very unusual stuff to gain access to our site. I have mentioned this before, but the newest and strangest thing they are searching is "was just visiting you didn't have to do him like that," it is by far the most searched thing to get access to our site. I am not sure why someone is searching this, but if you are the one, I am sorry to inform you, we are probably not the site you are looking for), because its not quite tourist season. Anyway, hanging out on the lake at the Summer Palace is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon and the dust that blows relentlessly in that area doesn't really attack you on the lake, so its a great hang out on sunny day.

Blogs latest post reminded me of how long it takes me to put two and two together. I forgot that my Aiyi is from Sichuan and that her family might be in harms way. So, I sent her a text message, to see how her family is doing. All of them are doing okay, but she says that her house is about to cave in. So if you want to send me money to give her to help her with her problem, I will use it to pay her salary the rest of time I am here, so you can help me and her at the same time.

Highlight of the Day: The banana chocolate chip pancakes I made and hanging out on the lake.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

three minutes of something

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, Monday was the first day of three days of mourning for the earthquake victims. At 2:28 there was supposed to be a nationwide three minutes of silence...except...anything with horns was supposed to blow said horn. Cars, boats, (trains and planes?). So a very loud three minutes of silence.

The result was one of my more bizarre experiences here. We went outside with thousands of other of office workers in the area, and sure enough right at 2:28 on the dot the various security guards and police around removed their hats and the cars, all of which had stopped in preparation, honked their horns. There was some speculations as to whether they could keep it up for the entire three minutes, but they did. One cab driver nearby was honking already because of all the stopped cars. Or maybe he was just overeager. Most people bowed their heads and at least a few were crying. It was strangely impressive.

Our maid, like many in the big cities in China, is from Sichuan. Her family is alright apparently, though she said their house was something, then made a kinda wobbly motion with her hand. Which probably means they've had to move out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sorry it's been a while since I've rapped at ya, but things have been busy in the casa de Ben. More in depth posts will be coming soon, but I thought I'd treat you to the most boring post in the history of the blog: a series of pictures of intersections in Beijing.

Those who got this far get a brief tidbit: I got a new computer today at work, but the clock was two hours fast, something I noticed but eventually forgot, until I got home and realized that I had accidentally left work almost an hour and a half early.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tailors and Tragedies

I think my tailored made suit went pretty successful. It is not perfect by any means, if you look close you can tell that they made it kind of rushed and I am eager to see how long it holds up. But it is pretty nice for a three button suit, even though I should have took the Golzer's advice and went with a two button. I think It would have looked much better as a two button. What do you think of me trying to get my Obama on?

The total cost of the suit with two tailor made shirts (I got French cuff dress shirts and I am not quite satisfied with the result, next time I will get regular shirts or bring a shirt to copy) was a total of 1050 RMB and if goes math is right, which it is always is that's about $150 dollars depending on the exchange rate. I think that is a good deal for two shirts and suit. If you like what you see, and I mean the suit not me, (I know I like good, I love me some me) go check out the third floor of Yashou. Maybe you can find the tailor we used, I am not going to tell you which one because if people keep accidentally reading this blog and actually take my advice, they might just go and our tailor might starting raising the price on us. And that's not what this blog is intended for, it is definitely not intended to make things in China more expensive for me.

Something that I have noticed that I didn't think was the case when I was first here in 2005 is that Chinese are more willing to donate money to certain causes. Maybe I didn't notice because there was not huge disasters when I was here last time, but many people have been giving money to help with the relief, well when I say many people all the people in my office who were there when they were going around collecting money. I think maybe I am naive and this has been going on for a long time, but I am pretty sure it is a new thing that goes a long with the growing discretionary incomes When, I tried to ask about it, I got answer that did not go along with my theory so I largely ignored it. The answer was that in the last earthquake many Chinese gave what they could, but that was 1976 and the country was not nearly as prosperous as it is today. So, I will just go with my original theory no matter how wrong it is.

But speaking of things that don't change, the Chinese superstitious tradition is still alive and well. I was hearing from some of my Chinese colleagues that the Olympics partly to blame because of this. It was all in jest, but still interesting. There are people saying because the Olympics is on 8/8/08 at 8pm, the tragedies have happened because of this. Since there is four 8 there will be four tragedies, so far three have happened: the earthquake, the snowstorms, and the protest. I am interested to see what the fourth will be. So far none of the tragedies have happened in Beijing or in the North. I guess the North is next.

Highlight of the Day: Being completely wrong but still getting a home cooked dinner.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tectonic Plates Collide

Today was very interesting to me and it reminded me that I have forgotten almost everything I have ever learned in grade school and that I am probably not smarter than a fifth grader. I say this because today there was an earthquake and I just sat there in my chair first trying to figure out why i felt a shaking my chair, then once I realized it was an earthquake, I spent the next few seconds trying to figure out how to say earthquake in Chinese. I ended up blurting out 战争(zhanzheng, war) instead of 地 (dizhen, earthquake), man my Chinese really bad. But instead of what I have been formally trained to do a million times growing up on the West Coast (that is get under your desk) I just sat there like a dummy. And when my Chinese colleagues all began to say lets get the hell out of here. I almost followed them downstairs. I am not sure if I should have followed or not, but I opted to stay, mainly because I do know you are not supposed to take an elevator during an earthquake and I wasn't going to walk down 18 flights of stairs, so I thought it be wiser if I stayed in the building. Plus stuff can fall on your head outside, which is how I justified my stay. Anyway, the interesting part was watching everyone in my office and the surrounding offices run out their offices and start to leave the building. As me, the lone foreigner stayed in the building like an idiot. I think that they most have remembered their earthquake training better than I, considering the fact they all did the same thing and got the hell out of there.

But rumor has it that between 10pm and midnight another earthquake is going to strike Beijing between 2-6 magnitude. Which has so of my friends who have not lived in earthquake prone areas worrying. I try to tell them I have farted 6.0 earthquakes but they don't take any comfort in that. But if these are my last words, I just want to say it has been a great run and I want to leave you with this pearl of wisdom...well I couldn't think of anything clever so I guess I am just going to leave you with nothing, but know this the la duzi has been worth it most of the time, except last night. Last night it wasn't really worth it, the food was just okay.

On a brighter note, I can't wait to go to the refitting of my suit tonight.

And on a completely different note, a while back step up google analytics for our blog. It is amusing to see what people search to get directed to our blog. Right now, one of the top searches that gets our blog to show up on google is "white people in china." But here are a list of some of my favorites that gets our blog to show up:

"awesome sunglasses"
"threesome experience"
"annies dirty feet video"
"are there a lot of stairs in china"
"can you start a sentence with ironically" (I like this one, because I often do)
"China peeing"

By making this list I probably am just going to get more people to come to this blog who are searching these things.

Springtime for Mao

I guess since we made it on the NPR blog role (I must be old because I have to admit, I am a big fan of NPR), the only thing left to do is attack the big time China blogs and make them put us on their list. I think if Clark keeps up with his hard hitting journalism we will be on all the big time blog is no time. Time and Danwei you are next, it's only a matter of time before you respect my illiterate musings.

Last week, I finally arrived back to Beijing and after almost three weeks of being away. And I must say it is great to be back and a lot has changed. First, even though when I first landed I thought it was it was snowing, but for the most part that white stuff and from the trees has completely stopped, at least inside the third ring. It might still look like it is snowing out near the airport. But being back has been great excluding today and yesterday, because it has been so warm here, not warm like it is in the summer, where I hear it is unbearable hot, but warm like the spring. Spring has finally come to Beijing. Another thing that has happened, at least it seems that way to me, is that Beijing has become so much more luscious and greener. The trees are so full now, like they never new pollution existed in this city. Also, its seems like the streets are must cleaner than when I left. And the biggest changed that I have noticed is how rapidly buildings are being completed. When I left so many buildings were not as nearly on their way to completion as they are now. Certain parts of the city I didn't even notice. Even behind my apartment building looks completely different. It is amazing how fast they can throw a building up.

On another note, the Golzer seems to know more about the Beijing after a month than I do after 8. This weekend when I was hanging out with him, he took me on a fun advantage of the city. We went and got some suits and shirts made. Oh, on a side note, while we were picking out fabric for the suits and shirts there was this guy in the booth next to us talking about kicking Americans, I am not sure of the whole story, but when he can to the part about kicking the Americans he seemed really angry at whatever provoked it and very happy with the kicking of them, I mention this because like I said before Nancy Pelosi is making it hard to be an American in China, it's all your fault Nancy. We also went on a bike ride to a place called the Drum and Bell cafe, it gets to thumbs up for awesomeness and one of my new favorite spots. I really need the Golzer to show me more of the city. Last weekend was also fun because the Golzer and I tried to string some yarn across from his apartment to mine so that we could speak to each other through two tin cups, and when I say try, I mean suggested the idea and the Golzer shot me down, due to the fact there is an enormous whole in the ground between our two buildings.

Highlight of the Day: They brought back the fresh melon to the cafeteria.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

welcome npr listeners!

Yes, you read that right. For some reason, we've been listed as a link on's blog related to an upcoming broadcast of All Things Considered (big fan, here) from Chengdu. We're listed second to the blog written by the China editors for TIME magazine. It's sort of embarrassing; I mean, I'm writing about drinking all night in Hangzhou and posting videos that don't even work. Though I think we all know the real reason for such an honor: Clark's many insightful posts. Clark, don't change what you're doing. It's apparently brought us enormous success.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

shanghaied once again

this past weekend was the may day holiday. we got thursday and friday off, so i decided after much deliberation to take off to shanghai, to visit my friend emily, and hangzhou, to visit middlebury kids and former teachers, etc. i got back to beijing close to midnight sunday night dirty, disheveled and a mere shell of the man i used to be. here are some highlights and deep thoughts about the trip, in no particular order:

1. those who know me well know that i refuse to either take or be a part of pictures in which people have to lean in to fit in the frame. this types of pictures are most common among college girls, usually taken in the dorm room before going out. that being said, the people in the video below clearly do not know me very well. see if you can figure out when i indicated i was actually filming them. but the video actually works on so many levels. make sure you also listen to the background, where you can hear the inimitable jefferson egging on the crowd.

UPDATE: here is a link for all the haters who can't see the video:
2. this is a long highlight, so i will continue it here. jefferson is the nigerian owner of co-co club in hangzhou, where we spent from about 1:00AM to 5:15AM on saturday (because we were too cheap to get a hotel room). we attempted to leave around 3:00, but were easily swayed by a free bottle of absolut. jefferson decided to call me spiderman, because i was wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up, and referred to himself as superman. i didn't argue.

3. compared to beijing, the shanghai subway is much less civilized, to use the parlance of our times. people shoving to get on before anyone even gets off and the escalators are simply a mess. as all my former teachers in hangzhou mentioned, i'm much thinner than i was three years ago. that's actually because i've been adhering to a strict weight loss diet in order to sharpen my elbows, but i've yet to put them to use in beijing.

4. so the question: is a two hour flight from shanghai to beijing 4.5 times better than a 13-hour overnight hard seat train ride? yes, absolutely. especially during the holiday. upon getting on the train in beijing the car was so crowded with standing-only passengers it literally took me twenty minutes to get from one end of the car to the other where my seat was. easily one of the roughest trips of my life, second only to that yunnan sleeper bus ride i wrote about years ago (after reviewing past posts, all i said was that it was quite horrible. and it was). also, even though i had to sit next to a fat american tourist on the plane (what are the chances?), it's worth it to keep greasy college kids from sleeping on you.

trying on the local fashions. too much arm? i think i look a bit cheap

5. i spent most of my time in shanghai sleeping, but i've been there before and so didn't have much i wanted to see. shanghai is a much nicer city for strolling around in. it's way more similar to a european city than beijing, it has a more "human" scale, as architects like to say. beijing is like some freakish bizarro world for giants.

so i'm back in beijing. i finally found a place to live, though can't actually move in until next week for ridiculous visa-related issues. i didn't find that out until i moved most of my stuff over there. but luckily it's really close to durrell's place so i'm sort of living in two apartments for now. but anyway, here's a picture of my building taken from durrell's. it's the hot pink one. hell yeah.

another beautiful day in beijing

Friday, May 02, 2008

Depreciating America

Its been like a month since the last time I wrote a post and a lot has happened then. For example, I am in the US now, which is a big change from my last post. But that is just for a business trip, if you didn't get to see me while I was here, that is your fault. Anyway, the picture of above is of my super sweet new bike. I told myself that I would never ride a bike in Beijing, but obviously I changed my mind. The main reason for that is because the bike was free, although I had to spend 35 kuai for a new seat, oil change, and break lines and 10 kuai for a lock. But 45 kuai is not bad for a bike. I just need to adjust the site so its no longer at the hit for an elderly Chinese woman. Much to my surprise I have found riding a bike around Beijing is not as dangerous as I first thought (the main reason why I thought I would never get one, before the bike walking around Beijing seemed dangerous enough), it as actually a great way to see the city and explore the back streets and new areas. On a bike the city seems much smaller than I ever imagined. It doesn't talk long to get to any of the places that I normally hang out at, like Houhai or Nanluoguxiang. And now I finally understand some of the geography of the city, something that was completely lost to me, riding around in cabs. I should probably take the visit of the Golzer and get a helmet but I am too cool for that. Chicks dig brain trauma.

The picture above is of the greatest meal I have ever made. Salmon with garlic bread, paired with a nice white wine. I believe it was a German riesling, but it might have been a pinot gris. I didn't make the wine so that doesn't really matter. And for an appetizer we had fried banana fries. The meal was amazing and it is why I officially announce my retirement from cooking. Like Jordan the first two times, I am going out on the top of my game. I will never be able to cook anything that good again. I know you all are sad, but it is just time.

This is a picture of A Thousand and One Nights. The humus there is amazing and so is the belly dancing. They have three belly dancers but only one is worth watching. So if you go make sure she is there. I don't know how you are going to do that, but do it anyway. And get the humus.

On to more interesting things and thoughts that I have had. Being an American right now is not very beneficial to me. Like not at all, first, I still have to pay stupid taxes, which really pisses me off because I don't live in the country and reap none of the rewards. Second, the stupid dollar keeps depreciating and causing my wealth and buying power to depreciate with it. Third, the stupid government keeps saying stuff about Tibet and the Olympics and/or people are protesting the torch relay. The latter doesn't seem like it would be a problem but it is. I keep having to answer questions like, "Why does the rest of the world hate us?" Why does America interfere in everything?" "Why don't they leave us alone?" "What does politics have to with the Olympics, it is just sport?" "Why are you giving the evil Dali Lama a Nobel Peace Prize" "Why are Americans so stupid?" along with a myriad of other questions that have to do with politics and what America does. After getting in to a debate of what I did not intend to get in to, I have learned that it is best to say I don't know or I am not there I don't what is going on. It is impossible to have a discussion on Tibet with Chinese people because they just have a completely different view. It's not that they are brainwashed like many people think, they just have a different perspective of the world and how it should be run. And the two views don't juxtapose, they come together like caesuim and water. The best thing that happened to me, is I was riding in a bus for a conference and it was full of Chinese people who discussing how the US and other countries should not boycott, and as we are discussing this and they guy next to me is asking me question and I am telling him I have no opinion, especially after he tells me he is a member of the Communist party, we stop in front of a big screen tv as Nancy Pelosi is saying Bush should boycott the Olympics. Screw being an American, I am going to become Canadian. Everybody loves Canadians for some reason.

Speaking of which the other day, on the road I walk on to work. I saw the Chinese army practicing riot fighting stuff. It was pretty interesting. They were doing round house kicks and with those large giant shields in their hands. I won't even tell you what they were doing with their billy clubs, but Rodney King is lucky he didn't live in China.

Highlight of the Day: Being in West Virginia eating donuts. I am such a fat kid.