Sunday, June 22, 2008

rocking out at the drive-in

friday afternoon was interesting. upon returning to the office after the boondoggle that was submitting my driver's license application, one of my co-workers asked me to help her adjust the height of her chair. i initially thought she just wanted me to point out the lever, but it turned out that she wanted me to do it for her because she was too light to make the chair go down herself. then, walking to the gym after work, i passed by a crowd of people watching a filipino cover band sing "rocky mountain high."

anyway, on friday night i went to see one of two nights of an annual indie rock festival put on by a local record label. a (government seeded) thunderstorm rolled through town right before the show, which helped cool things off and made the lawn at the venue rather attractive. so between every set the crowd would roll outside to drink beer and eat chuanr.

the bands were all fairly good, even though only one of five was on the original bill. a group called the linga that i'll liken to a chinese franz ferdinand stole the show. you can see a poor quality video of them playing below (still trying to figure out my camera).

the crowd was mostly expats, and relatively small, though i think comparable to rock shows around beijing, and i ended up chatting with a nice guy from france for most of the night. but the arrival of the olympics crowd has clearly begun. i heard a couple of guys talking loudly about how surprised they were about how free life was in china, how they loved it and wanted to live in beijing, and how you should go down to yangshuo were you could teach english and rock climb and party and do crazy drugs all the time. one said he was working for nbc.

so in all i've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of live rock music in beijing, though i also get the feeling that it's easy to see it all fairly quickly. the popular local bands seem to rotate between several venues every couple of weeks, and out of town bands are probably hit or miss, with no real way to listen to them beforehand.

ADDENDUM: as for the name of this post, the venue was inside the entrance to a drive-in movie theater.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

more subway silliness

so since i got here in the subway stations there have been these ticket machines, some wrapped in plastic and others saying out of order. in guomao, which is the central business district station where i work, there have been about twenty of them sitting there at one end of the station. also, ticket gates were installed but not in use, the gates were just opened and you checked your ticket or swiped your card at the top of the stairs. but last monday that all changed! the ticket machines and gates were put into operation.

almost everybody uses the stored-value IC cards, because it's a whole lot easier when you commute than buying tickets every time. however, of the twenty-something ticket machines, only one, that's right, one, allows you to add value to your card. at all the rest you can only buy single-use tickets. i can not for the life of me figure out why they did that.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

a weekend in tokyo

So sorry it's been a while since I've wrapped at ya. As some of you may know, last weekend I went to Tokyo, taking advantage of Monday's national holiday (Dragon Boat Festival. I know, awesome, right?) and some vacation to make a four day weekend. So all my time previously had been taken up by getting ready to go to Tokyo then settling back into life here.

Since I seem to have a neurotic obsession with the way people behave on public transportation, the first thing I noticed upon arriving in Tokyo station was that people stand on the left of the escalator. They do drive on the left side of the road there as well, so that kinda makes sense. But my roommate (from England) assures me that in Britain they stand on the right. I'm not sure which is weirder, actually. Anyone know what they do in India or Australia?

The evidence

The Tokyo subway is quite nice. However, it is not nearly as crowded as I was led to believe. I'm sure it's bad during rush hour, which I didn't experience I don't think, but almost every time we rode the train we got a seat. In Beijing that only happens late at night. Actually, by and large I was surprised by how Tokyo is not nearly as crowded as Beijing. Certain parts were packed, like Shibuya, where that have that enormous intersection with thousands of people, and Akihabara, where that guy stabbed and killed a bunch of people last Sunday (I was there on Saturday. Phew.) But sometimes we would walk around a pretty central neighborhood and there would be nobody. Here in Beijing there are people everywhere.

The back streets of Shibuya

Shibuya station

A jellybean octopus

I saw two shrines, Asakusa and Yasukuni. The first is just a nice shinto shrine with some touristy stuff around and a giant bell. I made a donation and got my fortune, which was good (but not great, apparently). The latter is the shrine for dead imperial soldiers, sort of like Arlington. The Chinese get really pissed when anyone from the government makes an official visit there, since it also honors a good number of war criminals(from the Chinese point of view) from WWII. Not surprisingly, the accompanying museum made little mention of events such as the rape and murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Nanjing.

Hard-core nationalism at Yasukuni



The food was great. I asked my friend to take me to eat some more food that wasn't sushi or teppanyaki. So I had some tempura-style pork chops and stuffed eggplant, some good ramen, a burger with a bun made out of grilled sticky rice, and these chopped vegetable and meat pancake things topped with mayo and (I think) teriyaki sauce.

Ramen town in the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum

I-don't-remember-the-name being cooked

Done! and slathered with mayo and sauce

My first meal in Tokyo

Overall, Tokyo is extraordinarily modern and comfortable. Even without speaking any Japanese you can get around pretty well, it's all clean, you can get anything you need, the people are all beautiful, etc. But I really don't think I'd be as happy there as in China. There's a certain excitement that comes from being in China, and a certain edge that Tokyo just doesn't really have. Of course there's a lot of bullshit you have to deal as well, like government hassles, people trying to scam you, crowds and traffic and pollution. But I think it's well worth the trade-off. Plus I couldn't afford to live in Tokyo anyway.

Art in the alleys in Roppongi

Tokyo at night