Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Second Coming



Magna Carta

Gutenberg Press

Moon walk


Clark's Second Blog Post

Greetings all. The second coming is upon us! For all you die hard HTSICC (WRT) readers out there, I am sorry for repeating this well known fact. But for the rest of you: I am the blog's fabled third member! I had the honor of spending the original period in China with Durrell and Ben, and thank them for their excellent blogging in the year 2005. However, for reasons too many to explain here in this humble blog, I did not post once from China. You may even be a member of the popular Facebook group "I read Clark's only blog post from China." Rather: I did not post once from China... until now.

It seems that Ben, Durrell, and I have each made our way back to China. After working for two years in New York City, I needed some cabbage dumplings and homestyle eggplant so badly that I've moved back to the old Motherland in search of work. So here I am in Beijing. The city seems vaguely familiar, yet dauntingly foreign -- as it should to a
laowai of any background. I remember it as a mix of tiny bodegas tucked along tree-lined streets mixed with mega-freeways and concrete overpasses -- which it still is. However I have been trying to tally the things that I notice being different. The pollution is slightly worse than I remember. There is a noticeably increased prevalence of (correct) English translations, as you may have read the city tried to reinvent itself for the waves of Olympic tourists. This is by no means exhaustive and the list keeps growing, although the differences are subtle.

So I hope that you will 'continue' reading with us. And perhaps I will 'continue' posting. Perhaps. Until next time... this is Clark, signing off from Beijing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Return to Normalcy

I look sad about the Olympics but I am very happy that things in my life are going to go back to normal and I can get back to my regularly scheduled programming. What I am more excited about now that the Olympics is over is the fact that I get to see Murder Ball, half human half machines competing to the death, what could be more fun. I mean watching half humans half government sponsored freaks of nature at the Olympics was great too, but they weren't part machine, at least not on the outside. Anyway here is my Olympic recap.

As I mentioned before, the first even I got to see was boxing. Surprisingly, Olympic boxing is not as exciting as I thought it would be. Probably because they don't really go after each other like in professional boxing and also, the American boxers are pretty shitty. The highlight was definitely seeing the Ghanaian knock that dude out. Watching the one American win was also nice.

Beach volleyball is by far my new favorite Olympic sport. Whats not to like, sun, sand, and not to mention hot girls with nice bodies in bikinis? How could you not like the sport? Luckily, on this day we got to see mostly the women play and also the eventual US gold medal winners.

It was sad that the US blew it against Nigeria by getting a red card in the first two minutes of the game and then going on to lose. But it was nice to know that we watched the eventual two teams to make it to the Gold medal match. Nigeria and Argentina. Argentina won the gold.

Handball is my new favorite sport right after beach volleyball, it just doesn't have the hot chicks in bikinis, actually it doesn't have any hot chicks, but I only watched the men play. All I have to say about this is that the US needs to get a handball team because we would dominate at this sport, we could definitely beat the crepe eating Frenchies at it, and they won the gold. If you eat crepes instead of pancakes, you are just not a man. You can fact check that shit. Although crepes are delicious.

I scored some sweet tennis tickets from my boss at the least minute, even though I was supposed to see baseball with Golze. However, it was a good choice, I got to see some of the best tennis players in the world play.I got to see James Blake blow a lead he had to lose in the semi finals to Gonzalez, the two time silver medal winner. James Blake could have got silver if got his act together, there was no way he would have beat Nadel in the final. I got to see the last point of the Williamses. The Nadel versus Djokovic match was intense and great to watch. I also got to see Federer briefly, serving up aces to the American twins. And I saw most of the end of an intense four hour plus match, Sweden vs. France. It was very exciting that match and the whole day, that match and the whole day were way too long though. I was there from 4pm to almost 3am. Longer than I stay at work. The one thing I didn't like about the day is the Chinese fans booed when the two Russians in the stadium cheered for their team in the last match. I also got to see Lindsey Davenport and her partner play, but I think they ended up losing to the hot Spanish team. There were too many matches going on at the same time to watch everything. It was a little overwhelming.

I saw the lightening Bolt break the 100 meter record. Seriously the Chinese time keepers were manipulating the clock so that they could say that he broke the world record at the Beijing Olympics, or he is on some serious steriods, the kind they give elephants and humpback whales. Seriously, who breaks the world record slowing down and with a slight head wind. Considering all the previous world record holders that I remember have all been on steriods, I think it is a matter of time before he gets caught. The clock is ticking. I guess by next year they will figure out from which zoo he took the steriods. For that matter, I also think its a matter of time before they figure out that the whole Chinese national team was on steriods, even the ping pong players. Considering they almost doubled their total medal count and gold medal count from last Olympics.

Got to see a world record broken in the women's 3000 meter steeplechase. The Romanian who won was kind of hot, she could steeple my chase, you know what I am saying? Because I don't. Loud noises.

I got to see the US men sweep the 400 meters, one of the only good things the US time did right in track and field. And I got to see the Russian pole smoker break the world record in the pole vault. I definitely would let her handle my pole.

Got to see the US blow it in the women's 400 meters, I am not going to name names, but she blew it. Fast time in the world, and doesn't come to preform. Like my high school football coach used to say, when you choked, she pissed down her leg. For that matter Tyson Gay did too. So did the US shot putters. There is more on the US team pissing down there leg to come. It was also great to see Dawn Harper win the hurdles. Go Dawn. I would say Lolo Jones choked too, but she is too damn mesmerizing to say anything against her.

I got to see the Jamaican superfreak, break another world record in the 200 meters. That man is scary fast, I think he is part cheetah.

It was great to see the USA sweep the 400 meters. The US showed a lot of heart in the race especially Neville diving for the bronze. Too bad the USA men and women's 4x1 team pissed down their legs. They both by far were the biggest disappointments of the Olympics.

Semifinal Olympic boxing was much better than the qualifying boxing. I think what mostly made it better to watch is that Golze and I bet 10 kuai on each match. He ended up on top 10 kuai. Luckily, I started to pick the boxers correctly or I would have lost my shirt. 10 kuai adds up fast. It was disappointing to watch the one American in all of semifinal boxing get out boxed by the Italian. The American had so much reach too, he pissed down his leg, he shouldn't have lost.

Watched Mr. Bolt and his Jamaican cohorts break another world record in the 4x1. I am predicting that they all will have to hand back their medals. But none the less they were impressive they showed the US how you are supposed to preform in the Olympics.

Watched Sanya Richards redeem herself after a disappointing performance in the 400 meters. She had a great come back from behind run for the USA 4x4 women's team. It was also great to see the men break the Olympic record in the 4x4.

The US track team probably had the most disappointing Olympics that I have ever seen. And biggest disappointing performances go to the men and women 4x1 relay teams as I already said.

For me the best performer of the this Olympics are the steriods the Chinese athletes are using they by far out performed the steriods the US athletes are using. And the best government experiment performance went to the half man half shark Michael Phelps, there is just no way that man is human. I am pretty sure he is the brother of the Montauk Monster, the Montauk Monster was the beta version.

Highlight of the Day: Watching the superfreak video.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

closing it out

the difference between the london part of the closing ceremony and the whole beijing olympic experience was even more spectacular than i thought it would be. contrast jimmy page playing "whole lotta love" with that ridiculous "i love beijing" song. and it didn't help that they followed it with that screeching classical female vocalist music. i think a little part of me dies whenever i hear that.

if we're gonna get all metaphorical up in here, this is clearly the difference between a place that has been globally culturally relevant for the past 60 years and one that is just attaining that ability but is flailing around trying to figure out how to go about it.

i'm not really sure how to fit placido domingo into that equation. or that chick's pink dress.

but jacques rogge gives it the thumbs up. i think he's just ecstatic the he gets to move on to beautiful controversy-less vancouver.

only slightly underground in beijing

if you ever go see carsick cars in concert, be sure to buy a pack or two of zhongnanhais beforehand. apparently it's tradition to throw cigarettes at the band when they perform their most popular song, named for the cigarette brand. while i can't deny the catchiness of their music, especially "zhong nan hai," i was otherwise a bit underwhelmed by the band, mostly because their stage presence was nonexistent. the bassist played the whole set with his back to the audience, and i think the drummer grew his hair long in order to hide his face from the crowd. surprising for one of the most popular rock bands in beijing.

i saw them, along with two other other bands, at a concert last night at yugong yishan. the punk band the subs played the second, and i think best, set of the night, mostly on the strength of their singer, who danced around around in boyshorts and fishnets, which really got the crowd going. the last band was joyside, and i think their music was probably the best, though at that point in the night i don't think i was in a state to appreciate it fully. all in all these were three very respectable rock bands.

yugong yishan is quite a good venue, with a solid bar and sound system, though whoever is running the lights needs a bit of work. some of the moving spotlights were aimed at the wall for a good part of the show, and otherwise flashing red and blue seemed the order of the day. and of course it was nice to do something that was happening independent of the olympics.

i think unfortunately i'm about out of bands to see, at least the popular ones. the scene here is quite small, and seems to mostly involve the same bands playing in various combinations in the few venues in the city. but at least it's still a fun and fairly cheap way to spend a weekend night, even if you've seen the band before.

keep on rocking in the free world.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

another night at the wukesong ballpark

see a post here from one of my favorite blogs, written by the mcclatchey newspapers correspondent in beijing. he writes about experiences with chinese spectators in the stands at olympic events, something i talked about earlier, but in a much less coherent fashion.

i bring this up because, although i thought i was pretty much done with the olympics, somebody at work found a whole bunch of tickets to wednesday night's usa-japan baseball game. of course i wanted to go anyway, but i also thought it would be interesting to see who the chinese fans would root for, since at previous events i've seen them cheer for whatever team/athlete is playing against the us or japan. i figured they'd go for the usa, since chinese history with japan is a little thicker and more clear cut than their current relationship with the us. one of my coworkers hinted that i was right when she asked if i was from the usa then said that we would all be rooting for the usa tonight. or maybe she was just being supportive?

but surprisingly, the people around us in the bleachers at the game were rather quiet, which is the opposite of my experience in oakland, where they tend to be quite rowdy, to put it mildly. there was one chinese guy who cheered continuously for the american team throughout the game, though his repertoire was rather limited, consisting simply of shouting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" over and over.

i think there were two reasons for the subdued nature of the crowd. first of all, like in the states, the bleachers are the cheap seats. however, in olympic baseball in china, the people that are really excited about the game are all from overseas, and so want to spend (only slightly more) money to get the better seats. for example, the huge, loud japanese contingent had pretty good digs, near where we sat for the previous game. those buying cheap tickets are expats like us or locals who couldn't get/afford anything else. back home, however, the cheap seats attract the heavy drinking and heavy fighting riff-raff, which can make sitting in the bleachers quite exciting.

the second, and probably more important, reason is that the game was scoreless through ten innings with only five total hits, and therefore there was nothing to get worked up about, though there were a couple spectacular defensive plays. a's prospect trevor cahill (thanks mark for the info) pitched a solid seven innings, and i'm not sure if the japanese pitchers were good or if the american batters were just bad. but the extra-innings game allowed me to see the ridiculousness that is the 11th inning in 2008 olympic baseball. starting in the 11th, when batting each team starts off with a runner at first and second, and gets to bat in whatever order they want. which is crazy! so of course the game ended then, usa on top 4-2. (i also discovered earlier in the day that they use the slaughter (mercy) rule, after cuba beat china 17-1 in only seven innings.) however, most people had left at that point, so it actually just ended up with american and japanese fans rooting for their own teams, in the true olympic spirit. though that one guy was still going strong.

"U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Track and Field

I have seen at least three world records, I can't wait to see more. Can the American's sweep more events? I am going to predict a sweep for the women's 100m hurdles tonight. Go Dawn Harper!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

swept away by the olympic tidal wave

so, finally, my (first) olympics post.


the olympic spirit is quite infectious, especially when you land tickets. going to see olympic events is a huge amount of fun, regardless of whether you have any interest in the sport. as i'm sure you've seen in durrell's previous posts, we've seen beach volleyball, boxing, and handball, and i've also seen baseball and one more night of handball. his descriptions of beach volleyball and boxing were fairly comprehensive, so i'll just leave those be. but handball definitely deserves some elaboration.

usa vs. cuba beach volleyball!

i saw four six different teams play, but both games with denmark were easily the most exciting. in the first, which is in durrell's post above, they beat russia, scoring an indirect penalty shot after time had expired. as i would learn on saturday night, this was actually quite significant, because there is no overtime and games do end in ties, one of the downsides of the sport. the game on saturday night actually did end in a tie, the highly anticipated (by me) iceland vs. denmark game. i think every dane in east asia was in the stadium, but that didn't stop iceland from making a major comeback in the end of the second half and scoring a penalty shot to tie the game with two seconds left. it was extraordinarily exciting.

the beach girls, "cheerleaders" at beach volleyball!

baseball was also great fun, but didn't quite carry the tension of the handball games, as japan summarily crushed the netherlands. japanese fans were out in full force, and cheered wildly the entire game. however, the team scored four runs in the bottom of the first and then shut out the netherlands for the rest of the game, scoring two more runs later on. the netherlands had one chance to score but lost it due to some questionable baserunning decisions. but it was great to watch some baseball on surprising cool and clear summer night.

denmark vs. russia handball action!

croatia scores on france in handball penalty shot!

a lot of cynical foreigners here have been working themselves into a frenzy over things like the lyp-synching girl and the fake fireworks and whatnot, which i think is largely bullshit, but there is one thing that has been disappointing. durrell already mentioned the favoritism shown to the cuban team by the chinese announcer (!) during the cuba vs. usa volleyball game, but i think even the exhortations for the chinese team were out of line. i can't imagine that the announcers at the 1996 atlanta olympics egged on the crowd to cheer on the american team at the expense of whoever they were playing. this isn't professional sports. but what i think was worse was the enormous support the entire chinese crowd threw behind the netherlands team at the baseball game, because they were playing japan. this wasn't even an underdog situation, as the netherlands team was generally crap, not even scrappy. i find the whole anti-japanese thing very regressive and irritating.


sitting at the handball game on saturday night, i realized how impressive it is that china has pulled off the organizational aspects of these games. the logistics necessary to carry this all out is mind-boggling, and i think in most people's conception of china, this would seem impossible. but they've done it, and everything is going quite smoothly. i don't want to downplay all the problems--the pollution, abuse of the press, splurging on venues, crackdowns on tibetans, uighurs and dissidents--because i think these are important and the government will need to be held accountable on these issues going forward.

japanese cheering squad!

so from here on out i'm even more of a spectator. i only have tickets to boxing semifinals on friday afternoon, so otherwise i'm just another beijinger trying to live my life as the olympics go on about me. while it's fun and there's a good crowd of people here to see the games, i really can't wait for them to be over. hopefully the paraolympics will be lower key, though i'm quite excited for those since durrell, clark (!) and i scored some sweet tickets to wheelchair rugby aka quad rugby aka murderball, particularly the usa vs. canada match. canada is going down.

durrell enjoying the fuwa!

though somewhat of an aside, today i went to the national arts museum of china, which, despite being largely closed as they install the cai guoqiang exhibit that i saw in the guggenheim in march, was quite good. of particular note: a 19th century ink painter named renyi (任颐) and a contemporary painter called deng pingxiang (邓平祥, below). this is the kinda stuff i hope to do more of when beijing returns to normal in a couple weeks.

yours truly with gorky and lu xun

I Can't Believe I Just Saw a World Record

It hit me yesterday that I am at the Olympics. I am at the fucking Olympics. I remember as a kid watching the Olympics on tv and think one day I hoped to see it. And I am actually seeing it, I am actually seeing the Olympics. On August 16th, I saw the 100 meter men's track final, to me what is the most exciting event in all of the Olympics (although watching Michael Phelps get 8 golds was probably really exciting too, he is by far the best athlete in the world right now). Anyway, the other events that I saw last night were cool, the heptathlon final was pretty cool, but nothing beat watching the men's 100m final. I can't believe I saw a world record last night, wild, so wild. I feel like right now this is all a dream and I am going to wake up soon.

Thank you everyone who wished me a happy birthday and came out to celebrate it with me. It has been a great birthday so far.

Highlight of the Day: Knowing that I watched 100m final last night and I might see more world records today.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Het beste Spel van het Handbal van Denemarken OOIT

On August 14th, I went to my first handball game ever. It was one of the most amazing sports matches I have ever seen. It was so exciting. I think if the United States ever formed a team they could easily dominate at this sport. This is the type of sport that Americans would be good at. It is mix between basketball, soccer, and hockey, but it is mostly like basketball and we dominate at that. I would write more about it but it happened so long ago that I forgot what I wanted to say. I will have more to talk about in later post. I have seen a lot since I went and saw handball, namely tennis semifinals and 100m finals. The video has the greatest handball shot in Denmark's Olympic handball history.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sitting in the Sun for 6 Hours Is Probably Not a Good Idea

This Tuesday, was probably the most fun I have had in Beijing. Golze and I have beach volleyball tickets (probably my favorite Olympic sport). I had video of the day, until my camera destroyed all the evidence, which probably better, because I don't think I was supposed be filming from the angels that I was at, but you gotta love the beach volleyball uniforms. Anyway, our day started with early morning breakfast out a local Hangzhou 小吃 restaurant, steamed dumplings and wanton soup is a great way to start the day. Then we road our bikes to Chaoyang park to watch beach volleyball. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but Chaoyang park east gate is a lot further than we anticipated and the road there has one of the biggest hills inside of the fourth ring, which actually isn't really a hill its more like a slope. It was a work out, but my fat ass is out of shape. Once we got there, the first game had already started. It was the USA vs. Cuba. The USA team is ranked number one in the world and they showed Cuba why they are ranked number one, giving them freedom spikes to the face. They won the match pretty handily, we were waving our Americans flags in full support with every point. There is a pretty good chance that we are on TV, but we will never know, gotta browse Youtube later.

One of the oddest sights was the beach volleyball cheerleaders, I didn't have cheerleaders in high school, but Golze said they were worse than his high school cheerleaders, and I am inclined to believe him. Actually, the cheerleaders weren't that odd compared to the fact that between the USA and China game they taught the fans how to Cheer. They taught them how to do hip hop hurray (waving your hands side to side), how to do the now infamous Mexican wave (in slow motion and fast motion), this dance that they were supposed to do when someone got a block (moving your arms up and down in the air), this dance later became the most annoying when the Chinese team was playing because they ended up getting a lot of points and the song that played with the dance was not only stupid but annoying, there were other Cheers too that I don't remember. And once the Chinese men's team started playing the started to use it. The Chinese men's team played Estonia. And the Chinese announcer during the game was extremely bias, I noticed it during the USA game his bias, in the fact that he only had the fans Cheer for Cuba, but it really came out in the Chinese verse Estonia game. I understand the fans cheering hard for China, but the announcers bias was on the level of unsportsmanship and the little stupid Cheer songs were only for the Chinese team, like for rest of afternoon the block song was only played a handful of times, to my happiness but it was played to the extreme during the China game. I thought the Olympics in terms of commentary and announcers was supposed to be fair and balanced, but it is about as fair and balanced as Fox News. Anyway, Chinese team ended up beating Estonia in a close match.

For the rest of our Six hours baking in the sun at the match, Golze and I decided to bet on the games. He ended up coming out ahead 20 kuai, I guess my beach volleyball knowledge is not that great. The last four games were Brazil Vs. Austria in a very close match, Greece Vs. South Africa, Norway Vs. Japan, and Greece Vs. Mexico. All I have to say is Greek women are berry niiiice, Wa Wa Wee Wa.

Oh if you want to see pictures tell Golze to post them.

After baking in the sun and being on the verge of dehydration and suffering massive sunburns (mostly Golze), it was time to ride our bikes back to get food. The bike ride was one of the most tiring things I have ever done, again I am a fat ass. I think it was like a 3km bike ride, but it was so tiring. We ended up at Purple Haze, nearly eating massive amounts of rice to replenish all our energy.

The night ended at Haoyun Jie for beers and then a trip to Beijing's first Ethiopian restaurant. I have never had Ethiopian food before, but it is damn good. I highly recommend it, that's if you can find the place. It is in the most remote hidden part of the city, it took almost an hour for me to find it. I think I walked pass it like five times.

Yesterday, was a good day too. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call to see Olympic soccer. It was the US vs. Nigeria and Argentina vs. Serbia. Even though we were rocking the US flag pretty hard, the stupid Americans ended up losing anyway. For some reason, a guy on the US team decided to get a red card in the first two minutes of the game and once that happened it was pretty much all down hill for the US. They ended up losing 2 to 1. The second game Serbia fought pretty hard but ended up losing, the goal keeper for Serbia had two amazing saves on penalty kicks. The most interest part of the Serbia game was during somewhere around the 68th minute, the Chinese started to boo Argentine and relentlessly Cheer for Serbia, and the whole reason behind this is because they wanted Serbia to score so that they could see Maradona (the who game they were screaming his name, literally, there was a kid sitting next to us, screaming for Maradona like a girl screaming for New Kids on the Block, same pitch and everything) from Argentina play. The only way Maradona was going into the game is if Serbia scored to make it close. So they end doing it until Argentina scored again in the 78th minute, then everyone just left the stadium.

Surprisingly, soccer also has cheerleaders another sport I was surprised to see cheerleaders at, but unlike beach volleyball, they also have two men cheerleaders. And I think James will agree with me on this, but the men cheerleaders were way better than the women. Chinese women cheerleaders need to step their game up.

The soccer game was the first time where I saw them do a complete Mexican wave on their own. I was pretty excited for them, until they started to continue to want to do it. Also, Kobe was at the game if that means anything to anybody, I guess the game was pretty important. I wonder if he was booing too..

Highlight of the Day: I am going to finally see the great game of team handball.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympocalypse Now Redux

The night went off much better than expected. Although, we didn't go to our originally planned destination, Chaoyang Park, our back up place was just as good; we ended up going to Workers Stadium for some rum and fun. Here is a slide show that illustrates better than words, our good time.

The opening ceremony was actually kind of hard to see on the TV, but the atmosphere was still great. All I have to say is that we are definitely on the cover of some sectional front pages of newspapers somewhere in the world, if not THE front page. Here is a video that explain better why.

After showing our China love, there were many Chinese people thanking us. What can I say, we know how to rally the troops.

Even though the night ended early for me, it didn't end so early for Golze. I asked him later what he end up doing. And just as I predicted he ended up at Saddle, and although I didn't ask this question, I am sure he was dropping a lot of fuck yous, which means like I said, it was a great night.

Highlight of the Day: Getting free tickets to go see Olympic boxing. Some of it was boring and some of it was good. One of the best fights to watch in my mind was between the Chinese guy and Tunisia. It wasn't good because of their boxing abilities, because they were the worse boxers there that day. Like I might have been able to beat them, but it was good because the Chinese people were so excited by the Chinese guy. The other good fights both featured Ghanaians, one was the African champion, and knocked his opponent out, it was the only knockout of the day i think, but we missed the first two fights. The other Ghanaian was good because he was getting rocked in the first two rounds and started to battle back in the last two, it got me on the edge of my seat. All the other fights were kind of on the boring side, but it gave Golze and I an opportunity to scout out who we might see in the semi-finals, because we have tickets for that. And oh yeah, there was an American today too, it gave me the opportunity to bust out my US flag, we didn't go as crazy as last night.

Another highlight was meeting James, US Olympian friend, who is competing in the triple jump. She is the one who hooked us up with all the track final tickets. I think I got her lost in a taxi cab today, so she will probably never speak to me again. Hey, at least I already got the tickets.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympocalypse Now

After reading Golze's most recent blog post, I think this will be a good juxtaposition. The day has finally arrived, 8/8/08, Olympic Opening Ceremony. It doesn't start until 8pm tonight so they still have time to clean up the skies, but as of this morning and now, it doesn't look like there will be bright blue skies for day one of the Olympics. I don't know about you, but I think BOCOG fell short of there goal of clear skies for the opening ceremony. I thought for sure they would make it rain last night, to guarantee clear skies today. But I guess BOCOG was just like F it, this is Beijing, if you don't like it, go home and if you can't go home, deal with it. I am eager to see if they bring in wind blowing machines to get rid of the pollution before tonight, that is their last real hope for some kind of cleanliness in the air. To be fair, the above picture is the view if you look to the southwest but if you look to directly east its not so bad, the below picture is a directly eastern view.
Tonight, we are going to Chaoyang park to watch the Opening ceremony on the big screen, like most of our recent adventures it will probably involve rum, Chinese people, expats, and Charly. I will let you know how it turns out. It will probably consist of Golze saying fuck you a lot, and a trip to Saddle, like all great nights.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

have you been to harbin?

this past weekend i took a trip up to harbin, the capital of heilongjiang province, as far northeast as you can get before hitting russia. our more loyal readers may remember durrell took a trip there last winter, which is actually peak tourist season, but also cold as hell, apparently.

old town harbin

i went to visit my friend charles, and our mutual friend chiann, currently studying in beijing, came along with me. after a week of trying, and failing, to buy train tickets, we finally buckled under and took a flight on friday night up to harbin. my greatest hopes were realized when i felt a cool blast of air upon stepping on to the jetway. we're talking below 20 degrees here! it never got cold enough for me to wear my sweatshirt, but, man, what a break from beijing.

down by the docks

our spirits were also boosted by the presence of a shuttle bus into the city, which we figured wouldn't be around at midnight. unfortunately, when we reached what i thought (correctly, it turned out) was our stop, a kindly man sitting next to us told us that he was certain that was not actually the university. since i could barely understand the bus driver's accent, we stayed on the bus, only to find ourselves at the last stop. fortunately, harbin taxi drivers still have a certain carelessness that beijing drivers have lost in all the heavy traffic, and after a short trip careening through empty streets we arrived at my friend's school. the next morning, the sight of crystal clear blue skies and white puffy clouds through the window actually made me shout "holy shit!" (chiann had a similar reaction in the next room). we both vowed to breathe as much as possible during the next two days.

glorious blue skies

harbin's a fairly interesting city, probably fewer westerners than hangzhou, but i think my impression of the place was greatly enhanced by the clear air and great weather (high 20s, dry as a bone). on saturday we toured around, had some authentic dongbei food in a cool unrestored part of town, walked along the river, went to the jewish museum and saw the famous orthodox church. that night and sunday was a lot of taking it easy, what i've needed after several far too active weekends.

classic dongbei food. after gnawing on the bones, you were supposed to suck the marrow out with a straw. i was not a huge fan of that

on sunday morning we went to the park to "teach" some little kids english, something that charles has been doing for the past several weeks. however, these kids were between 2 and 3 years old, so there wasn't a lot of actual teaching going on, more like bribing them to say one word or sing along to a song with brightly colored stickers. the most rewarding part for me, actually, was meeting this young iranian couple who are friends with charles and came along to teach the kids. the husband is earning his phd in physics at the university, and they both despair about having to spend another three years in harbin. when i learned they were coming to beijing, i told them i knew a good iranian restaurant, and i don't think i've seen anybody look happier. that night they invited us over to their door room for dinner, which i have to say was quite good, and they told us jokes based on iranian stereotypes that honestly weren't all that funny in translation.

endless entertainment down by the river

all in all, the trip to harbin really sort of re-solidified how enjoyable it can be to live in china. beijing can be a drag (i had no idea how much the pollution really gets me down), and the nature of the city means that it's really hard to interact in any meaningful way with regular chinese people. i had a long talk with charles about all of this, and it takes a bit more to explain than i will here, but basically i really need to take more trips like this one, is what i've decided. get the hell out of dodge, as it were.

charles teaching the interminable mao mao (in purple)

speaking of a five ring circus, the olympic spirit is here, and hopefully i'll get a post up about it all soon. the spirit is truly infectious, especially when you land sweet tickets to iceland vs. denmark international team handball.

the sofia church

Monday, August 04, 2008

Beijing's Beach

This weekend I went to Tuanjiehu Park. Out of all the parks that I have been to, it is by far the best. It has a lake with bright green water, but that is pretty standard for bodies of water in side the third ring.

I am not really sure how anything survives in the water around here, but it is pretty full of mutant three eyed goldfish. I think Mr. Burns chemical plant dumps in to the lake here.
The best part of this park is the artificial beach that they have on the inside of the park. It is the most jacked Chinese people that I have ever seen. They looked like they could at least have been on the Olympic diving team, but maybe it was the fact that they were all wearing some form of speedos is why I thought that. It is no Brazilian beach, but for Beijing it is a great way to get some sun on a non polluted day. And this weekend was great because you could actually see blue skies, Today not so much.

For those of you interested in Beijing taxis, Sunday was the start of all the cabdrivers wearing bright yellow shirts with matching blue and yellow stripped ties. At the start of the day, all the taxi drivers, except for a few mavericks, were wearing their yellow and blue ties with the top button of their shirt unbutton. By the end of the day all the ties were off and the shirts were open to the second button. At this rate, today none of them should be wearing the shirts anymore. I didn't check today, but I am eager to see how long this yellow shirt craze last.

In my ego getting boosted news, a few weeks ago, I went to dinner with a Chinese friend that has just moved from Hangzhou to Beijing. While we were at dinner, we were both speaking to the waitress in Chinese, which is customer here in Beijing. However, something surprising happened while we were at dinner, the waitress, had a better time understanding me than my Chinese friend from Hangzhou. At convinced me one, that not even Chinese people can learn proper Chinese and I should give up trying to learn more, and two that these four years of learning this anserine language when I could have easily learned at least two others fluently.

Highlight of the Day: I final figured out how to watch planet earth online.

Friday, August 01, 2008

My One World One Dream

I recently read in the Wall Street Journal that Beijing is publishing a book on etiquette for Chinese people. This book in my opinion is long over due, but I am also an uptight adverse to cultural change foreigner, or I just hate the fact that Chinese people push the shit out of my on the subway. One the interesting things in this book to me, is the 8 things that you can't ask igners, mostly because these are questions Chinese people often ask me. For example, last week I took a taxi to go to the National Theater for the first time to watch River dance (River dance has surprisingly more ballet and tap and singing in it than I thought, I was expecting more a lord of the dance type thing, like the guy who used to wear the headband and be on the TV all the time like in 1994. And the black guy coming out singing some type of "Old Man River" song with a Francois Clemmons voice was very unusual and frankly unexpected, I really didn't understand this part of the performance and don't get how it applies to River Dance. Also is it just me, or whenever you watch River Dance, the "Safety Dance" song starts playing in your head) also for the first time. The National Theater is the big golf ball looking building, some people say it's nice, I think it looks like a big golf ball with a moat. Anyway back to the topic, in the taxi, I had on this rare occasion to have a female taxi driver (I think there maybe like only 20 female taxi drivers in all of Beijing) and for some reason I decided that I wanted to talk to her. I rarely talk to the drivers nowadays, although I used to a lot when I was student. It's a great way to get a good Chinese perspective. Anyway, after talking for a while, out of nowhere she ask me if I was religious and what religion I believe. I was kind of shocked she asked me, because of the 8 questions that Chinese people ask, this one is rare, because from what I can tell the vast majority of Chinese people are atheist or none practicing Buddhist and don't really think to ask this question as much as the others. She was quite open about her religious experience, telling me that she has been a Christian now for four years and before she was a believer in God she had a lot of health problems. She also began to sing some hymns in Chinese to me, they sounded familiar but I have no idea what she was singing about. Normally, I would say something sarcastic or stupid or inappropriate about what happened, but because I am afraid of god and don't make fun of people's religion. I will say it was nice to have a frank discussion about belief of Christianity from a Chinese person's perspective.

That above story is not why, I wanted to write this post. I wanted to write this post to call out to the fans who might see me around during the Olympics and be able to assist me. I just have one goal for the Olympics, no it is not a great and successful Olympics with no pollution and the US winning the medal count (well I kind of want the US to win the medal count), because I just don't think that is possible. I personally think that there will be no serious problems during the Olympics except for an event or two being canceled because of the persistent pollution that they have not been able to control yet, and also the media complaining about their freedom of speech issues. But really freedom of speech is of overrated. But What I want want of the Olympics is for someone to take a picture of me with one of the paramilitary people while they are riding a segway. If someone could help me with that, that would be super. Also it would be super if someone could explain to me the difference between the police, the paramilitary, and the military. Because as far as I can tell, the police don't really do anything, but stand around and direct traffic sometimes. I don't think I have ever seen a police officer pull someone over. I don't have a licenses like Golze so I don't know all the laws, but I am pretty sure I have seen Chinese people at least break someone of them in front of the police. They at the very least did not put the jar over the guys intestines right when they were poking out, the police could have written a ticket for that. The odds of me seeing at least one paramilitary office on segway is good, because there have been an explosion of security around Beijing. I just have not seen one on segway yet, I figure it a matter of time.

Highlight of the Day: Thinking about paramilitary on segway while they listen to Safety Dance, wouldn't that be an amazing sight to see.?