Sunday, December 20, 2009

when dreams come true

i took this friday off to use up the last of my use-it-or-lose-it vacation days before the end of the year, and so charley, who has every day off, and i went out to happy valley, an actually pretty legit if small amusement park in beijing. the idea was that there would be no lines on a weekday in december, and we turned out to be right, especially since on friday the high was something like -3 degrees celsius. unfortunately, unlike many places in china the park is not run by idiots, so about half the rides were closed for the seemingly quite slow winter season. fortunately, however, the best ride in the park, and actually one of the best rides i've ever been on anywhere, was open.

because the english in the above link is less than clear, let me break the ride down for you. basically you sit on the outside of this big wheel, which starts to swing like a pendulum, eventually at the peak of the ride breaking the 180 degree plane with the fulcrum and swinging back and forth pretty damn fast. but the best part is that at the same time the wheel itself spins around in a circle. the whole thing lasts for about a minute i think. it's hard to focus while on the ride.

however, after taking this ride several times in a row, we made an important discovery: waiting in line might actually be a good thing. i'm not normally one to be bothered by roller coasters and the like but going on something like this over and over without stopping makes you sick pretty fast. after only three hours we basically stumbled out of the park and collapsed back at home. still, i'd say we definitely got our money's worth.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

second hand love

getting my own car here in china has long been something i've kinda wanted to do. there are lots of places in the mountains around the city that are nearly impossible to get to by public transit that are nice to visit, have good hiking, etc. also taking a road trip across China is something that every expat toys with but none actually do. however, one of the reasons that i have not bought a car despite having my license is that a second hand market for cars is nearly non-existent. there are apparently two large second hand markets in the city, but there are no guarantees against getting a lemon, and prices are still quite expensive. along those same lines, i can't be sure that i'll be able to sell the car for a reasonable price once i decide to move on.

i present the below as evidence on the lack of a real second hand market for cars in beijing. it's actually been parking outside my office for a while but i haven't taken a picture of it to avoid making it look like i in any way endorse this sort of ridiculousness. i can just see them trying to trade this thing in in five years' time. "what do you mean nobody wants to buy a two-door honda with garfield professionally airbrushed all over four sides?"

at least it beats a hand painted tribute to the tv show "prison break" that takes up the entire side of the car. and yes, that is something that i have actually seen.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

91.9% of the population can't be wrong

tonight in the little corner store one of the ladies from the neighborhood said that i look like marx and engles, due to the winter beard that i've kept since my trip to taiwan. the beard initially brought on a fair amount of ribbing from people at work (i like to believe because they're all jealous that they can't grow one), but they've since gotten used to it. though at least i was never called a terrorist at work, which is what one cabbie alluded to when asked to guess where i was from (definitely not the states, cause people from there don't have beards, according to him).

along the same lines, we got the e-mail invitation to our annual chinese new year party this week, which continues to tread on the border of stuff that could get you sued in the states. one would think that a year in which race riots killed hundreds in xinjiang would not be a good time to have the theme of the party be "china's minorities," but then again our hr department is not exactly known for it's cultural sensitivity. (this is the same group that, at our annual retreat, organised the self-appointed "hot girls" in the office to do a "fashion show," which basically consisted of them walking a cat-walk in incredibly scanty outfits. i remember turning to my filipino friend and saying "i'm never going to see anything like this again in my life." she agreed.) the costume theme at the party this year is "international style" or something, which basically means dress up like the stereotype of some ethnic group. the invitation literally has these two pictures as part of the design.

i'm not really sure how to feel about this kind of stuff. i mean, i'm not personally offended by any of these choices or images, nor am i particularly a fan of obsessive political correctness. but i think it just makes me mad that there is clearly no effort to even consider how these things might be disrespectful. i'm not sure if diversity is a prerequisite to change these kinds of attitudes, but if it is i'm not really hopeful for any sort of progression on this front in china.

in other news, i'm just about finished with an excellent book on china, "400 million customers" by carl crow. written by an american in the late 1930s, probably the only book about business in china worth reading, though i recommend you pick up the 2008 version published by the china economic review. not unlike durrell's blog posts, the 2003 version is riddled with typos.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

the "s" is silent

just got back from a great 10-day trip to laos with the 'rents. beautiful, warm, relaxing. no turkey for thanksgiving, even though we saw a bunch running around (introduced by USAID, now mostly feral). don't really have time to write it up now, but might do so in the future. no promises though, seeing as how spotty i've been at posting lately. in the meantime, here's a taste:

full album can be found here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

asian baseball tour 2009: taiwan!

so back to my promised posts about taiwan. one of my main goals for my trip was to see a baseball game, something which i did on my third night but had almost forgotten about when i left. by the end of the trip, when people asked what i did on the west coast, i had to think pretty hard for something besides walk around night markets and drink milk tea.

but yes! i saw the uni-president 7-11 lions (hereafter 7-11) take on the sinon bulls of the chinese professional baseball league in taichung. like in korea, major corporations own the baseball teams, but unlike in korea, they have no home stadiums. instead the four teams travel all over the island playing games. the taichung stadium was pretty decent, much smaller than the one in korea but substantially larger and well-kept than the tianjin stadium. it probably compares to an older AAA stadium in the states.

the crowd was fairly small, probably because it was a tuesday night and there was a light drizzle for the first part of the game. nevertheless they seemed really into it, pumped up by what appeared to be professional cheering teams (you can see the 7-11 side below). it's unclear actually how much of the crowd was actual crowd, and how much was the cheer squad. nevertheless, things felt fairly professional. they even played a series of american classic rock covers throughout the game, with words changed (in chinese) to relate to baseball. for example, the eponymous chorus of highway to hell was replaced with "aishang bangqiu," which basically means "to fall in love with baseball" or kinda "to be crazy about baseball (in a loving way)." the first translation is easier.

anyway, i actually left the game at the top of the 9th because i was getting really hungry (no concessions in the cheap seats), but by that point sinon was crushing 7-11 12-1, so i don't think i missed much in the last inning.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

snow in beijing!

tis quite beautiful outside. only problem is now it's ball-freezing cold and they don't turn the heat on for another two weeks.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

another life-changing post about my plant

excuse my brief diversion from taiwan pictures, but i know how popular posts about my plant are. i just wanted everyone to know that the thing is blooming like crazy, not only is it only the second time it's bloomed in nine months, but there are more flowers than i've ever seen on it. there are so many flowers they're falling to the floor! it's like springtime for hitler in here!

but seriously, despite being very small these guys are super fragrant. it's actually a little suffocating close to the plant. but nice to know i can actually nurture life out of something.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

how to succeed in free, democratic, progressive china

the typhoon ended up being quite disappointing, though to be fair, i guess when it finally "hit" taiwan, it was only a tropical storm. what we got out of it was two days of solid rain, which in itself is impressive. i've never seen it rain so hard for so long. nevertheless, for something that royally screwed up many of my plans for the trip, i was a little let down. i didn't even get to say "batten down the hatches!"

though i guess it did have its upside. by the time it was clear when the storm was going to hit the island, i was already ensconced in an excellent hostel in hualien, a city on the scenic east coast of taiwan. because pretty much everybody had been canceling trips due to the storm, i was one of three people in the place, and during the day the owner would just lock up, put up the equivalent of a "gone fishin'" sign, and drive us around, showing us the sights. we went to a swimming hole in a river, saw a beautiful restored japanese military building, slept in book stores and had an amazing sashimi lunch at the local fish market.

one of the most striking differences between taiwan and china is how good the food is, no matter where you get it. the sashimi we had was, while not quite as good as the sushi at tsukiji, definitely the second best i've had in my life. (and at three dollars for the whole meal, easily tops on a value basis.) while taiwanese cuisine itself isn't too interesting, the food everywhere was fresh, lite and delicious. i pretty much drowned myself in fruit juice and milk tea, my favorite of the latter being the lately discovered (by me) roast japanese tea flavor.

as for a quick rundown of my itinerary, i basically did a counter-clockwise circle, starting and ending in taipei. major stops were taichung (where i saw baseball and met up with andy), kenting (where i learned to surf), and hualien (where i was basically a bum for 6 days and went on several scooter rides). i had originally planned to hike one of the 3,000+ meter peaks in the center of the island, but the storm put the ol' kibosh on that idea. i did get to do a bit of hiking on my last full day there, climbing a 1,000 meter peak in a small national park north of taipei, but the weather was horrible, redeemed only by a soak in a free public hot spring i shared with 15 old naked taiwanese men.

by the end i found it very hard to leave taiwan. the place is beautiful (and we're talking haiwaii beautiful, combined with lots of really tall mountains, it's like sticking the sierra on kauai), the people are polite and friendly, and there are absolutely no hassles when traveling around. you aren't constantly worried about people trying to rip you off, like here in china, and even the subway bathrooms are nice and clean. with no language barrier either, it was honestly one of the most relaxing vacations i've ever had.

a detailed account of the trip will probably take too long, but i'll try over the next couple days to put up some pictures in individual posts, explaining parts of the trip.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

taiwan post forthcoming

so i'm back from a great trip to taiwan. apologies but i won't get around to posting on the trip for a little bit as i'm somewhat occupied working through some issues locally, among them studying for the GRE. but never fear, posts are bubbling around in the back of my mind.

in the meantime, you can check out pictures here. explanations will be forthcoming.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


i leave tomorrow to go to taiwan, the other china, for two weeks, so expect e-mail, etc to be spotty. and don't worry; posts on the trip will be forthcoming.

also good news: i got off my ass and downloaded hot spot shield, so i can post from home again. sorry for the dead time this summer. things will pick up again going forward.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

tanks in beijing

1 october is national day in china, which celebrates the founding of the people's republic. this year is the 60th anniversary, and every ten years the communist party literally rolls out the big guns and parades them down the street in beijing. so we've been treated to another round of traffic restrictions and heavy police presence. on the actual day of the parade, most people seem to believe it's unlikely that any joe shmoe (or laobaixing as they're called here) will be allowed down to chang'an avenue, and i'll be in taiwan anyway (sticking it to the man), so i've had to get what little exposure i could to the military madness in the meantime.

the first real glimpse of the preparations was three weeks ago, when one night stumbling out of a bar i came across an endless line of enormous trucks covered in tarps driving at about 5 mph one of the main drags. these i assume were the structures of some of the floats in the parade, which are being stored in worker's stadium, near where i used to live.

the second, and more exciting, exposure to the preparations came this past friday night/saturday morning. pretty much everybody in the central part of the city was forced to go home early, as they were closing chang'an avenue and one of the subway lines in preparation for a full rehearsal, which took place at 3 am on saturday morning. so after an afternoon of lazing around and making t-shirts, emmy and i headed out to meet up with jeff at a notorious russian club called chocolate for his birthday. (yes, russian clubs. i am that much of a baller.) as soon as we got in a cab (this is around midnight), however, the driver told us he couldn't take us where we needed to go, because the entire second ring road and several other streets were shut to traffic. so after bailing from the cab and walking over to the second ring, we were treated to the tail end of a line of tanks, armored personnel carriers and missile batteries driving to the starting point for the parade.

i imagine on the actual day of the parade, the whole city will be a mess. they are shutting down all flights into and out of beijing (just announced) for the whole morning, which should also be fun (i'll be long gone at this point).

in other news, i have had many encounters recently with the huang shu lang, an odd ferret-type thing that lives in the hutong areas in beijing. i've seen them twice before, but just this weekend one appeared in our apartment complex (confirmed by emmy and clark). they are supposed to be good luck, unless they steal your chicken or soul, so i'm feeling as lucky as can be.

seoul baseball game videos

Thursday, September 10, 2009

a title where "seoul" is cleverly substituted for "soul"

UPDATE: thanks to tip from conor, images should now link through to the full gallery.

leading the baller lifestyle that we do, a couple of weeks ago clark and i decided on a whim to jet over to seoul for the weekend to catch a baseball game. plus neither of us had ever been to korea, tickets were pretty cheap and the flight is short (2 hours).

we went straight to the airport friday night after work, and arrived in korea just after midnight. no matter what anybody tells you, getting to seoul (over an hour away from the incheon airport) after midnight is not easy. also anyone that says the subway runs late into the night is a liar. there were only a couple of buses, leaving about every 40 minutes or so, and so finally after wandering around and consulting a map and the flight attendants from our flight, we decided to just get on the next bus and take a cab from wherever it ended up. the next bus happened to be going to a terminal in the southern seoul, while our hostel was up in the north. at one point a trying-to-be-helpful airport staff told us that we shouldn't take that bus, because the next one was going a lot closer to where we were staying. yes but the next one wasn't leaving for another 1.5 hours! we stayed on the bus we were on.

after about an hour our bus arrived and we hopped off and flagged down the next taxi. i tried to say where we were going in some mangled korean that i had studied for maybe 20 minutes. of course the driver didn't understand me so i handed him a map i had printed out. he kept squinting at it and pointing at things, and i kept shrugging, thinking he didn't understand the map. next thing we know he gets out of the car and goes and holds it to the headlight while he reads out. turns out he couldn't see it in the poorly lit car! not the best sign for a driver but we decided to roll with it. eventually he called up the hostel and they told him where to go and we made it safely.

so the next morning we were up and out, with plans to go to the baseball game that evening but nothing much in between. first stop was one of the large imperial palaces in the city, and on the recommendation of a guy on the bus we went to the one that wasn't like the forbidden city. it was actually quite nice, with architecture that was much more simple than china and also conformed more to the landscape. there was also a secret garden in the back with a secret snack bar that sold secret pocari sweat.

after that we wandered around the city for a while, through a small residential neighborhood then downtown, where we finally found an ATM that would take our chinese ATM cards. eventually we found a touristy market and a revitalised canal area that i had heard about previously. clark and i had a romantic walk down the canal and stopped to rest with all the old koreans with their feet in the water. the water was crystal clear, quite a difference from the chunky, frothy sludge that flows through beijing in places.

next up was the baseball game, which turned out to be an absolute blast. we hopped on the subway out there and popped up right beneath the main seoul stadium, which is on the olympic grounds. playing that night were the doosan bears (one of two seoul teams) and the hated samsung lions (source unknown). in korea, all the teams are owned by chaebols, massive korean corporations. so there is a kia team, a hyundai team, an LG team, among others. all have a home field but are named for the company. so of course after buying our tickets we picked up doosan rather than samsung thundersticks (necessary equipment) some snacks and giant korean beers and headed into the stadium. there is no bag check or anything, and the stadium is lined with convenience stores and fast food joints. both KFC and burger king had scantily clad women outside trying to attract customers. we opted for some korean sushi and dried squid.

the bears ended up crushing the hated lions 12-5, with one of many kims having a standout night. because seating in the upper of the two decks is general admission, the crowd separates itself behind the two teams, and we were right in the middle directly behind home plate. pretty much everybody has a pair of thundersticks and bangs them together in surprising unison (i'll try to remember to upload a video of this later). so far, except for the olympics, i have a good record of getting fairly toasted by the end of asian baseball games so we were getting pretty into things at the end of the game, even though our squid ran out.

after we picked up some doosan gear on the way out, we headed to a commercial area nearby to get some korean bbq (in korea, they just call it bbq), which was pretty delicious. afterwords we went to another nightlife area and had a drink on the roof of a pretty lame bar, then just went back and hit the sack. this time, i brought the card from the hostel and the driver punched it into his gps and took us right there. all i had to do was shout "ok!" when we arrived and all went fine.

the next morning we checked out of the hostel and headed downtown to check out a market and climb a scenic mountain that is right in the middle of town. (as an aside, before i left i was asking about stamps for some postcards, and a japanese guy who spoke little english and seemed to be a semi-permanent nocturnal fixture of the hostel offered to send them for me on monday. did anybody get one? i sent out a bunch.) the market was a little ho-hum, mostly everyday stuff and small by chinese standards. after a leisurely ascent of the mountain, which had some great views, we got some grub at a local place and caught our bus back to the airport.

all in all a very pleasant weekend. seoul is a nice city, very large and very clean, and quite pedestrian and public transportation friendly, but when it comes down to it there is not all that much to do. to a certain extent it reminded me of tokyo, but tokyo seems to be constantly teeming with life and activity while seoul (on the weekend granted) seemed quiet and dead at times. it strikes me as a pleasant place to live, but i think i'll stick with the dirty excitement of beijing for the time being.

Monday, August 24, 2009

quick pics

clark and i went to seoul this weekend, so expect a post on that soon. in the meantime, here are a couple snapshots i took with my phone recently that i found amusing:

vestiges of communist motivational techniques inside the friendship store

a climbing area that also proved a popular photo spot with soon-to-be-married couples, south of beijing

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"if i don't see you in the future, i'll see you in the pasture"

i am sad to say that good friend and general upstart durrell cashed his checks in and headed home to seattle today. most do not realize that durrell was not actually a founding author of this blog, but joined after we arrived in china more four and a half years ago. while his posts were typo-ridden at best and unintelligible at worst, they definitely made the blog more interesting and i believe pretty accurately reflect the always upbeat attitude that make durrell such a good guy to have around here. durrell, i think in terms of both life in beijing and the blog, i can safely say that it definitely won’t be the same without you, but it will be a lot quieter.

durrell celebrates 4th of july

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

beautiful beijing

i've been a bit slow in getting these pictures up, but unlike the good ol' blogger block back in 2005 i can't write to the blog except through the proxy at work, which needless to say has slowed our blogging progress considerably. even clark recently expressed an intention to blog that had been stymied by the internet censorship.

anyway, two or three weeks ago was a day with probably the worst air quality since i've been here. so i figured i'd take some pictures to show people how bad the air can get. the first picture is from that day, while the second picture is at the same spot on a remarkably clear day a couple weeks later, for contrast.

while that first picture does look bad, i do want to caveat it by saying that i think a lot of the poor visibility was fog, which may get me a lot of flack from the cynical expat crowd. the air was definitely bad (the u.s. embassy's air quality monitoring station gave it a 500, which is pretty off the charts), but there was the close-in damp feel that you get with fog, not pollution. though i'm no meterologist, i'm willing to bet that there's some sort of correlation between fog and super bad air days, either the fog holds the pollution in or the still air that leads to fog also allows the pollution to just sit there. or something. anyway, the air was bad and now you can see it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

my brother and sister come to china and create mass havoc

as durrell mentioned in the previous post, my brother and sister did in fact come to visit me last week(end). but rather than write about it here i'm going to take the lazy route and just point you in the direction of my sister's blog. she has done an excellent job of writing up the trip, complete with many pictures in which i of course look pretty damn good, but michael as always looks better. i'll just add one more picture not on julina's blog, courtesy of marjorie:

for future internet continuity, julina's posts are here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

Chinese Wedding and Chinese Baseball

(this post was actually written by durrell, but since blogger is blocked in china he asked me to post this through my proxy at work - BEN)

After taking a hiatus, I am back. A lot has happened since I last wrote anything, so I will not try to catch you up on everything, because I mostly don’t remember. I do remember that a lot of Middlebury people and Golzes have come through the Jing and it was great to see them all. Calvin, remember you said that I could be in your cabinet once you are president.

Our beers that we started brewing a few blog posts ago have matured well and are pretty good, some better than others. I have had a hard time picking a favorite, but my current favorite is our ginger beer (my favorite tends to be whatever I am drinking at the time), which has had mixed reviews by people. One person said it tastes like soap and others said they want to buy it.

Not last weekend but the weekend before that, I went to a Chinese wedding. It was the only Chinese wedding I have ever been to and not like anything I have ever seen before. As I have not been to a lot of Chinese weddings, I did not know what to expect and I do not know if the one I went to is how things are normally performed (I tried to think of a better word than performed, but I can’t because it was definitely a performance). The wedding started with the groom popping out from build a television screen like a host would on a game show, the announcer announced his entrance and I am pretty sure that announcer said Leeeeet’s get ready toooo rummmmmbleeeee in Chinese. As he comes out clouds smoke shoot out from the sides and the lights start flickering and the music changes from slow to something more uptempo, it felt like watching Shaq come out during an all star game. When I get married I definitely want to have an announcer and when once I kiss the bride I am going to spike the bouquet and do an end zone/wedding dance. After the announcer announced the groom it was the brides turn. The way the music changed and from the excitement in the announcer’s voice, I was almost positive that she was going to fly from the ceiling. However, she came down holding her dads arm to some slow Chinese pop music. It was very sweet. Then, they played the tradition wedding music and the father gives the bride to the groom, all the while the announcer is announcing everything. Once they are on stage, the announcer administers the vows; the announcer is a cross between a minister and a hype man and Michael Buffer. After the vows are exchanged more smoke, cake cutting ensues, pictures with everyone at the party, more smoke, pouring out the champagne, more smoke and then the bridge and groom comes around to toast everyone individual. A lot of alcohol was consumed by them, it was quite impressive. I may not have done a good job describing it, but it was a very beautiful event. Once China stops blocking my access to blogspot I will add pictures.

After the wedding ended, Señor Bacardi and I met up with Golze and went to a baseball game to see the Beijing Tigers vs. the Tianjin Lions. It was a great game. The Beijing Tigers had a substantial fan section complete with Chinese drums, baseball chants and raucousness. We were basically the raucousness, Señor Bacardi is a bad influence on us, the Chinese fans were relatively tame except for the drummers. At one point during the match, I saw this girl with a baseball glove and turn to Golze and say do you think she can use that? And she turns around and glares at me and says yes (I often forget that Chinese people can speak English). If Señor Bacardi wasn’t there I might have felt more embarrassed. Anyway, with some stellar defense and good at bats, the Tigers rallied to come back and defeat the Tianjin Lions in the bottom of the 9th. I forget to mention that the Tigers uniforms are pretty sweet, if anyone knows how to get a jersey let me know, I tried to buy one from the players and go shot down. They kept saying something like we need them, we are still playing in the game or some other nonsense. After the game was over Golze and I were not sure how we were going to get back to Beijing (the game was not played in Beijing, it was in some small city just outside) or at least back to the train station (the train station was pretty far from the field). So as we are talking to a guard at the guard station at the entrance to the ballpark a car pulls up. And ask if we want a ride. We are like hellz yeah (we are in China no one is going to kidnap us and take us to candy mountain). Once we get in we realize, on snap, the driver is the girl with the glove. Awkward! After some chat chit, we discover that the driver and the other passenger are reporters and that the girl with the baseball glove works for Time and that their English is much better than mine. I think it is pretty safe to say we will never make it on the Time blog roll now.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the dentist in china

my mother will be happy to know that i made a trip to the dentist this past week. i get (i think) one free cleaning and checkup a year through my health insurance at select dental clinics in beijing. so of course i just picked the one that was closest to my office, called "Care Plus". i didn't really know what to expect, but several friends, i believe clark included, had been to the dentist, and said it was just the same as in the states. really at this point i'm way past being surprised when anything in beijing meets western standards, and the dentist wasn't an exception. everything was clean and all the equipment was modern. but what really struck me was how much nicer of an experience it was than in the states.

first of all i scheduled the appointment only two days in advance, whereas for the dentist i went to growing up it's so crazy you almost need to schedule your next appointment in six months time before even your current appointment. they even called me up to change the time to make sure there was an english speaking staff member to do my cleaning, which i graciously accepted because i don't know any dentist vocabulary but turned out i didn't need. and everybody was extraordinarily friendly, especially after i awed them with my ability to speak and write chinese. (the best way to really impress a chinese person is to write something in chinese, as most people in beijing now are pretty jaded by foreigners who can speak. luckily i only had to write my address, which besides my name is about the only thing i can write from memory in chinese anymore).

but the kicker was at the end of the cleaning, where the girl who cleaned my teeth (they called her a "doctor" in chinese but i'm not actually sure if she was a doctor in the english sense) told me "your teeth are really great!" a far cry from in the states, where the end of a cleaning usually results in some heavy admonishment, about how you should floss, and then once you start flossing about how you are doing it wrong, and then about how you're brushing too hard or too straight or not for long enough. i mean i take ok care of my teeth (i actually floss everyday), but i suspect most of her praise was due to some pretty weak competition from the locals on the dental hygiene front. still, i walked out of there feeling pretty good, which is more than i can say for any trip to the dentist back home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

a goldilocks moment

considering that i don't have any mexican friends, it was only today that i finally felt some effects of the A/H1N1 flu pandemic. mainland china has its first suspected case of the flu now, and so they're pulling out all the stops to keep us safe at my fancy ass gym (corporate membership). they take the temperature of everybody that comes in the door and if you're above 37 degrees they don't let you in.

however, i have my doubts about the efficacy of the procedure. when i arrived today, there was a lady with what must have been some kind of infrared thermometer, about the size of a small flashlight, a bit of technology i had never seen before. it apparently works by taking a reading off your skin. the first reading she took was off the top of my wrist, which returned a 33 (too cold, she said). the next was off my forehead, which returned a 37 (she told me to a wait a second to cool down). finally i rolled up my sleeve, and the reading off my forearm was an even 35 (perfect, according to her). later i overheard a guy in a locker room saying the same thing had happened to him. let's just say that if the pandemic arrives, the gym won't be the first place i will be taking refuge.

Monday, May 04, 2009

tianjin and china's stephen colbert

two weekends ago i took an afternoon trip to tianjin with a friend to visit a former teacher of ours from summer school. we took the new bullet train, which costs less than 10 dollars and covers the 70 miles between beijing and tianjin in only 25 minutes. apparently the CRH trains, which are clearly ripped off from the japanese bullet trains, are the fastest conventional trains in the world. ours didn't go the full 350 km/h, but the 332 km/h speed we did reach was fast enough as far as i'm concerned.

tianjin is a decent city, but the i share the major complaint with most other people in that there's not much going on there. we went to lunch and wandered around the part of town with a lot of old architecture from when there was a large european presence in the city in the early 20th century. it was a cool mix of quite large single family homes and small apartment buildings. it looked like a neighborhood you might find in an old inner suburb of boston or new york.

but the highlight of the trip was lunch, when i ticked another animal off my list of things to eat: ants. i wasn't too keen on it but gave into peer pressure and tried. as you can see from the picture, it came in a small martini glass with a maraschino cherry. they had much more texture than flavor, crunchy but also light and airy. it was like eating hundreds of teeny tiny pieces of popcorn. apparently they are good for virility, but i can't vouch for any immediate effects.

fun story: durrell and i, on our way to my place to watch lost, stop in to the corner store right outside my building so i can get a drink, and the guy working there, who sees me all the time, looks at durrell and asks me "is he your little brother?" i look at him for a second, then ask "does he look like me?" and the guy says "yeah, you look a lot alike." honestly it was refreshing, after meeting so many obliviously racist people in china, to meet a guy that is clearly blind to race.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

plants and shame

somewhat unsurprisingly, my post about my plant received much more interest and many more notes of concern than when i almost killed myself. but i am happy to report that my plant has rebounded, sprouting some new leaves and even some flowers (blurry in the photo) that are very fragrant already. i still have no name for the plant, but am open to suggestions.

in other news, i can check something else off my list in china: i was told that i was "hurting the feelings of the chinese people." it actually took me a while to figure out that was what my coworker was saying to me. the short of it is that this developer in beijing is offering a discount on units in its new development if the buyer manages to woo and marry one of the sales girls. so of course i had to write that up as a headline for our monthly news publication, and when i passed it to my coworker for translation he informed me that i was bringing shame on 1.3 billion people. though my protestations that it was already in the news fell on deaf ears, he dutifully translated it. hopefully it will make it through the censors in our shanghai office.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

weekend picture

workers cleaning the side of SOHO shangdu

Sunday, April 12, 2009

life and death in beijing

i got a sweet osmanthus plant a few weeks ago for my room, so it will have something alive in it besides me. it only is supposed to be watered a couple times a week, so i figured that when i left on a trip for four days it would be ok. unfortunately when i got back the pot was bone dry. i watered it immediately but then a couple days later about 80 percent of its leaves fell off. here's what it looks like now:

durrell says this is exactly what happened to audrey, but i refuse to believe it is going to die. it is merely toughening up for the harsh realities of apartment living in beijing, shedding poorly performing leaves. there are already a few buds and new leaves sprouting. nevertheless, like peasants back in the day in china who didn't name their kids when born in case they died, i haven't named my plant yet, so i won't be too attached if it does die.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

another hike, and doing stupid things in china

durrell peer pressured me into doing something pretty dangerous today, and like any good friend caught it on video.

i'm down-climbing that rock (after climbing up) using only a bit of dubiously anchored webbing that had probably been sitting in the snow all winter. in case you can't hear it over the waterfall, at 0:47 i say "this is one of the stupider things i've ever done in my life."

other pictures from the hike can be found here: baiquanshan hike

Friday, March 06, 2009

at this stage, i have a phd in powerpoint

anybody want to be my boss? just make sure you have a master's degree in microsoft office:

but seriously, let me know. there's a substantial referral fee.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

putting it bluntly

though those of you that follow my google reader shared items (namely, durrell and conor) may have already seen this, i felt this was good enough to share here. well, that, and it's been a long while since i've posted anything.

those that know me from college know that, despite writing a rather lame music column for it, one of my favorite pastimes was criticizing the campus, the student newspaper. those that have known me even longer know that the habit extends all the way back to the mirador, which somehow hasn't made the jump online (i even had to create its wikipedia page). in dc it was whatever that paper is called that they give out on the metro.

now in china it is the people's daily, perhaps the best of the bunch. the paper is the official mouthpiece of the chinese communist party, and the english language version is a clunky attempt to showcase china to the rest of the world. and by the rest of the world, i mean tourists who come to china. and me. because i read the headline of every single story posted to the website every day. which lets me pick up some choice articles, like this awkward attempt to be relevant on valentine's day, this bizarre art choice on a christmas story, or this hard-hitting reporting on people being "fussy" because they can't watch more tv post-Olympics.

the article that prompted this post, however, was actually quite interesting and well done, about how the government is planning to end guaranteed lifetime employment for civil servants. (to my former coworkers: you thought you had it good!) it starts off talking about potential changes, like actually firing people for poor performance, moves to some background about the number of civil servants, and then ends with a bang:

More people consider jobs in the civil service as easy option.

"I would like to trade my current job, even though it pays better, for a government job because I want more personal space," Beijinger Xiao Liu, who sat the entrance exam last year, said.

In the past, government positions guaranteed workers cradle-to-grave employment and basic welfare. But the central government is keen to introduce new rules to ensure public sector employees actually work for a living.

bam! someone doesn't think highly of government workers, though it's funny to think that whoever wrote that line works for the official newspaper of the communist party, which isn't exactly the cutthroat private sector either. makes me wonder if some english polisher snuck that in under the editors' noses, though he/she seemed to miss the mistake in the first sentence.

in other news, this blog's biggest fans came and visited me in beijing last weekend. here is a picture of them in one of the gallery spaces in the 798 art district. the vaulted ceilings are excellent in bringing in natural light. those east german architects were smart.

Monday, March 02, 2009

baghdad back to beijing

Ben's sharp video and mapwork has inspired me to do some of my own.

During the Chinese New Year I hung around Beijing. I don't think I'll be the same again. A large component of the celebration is the lighting of fireworks and firecrackers in the streets. Throughout the weekend there was a steady crescendo of local Beijingers igniting their contraband -- a symbolic gesture to scare bad luck away for the coming year. On the eve of the 15-day celebration families gather to watch a cherished 3 hour variety show featuring all of China's most popular (and CCP-accepted) celebrities (think Dick Clark New Year's meets Lawrence Welk).

The video below documents the first evening when it was legal to light the things inside Beijing (not to say they weren't going off beforehand).

Our bathroom window allows access to the open roof of the building next to us, offering a nearly 360 degree panoramic view of our neighborhood in eastern Beijing. Throughout the evening, we continued to crawl out there to observe (until the cold air would send us back in). In the hours of the early evening, things were already impressive. But it wasn't until around 11:30pm -- when the variety show had ended -- that things started to become insane. It felt like every single family in Beijing, if not China, had taken to the streets to light thousands of kuai worth of fireworks, some no more than 30 meters away.

A vivid childhood memory is watching the Gulf War erupt on its first night -- as CNN correspondents Bernad Shaw and co. hunkered down in the Al-Rashid Hotel to film those eerie night-vision images of tomakawk missles bombarding the city. Well standing on our rooftop, wondering if it was actually safe to be standing there, and ready to bolt back to the window at any moment, is probably the closest I'll ever get to what thos men must have been feeling to know that hundreds of F-15s were bearing down on them. Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but to this war-zone ambience, the firecrackers relentlessly continued throughout the week -- often beginning as early as 7:30am -- and random intervals. I was becoming crabby and irratable -- shell-shocked if you will. It was impossible to watch a full episode of TV without pausing at least once, if not three times, to allow the roar of a 10-meter bianpao string to subside. These things are LOUD!! Let's just say that as special as this experience was, I'm glad that it's over and life has returned to normal.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

last post about japan

as durrell may or may not have promised in a previous post i've made a map of our crazy trip across southern japan. i originally meant it to be all fancy, with little pictures of all the stuff we did, but you'll just have to settle for this.

click for a bigger version

as an added bonus, here are some videos from the trip [UPDATE: videos hopefully fixed]:

Monday, February 09, 2009

I Give Myself an Award Winning Interview about My Trip to Japan

Because I do not want to write a real post, I decided I would interview myself about the Japan trip I just went on. Here is a transcript of the interview I gave myself. It was a thrilling and hard hitting interview (I went Larry King on my ass).

How did you prepare for the trip?


Most useful thing you brought with you?

A Japan Rail pass (you can't travel around Japan without it, seriously, I think it might be financial impossible) and Golze, because he told me what trains to take.

What did you see?

I forgot look at the pictures from the previous post

Where did you go?

Japan, I think Golze is going to make a map of where we went but too many places to list in one interview.

What was your favorite place?

I don't remember much of the trip anymore, but I did like the ninjas and the onsens in Beppu were awesome, except for that really hot one.

Least favorite place?

I don't think I had one, but sitting on the train station platforms kind of sucked after a while.

Best thing you saw?

Japanese people doing 50's music and ninjas.

Worst thing you saw?

A monkey dropping a deuce.

Weirdest thing you saw?

The weirdest thing I saw was something I didn't see, and that was trash cans. For some reason Japan does not have trash cans, but its one of the cleanest countries I have ever been to, scratch that, it is the cleanest in the world (just wikipedia it). Also, it was weird to see that Japanese girls don't believe in winter, because almost all the school girls I saw were dressed for summer.

Favorite thing you ate?

Okonomiyaki (which I am trying to figure out how to bring to Beijing, because it would make a killing) and inari-zushi (I can't get enough of the stuff, just like my grandma used to make) and last but not least SUSHI fresh from the Tokyo fish market. The sushi was so fresh that you could still taste the sea and the old man who caught it.

Least favorite food?

Do they have bad food?

Any people you would like to thank?

I would like to thank Steve and Caitlyn for hosting us at there place and feeding us and driving us around and showing us their hood and translating and everything else they did that I forgot. It was great thank you. Also sorry about the stickers.

If you have more questions about our trip post a comment to our blog or email Golze and he will answer all your questions.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

pictures from japan

durrell and i just got back from a whirlwind tour of japan. because i know there are probably some people (my parents) itching to see the pictures, i'm going to throw a slideshow up here while we work on a longer post or two. pictures can also be perused here for those that are interested in more leisurely viewing: japan pictures!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

in search of beer bottles

eventually you need to put the beer you brew in bottles. while the three of us can certainly hold our own when it comes to drinking, consuming five gallons of beer to save the bottles between every time you brew can be a bit challenging. one option to make up the deficit is to buy the empty bottles that the little convenience stores are planning to recycle for about 0.5 yuan, or 7.5 cents, each. however, there's inevitably great confusion while trying to explain that you want to buy empty bottles, and some people will just refuse to sell them to you because the idea of homebrewing is just a bit too mind-blowing for the average beijinger.

the other option is to get them from bars, who mostly don't bother with recycling. first of all it's free. the other plus side with bars is that they use the regular 12 oz bottles we know and love in the states, and not the huge 600 ml bottles you get at the local stores. so last night out in sanlitun durrell and i decided to give it a try. luckily durrell had also brought along a giant red bucket we may use for bottling, so we had somewhere to put the bottles.

it was a little early when we started out, so there weren't many bottles around. the first bar we went into was friendly enough. we asked the bar tender if he had any empties, and he showed us a box with about five or six, and said sure we could take them. but then his buddy at the bar, who may have been the manager, stopped us and asked what we wanted them for. "are you guys going to fight with them?" like we were going to meet the rockets for a choreographed scuffle under the bridge later on. we told him we needed them to bottle our own beer, and they happily let us take them.

we eventually ended up at the tree, a place known for good european-style pizza and a large selection of belgian beer. we parked ourselves at the end of the bar, luckily, we found out later, because that is where the waitresses came to deliver their orders from the tables. we ordered two beers and then asked if the bartender if he had any empties. he gave us ours, we told him we wanted any others that came through, and the stream of love began. he never even asked us why we wanted them, but handed over every single bottle that he poured for the rest of the night (about 50).

the waitresses were a bit more inquisitive, and shrewd. one discovered that we were taking bottles from the bartender and putting them in a giant red bucket next to our bar stools. she then began playfully harassing us, demanding payment for the empties from all the orders she brought to the bar. she eventually let every waitress in the bar know, so we racked up a "tab" of 45 yuan that we owe to the waitresses at the tree the next time we go back there.

soaking the labels off bottles of belgian beer from the tree

Monday, January 12, 2009

brewing notes for first brew (alpha)

Cooked on Sun, 1.11
Total brew time: about 4 hours


3 kg of malt (12 tubs)
3 oz (85 grams) of Cascade Hops (1.5 oz at 0 min, 0.75 oz at 30 min, 0.75 oz at 50 min)


Prep time about 45 min.

Need a big spoon for stirring, preferably carved from an even bigger spoon. Used spatula this time. Worked OK.

Get cleaning solution together during prep, need it when removing cap of water bottle


4:48. Started boil

5:40. Water (about 4/5 of bottle) boiling

~5:54. Finished adding malt, had to wait for it to start boiling again

5:56. Added 42 grams (1 oz) of hops, start 1 hour boil time (smells great!)

Forgot to wait for foaming to start before adding hops, added 1st hops when water + malt reboiled

Went to buy extra water, needed about 2.65 litres, bought 4 litre bottle

Figure out how to dry hop!

Cooling and transfer to fermenter

Tried to add extra water to boiled wort right at end to help with cooling. Added about 2 litres

When cooling manually added cold water to top of bucket, took lid off and stirred (about 1/2 way through cooling time)

Amy cleaning fish bowl in kitchen while this going on, possible contamination!

Forgot to shake up (aerate) water before recombining with wort

Using hand to gauge the temperature probably not sufficient, need to figure out a place to buy a thermometer for possibly a more accurate temperature reading.

Screen filter most effective in 2nd half of transfer to fermenter

Used siphon to aerate wort

2 layers of seran wrap and 2 not very tight rubber bands on top of water bottle

Finished at 8:08 pm

Thursday, January 08, 2009

16 hours in pingyao

though i had no actual vacation days left over the the holidays, i did end up with two four day weekends. our managing director graciously gave us the 26th off. the government gave everybody the 2nd off as well, and my company doesn't truck with most other firms that made people come in to work on sunday the 4th. therefore, i figured i'd head off somewhere to kill some time and get out of beijing. that somewhere was pingyao.

pingyao is a small city in shanxi province, to the southwest of beijing. as far as i know the city formed during the ming dynasty (1400s-1600s), but rose to prominence as a banking capital during the qing (1800s). the place has been preserved well, with complete city walls and several sites of old banking houses, temples, and government offices. an estate nearby was where raise the red lantern was filmed. nowadays, shanxi province is known for its coal industry, an aspect that was fully apparent while we were there: pingyao is the most polluted place i have ever been. it smelled like sitting behind a diesel truck whenever you were outside. beijing seems like montana in comparison.

as a result i'm still not sure how i feel about the place. i had a good enough time, and have conditionally recommended that others go there. but would i go again? definitely not.