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.