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.