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.