Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Vacation: Chicago

This has been an exceptional vacation. One of the best i've ever had. Nothing makes you appreciate your home like leaving it. I have such an amazing family and it warmed my heart to see them. My nieces and nephews have all grown so much in the last year, both physically and emotionally. It's beautiful. Here are a few pictures of everyone... my siblings and parents posing with the Chinese Embroidery they received.

This picture picture is entitled "Grandpeople".

One of the most interesting things was breaking out old photo albums. I took a picture of this gem, and will now submit it for your approval/heckling. Kindly draw your attention to my mullet and my brother's epic mustache.

We, as a family, really embraced the 80's. I blame my sister Carolyn for telling my this would always be cool.

I'm in Boulder now having an epic time and will follow with another installment sometime soon.

Happy Holidays all!


Friday, December 19, 2008

I always thought I was a Horse...

If you were born in January and you used the placemat at your local Chinese Restaurant to figure out your Zodiac sign, you may have been misled. The zodiac uses the Chinese calendar, and the Chinese new year happens between late January and early February . This means i am not a Horse born in 1978, i'm a Snake born in 1977. It's like my whole world had been torn asunder. Plus i lost a beer on this bet. Snakes are vengeful and hold grudges, so watch your back, Zodiac!

Related story, i asked lydia when her birthday is. She replied that this year, her birthday was on January 1st. See, her birthday follows the Chinese Calendar, and thus, is a different day each year on our calendar. If you think it's hard to remember birthdays now, what if they changed every year!

In other news, i've been missing the drums a lot. Before i left, Jiva Train was looking at a very bright future. We were booking mountain gigs, touring, actually making money, and having a fantastic time doing it. Our music was the best it's ever been. That was actually the hardest thing to leave behind.

So i've started jamming with some friends here and we went to an open mic night. It was spectacular. A dozen friends came out and our little trio took that stage over. Afterwards, the owners expressed interest in having us play a full show there. I also made some good contacts with other musicians for more opportunities. My little musicless Chinese Universe is almost complete! Yay!

Finally, i'm just about ready to come home for a few weeks. Chicago for Christmas, Colorado for NYE, Santa Cruz for my birthday! If you are in one of these places, find me!

Signing off, for now... i'll probably check back during the holidays.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TG, TB, TN: Special Home Edition!

I've done a few of these in the past, but it's been awhile. I've been thinking a lot about my apartment, so here's a special The Good, The Bad, and The Neutral about my Pad.

  • ridiculous shower and my bed
  • heated hardwood floors
  • aircon/heater in each room
  • freakin sweet TV and surround sound
  • maid service
  • free!

A few of these are obvious. I enjoy not paying anything, the entertainment system is really sweet, and the maid five times a week is übernice. The heated hardwood floors are especially luxurious. But let me direct you towards My Ridiculous Shower. This thing is the height of just-too-muchery. It offers overhead rain, wall sprays, and detachable nozzle options, jacuzzi functions, a radio/CD player, built-in fogless mirror, three different lighting settings and it makes delicious coffee. Just kidding, i've never figured out how the CD player works, but there's a button to turn it on.


  • no foreign conveniences
  • las cucarachas (in the microwave!)
  • questionable kitchen
  • no pets

Yeah, it unfortunate that the nearest foreign supermarket is 4 subway stops away, but i pass by it every time i go out. I stock up on the essentials and get the rest of it near home. But i am not a fan of cockroaches. They range in size from fleas to ants to crickets, and i kill them all with reckless abandon. But they cannot be stopped. They come in through all the crappy construction behind the counters and appliances. I suspect the whole complex, neigh, city is infested with this kind of problem. The other day, i was using the microwave and there was one inside the little LED display where the numbers are. Blargh!

NEUTRAL: Location

I've thought about this a lot... i have an 8 minute walk to work but my friends are on the exact opposite side of town. Would i rather the alternative? Walking distance of my friends, near the bars and good restaurants, near where everyone speaks at least a little English... and then commuting one hour to work everyday? Maybe. But as it is, i end up spending every Friday night on someones couch or spare bed anyway, so i guess i have the best of both worlds.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pleasanty Surprise

A series of advertisements for a spa in Sanlitun...

Splendid! I don't fully understand your sentence construction, Mr. Sign, but i am intrigued. Could it be electrolysis or photon bombardment? I wouldn't rule them out as a potential Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques. Let's read on...

Wonderful! Exotic, unique decor, designed to please and relax the spirit. Called to the mind are images of tropical waterfalls and babbling streams filled with Japanese Coy, plush lounge chairs, musicians softly plucking lutes, beautiful girls offering hot tea and snacks... an escape from the stresses of the outside world, a sanctum. What more could you possibly offer to seal the deal, O' Spa Of My Dreams?

Surprise! Oh.

Oh my. I'll take the pleasanty suprise of karaoke instead.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chop Chop

This is a random, mid-week thought. I've been thinking about the etymology of the word chopsticks, particularly when i remember my time in Ghana. English is the official language, but most people speak several of the other 80+ dialects as their first language. The resulting English is a slangier version more like Pidgin English. It's easy enough to understand, but there are some words they just don't use. Like instead of "eat", everyone says "chop", as in "Hey Kwami, we go chop small together". I never thought much about it, and probably assumed it was from chomp, which associates with chewing food, and mystery solved.

But now, this word returns and i wonder about chopsticks. Certainly it makes sense if chop has the same root meaning in both situations. But why would two different cultures with little connection arrive at this? England, Australia, and the US, don't regularly say this, so i can't believe it is an obvious English translation. And it isn't.

The answer lies in the root of the Chinese word for chopsticks, kuaizi, which literally means something like "fast things". Hence "kuai kuai" roughly means "hurry up!". That's a big step towards understanding the roots of "chop chop", which is Pidgin English originating from "kuai kuai", with an equivalent meaning.

Long story short, the chop i learned in Ghana really does translate to the chop of chopsticks, but you have to know the chinese kuaizi to make the connection. I don't know why yet, but arriving at this connection makes me happy, and i needed to share.


Monday, December 8, 2008

A Farewell BCD and Yin's Birthday

A Buoyancy Control Device is a vest that allows you to neither sink nor float while scuba diving. For the Beijing Expats however, the BCD is a Boozy Chinese Dinner, and it has become an impressive part of Beijing nightlife. There have been a dozen since i've been living here, and Friday night, we sent off Julia and Reid in style. They are two of my closest friends in Beijing, and they are leaving for Portland after over 3 years of residency. Their enthusiasm and contagious joy will be hard to replace.

However, in a split second of lost focus, i managed to delete about 70 pictures from my camera before i realized what was happening. I quickly pulled the plug from the camera and saved the remaining 56, most from the following night. I am devastated by the loss of so many memories. There are two great pictures of Reid and Julia, looking fantastic. There's Jim with his pink wig full of chopsticks. There's a group picture that would have made the Best Of folder. Instead, i only have this picture to commemorate the night, aptly titled "The Damage":

We had forty people and three tables at this restaurant, our usual location. We played Drink Ball and put down case after case of Yanjing. It's amazing how thoroughly we destroy this room everytime we come here. Yet they still love us. Rowdy patrons are not uncommon among the Chinese, and as foreigners we are all the more entertaining to them.
The after party kept me out until about 5:30, where margaritas, foosball, dancing, and 4am burritos entertained us. I slept on a couch and had a breakfast of Steak and Eggs. It would have been the perfect hangover cure, had i not felt great already.

Saturday night was Yin's birthday party. The restaurant decor was cozy and they had a bunny. Here are some pictures from the restaurant.

And some portraits of the lovely ladies that accompanied us to the afterparty at Absentia, this upscale Russian bar. Introducing Yin (the birthday girl), Grace and Amy (Yin's roommates) and Helen:

Another good weekend. I'm really enjoying the Beijing nightlife here and it's given me 3 consecutive weekends out until 5 am. I haven't enjoyed really going out late like this in years, maybe since Spain. I'm used to bars in the states closing around 1am. This is a refreshing change of pace and makes me feel more connected to the city. After all, Beijing's heart beats differently past midnight.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Jīn Wǔ Xīng

This Saturday was great. I met Reid, Julia and Corey for an amazing dumpling brunch. I will take you, yes, YOU, to this restaurant when you come to visit me. They have these exquisite fried dumplings which apparently can only be found at this restaurant. All places have steamed and boiled dumplings, but the fried ones are a rarity. Feast your eyes!

Then we headed to Jīn Wǔ Xīng market (Golden Five Star) for a day of shopping. It's like a flea market crossed with a department store. You have to bargain for everything, which is awesome. You can find clothing, housewares, electronics, furniture, tools, art, doors, windows, plumbing, lighting... literally anything but food. Oh, and they have food.

Chinese chickens say Tok Tok...

... and Chinese babies ride (or wrestle?) enormous fish. Presumably this is why most never learn how to swim.

Calculator City!

Seriously. How many functions does a toilet need? This thing takes ass-pampering to a whole new level.

A fantastic trip, on which i bought the following:

  • Awesome Ray Ban sunglasses
  • A shoulder bag (more common than backpacks in China)
  • 6 Ping Pong balls
  • A leather belt
  • Cement hooks for hanging pictures
  • Two sweet pictures for my apartment
  • Christmas gifts

Yay shopping!


Monday, December 1, 2008


Two weeks ago, a friend and i indulged in a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique known as "cupping". This was my second experience with chinese medicine, but only my first voluntary one. Here's a decent description of cupping from a BBC article when Gwyneth Paltrow showed up in public with the telltale bruises.

Cupping is believed to stimulate flow of blood, lymph and Qi to the affected area. Its uses include relieving pain in the muscles, especially back pain from stiffness or injury, and clearing congestion in the chest, which can occur with colds and flu. The therapist takes a number of glass cups, which look like small fish bowls. Each cup is heated with a naked flame. The cup is then quickly applied to the skin. This creates a vacuum. The suction anchors the cup to the body and the area of skin covered is drawn up a few millimetres into the cup. The cups are then left on the body whilst the area beneath is treated and the energy, or qi, is moved.

I must say, i was skeptical. I know a few friends who have had it done and i've seen the bruises after; They don't look pleasant. But they are different from normal bruises resulting from blunt trauma in that they don't hurt. Instead, the blood and toxins are drawn to the surface, so the pain is minimal or nonexistent. The result below looks far worse than it actually is, and the picture was taken only about 20 minutes after.

I will say this. Since moving to Beijing, my back and neck have been awkward, probably from sleeping on a new mattress. These last few days, my back has felt comfortable and i'm sleeping better as a result. And now, 1 week later, the bruises are basically gone.

Also, after two weeks of Sky and Rico crushing me at lunch time ping pong at work, i was unstoppable the following week!

Fact: cupping makes you amazing at ping pong.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Fire Chicken

Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday of the year, probably from back in my wrestling days when i was forced to savor every bite, lest i can't make weight a few days later. Christmas is a close second because the meal is just as good, and my entire family gets together. And I've got a good family, although the logistics are usually a little more stressful.

For the last three years, Julia has hosted a dinner for 20 or so ex-pat friends. The meal was spectacular with all the usual favorites: stuffing, mashed sweet potato, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce, gravy and some incredible turkey (two of them!). Yes, you can find turkey in Beijing quite easily this time of year. The Chinese word for turkey is Fire Chicken (Huǒ Jī), which i think is pretty great. Turkey's aren't native to China and their tendency is to compare an unfamiliar thing to something they know. Hence fire chicken. Other examples are tomato (western red persimmon), watermelon (western melon), and kangaroo (pocket mouse).

Here's a picture of the feast.

One noteworthy event involved the coffee percolator we borrowed from the neighbors. Joe, Reid, and Dan are examining it's inner workings here...

The plan was to make Irish coffee after dinner. Joe brought a huge bag of coffee, a bottle of Jameson, brown sugar, and heavy whipping cream. But tragically, no coffee maker. We borrowed one from the neighbors and figured out how to use it, but it wouldn't screw together completely. We figure it's fine and put it on the stove. Right? I'm sure it's fine.

Well, the thing starts making some noises, which is normally good and means delicious coffee is moments away. So we check it out to see the progress and BOOM!

I was the closest (actually handling the thing) and joe was leaning over my shoulder with curiosity. The pressure released all at once and literally exploded, taking out the left burner on the stove and spraying hot coffee and coffee been shrapnel everywhere. Miraculously, we weren't injured and the wall took the brunt of the force, although i got a few tiny burns on my arm through my clothing. I'm completely fine, but it certainly could have been worse. And the Irish coffee was only only slightly delayed.

By the way, this year, i'm thankful for good friends and long sleeve shirts.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Search for the Ice Tray

It's easy to take for granted certain things that i'm used to being able to find anywhere. One thing that i developed an almost immediate craving for was popcorn. Not the microwave crap, but kernels. I want to make it on the stove and add butter and salt, the way the Indians used to. Like most things, i eventually found them at a special store dedicated to things Chinese don't need.

Another example: ice trays. I started with the local grocery, near my house. It has three floors and one floor is all housewares and clothing. It's ice-traylessness was overwhelming.

Next stop: the foreign grocery. You can find all kinds of great comfort food, cereal, spaghetti, Tabasco sauce, tortilla chips, salsa, and real cheese, as well as forks and spoons. But if ice trays are what you seek, you'll find this place woefully deficient. They did have those medicine dispensers that separate all your pills for the whole week... and i seriously considered just breaking off all the tabs. But it was far too expensive to justify. So I asked my friends where to go and they pointed me to Ikea, which is the equivalent of a day-trip. No, not going all the way to Ikea for that.

I had one more idea: the department store. I'd been there one other time when i needed a pitcher for sangria. It's huge and 6 floors and it's huge. Chinese department stores are unusual, but interesting. In the shoe department for example, there might be Nike, Adidas, and Puma sections, and an employee will be stationed in one section, working on that brand, not for the department store. Each section is responsible for selling a certain thing or brand. The employees there work for that little section and that section leases it's space from the "department store". Maybe. All of this is speculation.

Anyway. The top floor is housewares and i remembered the place i got the pitcher dealt exclusively in plastic stuff. So i went there and browsed. Not locating it on my own i explained i wanted "a thing to make ice". Coupled with the sound effects of twisting/crunching an ice tray to break the cubes and the tinkling sound of dropping into a glass, i conveyed my desire. She dug deep into the random items and pulled out probably the last ice tray, glorious specimen! For $9! Which i was delighted to pay! For this was surely the last ice tray in Beijing.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Let's talk about the weather, shall we?

Sometimes for fun i'll check the weather back home(s) and compare with Beijing. From what i can tell, the weather here is fairly predictable. There are few dramatic changes, and looking at the average monthly temperatures, it doesn't hit either extreme very often. Sure, we are blessed with sandstorms that keep everyone inside for hours at a time, but that's only for a few months in the spring.

Here's the current snapshot. Not too bad, a nice mild fall. Whoa, overcast on Sunday! Better prepare the sweatshirt! We may get another day of outdoor ultimate after all.

A quick look at Chicago tells me there are certainly colder places this time of year...

And then in Boulder we can see a pleasant week of oh sweet Jesus help us all the apocalypse is coming!!

Seriously? Ice Pellets? You guys need to sacrifice more tofurkeys to mother nature.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

6 months in The Jing

Well, my personal 6 month anniversary of being in The Jing (as the ex-pats lovingly refer to it), passed without notice. I only just realized today, 6 months + 1 week after arrival. Obviously, it doesn't really mean anything. We love to add milestones to commemorate things just to have an excuse to celebrate. It's like when you ask someone on their birthday if they feel any older, the answer is almost invariably "No".

Anyway, Frisbee is winding down... we had our last two days of outdoor this weekend, and tonight is the final Tuesday pickup. We'll continue to have some indoor (which i've never played before), but it's not the same. Larry has returned to the states for the the winter, leaving me with the reigns at the office. The last of the temporary students are preparing to leave next month. The cold, bleak winter looming, threatening to drain the spirits.

I usually look forward to winter, specifically fireplaces, coffee on pearl street, gentle snowfall at my house, and snowboarding. But I imagine these next 3 months would be among the most trying of my time here.

That is, if I didn't already have my ticket for the holidays! Christmas in Chicago, NYE in Colorado, and my birthday in California... 18 days total.

Ok. Tragedy averted. I will now return to enjoying The Jing, already in progress.


UPDATE: It's 19 degrees (F) tonight. And yes, i'm going to play me some frisbee.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The heat is on

That's right! China decided that it was officially winter and, therefore, cold enough to turn on the central heating in all the buildings. Never mind that it's a beautiful 55 degrees, calm and sunny today. All week it's been winter, a windy Chicago-like 35 by the time the sun goes down for my walk home. My feet were chilled to the bone. I got a brief respite after lunch when four of us play ping pong for 45 minutes. That warms me back up to neutral. But in the five hours between lunch and 6pm, it's cold. Somehow, our office is even colder than outside.

But today is November 15th, the day China decided would be the first day of winter. So today we get heat in our homes and workplace.

I'm opening some windows.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NO Lingering!

Merriam-Webster offers the following definitions for "linger":

1: to be slow in parting or in quitting something
2: to remain alive although gradually dying
3: to be slow to act: procrastinate
4: to move slowly: saunter
These are all acceptable to me. And as they actually meant to say loitering, there's room for a little interpretation. But i do believe the entire population of the country of China owes me an explanation for Good God!? what are these people doing here?

In particular, Citizens of China, i'd like you to explain to me what persistent problems influenced this sign, because this is not how people generally loiter. However, from what i've witnessed thus far in China, here are the most likely everyday situations.
  • One guy is doing some emergency maintenance on his tiny truck. The other guy is mid-saunter. Neither are actually guilty of lingering.
  • One guy is vomiting into a baby stroller. The other is doing the Moonwalk, possibly in celebration. Both drank too much baijiu. Linger potential high.
  • One guy is late on a debt and is begging for mercy. The other is going to register his disappointment with a savage beating using an RC racecar. If this is happening too often, i suggest a sign is not a sufficient remedy. (It's possible i saw this on Sopranos, and not actually on the streets of China.)

But seriously, yeah, tiny trucks are common, there is a fair amount of vomit on the sidewalks on any given morning and i've personally witnessed violence since being here.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hong Kong and Baijiu

Hong Kong was a blast. My team pictured below did very well for itself. We finished the weekend 2-3, but had 5 very good games. We finished day one with 2 wins and 1 loss, and our loss was by only 1 point.

Our two team pictures below (from Tina's camera) are awesome, and very Chinese. In this one, you'll see the classic "Chinese Family Photo" picture. No smiling whatsoever, very serious.

And here is the "double-peace-sign" photo. Chinese tourists almost invariably flash this whenever getting their picture taken. Fantastic.

The party at the tournament was, as usual, a costume party. Big Brother dressed up like, well, see for yourself. Tao's Optimus Prime costume obviously won first prize that night, and this photo (tao's camera) is priceless. Nonchalant subway ride through downtown Hong Kong, nothing to see here.

There's only so long you can keep a straight face.

Speaking of Tao, he has an unnatural obsession with baijiu, an awful Chinese liquor. It's pretty common for Chinese to polish off a full bottle with dinner. The real danger with this stuff is it's so cheap. A bottle normally goes for less than a dollar. Personally, i hate the crap. I imagine it's just a little worse than paint thinner. Here i am staring straight into the eye of evil.

And another random pajama party shot from Tao.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where were you?

I was in Shanghai at a VERY important work meeting between USG and my former employer, Trimble, on the future of our main product line. About 10 of us in a conference room, i was delivering presentations about Min/Max inventory planning, purchasing kits instead of raw components, and vendor managed inventoy. I was on my A game. I went back to my computer for something and caught the news. I completely broke my train of thought and announced to the group, "WE HAVE A NEW PRESIDENT!" Don't bother getting me any christmas presents this year, i've got everything i need.


Update: I've never seen anything like this as a result of Politics. This much positive energy is inspiring. Don't people usually march when they are pissed?

P.S. Rachel says she won't read my blog unless i make it all about her. Here's shout out #2

Monday, November 3, 2008

National Theater and Forbidden City

One night about a month ago, I went out after work to see some sights at night. Beijing by night is amazing, particularly around the Olympics when everything is lit up. Here are a few sweet pictures that i just forgot i had.

So this is the National Theater. It's completely surrounded by water, no walkway or bridge of any kind. The entrance is underground. Pretty sweet bit of architecture. Reminds me of a Hershey's Kiss from multiple angles.

Here's a shot of the entrance to the forbidden city. And a guard.

And this is a long stretch of pleasantly illuminated wall outside of the forbidden city. It was actually really dark, but a long exposure and holding really still yielded a cool shot.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A little while back i went to Tianjin for work. We spent two days there and visited two current vendors and five potential ones. My company just bought a van and we have a driver to take us around in comfort. I am enjoying this part of my job, largely because i get to see vast stretches of China outside of the main cities. This is a really big and beautiful country. Here are some of the things i saw.

Maybe this isn't so strange; i've never lived in Nebraska, so it's possible this is the way people actually transport cattle.

But i'm positive this is not how they transport recycling back home. It's like a horrible porcupine of trash. A trashcupine?

This is also strange to me, but on some level it must be perfectly logical. That is corn you see this man hoe-ing. They remove the corn from the husk and let it dry in the sun. On the shoulders of every road. Sometimes making four lane roads only two lanes. They literally put it wherever a vehicle is not presently parked. Clearly this is not for human consumption (please let it not be for human consumption) so that means it's for farm animals.

Here you see a very important traffic sign, "House and Tree". Thank you, forward thinking Chinese, for the warning about the presence of lodging and foliage in the area. This is particularly helpful, as the sign itself appears to be under attack from one of these menaces, with another one lurking in the distance. Run, save yourselves! Seriously though, no one in our car was able to tell me what this sign means.

People don't have dryers in China. Also, um, they put their lettuce and vegetables on the sidewalk.

This was just a nice picture. Notice how evenly spaced all the trees are along the side of this road in the country. Surely they were all placed there. And China keeps it's people employed.