Sunday, June 29, 2008
Cali was pretty uneventful this time. I didn't have the opportunity to see anyone except in the last few hours. Brianna, who now calls San Francisco home, came to the international terminal of SFO to have a cup of coffee with me. It was probably 90 minutes of travel for 60 minutes of visit, but greatly appreciated. It was so nice to see a good friend, even for just one hour. Also, I passed a small test before she arrived. I needed to call her to tell her where I was, but had no phone. I asked this Chinese couple next to me if I could borrow their phone for one call. They didn't understand and I immediately realized they were not ABCs (american born chinese) but actual CBCs. I broke out my basic Chinese and said something like "I don't have a phone, do you have?" The man took his phone out and said "Yes, I have." I realized he was simply answering the question I asked, like I was taking a survey and would move onto the next person with the same question. I said, "Can I call?". He laughed, I made a call, and silently congratulated myself.
Anyway, i noticed a difference in my Beijing arrival this time. It was not unfamiliar. I was practically a veteran now, already talking like a local . On the way to customs, I was standing behind a girl from Utah. She had lost the immigration form they give you on the plane. She needed a new one. But what she asked me was something like, "Do you speak Chinese? Can you help me get another form from this lady?" Well, I didn't really answer the first part (which would have been "no"), but I said I could help her. I scanned my vocabulary for the necessary words, and realized I had all the tools. We went up together and got her sorted out. That felt really good. Two Chinese victories in one day. Nice.
Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the flight between BJ and SF is flying over Siberia and Alaska. Or Kamchatka if your geography comes from Risk. This time I remembered to get some pictures. Pretty awesome views.
Spectacular place to look at, but i will not be visiting anytime soon.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I'm writing from a California, after the longest tuesday I've ever experienced. I left Beijing at 4pm today and after a 12 hour flight, I arrived at noon. Today. That's a 40 hour tuesday. Ugh. Jetlagged and exhausted, I'm going to kill a little time by recapping the weekend.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Across Andingmen Street and to a small eatery where the beers still came and I asked them to bring out the hottest chicken wings they could make. They smirked and watched from behind the glass as Joe tried it and, eyes expressionless, nodded. Kevin touched one and licked his finger and said, "Don't do it, you'll hate yourself." I took a bite and a moment later through tears was asking them to bring out a third bottle of water(...)
This spice, however, obviously came directly from the bowels of hell. I've never tasted anything so spicy, nay, painful in my life. The dab on my finger I tasted instantly set my senses aflame. Tao's mouthful was excruciating. I'm guessing he thought I was joking when i said he would hate himself. Alas, I was not. I also didn't realize Tao had the spice tolerance level of an infant. View below. I've entitled these pictures "Taopain" and "Taouch". Although he looks almost happy in the first picture, I can assure you, he is not.
Also, I'm pretty excited for Shanghai this weekend. Although, the forecast is less than ideal.
Hey, at least the forecast doesn't call for "sandstorms".
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
- I'm pretty sure I have a renter for my house! She's moving up from New Mexico and signing a 2-year lease! I'll be back in Cali from the 24th until the 27th! I'm hoping China will let me come back!
- The Shanghai Ultimate tournament is this weekend! Hooray!
- They fixed the sink in my hotel room! Hooray!
Friday, June 13, 2008
GOOD: Chinese Language
I've been running into some great phrases lately. Some things just don't translate well, or they translate hilariously, and I like it.
mǎ mǎ hū hū - horse horse tiger tiger
Yeah. This one's great. It means "so-so". As in, "Hey Yin Wang, how's that fried rice treating you?", "Awww, It's just horse horse tiger tiger." So far, no one can tell me where it came from or the logic behind it. A part of me hopes i never actually find out. I'd like to continue believing that the ancients honestly felt the resulting mayhem from putting several horses and tigers together would be just average.
jiā rén - family
But literally, "home people"! Awesome. Finally, a way to accurately express the joy and love i feel for my closest relatives. They are my home people, that is the bond we share, and that is how we'll keep it.
míng baì - I understand
And literally, it means "bright white". Which almost doesn't make sense, except when you think about the English equivalent of "clearly". I like that. Totally different cultures end up expressing a thought the same way, but from a slightly different view. It shows how we're all pretty similar, and it's the changing technology and generations that have made us seem so foreign.
BAD: Sand Storms
You know how fog rolls in sometimes and you can't see the building next to you? It's like that, except fog doesn't make your eyes bleed and your mouth taste gritty. Yeah, Beijing has a problem. See, it used to be a desert. Or rather, it should be a desert but humans have decided they'd rather live there instead. So it's been developed and water has been redirected. However, the dunes 70km west are blowing eastward at the rate of a few km/year. It's a slow killer, and unless China steps up their reforestation efforts, it's going to be a huge issue in 20 years. For now, you just have to stay inside for a few hours 4 times a month.
I've talked about this before, but I just love watching the traffic here. I'm fascinated by the deftness with which drivers navigate. For example, take the intersection near my house, which isn't particularly large. There's the 4 lanes of main road, 2 each direction. After a small patch of sidewalk, there's another lane on each side, like frontage roads. Then, after another small sidewalk, there's a ANOTHER frontage road. That makes 8 lanes total, and 6 separate roads. At anytime, a car can go from one of those 6 roads to any of the other 5. I don't believe there's any law against crazy u-turns or cutting across six lanes of traffic in one move. You can imagine the gnarled mess that results. But through all the honking and near misses, it clears up every 30 seconds. Awesome.
Of course, it mostly just makes bus or taxi travel crawl to a halt, which gives traffic an overall rating of neutral. Subway's on the other hand... i guess that's a topic for next time. I could write a novel on that.
Postscript: For a brilliant explanation of normal traffic snarls, click here. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, at least look at the photo at the bottom.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
We then headed out to Sanlitun (pronounced Sahn-lee-tour; the Beijing accent adds an "r" sound to the end of many words), several square blocks of bars and nightlife. This scene attracts many ex-pats, students, foreigners, and young Chinese locals. Food and beer is cheap, plentiful, and outdoor seating is the norm. From what I can tell, this is a fairly normal bar scene, not unlike your average college campus in the states. But something about this night was different.
We had a nice area staked out and were drinking cheap beer with good friends. About 10 of us, Americans, French, and Chinese celebrating the 3 day weekend. We were interrupted by the unmistakable sounds of an escalating conflict at the next table. Two men, Turkish or Middle Eastern, or North African, speaking a language none of us recognized, were pushing each other around. The one with a ponytail was visibly the favorite to come out on top. And he did. He pushed (threw?) the smaller one into a mobile cart selling candy and cigarettes. We watched the poor guys head bounce off the bike petal and the cart's goods go sailing. He dragged himself back to his feet, picked up a bottle and stormed (stumbled?) off towards his adversary. Along the way, he attempted to turn his bottle into a weapon with the most adorable tinking against the brick wall. It resembled someone tapping a wine glass with a knife to propose a toast, with the distinct intention of not breaking the glass.
Ponytail guy was not amused and quickly disarmed the poor guy and delivered him further punishment before they were separated permanently.
The next two incidents happened an hour later, very close to each other and were completely unrelated to each other. Tao and I were heading off to another bar and we stopped to discuss our plans. We watched a Foreign guy (read: non-Chinese) get carried off by 8-10 Chinese. They were all wearing the same non-police uniform and were all around 20-25 years old. They had a very determined look, almost reverent and definitely eerie, as they carried the protesting man by his arms and legs off into the dark distance. Not more than 10 minutes later on the same corner, we watched another white guy get chased out of one bar and into another. His 5 bouncer pursuers were beating him with reeds and lengths of PVC pipes until he escaped into the bar. He emerged a minute later and we got a good look at the damage, which was severe. Probably not ER worthy, but the guy is certainly going to feel it the next day and be a fair bit uglier for a few weeks.
While these last two incidents happened to foreigners, Tao and I concluded a few things:
- We were not in any danger
- We personally did not feel threatened at any point
- This is all very uncommon
- Both of these guys were asking for it, and were likely belligerent or drunk
The 4th and final spectacle was also the most intense. Far from these other events and high above the street on a bar balcony, we watched another fight break out. This one appeared to be between Chinese and some french-speaking Africans. It started with one Chinese being chased out into the street and kicked from all sides until his rescuers came in to help. Before long, there were about 40 people down there and 3 or 4 separate fights happening. We watched from safety as the intensity calmed and swelled , as attempts at diplomacy were met with fists, as people were carried to safety from the melee. This lasted a few minutes and both sides retreated.
The sun was coming up, now 4 am, the excitement having produced enough adrenaline to conceal how tired we really were. The last thing we saw as we left the bar was four big Chinese guys walk past us, towards where the French mob retreated to 30 minutes earlier. They were carrying what looked like metal pipes. I don't believe we witnessed the end (or the worst) of it.
No photos of any of this, and it's probably a good thing i didn't have my camera. I wouldn't have been able to resist taking some pictures and possibly drawing attention to us. Unless i remembered to turn the flash off. Which i'm sure i would.
Wow. What a night.
p.s. If you want another dose of this story, Tao has a brilliantly worded blog on the same topic here.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
From what I can tell, elevators in china are amazing. This opinion is offered as a seasoned elevator expert and my vast knowledge of their secondary functions, the ones beside going up and down. First of all, yeah, they go up and down. That's not so sweet. What is sweet is what happened once you're inside! Oh my, inside is a wonderous place! You know how tempting this little "close door" button >< is? You know how pushing it absolutely does not make the door close any faster? It might as well just be a suggestion. Well here, the reaction is instantaneous. Which is nice. But it can also be dangerous, for the Chinese are not accustomed to waiting and if you aren't in the elevator immediately after it opens, they will attempt to crush you. Also: if you accidentally press the wrong floor, you can unselect it by pressing that number again!!! Ok fine. You are unimpressed. I am far more amused by these things than you. But trust me, they are incredible.
I don't mean the hotel meal, which is pretty good: one fried egg, one piece of toast, some jam, bacon, sausage, some fruit, salad and coffee. That's a solid american breakfast. I'm referring to the ambiance. Picture this: you're just starting your day and enjoying breakfast. You're pretty content because by now, the hotel staff (which is abundant!) is accustomed to you and the staring is minimal. It's one of the few moments in the day where you aren't really being watched. You're relaxed. Then the music starts. It's Mandy, by Barry Manilow and it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. <Oh Mandy!...> The worst part, other than the awfulness of the actual song, is that you know it's coming. You know it's two songs after Let It Be by the Beatles. <...you came and you gave without taking...> Somehow, you haven't had breakfast yet without hearing this song. <...but I sent you away, Oh Mandy!...> It's terrible. It's worse than terrible: it's a remake! The drum fills are all off beat and electronic unless, *gasp* it's the original?!? <... well you came and you stopped me from aching...> So now you're unable to concentrate and you hurry through breakfast because please, oh, please!, make it stop! <...but I need you today, Oh Mandy!...> I hate you Barry Manilow. You, I loathe. Maybe by writing this post and acknowledging you, you'll leave me alone.
NEUTRAL: Lip Smacking
I guess I always knew what lip smacking was, but most people i know eat with their mouths closed. Or at least they take care to chew silently. Lately I've been having lunch with 5 or 6 of my work friends at a place nearby. The foods really good and it's cheap. But every one of them smacks their lips when they chew. Y'know, the sound it makes when you open your mouth abruptly? I guess normally it would be weird if one person was doing that at a table of quiet chewers but here, I actually feel weird. So I do it too. I'm not proud of it. But it does get pretty amusing when you sit back and listen to the symphony of sound.