Sunday, June 29, 2008


A thought came to me while i was in Cali this week. Thursday night, the day before my flight back to Beijing, i was getting really excited. I thought, "I'm going home tomorrow!" Then it dawned on me that i really meant "home" in the comforting, familiar sense. I was genuinely looking forward to returning. I felt out of my element this week, partly from the jet lag and partly because my home base was Watsonville, where there's really nothing worth doing. Visiting the Target 5 times was the highlight.

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


Greetings all-
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.

So- Shanghai was great. The tournament and party, that is. The weather was awful, hot, humid, dense, wet, sluggish, muggy... the cloud cover gave the illusion of a cloudy day, and many of us went home sun burnt.

BUT WE PLAYED ULTIMATE! And a bad day playing ultimate is better than any other day at work. I can confirm this, as I played terrible in those conditions on saturday but still wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Big Brother went 3-1 the first day in the "power pool", which was very respectable. BeiBling, the B team went 4-0 in it's "kiddiepool". We all felt good and it was time to head to the party. The theme: Conspiracy. Our costume: MONOPOLY!

I got to represent my home state...

The bus ride down was a party by itself. We had some beers and a bottle of Baijiu, literally white wine, but really, terrible, terrible grain alcohol.

Fortunately, Tao broke the bottle of Baijiu on the bus, so no one actually had to drink that rancid beverage. Tao will belittle me for publicly knocking it, but really, it is a horrible drink.

Unfortunately, he bought two more bottles when we arrived at the party. And then there was the party. Note: the pics of Chris and I and Chirona and I are from Chirona's camera.

That last picture requires a little explanation. Molly and, um, that other guy, eventually licked Joe's nipples. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to. It was the penalty for talking to Joe while he had a hotel on his property. Now, it's true that he's only wearing one green hat, which equals one house. But i wasn't going to say anything. It was hilarious and it needed to happen. And so after the party chaos, we took the inevitable bus home. Which, again, was mayhem. One should never give Joe nunchucks after midnight, especially when drinking. Conversely, one should always give me delicious noodles after midnight, especially when drinking.

Sunday frisbee was pretty great, we only had 2 games because we lost in the semifinals to the Philippines Team from Manila. They were incredible. Apparently they've been playing together for a few years but weren't anything special until now. They really hit us hard and just worked harder. Everyone of their players was very athletic, had great throws, and were really smart. Their women, all nine of them, were all some of the best i'd seen anywhere, the US included. We traded points with them for a while, but they beat us 13-8, and pretty decisive victory. They met Shanghai in the finals and this was, without a doubt, probably the most entertaining game i've ever watched. I could not believe the quality and intensity that every point had. Every play was spectacular. Shanghai won 15-13, but Manila was leading almost the entire game until 13-13.
These first three bids were between the same two guys during one point.

Rediculous game and a great weekend. We are all excited about the tournament in Manila this November. Hooray for asia ultimate!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Frolf Follow-up

Tao finally got around to writing about Frolf from two weeks ago, and it reminded me that I forgot to include something in my story, and it's too fantastic to pass up. After we finished up with HouHai, we went to a small restaurant across the street. Quoting Tao from his post

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(...)

Those of you who've ever been to Indian or Thai with me know I like my food spicy. I like to insult and taunt the chef, so that they realize I mean business. Otherwise I get "American Hot" and not the real stuff.

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

Random Stuff

I've given my camera a rest over the last few days. I've been traveling light and taking the bare essentials. This weekend I spent friday and saturday nights with friends closer to the action. Closer to Sanlitun, Frisbee, and merrymaking. Also, I've desperately needed a change of scenery. The hotel i touched on in the very first post has grown increasingly tiresome. I find the merrymaking to be horse horse tiger tiger in my neighborhood. I'm supposed to move into the apartment in early July. I can't wait. Oh Mandy...

Frisbee continues to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It's so amazing that I can move to a random city on the other side of the world and have friends. Immediately. And not just acquaintances, but genuinely fun and nice people to hang with. Sunday night after the long weekend a bunch of us went out for dinner. We had to sit outside because, for one, it was a beautiful night, and two, we were filthy from afternoon frisbee. Also, we drank a lot of beer at about 50 cents a bottle. It's actually really impressive how 5 people can easily put down 15 tall beers in an hour. Imagine the carnage we left behind when we were 22 strong.

And here's a sight that i'll never tire of. I've been asked if Beijing recycles. I've seen bins around and there's usually two next to each other: RECYCLES and UNRECYCLES. So yeah, they do to some degree. But then I saw this:

Nice old lady peddling down the street with a massive load of Styrofoam. She probably is going to get a rebate from the recycling plant. This is also not likely her "job", but has found another way to make some money. You'll see the same thing happen with plastic bottles. And beer bottles. It's common to just head to your local corner store and pick up a crate of 20 bottles of beer for around 10 dollars. Then, when you return for more, you bring them the bottles and you get your next batch for about 7 dollars. It's literally cheaper than bottled water.

As I was moving out of my house and collapsing empty boxes for recycling, I found so much Styrofoam. My parents and I dropped it off at Ecocycle and we were thinking we had a lot. Ours was an embarrassing delivery compared to this lady's haul. I can appreciate what she's got going.

Other news, (now with extra exclamations!):
  • 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

More Good, Bad, and Neutral

Hey kids! Time again for more of everybody's favorite list! Unless you don't like it, then it's everybody but YOU!

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.

NEUTRAL: Traffic
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

A Sanlitun Sunrise

As I alluded to before, Saturday night was pretty intense. We started out simply enough with a Sushi dinner. It was a little underwhelming. We had california and unagi rolls, both of which had 1000 Island dressing and shredded lettuce involved. That basically made them akin to a Japanese Big Mac. The sashimi and tempura were fantastic though, and it was enough to make me come back for more some other time.

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


This weekend has been pretty intense so far, and it's only sunday. It's a holiday weekend for the Dragon Boat Festival, which means we have monday off work. I need it too. I spent 8 hours over two days gettting my visa extended for another month. Also, i found out i'll probably have to return to the states for a few days to get my residence visa sorted out. Anyone want to meet me in SF?

So, Friday night five of us went Frolfing, a.k.a. Frisbee Golf. Exactly like regular golf, it's only fun with beer in hand, or, as it were, beer in hand and 6 more in the backpack. So yeah, we played well into the night under the lights at Chaoyang Park. We no doubt impressed and terrified many locals with our amazing hucks and joyous frivolity. I look like a ghost in this first picture because I set the shutter speed to 10" to allow me time to run out there. It's actually taking a picture the whole 10" so I don't start out in the frame but I end up there if I stay really still. Cool effect.

We also had the brilliant idea to shotgun our last 5 beers. We found a nice old man and interupted him from Tai Chi to come take some pictures of us. He complied and no doubt will have a great story to tell his friends over Chess later that night.

We also found a tiny patch of hard, dry grass in front of the restaurant we dined at afterward. I don't know exactly how we did it, but we convinced Joe to do multiple layouts on the grass. Chances are we made a brilliant argument like, "Joe, you should do multiple layouts on the grass." This shot is of his fifth an final attempt.

Joe doesn't like his body much.
Saturday night was absolutely intense and sobering, but I'm not sure if I can post about it yet. I've witnessed some of what make Beijing so raw. I'll try to cover it tomorrow.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Neutral

There are some things about Beijing that keep catching my attention, probably because they are different from what i'm used to. For good or bad, they are the framework of my typical days and are shaping my opinions and memories of this city already. Here's the first round.

GOOD: Elevators
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.

BAD: Breakfast
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. < 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.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

China Natty's

I finished sorting through the 450+ photos on my camera from this weekends China National Ultimate Frisbee tournament. I deleted about half of them and came up with one dozen nice shots.

So, overall, I was really impressed with the level of play by the local Chinese teams. There were 250+ players, 14 teams total, and 5 expat teams. My local team, Big Brother, broke into two squads: BB Sexy and BB Ugly. I was on Sexy and we finished the weekend 5-1. We then combined the two squads to make our best team and played an exhibition game against Shanghai Huwa, the other ridiculous ex-pat team. I was selected to play that game and after Big Brother took a dominating half at 6-1, Shanghai woke up. They mounted an impressive 5 point rally to tie it at 6-6, but we pulled out a tough win 7-6. Bragging rights are ours, until we meet again in 3 weeks.

The remaining 9 teams were all Chinese and were allowed to compete for the title. The level of play was really intense and high level. Ultimate is growing fast in China and we had teams and players come from all over China to participate. Here are some random shots from the day.

Lot's of great action.

Jim from BB shows his hops.

I know what actually happened in this picture,
but it's more amusing to just assume there's an
aspect of karate to this Ultimate scene...

Anyway, The finals were between Air Kazak and Tianjin Speed. Air Kazak was the reigning champ, and yes, they are all from Kazakhstan. Borat would be proud. Tianjin Speed is from the nearest big city to Beijing and most players are pretty new to the game. Both teams are incredibly athletic, lightning fast, have quick and precise throws, tenacious d, and no fear of hurting themselves. I didn't get any great pictures of Tianjin, but they played a great game. The final score after sudden death, was 11-10, Air Kazak.

Happy Rat (shown flying above) is the captain of this team. His name in Kazak is actually pronounced Happy Rat, although it's probably spelled Hagh Pirrat or something. Cool dude.

We had a small awards ceremony too, led by Zahlen Titcomb from Five Ultimate. This company was started by 5 siblings and ultimate players from Oregon. If you're in the ultimate scene, you've no doubt heard of this company by now. Anyway, we're pretty fortunate beacuse Zahlen, the oldest of the 5, has been residing in Beijing for a few years now. He donated jerseys for all the Chinese teams and lots of other gear for the tournament. He's a pretty cool dude too

Frisbee is amazing.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Běihǎi and The Market

Well, the only downside of having an incredible and busy weekend is the lack of time to blog about it. So, it's monday now and i'm going to wisk you back to friday and saturday nights. Larry, GG, myself and the previously mentioned Mario went to dinner at a really sweet place in town. It's called Běihǎi, which literally means "Northern Sea". It's a series of lakes and gardens built in the 10th century behind the royal palace. It's a really cool place to spend an evening, the restaurants are trendy, the bars are upbeat, live music abounds, and I'm pretty sure i can be found there if I'm not at home, at work or playing frisbee.

Also, one could deduce from these pictures that Mario likes Larry and hates beer. I assure you, Mario likes beer just as much as, if not more than, Larry.

So saturday and sunday were spent playing vast amounts of frisbee in perfect weather. But I'll cover that in a seperate post. I want to share a few more pictures from saturday night in a small subdivision east of Beijing. While waiting for Lauren to get ready for the frisbee party, I grabbed my camera and wandered the street below. I headed down one random alley and found myself in a massive farmers market, just one street back from the main road. Fresh vegetables, fruit, spices and grains were everywhere. I walked around taking photos and sharing them with the locals via the review feature on my camera. Everyone was curious and friendly, but no one questioned my purpose or acted threatened by my presence. These little markets exist everywhere, but sometimes you need to take the unknown path to find them.
The last three pictures here and the first two of Běihǎi were taken with a long shutter time. It was pretty dark but the shots came out great. I love my camera.