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.