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.