Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chinese New Year is a long week

So, what did i do the rest of the week? Here's a recap, with lots of pictures. For reference, Sunday night was the ridiculous, neverending fireworks show, and also the official beginning of the new year. The rest of the week was still peppered with daily and nightly fireworks and the resulting car alarms from the shockwave, but i had a few other adventures as well. And lots of quality camera time.

Temple Fair
From what i can tell, this is the chinese version of a carnival with games of chance, food, and artsy things for sale. They even had a booth dedicated to selling mops. I haven't figure that one out yet. Outside, there were kids playing on the frozen river and more fireworks.

Sensory overload... too many colors and people and objects that don't make sense.

Between the Tuesday night open mic, and practices on Thursday and Friday, i played 8 hours of music this week. The new band (still officially nameless) has been playing a lot, and it looks like we've incorporated a 4th member: Jon Kelly from London. He's a good bloke. Pictures!

Our little band. Click on the picture of just me for a close up of this weeks "Scary Kev Eyes" entry.

At the practice space. This place is fantastic... it's tucked away in some truly beautiful hutongs, it's cheap (about $7/hour) and they have drums, amplifiers, cables, and microphones already there. It's really pretty ideal, even the location is central.

I spent four nights out at the other side of town, staying out late, sleeping in two different beds and on one couch. This is quite convenient when i don't have to work the next day, because EVERYONE lives over there. And usually i make myself appreciated by cooking breakfast the next morning.

Thursday night was a great party at Yin's place. Good food, music, games, beer, friends, etc. We did stupid things like launched fireworks out of her 6th floor window and we ate a raw onion like an apple. One person took a big bite and passed it around the table. Between seven of us, we finished it. It was far worse than it sounds. You know how cutting an onion sometimes makes you cry? This makes you cry from the inside, and from your own, stupid stupid breath. I also got to dance some salsa with Yin and Helen. Someone put on Buena Vista Social Club, one of my all-time favorite albums. There's a video of Yin and i floating around... i'll post it when it becomes available.

Hutongs and Bike Dudes
Loosely tied into the band practice was two days of exploring the hutongs around there. I dusted off my bike after a hard winter, pumped up the tires, and took it for some adventuring. The weather finally broke and we had a few days in the pleasant 50's. Here's the Drum and Bell tour, posing with my awesome, old school bike.

The famous bike taxi dudes of Beijing. I should probably know what they are actually called, but i don't. They are pretty cool and friendly. One of these days i'll get around to hiring one for a ride.

A few cool passageways.

And no tour through Beijing hutongs is complete without some cat sitings.

And that's about it. I'm ready to go back to work, but i'm also very glad i had the chance to enjoy a little more Beijing than i used to. This was a very good week.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chinese New Year

Last night was the single most impressive national celebration i've ever witnessed. Tao said it well with "It's Mardi Gras, the Fourth of July, and Christmas all in one". It's a party, a nationwide celebration of unimaginable proportions. The fireworks are absolutely breathtaking. Think of the most amazing 4th of July fireworks display you've ever seen. It was probably 30 minutes, and the finale was the last 5 of it, 10 if it was truly spectacular.

On New Years Eve, the fireworks really started around 9pm, although they could be heard, seen, and felt all day. At this point, there were heavy mortars shelling the city, everywhere you looked. Citizens were lighting off what previously i had only seen from afar, under controlled circumstances, in a large field. After clearing airspace and people for 1 mile. And obtaining police permits and following city ordinances. And ensuring ambulances and fire trucks available. However, in Beijing, these explosives can be purchased by anyone, and literally, ignited anywhere. On busy streets, in small alley's between 20-story apartment complexes, on sidewalks, from rooftops. Here's what we saw from about 9pm until 10:30.

The view from Chris's window in his apartment on the top (14th) floor. That's a street below, with plenty of traffic, restaurants, vendors. The street is full of people watching.

Those sparks flowing into the upper right are from a massive blast that shook the floor and left my heart racing. Never did i feel any threat.

The parking lot below.

This was amazing. Chris, Tao, Joe, and I watched massive skyrockets exploding at just about eye-level, with no more than 20 feet and double-pane glass separating us. Below was basically just a small alley. But no seriously, we were really just making the jump to lightspeed.

Outside on the street, "regular people" played with roman candles... even the children. Under adult supervision, i'm certain.

Behold the awesome force. I would be concerned if that was my car parked 8 feet away.

After finishing a bottle of wine (each) at Chris', we headed to Hou Hai for a panoramic view of the crescendo. By 11:30, there's a massive fireworks display everywhere you look. Note, it's been steady for about 3 hours already. By the time we get there, it feels like a war zone, only celebration instead of terror. I assure you, we are having a great time in this picture.

Let's play "Count the Fireworks". In a high resolution version of this picture, you can count at least 15 different fireworks displays. Mind you, they are happening everywhere you look, 360 degrees. There were literally 100's of separate events happening, and often they were very close.

Tao posted a great video here of the action last night. This finale continued it's climax from about 11:30 until 12:45. And even then, it just tapered off. I was awoken throughout the night by bombs and greeted in the morning by more. Even now, as i sit at home the next day, there are rockets and explosions happening outside my window. Oddly enough, at precisely midnight, everything went eerily quiet.

Think back again to the 7 minute finale at the most recent fireworks display you attended. This holiday makes the 4th of July it's bitch. The 4th sheepishly saunters over and peers into CNY's backyard to see what a real party looks like.

Another interesting note, from a quick search, i found that in 2006, there were many trips to the hospital, however there were "no major fires, and no reported death or serious injuries that led to eyeball removal." In 2007, there was one casualty and "at least one person had to have his eyeball removed." Can't wait to see what 2008 left in it's wake! Jeff almost became a statistic when he was playing with fireworks very late and wound up catching a piece of shrapnel. In the head.


Friday, January 23, 2009

A good day.

Tuesday was a delightful and noteworthy day.

I was sick all weekend, possibly something i ate or a quick flu bug. Meals for the weekend consisted of breakfast on saturday, dinner on sunday, and dinner on monday. That was pretty much all i had appetite for. So when my appetite returned on tuesday, i made straight for Kro's for the best pizza in Beijing, pizza that rivals many of my favorites back home. Pia came for a beer and said goodbye as she is returning to the Philippines shortly. But that's ok, how am i going to visit her there if she stays in Beijing?

Fat and happy, we went to Tun Bar. My band, formerly known as Smarmageddon, almost known as The Hobbit and the Whale and Dan, and currently known as simply Illinois, was waiting for me. We rocked another great set at the open mic night and listened to some good live music. Live music is generally pretty sparse in Beijing, and sometimes you just have to make your own.

The last event for the evening was obvious. At midnight, we changed venues to Rickshaw for to watch Obama's inauguration. The place was packed and my newly returned friend Tao and I shuffled our way through the crowd. We created space and found ourselves surrounded by LCD TVs on all sides. The chatter around us wasn't all Americans, but it was overwhelmingly so. We also had some Europeans and Chinese in attendance. It was drunken and jovial and decidedly positive. Of course, there was booing of Bush and crying babies whenever Cheney was on the screen, but there were also tears of joy, beaming smiles, rounds of applause, and excellent vibes. Truly a historic moment.

I was very proud to be American.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Easiest. Post. Ever.

I am the "Player of the Week" on the newly released Beijing Ultimate blog, authored by Tao. Read all the juicy details below.

Marvel at the amusing pictures!

Renounce the claims you know to be slanderous lies!

Contemplate the lies which are backed up with pictures!


p.s. I'm sincerely proud to be an American, for the first time in a while.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Double your fun!

My friend offered me a piece of gum and lo! ... Chicago was being represented! I accepted the gum and waxed poetic about great times at Cubs games and the bars in Wrigleyville. Of course, a real baseball game in the United States is something many foreigners know about only from the movies. I faked any enthusiasm in the sport pretty convincingly... so much so that i almost had a craving to watch a game. Almost.

Pretty soon i got distracted by the instructions on the back of the wrapper. Instructions for gum. See for yourself.

Since i cannot read the characters, and since having them translated would ruin the mystery for me, i am forced to offer my own rough translation.

Step 1. Lips
Do involve Lips in the process. Do slightly part your lips and allow gum to pass to the mouth. Do not insert gum into any other part of body.

Step 2. Paper
Do hold the paper between your index finger and thumb to properly read Step 3.

Step 3. Dunk
Do slam dunk newspaper into basket. Do use both hands. Do wear hammer pants.

The bottom line probably just congratulates you for successfully enjoying a stick of gum, and demands you do it again immediately to continue being a good consumer.


p.s. Bonus picture from a friends camera... last night in Boulder.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anchorage to NY in only 739 moves.

This has nothing to do with China. But i'm amazed that Google Maps will plot you walking directions from Alaska to New York. Sure, it will take you 59 days, 11 hours, and 4,583 miles, but it will guide you every step of the way.

It will guide you through a slight right at Alaska Hwy/HWY-97, where you will continue to follow HWY-97 for 309 mi until you are Entering British Columbia.

It will hold your hand as you turn left to stay on St Mary's Rd for 85 ft.

It will be your companion as you continue on 7th Ave/Times Square for .1 mi, until you arrive at your destination.

Ok google, now you're just showing off.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Holiday Vacation: Colorado

This Colorado trip was one of the greatest vacations in recent memory. My first day there reminded me of why i love Boulder so much: 65F, a few beautiful clouds in the sky, gentle breeze... all this in December. This is boulder in the winter:

After breakfast at Lucile's with Therese (similar to Tres in spanish), i spent the day wandering Pearl Street in the sunshine. I paused for a killer Chai and a good book at The Cup and commemorated my peaceful moment thusly...

Next: a walk along Boulder Creek to feed the ducks and take in some nature.

Therese's roommate has cool salamanders.

Boulder night sky.

The mountains driving to Steamboat and the sunset to welcome us.

And..... meet Therese! We spent the whole week together and went to Steamboat with my friends for NYE. We have some history together from back in boulder. We dated for a while and parted ways for a few years, but something really clicked during this week. I don't think we know exactly what it is yet, but i'm happy and she's planning on moving to Beijing in the Spring, which is a pretty huge deal. More on that as it develops...

So i'm back in the Jing now and happy to be here. I'm well rested from a good vacation. One of my new year resolutions is to start taking proper Chinese classes. Another is to finally join the gym down the road... that one is kinda intimidating, but it has to happen. All things considered, this is going to be a brilliant year.