Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dear Blog

If you've followed the Dim Summary since the beginning, you know Tao. He's a good dude, and we've had many adventures together so far. We are also competing Beijing bloggers, sometimes vying to recount the same experience either first, most accurately, or just flat out best. We like to think of our blogs as complementary rather than competing, but there's a small aspect of competition anyway.

We write quite differently though and have different, although somewhat overlapping, audiences. I, for example, started this to update my family and friends back home. This includes my seven nieces and nephews (hi there, beloved spawn of my siblings!), so i've been limiting my profanity to "Crap". Which has worked out pretty well. Tao, on the other hand, has no such restrictions on content or language.

And Tao is without question the more prolific blogger; he has four blogs and updates them all regularly. I feel good when i do two a week. However, i submit to you Exhibit A below. Tao labels each post about things that are in it. If for example, you want to see all his blog posts about the Olympics, you can just click that one for a list of all those posts.

Check out his labels, ordered by frequency:

I am the 11th most frequently labeled "thing" on Heart of Beijing right above Chris Boehner, Baijiu, Poetry, Sex, Cats, and Time Travel. That's some pretty good company; I happen to know these are some of his absolute favorite things, his muses, if you will. Well, maybe not Chris.

Therefore, i propose to the ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere that I am, in fact, a more important muse to Tao then Cats, Sex, Poetry, and Baijiu. Not combined, of course. Tao's insatiable love of Baijiu + Cats, and Poetry + Cats is legendary and also [insert bestiality joke here].

Discuss. Or don't. Whatever.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good, Bad and Neutral, Volume 4

Good - Apartment Searching!

Ace and I have made the decision to finally move out of the far west side. Right now, I have a 8 minute walk to work, and she has an hour-long, public transit nightmare. I completely understand how overwhelming that can be when you are new to a big city, and doubled when you can't speak the language. We've decided to move to the east side, where she will have a 10-15 minute bike ride to work, and i can do my commute in about 40 minutes.

In the back of my mind, i've always wanted to move closer to friends and conveniences. Out here, there are good restaurants, but no mandarin language schools, convenient gyms, or friends! Two of those on the list are new years resolutions, and i intend to get them going shortly. Plus, we now have to pay rent to live in this place since ace moved out. There's no reason to stay somewhere we aren't happy if it's not free anymore.

Bad - Public Sanitation

You read a lot about the pollution in Beijing. It's bad, but i can't imagine it's much worse than LA, NY, London, or Tokyo. Although, there are few, if any, government regulations regarding vehicle emissions here. Which can't help. But air pollution is hard to notice when you're on the ground. What gets me is the general disregard for their own city that the locals here have. I see Chinese discard their wrappers and plastic bags onto the street, when there are two different trash receptacles in sight. I see (and hear!) men and women hacking up foul, throat-turds and spitting them onto the sidewalk. Dog owners let their pets crap anywhere. And sewers are the worst. You can look down into a public sewer and see the stagnant, putrid filth festering below. And as you walk by, you train yourself to hold your breath at the first hint of stench, lest you get caught open mouthed or yawning.

In Beijing, you always take your shoes off when entering someones home. Not because it's a Chinese tradition of courtesy, dating back 1000's of years, but because you DO NOT want to track Beijing into your home.

I asked a Chinese friend why locals just throw garbage on the ground. He said, "Well, if people stopped doing that, a hundred thousand people would be unemployed".

Neutral - Strawberries

Beijing has an abundance of fresh and inexpensive fruit, mostly imported from tropical Asian locales. In addition to the regulars, you can find fresh pineapple, mango, papaya, dragon fruit, kiwi, and strawberries. Unfortunately, blueberries haven't been discovered in this region, and can only be found in a few foreign groceries. And even then there's usually only one or two cartons. But recently, the strawberries have been showing up everywhere, and really cheap. My coworkers come into work with bags of them, and the vendors stroll down the streets with carts overflowing. Naturally, i got swept up in the strawberry hype and got myself a half kilo for a dollar fifty. I did not realize i was buying mutant strawberries. I tossed a normal one on the plate for reference.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO PROVE, STRAWBERRY, BUT I AM NOT IMPRESSED! Seriously, i like you just the way you are, you don't have to go working out and getting all buff to make me enjoy you. And lay off the steroids, you know that stuff can make your stem shrink. (...my nod to FU, Penguin.)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spanky, Chuar Bar, and Apts


But the weekend was fun. Friday was a low-key, albeit late, night at our favorite chuar bar. It was another small, enjoyable gathering of Tao, Amy, Joe, Therese and i. We arrived at 8pm and were the only customers. Strange though... by 12pm when we were leaving, it was full. Reminds me of Spanish nightlife, where dinner often isn't served until midnight.

Ace and i arrived early and checked out the nearby pet store. The poodles were ridiculous, what with their ears and tail dyed pink, green, and blue and all. Poor worthless things. And then, i saw him. I don't know how he made it across the ocean, lost weight, and became younger, but it was Spanky all right. That's my old cat, spanky, from Colorado. The shopkeeper said his name was "Yea-Yea", probably because she couldn't say "spanky". Ace fell in love with another cat which she aptly named "Purr Factory". I changed it to PF Chang.

So dinner was delicious as always. Special guest appearances were made by Dapper Tao...

Vogue Joe...

and Satan, seen below feasting on chicken wings. (Notice the soulless, empty eyes... that's how you can tell.)

Also, Ace and I... and Amy and Tao.

Saturday was long, as Ace and I spent most of the day looking at new apartments. It doesn't make sense for us to live where we are, since she works on the other side of town. That was an interesting experience all by itself. The first agent we met with didn't speak a work of English, and i impressed myself with how well we communicated. It's amazing what you can do when you are forced to comprehend and be understood. We spent over an hour with him looking at two places, and i don't feel like there were any unanswered questions. All this from 10 months of living here and no formal classes. There might still be hope for me.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Mistranslations and Sesame Street

By now, you must know i love hilariously awful English translations. I delight in how such glaring mistakes pass through even the lowest levels of editing. Today, i kid you not, I saw one of those 15 foot tall green road signs that said "5th Rnig Rd - 8km ahead". Honestly people!

But tonight, i found one that wins. It requires no introduction or additional commentary, but i'll add a little anyway. It stands alone as an incomprehensible and surreal smattering of words. It's like someone took all the buzzwords known to the hand soap industry, poured them into a paragraph, added a few obscure ones (turgescence? really?) and called it a day. There isn't a coherent thought in this description. Click on it if it's too small to read here...

So that was great.

Also... my new musical goal in life: I need to start a Sesame Street cover band. Therese has been relearning children's songs for teaching English and we spent the morning listening to these amazing grooves on youtube.

Disco Frog:

Number 7:


Who's with me?


P.S. "Octogon!"

Tee hee... "Eight Glorious Sides! Eight Stunning Angles!"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life is good.

About 90 km west of Beijing, lies a small farming village, over 500 years old, young by Chinese standards, but old nonetheless. Cuandixia is known as a "living museum of local Chinese housing". It's particularly interesting because most of the 70 traditional courtyards originate from one family, and they are interconnected, meaning you can walk from one end of the village to the other without walking the streets. The homes are open for visitors to wander through and many have been converted to small, relaxing inns or restaurants.

The village's location is breathtaking, surrounded by mountains, terraced orchards, and small temples. Helen, Nicki, Therese and I intended to spend the day hiking the area. After lunch at the highest spot in this sloping village, we asked for hike recommendations. Difficulty was no concern, as we all were craving some exercise. A five minute walk out the back of the village led to scrambling up the side of a mountain, an exhausting 30 minute ascent. Our reward was a panoramic view of the city and valley.

This took us to a dirt road which passed some mining sites, and these jolly guys riding comical three-wheelie cars.

... before entering peaceful plains, woods, gorges, a cave, and a tiny, decrepit, uninhabited town deep in the mountains. Our 2+ hour hike took us through some of what lies in the country beyond bustling Beijing, and reminds me how vast China is. Although Cuandixia is a popular day trip destination, and a *must see* in most guide books, we didn't see another person until we emerged from the wilderness once again. After being in Beijing so long, Ace and I just babbled on about how we were reminded of Colorado. It was stupendous. The only thing it lacked was a cool stream, but it's just too dry in the spring. I will be returning in the fall, no doubt.

Some locals.

Indeed, Life is good.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Beijing Wins!

Good - Chicago.

Better - Boulder...

Best! - Beijing!

We win! Yay spring!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Dog and Baby

Props to Joe for bringing this to my attention while Ace and I were in the back of the cab. They are fantastic. I intend to purchase these for everyone i know. At least, everyone who has either Baby on road or The Dog in car. But let's take a closer look, shall we?

Simply put: awesome. Boundless levels of awesome. For starters, The Dog is green ? Really? The Dog naturally occurs in many colors, but green is never one of them. (well... sure, but that can hardly be called natural.)

Although, it is possible the same freak who put the stupid red bowtie on The Dog also dyed Him green.

Plus, The Dog really looks more like a teddy bear. And given the opulent den of stuffed animals in the window, i'm guessing this is the work of an evil child. Is it possible The Green Dog is related to the other warning...?

My hypothesis: Baby is being punished for It's treatment of The Dog. The story checks out. It certainly explains why The Dog is in car and Baby is on road. It's similar to a time out, only a little more severe.

One might still pose the question, "Why is Baby so evil?". To this i reply, "Clearly, Baby is totally batshit insane." Seriously, when have you seen a baby drinking a bottle of urine that wasn't crazy?

And really, would it have been THAT difficult for them to reverse the white and yellow in the bottle?


P.S. After laying low for a few weeks, i'm now back to my regular posting frequency. Take that, Responsibility!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ace and the First Week

This week has been good, but i've been too busy to really sit down and recap it. Between having Therese here (or "Ace", as she was nicknamed by Jeff) and a particularly intense week of work, it's been full tilt. The short version is, i'm really happy. It's great having her here and exploring the city all over again. A fresh set of eyes notices things mine usually miss. I have a renewed sense of adventure as well. We've tried new restaurants and shops near our house, ones that i was intimidated to attempt without a partner in crime. There is strength in numbers. I am much more adventurous with practicing Chinese as well, and she picked up the survival phrases quickly. It's been pretty cool living together so far. Having never actually lived with a girlfriend before, i have nothing to compare to. But this feels good. Really good.

Saturday was wonderful and we took advantage of the pleasant weather. We met Joe and Amy for breakfast at Chef Too, which is very expensive by Beijing standards (about $10 per person). However, the quality of the food is exceptional by American standards. The Huevos Rancheros, French Toast, and Pancakes are all amazing. Free coffee and attentive, friendly service round it off to earn my vote for Best Breakfast in Beijing.

We spent the rest of the day shopping for random things around town, things we cannot easily acquire on our side of town. We found an Indian grocery and stocked up on curry and spices to expand our culinary options at home. We also found fresh mint, which we purchased for Mojito's that evening. Four of us finished a bottle of rum in about an hour, leaving us primed for a good night out. Jeff and I had a late night practice session with the band and we all met up for some live music before calling it a great end to an awesome day.

Ace foldin some clothes.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Beijing welcomes Therese

So there you have it. The countdown is over, Therese has arrived. It was kinda surreal for the first evening. We got home, unpacked, ate dinner, and got drunk. We both just couldn't wrap our heads around the fact the waiting was over. I distinctly remember about 4 weeks ago saying to myself, "Self, that day seems so close, yet almost unimaginably far away." And i was right; when you think about something everyday, time drags on. A watched date never comes. Eventually, you learn to welcome the distractions and then BAM! Therese arrives! And all is right in the world.

Saturday we woke up lazily and attended to grocery needs. This resulted in a breakfast of strawberry, banana, pineapple, mango, kiwi, yogurt, and assorted juices (can rum be a juice?) smoothies.

Later we met Tao for lunch at a fantastic small restaurant near his apartment. We took the long way and explored some beautiful hutongs near the forbidden city. Lunch was relaxed and delicious, a good introduction to real Chinese food.

That night i had called for a welcome BCD (remember: this is expat-ese for Boozy Chinese Dinner). Twelve strong showed up for dinner and a handful of stranglers for more drinking.

The night was a rousing success with about 45 tall Yanjings polished off by the 10 of us that were drinking. This was no doubt helped by the invention of a fantastic new drinking game... Battle Caps (tm).

Teams are divided by sides of table. Each player has glass of beer in front of them. The object is to throw a beer cap into your enemies glasses. They must then drink it. If you get two caps in one glass before they finish the glass (yes, you can attempt to bounce it off their face while drinking!), they have to finish a whole bottle! One interesting thing about the game: as you drink more beers, the ammunition increases!

Team Them (courtesy of T's camera)

Team Us (courtesy of T's camera)

It got pretty intense. Joe broke some bottles. Here's Joe being scolded by Jeff after the first (!!!) broken bottle.

Here's Joe preparing to break the second one, willfully, against the radiator. Joe has no recollection of this. We love him.

I ended up coming home with a boxed set of Californication and 8 more movies. It's always interesting when you go DVD shopping while drunk. I've started bringing a list. It's a good way to ensure you don't accidentally end up with Adam's Family Values or the complete series of Full House.

Although, if you ever catch me attempting to buy Danger Mouse or Fraggle Rock, please stand back. I know what i'm doing.


Postscript: More on this evening plus some VIDEOS! here from Tao on the always insightful Beijing Ultimate blog.