Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Rents Return!

Two years ago, my parents and brother Ray came to visit. Today, my parents come back for another round. They will be here for almost a full month, by the end of which they will be fluent not only in Chinese, but in line-cutting and spitting. The weather recently has been an uncomfortable 90F, although the weather report informs me that it feels like 110F. No fret! We will turn our backs to The Jing and head south in search of milder climes.

First stop will be three days in Hangzhou, where we will visit the famous West Lake, and Esther, who was born and raised in Hongzhou. We met this year in Shanghai at the Prom. We kept in touch and she even came up to Beijing to visit. Twice. In those visits, we took many walks, circumvented hou hai, toured hutongs, hammocked in the park, attended live Loveseat concerts (my new band, more on that later), ate good food, and i also got sick at Happy Valley, the amusement park. We waited for an hour to get on one awesome roller coaster, and it was truly awesome. Then we went on a second ride, one of those pirate ship things that swing upside down like a pendulum. My day ended with some projectile vomiting, only a half-second after i got out of the cab in front of my apartment. Somehow i made it the whole 45 minute cabride before losing it. People probably thought i was just really drunk on bai jiu.

Anyway, so, Esther. She's pretty awesome, and her English is great. She's learning Spanish too, so when we talk, it's often a weird mix of English, Chinese, and Spanish. Chinglanish? A few photos...

After Hangzhou, the rents and i are flying to Kunming, then travelling to Li Jiang, Dali, and Tiger Leaping Gorge. We toyed with the idea of Tibet/Lhasa, but you need guides and travel permits and special tourism tickets and a tour package and it's, like, a billion feet high... i decided to keep it simple this time.

Wish us all good travels. You'll read more about these adventures in a few weeks.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Street Eats

I've been a fan of street food in beijing since nearly my first week here, and i can't believe i haven't documented it until now. What started with the ever-present jiān bing (煎饼), a crepe-like sandwich with egg, sauce and a crunchy deep fried piece of bread (?), has blossomed into a righteous love-affair with beijing street eats. In the last two months, I've been fortunate to have a great selection open up just around the corner from my work. Here are my three favorite from that pod.

The first two are photos of my favorite couple from Shānxī province. We chat several mornings a week when he makes me breakfast. They still complement me on my Chinese.

Egg Stuffed Pancacke - 鸡蛋灌饼 - Jīdàn Guàn Bǐng
This one is my go-to snack, both in the morning for breakfast and late night in Sanlitun. For little more than $.25, you get a quick, delicious snack. They start by frying a thin pancake of dough in oil. Next, they tear a small hole into the pancake and add a scrambled egg. Fry that together and, like a tortilla, add spicy and sweet sauces and some lettuce. Adding grilled chicken or sausage for another 1 RMB makes it a complete meal. This thing is my hands-down favorite.
  • Total Price: 2-4 RMB ($.30 - $.60)
  • Convenience Factor: 5/5 - You can find this everywhere between 6-10am, and in bar areas from 7pm-4am. I have two near work that offer slightly different styles.
  • Overall: 4/5 - It's small enough to suit anyone's current appetite, and two of them is enough for dinner. They can be a little greasy (nothing compared to KFC or McDonalds), but they really hit the spot.

Meat Sandwich - 肉夹馍 - Ròu Jīa Mó
This guy is really special. It could be the world's oldest sandwich, dating back to 200BC (thanks wikipedia!). It's simple enough, but mention it to any pork-loving beijinger and they will either begin salivating or waxing poetic about their favorite ròu jīa mó vendors around town.

Basically, you start with pork chunks stewed for hours in spices. A few chunks of meat and fat are then chopped up with coriander and mild green chili, and anointed with some juice from the stew. Then the whole mix is stuffed into flatbread cooked fresh in an oven.

As a renowned picky meat-eater, I can't say enough good things about this tender, lean pork. The flavor is beautiful, bright, even haunting. You have one for breakfast... you think about it for hours. The taste lingers. You can't wait for breakfast the next day. You contemplate it for lunch and dinner as well.
  • Total Price: 3-4 RMB ($.45-$.60). But i've got my local guy at work trained to make mine without the fatty pork, and to toss a fried egg in there. My total price: 5 RMB ($.75) very well spent.
  • Convenience Factor: 2/5 - You have to search them out.
  • Overall: 5/5 - It's like high-fiving a million angels with each warm, juicy bite.

Fried Steamed Buns - 生煎包 - Shēng Jiān Bāo
I haven't seen these in beijing before, but i got hooked on them in Shanghai last year. Just recently, a vendor opened by my work. This couple is from Henan, down south.

These are basically pork bāo zi (包子), but fried to make the bottom crispy. Now, i've always been a dumpling guy, and enjoy them more than steamed buns. But these are freakin' awesome. The crispy bottom, the warm filling, the light and comfortable flavors... i don't know why beijing doesn't do this more. (fun game: look carefully below, can you find the dude drinking beer at 8:45am, with breakfast?)

  • Total Price: 2 for 1 RMB ($.15).
  • Convenience Factor: 1/5 (or 5/5, for me at work) - To my knowledge, there's only one in beijing, although specialty restaurants sell them too.
  • Overall: 3/5 - Nice change, very portable, least messy and easy to share.

Friday, July 15, 2011


My previous and only trip to Portland was in 1996, when i visited Will Norris' old stomping grounds our freshman year. All i remember about it was Burgerville. Fifteen years later, i can say, with certainty, Portland has more to offer. It's current home to juliandreid and joegusia, as well as excellent microbrews, food carts, warm and friendly people, and awesome bikeability. Actually, that basically sums up my week. And luckily, i arrived within the two month stretch of the great weather the PAC En Dub is known for. Had i arrived the previous week, i'd have caught the end of a several month long rainy season.

Anyway, the days kinda blurred together in a haze of excellent beer (something i truly miss living in Beijing), parks, frisbee, great food, laziness, and bike rides. So, i'll just start everything with "this one time" for ease of narrative.

This one time juliandreid and i went to a major league soccer game with some of their friends. It was the Portland Timbers vs. America. It seemed to me an unfair match up, what with Portland just being a city and all. But, as it turns out, America was actually a team from Mexico. Yeah, i don't understand either. The Timbers lost, but it was a valiant effort and a riotous game.

If reid looks a bit frazzled in that picture, it's because that's the way he looks. But also, he wrecked his bike on the way to the game. He took a nasty spill as he was crossing over the in-ground tracks for the public transportation streetcars, which are perfect size for bicycle tires. See this streetcar/biking memo, it's evidently a pretty big deal. One of their other
friends (Bigs, you'll meet him later) took a spill a few days later and ended up in the hospital with a severely broken hand.

Anyway, reid goes down and all his belongings scatter about. He's wearing his helmet, but he gets a jolt of adrenaline. He remembers very clearly thinking, "My God, Julia is waiting for me! I gotta go!" and takes off running down the street. He doesn't get very far before realizing his bike, bag, and random stuff are back at the accident. Then he walks back to his bike, and takes a 10 second nap on the curb. Oddly enough, we end up sitting next to this guy Omar at the game, who not only saw the accident but is the city engineer responsible for designing the streetcar tracks. He apologized to reid.

This one time, i went to breakfast by myself at Pine State Biscuits and got an egg, sausage, and cheese biscuit sandwich. It was delicious.

This one time, julia-and-not-reid (i'm reading The Sparrow) and me and their roommate Claire went to a concert at the Mount Tabor Amphitheater. We saw The Twangshifters. It was a perfect afternoon and we had a Whole Bowl (delicious!) for dinner. Later, we went to The Vern, which is their local dive bar, aptly named because T and A are burned out on the sign out front, so it no longer reads "Tavern".

This one time, i hung out with joegusia (my awesome geology friends from college!) all day. We went to the park and played with their little girl Aria, had lunch at Mira's Ladel (Bogusia's mom's polish food cart), and met with juliandreid for beers before the soccer game. Oh. I remember now. Also, Aria likes to lick playground equipment. Ewwwww!

This one time, juliandreid-and-also-kev had the most epic game of jenga. We basically just won the game. Didn't know it was possible. Notice reid's awesome Ya Show shirt? He high-fived a million angels in that shirt.

This one time Lucas, Colleen and i stopped for lemonade! Awesome!

This other time, on my last night, julia had to fly to china for a business trip, so it was just reid and i. First, he licked a dog and then we rode bikes downtown.

Then we met up with Bigs and Barbara (met her in kunming, like, three years ago!) at the Deschutes Brewery for a few excellent pints and probably the best pretzel ever. Why is Bigs licking the ground, you ask?

Then we enjoyed al fresco dining behind juliandreid's food cart... The Dump Truck! Joegusia also came out and i successfully blended awesome friendgroups. I'm like friendster except way awesomer.

Later that same night, reid and i went out, dressed in a bunny costume and a purple velour suit.

I'm serious guys.


Saturday, July 9, 2011


Ohhh hey, did you all know i'm in the U. S. of 'Merica? That's why there's been no bwogging lately. Well, first, it was because there were three pretty intense (read: mostly awesome funtime) weeks in beijing that i'm not sure if i'm gonna bwog about, but then i whisked myself away to the PAC NW for 10 days. I found some pretty cheap flights to portland ($850 on Delta) and timed it to correspond with 4th of July and Potlatch, one of the largest co-ed ultimate tournaments in the world.... about 100 teams, 31 fields and 2500 players. Massive. Also, most people camp at the fields, so you have this fun community for three days, hanging out together all weekend.

I arrived friday morning, July 1st, and was met by Reid and Julia (aka juliandreid) at the airport. When i first arrived in Beijing, the ulti community was pretty awesome, but few gave me a warmer welcome than these two. I've been threatening to visit them in portland for years, and this was the best opportunity i would have for a while. I also have two close friends from college (joe and bogusia -- aka joegusia) living in portland, but they don't come in til later.

The three of us drove to Seattle for the tournament the day i arrived, and my jetlagged self had a pretty loopy, weird day. We crashed at the Titcomb family lakehouse, the original home to Five Ultimate. Five Ultimate is an apparel company started by the five ubiquitously cool Titcomb siblings: Zahlen, Xtehn, Vehro, Rohre, and Qxhna. Their house is amazing, and the hospitality of the rents, John and Linde, is legendary. They have a dozen or so beds, direct access to the lake, and a drumset+instruments in the living room. So cool.

The tournament itself was hilarious and wonderful. Our team from Portland, ULTIMATE WARRIOR, was average in skill but exemplary in fun. Our costumes were basically face paint, tight little neon shorts, and an optional shirt. We also had a portable wrestling ring in which we challenged our opponents to a title match. We played pretty well and ended up winning 5 of 8 games. Every game was close enough to be interesting and most of the teams had great spirit. These next eleven pictures are all from Warrior John King, our team photographer and all around great guy.

I didn't take many pictures this weekend, but i did do an alright job of capturing our pre-battle ceremonies and the mulleting of Warrior Paul.

Amazingly, jetlag didn't affect me beyond the day i arrived. By day two, Saturday, i was golden. One secret for overcoming jetlag was to play ultimate all day to keep my energy going. The other secret was my pink suit.

Each day after the games, i showered and changed into my pink suit and immediately felt energized. I think i've become a bit of an attention-lover since moving to Beijing, and the suit gave me plenty of it. Xtehn Titcomb hooked me up with the official Five Ultimate Pimp Hat to top off my look.

He also made me an official sun-giver for the weekend. I shall explain...

Five Ultimate made a game for everyone at the tournament to play throughout the weekend, called Ravens and Suns. The idea is, each team gets two pink Raven hats and three suns, yellow strips of silk about the length of a tie. Anyone wearing a Raven hat can approach anyone with a sunshine and request a challenge. If the Raven completes the challenge, they steal the suns. The team with the most suns at the end of the weekend wins a prize. The game took off immediately. Examples of challenges are: find 20 people to do a conga-line; start a dance party; shotgun 2 beers in one minute; give a 10 minute back massage; etc. As a sun giver, i had a pocketful of suns to give out. I gave out a bunch of challenges throughout the weekend, but here are my favorite three:
  1. Two vs. Two co-ed clothing swap. Two teams, a guy and a girl from each team, compete to switch clothing (EBU: everything but underwear) as fast as possible. Fastest team wins the sun. I did that one twice.
  2. You've lost that loving feeling. I made a team of about 8 people get up on tables at the party and sing this song to me. See the video.
  3. You are my Sunshine. Sunday morning, we went for breakfast at a little diner in the small town of Redmond. I was still in my pink suit, because i slept in it every night. (Side note, Five Ultimate had a bunch of couches at the fields and one of them pulled out into a bed. I slept in it, on the fields, both sat and sun nights. It was amazing.) So, a Raven at the diner asked my for my sun, and i made him stand up, say very loudly "MAY I HAVE EVERYONE'S ATTENTION PLEASE!" and then proceed to sing You Are My Sunshine to the entire restaurant. It almost brought tears to my eyes. It's not a long song, but halfway through the first verse, the waitstaff and local patrons were singing along, and we got a applause and infinite smiles.
After the tournament, i spent one more night, July 4th at the Titcomb lakehouse and watching fireworks from the backyard. A late afternoon dip in the lake followed by beers by a fire with new friends was a perfect way to finish off the weekend. The next morning, we drove back to Portland.