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2007/12/21

Guide dogs come to Beijing, but is it a good thing?

The issue of guide dogs in China is something I've talked about over and over again. Yesterday, there was an article in China Daily about Ping Yali and her new guide dog, Lucky. This is the first ever guide dog in Beijing and of course tied into the (Para)Olympics as Ping is a former national disabled athlete. As I'm typically the only one blogging on these sort of issues, I was shocked that I was pipped by Beijing Calling on this story. The writer behind Beijing Calling does a pretty good job explaining the situation and ends with the statement:
For me it's shocking to read she is one of the first to have a guide dog in this
country. I have yet to see a blind person on the street. Apparently there are
some 12.3 million people in China who suffer from some kind of visual
impairment.I can't help but wonder how these people function if they don't even
have white canes, let alone guide dogs. Perhaps they are hidden somewhere, never
given the chance to interact with the community and achieve some kind of
fulfilling life.
The disappointing truth is that Beijing Calling is pretty much right. The only time, if ever, most non-disabled people will have interaction with a blind person is when they go to get a massage. There are many of the 12.3 million visually impaired or blind people who do have canes, but the number who would dare to venture out alone with a cane is very, very small and of those, almost none are totally blind.

I am starting to feel like a broken record, but the article (and Beijing Calling's entry) hints at really how useless Ping's guide dog is. The article offers the quote: "We were not allowed to enter subway stations, buses and sometimes even taxis,' Ping, a torchbearer for the 2008 Olympic Games, said."

Also from the article:
In addition, the city does not recognize guide dogs but Ping said police
informed her that Lucky could be taken outside, but in a self-defeating
compromise - only in the company of an able-bodied person.
So she has a guide dog, but if she wants to go out with it, she must have an able-bodied person with her, so what's the point of the guide dog again? In what can only be assumed is a huge understatement, the article states, "But after having Lucky for only four weeks, Ping realized that she cannot fully take advantage of her companion's abilities."

It's time for the government to fully enact useful laws in this area, Deng and others have to stop sitting around and start doing something.* The Dalian Medical University, which supplied Ping with her guide dog, is doing a great job, but without national laws protecting potential guide dog users, there's really no point to the guide dog program to begin with. The great irony is in the horrible title to the article, "Nothin' but a guide dog, helpin' all the time." While it may be true elsewhere, unfortunately that's not the case in China.




PS: for those who can read Chinese, Ping Yali's blog can be found here. It appears to have only been started recently and include only the articles from Chinese news about her, but I will dig around and share what I can find.

PPS: As to the * in my entry, I'm sorry for anybody offended by the horrible "pun" about Deng, that was not my intent.

2007/12/20

Following the Herd

Since I haven't posted any of my own photos in a long time (thanks to the lack of a home internet connection and being too lazy to seek out wifi), I'm posting a link to the excellent photo series at Mother Jones. Yes, I'm sure you already heard about it from Peking Duck or one of the other blogs that has posted the link, but just in case you haven't, its definitely worth taking a look.

No Name = Great Deals

As talked about here, Muji has arrived in New York, in time for the Christmas rush. The brand is quickly winning over New Yorkers in much the same way it won over Parisians or Londoners, with simple, hip products that fulfill your every need for a really good price. Muji's even getting (a lot of) love from the New York Times.

Shanghai has a fully stocked Muji on Nanjing West Rd and its a definite regular stop for me, typically on my way to a late morning "brunch" of Lao Yang's Sheng jian bao and curry soup. Clothing prices are excellent, it seems to me even cheaper than their overseas stores and just a little more than H&M in most cases. Furniture and home accessories are a bit more pricey than IKEA (which is already considered sort of pricey in China), but not that bad. I'm a huge fan of Muji and love the simplicity (and quality) of the clothes, here's hoping Beijing (or Chicago) will get a branch soon.

2007/12/19

More Lust in Hong Kong

I've heard anecdotal evidence about 2 day barnstorming tours from Shanghai to Hong Kong where people would spend all day shopping, go to a midnight screening of "Lust Caution" and then fly back to Shanghai the next day. Well, it seems the International Herald Tribune has taken a deeper look into this situation. Unfortunately, the article only quotes a businessman from Guangxi who made the trip and also one from Shanghai who was conveniently in Hong Kong for a "business" trip.

A number of friends in Shenzhen made the trip to Hong Kong to watch the unedited version of the movie, but I found it shocking that people from further afield would actually travel by air to go to Hong Kong for the main purpose of seeing a movie. The unedited version of the DVD is bound to hit the streets (as well as the web) soon (if it isn't out already) and to me, if not for the controversy about the cut scenes, this movie would be receiving far less public attention.

I like this quote from the article the most:
People within the Chinese movie industry said that the fact that a censored
"Lust, Caution" was available at all in mainland China demonstrated how far the
parameters of the acceptable have broadened since the beginning of China's era
of change more than two decades ago.

Okay, see, I can go both ways with this. On the one hand, it is true, there are a lot of elements to a movie like Lust Caution that would have never made it past censors. The censors are now more open than ever before and a lot gets in. There are some that would argue (well, not that Beijing student who is suing due to the edits) that an edited version of the movie is better than nothing. At the same time, the reality is that the movies ARE edited and while there are some subjects that everyone knows are untouchable, much of the time what gets cut and what doesn't is based on some minor and seemingly irrational decision. Look at the cuts that were made to Pirates of the Caribbean if you're wondering how random the censors can be at times. There are no clear guidelines that exist forcing creative types to throw themselves at the mercy of a censor board that seems more bent on looking for a way to not allow a movie than to accept one.

I have very little interest in this movie and have yet to see it, I'm waiting for the DVD and will provide a review at that time.

2007/12/17

"New Beijing"=Unlivable Beijing? Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the horror of riding the subway in "New Beijing." Part 2 will be dedicated to the migrant workers of our fair city and you'll quickly see how all these problems are completely interconnected and will hopefully come to a miraculous conclusion shortly before Aug. 8, 2008.

Migrant workers have always been a bit of a problem in the capital city, but nowadays the number of migrants and tourists seem worse than ever. If you're looking for proof of it, go here. Or even better, just ride the subway home one night. If you thought Shanghai's population is pretty big, according to that article, Beijing's migrant population is over 5 million, and the city's total population is around 17.5 million people. That's right, 17.5 million people. The next time it feels like the entire population of Hebei Province now resides in Beijing, that's because they probably all moved here.

As someone whose spent a long time in the US, I've long considered friends who complained about migrants, their bad habits and their thieving especially, as over-the-top stereotyping and classism. However, having seen these people in subways and shops and restaurants around the city, I'm starting to understand a bit of what my friends are complaining about, the liberal American is beginning to get washed away.

It's gotten to the point where it's hard to find "old Beijingers" in Beijing. They are seemingly a minority in this city. If you've been living here for 10 years, you're heading toward "old Beijing" status, if you've been here since the early 80s, then you definitely qualify. That differs from the days of my youth when a family like mine, that came to Beijing during liberation, wouldn't be eligible for status as "old Beijingers." The lack of Beijing people willing to drive a cab has extended what "Beijinger" means out to the "suburbs" and beyond creating a condition where many Beijing cabdrivers barely know their way around Beijing. No longer is it as simple as getting in the cab, stating an address or building name, then entering into an interesting chat with the driver. Now, you need to give them the building name, cross streets, a detailed map, know every turn, and have the phone number, just in case he ignores all this. Plus, the driver's don't really talk anymore, in part, me thinks, to hide their un-Beijing accents.

The subways are overcrowded because of the migrants, which are also problem 2, but at the same time they're a necessity because of Part 3, which will be coming soon, the massive building boom this city is under. If you thought all the building is only for the Olympics, you'd be wrong, a look out my window in Guo Mao facing east (my new office doesn't afford me the great view I had in the west) and I count 7 major building projects (including the new CCTV Building) that I can see (and the sky isn't even that clear today).

Now, more than ever, this city has become a transient one and for the natives and long-time residents, its hard to get used to this.

Beijing's Subway IS Actually Better than Shanghai's...

Well, you can argue this amongst yourselves. Though I can blog, I can't leave comments, and so when somebody accused me of sarcasm (correctly) for my comment that Beijing's subway was better than our southern competitor, I couldn't respond. In fact, if the commenter would have clicked the link, it would have taken them to an old post on my site quoting a Virgin Air list of the world's top subways that listed Beijing ahead of Shanghai. At the time, I was pretty shocked by this, I admit to being a homer, but Beijing's subway is pretty poor at best (though it gets you almost everywhere you'd need to go).

That said, though, there is 1 area that I will definitely, unequivocally state Beijing's subway IS better than in Shanghai, and that's order. Ever since the Shanghai subway started running, they've had very clearly marked places on the platform for where to stand to get on the train. Similar markings have only existed in Beijing for a year or so. It's really a simple idea, when people are pushing to get on and off, nobody moves, so let people get off, and then board. Granted, to help order, Beijing has a mini-force of security guards who guarantee people will follow the proper procedures and, amazingly, in most cases, with or without the guards, they do. In Shanghai, however, getting off a train is a physical contact sport. Head down, elbows up, and ram through the masses.

2007/12/13

Violating the First Commandment of Blogging: Thou Shalt Not Insult (Ex)Employer

This blog is a small little space I keep, together with some friends, on the web. Its (hopefully) read by our family and friends and maybe an occasional passerby on Chinalyst or a similar website. Despite having one of the best blog names in the China blogsphere (in my "humble" opinion, the readership still falls a bit short). Anyways, as bloggers, there are a few rules to follow, but the number 1 rule, in big bold print and underlined, especially when your day job is in a profession like the law, with a responsibility to your clients, is to avoid airing your dirty laundry in public.

However, it was with a bit of surprise that I found out that everyone's favorite launderer is back and better (or worse, depending on your feelings) than ever. That's right, the China Lawyer Blog is once again attacking Zhong Lun, still sharing firm emails, and going so far as to print a partner's US real estate holdings, he's even gone so far as to create a dummy blog for Zhong Lun. I'm still not 100% sure this isn't 1 big joke, though the dummy site and some news stories in US legal journals make that seem unlikely.

That's all well and good, it was fun at first, but now its getting old, and, in some of the posts, pretty juvenile. Yet, when he calls me out, that's when its on and, trust son, I hold things down like Money May. I'm really left to wonder what Mr. Brauer's own resume looks like (for the record, I'm a US-licensed lawyer) and what kind of experience he has in the US. He states that I:
had obviously difficulty reconciling his feelings that what what he was reading
was morally right, but that nothing should be done about it.
Forgiving the grammar, anyone who read the original post from which he pulls a "quote" from, would have come away with the impression that no matter if what Mr. Brauer is referring to is true or not, it still doesn't make sense to blog about it. Not only will it create distrust with any future employers (which is probably why he's now working for himself), it also is completely ineffective (which is why he's yet to collect his money).

I hope if/when he sues Zhong Lun in the US he does a better job quoting case precedent than he does quoting from my blog, as any judge (or more likely judicial clerk) who views what he is actually citing would see that it is completely against him. I've always been taught never to burn bridges and I just can't see why when leaving a firm, anyone would do something like that, it is rife with immaturity. Unless you are writing a blog for your employer or your company, there is no reason to use your blog to go into details about your job and especially not to badmouth your job or company, doing so is just asking for trouble (both ethically and from your employer). I don't consider what Mr. Brauer did, or is doing, to be morally right, I don't think a blog is the proper forum for what he is doing. There's a difference between going to a bar and shooting the shit with some friends, talking about how much you hate your job and doing so on the web.

One small example of Mr. Brauer's complaints about Zhonglun was about fake versions of computer software. I think software piracy is a common problem in China and that Chinese companies (including law firms) use pirated software, but I'd like to see all the legit licenses for software at the China offices of a Magic Circle or big NY law firm in China. For that matter, I'm sure Mr. Brauer would never go out and purchase pirated DVDs, since he is so concerned with intellectual property.

As for the second part of his quote, I never said that nothing should be done. First and foremost, if he really wants to get his money, he should simply sue in Chinese court. When securing a work visa in China, a signed copy of the employment contract must be submitted to the government. The employee and employer will also have copies of that contract. China is far from a "country without laws", as anyone practicing here professionally will tell you. Especially when it comes to contract matters, if you have a contract to show the court and have other proof of wrongdoing, you have a good shot at winning, even if you are a foreigner. Beyond that, I think his blog failed to achieve his goal and basically just resulted in his public embarrassment. Mr. Brauer graduated from a reputable US law school and I'm assuming he's passed the bar in the United States, as such I'd imagine he has a respect for the law that such training gives you. When I made my statements about what he was (and still is) doing, I just couldn't believe anyone with a legal background would toss the law to the side (as well as logic) and turn to a blog to "fix" the problem. And now I've just given him more time than he deserves...

PS: I've worked in different capacities for 2 Chinese law firms and have yet to see anything illegal or out of the ordinary take place in either. Having spent time at one of China's top firms, I can say there is very little difference between them and any Western firm in China, the lawyers are equally professional and have tons of experience, both abroad (in the US and UK) and in China, having attending top universities and worked at major firms. The only real difference is that they typically charge half the price (still pretty pricey, as Mr. Brauer is correct to put it at around US$425) than Western firms in China.

PPS: Beer is a favorite topic around here and when Mr. Brauer posted on it, his lack of knowledge about China came shining through. Not only that, but it appears he pretty much hates the country, too. Sure, in the sticks foreign brands probably can't compete and in most cases won't even try, but in the cities where the choice is between a RMB3 Yanjing, an RMB5 Bud, and an RMB8 Heineken, the consumer often will go for the foreign brand. Further, foreign brand penetration in restaurants is extremely high, where that 1 RMB beer is sold for anywhere between RMB10-50.

PPPS: Even by Mr. Brauer's standards and assuming that everything he says is true, that he was wronged by Zhong Lun, that he is mentally stable, and that he quit (instead of being fired), is there any reason at all to call out a young lawyer like this(including posting her picture) who did nothing to hurt him. That is just low.

As Jigga said, "we bring a knife to a fist fight, kill your drama." I'm a Chicago boy and that's the Chicago way.

2007/12/12

Money May's the Man

Let's be real for a moment. It doesn't take a genius to tell you boxing ain't what it used to be in the US (or anywhere for that matter). The heavyweight division, the golden goose of the sport, is without a true star. Quick, who is the current heavyweight champ? Can't think of it? Me either...A quick search tells me the belts are held by 4 different people, one being a Klitchko, the others being guys by the name of Ibragimov, Chagaev, and Maskaev. Not names that just roll over American tongues very easily. Therefore, interest has moved down to the lower levels where the fighters tend to be more what fight watchers are used to (ie American, Mexican, and Carribean).

In general, there is this feeling of "remember when" about boxing, back in the days when it used to be great, back in the days when it used to be THE sport that garnered media attention in the US, alongside baseball and horse racing. Now the sports scene is too cluttered, parents are too sensitive, and prize fights have been relegated to pay-per-view and week-delayed premium channel broadcasts. Yet, for much of my life, the choice was often to stay in or gather together with a bunch of friends to watch HBO's "Boxing After Dark" on a Saturday night, even if the fight happened a week ago and everyone already knew the result. Boxing, at its best, is still one of the greatest sports to watch.

With that in mind, I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to watch the Floyd Mayweather, Jr-Ricky Hatton fight when I found out it would be televised live at the British Bulldog (across from the American Consulate, Wulumuqi Rd) this past weekend. This being a British pub, the crowd was obviously pro-Hatton, though there were some Mayweather supporters, I'd put the split at 70% Hatton, 20% Money May, and 10% neutral, the crowd was also probably 98% non-Chinese.

I like Ricky Hatton, a lot. He comes across as your average guy, the kind of guy who got discovered fighting outside a Manchester pub after a few too many Stellas on a Friday night. Those around him have played up this regular guy image, though in reality he's spent most of his life training as a fighter. That said, he's still your typical Brit, with an unbelievable passion for Manchester City (he's not United, that gives him points in my book) and enjoys a pint or two (when not in training at least). My raging anglophilia means that I was of course hoping for him to pull the fight out, despite logic telling me it would be next to impossible.

I'm going to limit what I say here, just because no analysis, especially mine, could even come close to that of what you'll find at No Mas (regular and Anonymoused, its not a direct link, but scrowl down to "The Electrocution of Ricky Hatton", trust me, its worth it!). For much of the fight, Hatton was hampered in his effectiveness, his "attack" looked brave and impressed the uninitiated, but failed to do damage. It was funny that some Brits claimed American bias due to HBO's regularly showing Mayweather replays after rounds, the difference is that Mayweather's blows were impressive shots, snapping Hatton's head back, where as Hatton's punches were far from punishing. Mayweather's speed was amazing (both feet and hands, but especially hands), if Hatton even gave him a milisecond opening to punch, Hatton would end up getting smacked with a power punch. Hatton fans could be proud afterwords, their man stood tall and took more big punches than most other fighters could.

A word on the venue: It's my understanding the Bulldog doesn't usually open until 11 am, thus the 9 am opening may have been the main reason they were completely unprepared. It was nice they didn't charge the RMB30 cover charge that some expat mags quoted, but if they did, there would have been live boxing. Arriving around 10 am (the main event wasn't until around noon local time), the lower level was packed and so we moved to the 2nd floor. The "bar" on the 2nd floor wasn't up and running and only one waitress was there to serve the large number of patrons causing complete chaos. Despite the expat mag ads talking up the complete English breakfast they'd be offering, the only thing that was available (and it wasn't even on the menu) was eggs benedict, which, in most cases, required at least an hour wait. Being the only bar in the city showing the fight, they should have been prepared for the demand, but it was a complete failure of planning and customer service, not altogether unusual in China. Don't think I'll be going back to give it a second shot anytime soon.

Around the Web

This is some of the news/blogposts that have caught my eye over the past day or two:

Reuters had an interesting article the other day about a lawsuit in Beijing involving Malaysia Airlines and a Dalian SOE that resulted in the largest monetary verdict ever in a Beijing court, a US$65 million payout, a Beijing record. I've yet to see much on the Chinese blogosphere about this case which seems a bit surprising.

Imagethief has a hilarious article about how he hates Secret Santas.

And an article that has gotten a lot more exposure in the blogosphere about a Swedish businessman who was ripped off to the tune of almost US$700 for drinks at a Nanjing East Rd coffeeshop in Shanghai. As an avowed hater of whiskey (bad memories of being a 1L and a night of FIFA), I can only imagine the condition of the 2 young girls after downing 12 in 10 minutes. I wonder if the Germans who got ripped off were the same ones that were in the news a few months ago or if that was another Nanjing East Rd ripoff artist.

The New York Times gives its 36 Hours treatment to Beijing. I've honestly never understood the series as I can't see very many people coming to China and only spending 36 hours in Beijing, but perhaps because I'm not a New York jet-setting hipster I just don't get it. Anyways, overall I think the itinerary is pretty good for such a short time. Since it is such a brief time and its only hitting the highlights, I guess one can't argue with D-22 over some of the other live venues, or Centro over other upscale bars (on these issues, I'd really like to see what Beijing Boyce has to say). That said, the NY Times only gives you 3 meals in the Capital City, one of those the obligatory duck dinner. One other choice, Pure Lotus for vegetarian fare, isn't one that I will comment much on since I have little experience and it seems to be right up the expat alley. The other, Kong Yiji, is a bit of a questionable choice if you ask me. Kong Yiji is good, don't get me wrong, but is there anything less Beijing than Kong Yiji? It's sort of insulting that they can't pick something even remotely "Beijing". Especially due to the minimal number of restaurant choices, why not lunch at Lao Beijing ZhaJiangMian after the trip to Tiantan? Or some Dongbei food a bit north of Kong Yiji at Dongzhimen (complete with "traditional kangs"). Or what could be better than that northern winter tradition, hotpot, at any number of places within the 2nd Ring Road. I know its not meant to be the most creative list of things to do in Beijing and that Kong Yiji is an expat favorite, but even trying to cut NYT a lot of slack, if you are looking for a true "Beijing" experience, there are far better choices.

ps: Shanghai received the same treatment last year, if you're curious.

Back and Forth With Blogspot

Is it blocked, is it not? I heard rumblings that blogspot was unblocked earlier this week and yet today an attempt to open my favorite blogspot blogs (not to mention my own) ends up with me back at the ever popular MSN Live or Baidu search page. Oh well, this time around I didn't even get to bask in the "freedom".

The Game Done Changed

Politics is a game and there is no job an adult can do that comes closer to being part of a sports team than working on a political campaign. I've worked on countless campaigns over the years and have enjoyed them all, both in victory and defeat, but the last campaign I worked on (a defeat), hurt a lot more than any of the previous ones.

I still blame the defeat mostly on robo-calls, which made it difficult to get our message to the voters, both during phone banks and canvassing sessions. Slate takes an interesting look at the phenomenon and sees its potential, both good and bad. Robo-calls are the cheapest way to reach the most people and can be specifically targeted in a number of different ways, however they are also one of the most ineffective forms of communication. People at least take some satisfaction when they can yell at an actual person at the other end of the line for interrupting their dinner, but any satisfaction is killed when you only have a computer at the other end.

The ultimate effectiveness of robo-calls, though, is as a "dirty trick". At the end of the Slate article it states:

The natural reaction, when you get a robo-call, is to blame the politician
mentioned at the outset. "I'm calling with information about Jane Smith," the
caller will say. You hang up; the phone rings again; it's about Smith again. You
dial 411 and demand the number for the Smith campaign. You shout at the campaign receptionist that you'll never vote for Smith again. But the joke's on you. The people who sent the robot after you don't want you to vote for Smith. And the poor receptionist can't possibly explain this to you and all the other people jamming her lines. Even a bank of Smith volunteers, working the phones all day, can't fix the damage done by a half-hour of robo-calling. They're only human.

Which is exactly the problem we faced. Irate callers who told us we'd been calling them at all hours of the night or 3 times during dinner, although it was really just the opponents robo-calls. The media, unfortunately, didn't catch on to this whole concept until the final days leading up to the election or even after, in some cases. People weren't hearing about it from the tv and the newspapers, so they didn't believe it when they were hearing about it from our staff. I only hope some rules are seriously put into place to deal with these calls and/or that the electorate wises up. However, by the time that happens, just like in sports, there will already be a new trick to pull one over on the other side, it's all in the game.

2007/12/11

Shanghai's Top 50 Foods You Must Try

If you're an expat living in Shanghai and don't read the Shanghaiist regularly, it basically means you're out of the loop on the happenings in that city. Not sure when a Beijingist will ever come out, but if it does, I'd like to be part of that team, though That's Beijing's blog is regularly updated and serves a similar purpose.

Anyways, (with more than just a hat tip to Shanghaiist), I want to provide you with SH Magazine's list of 50 foods that you must eat in Shanghai. Looking through the list, its heavy on expat sort of places and very few that I've tried, but perhaps I will have to explore more during my journeys south and try some of these "specialities."

From what I have sampled, I'd question placing Xiao Fei Yang (49th) on the list, its a national chain with decent hotpot, but nothing very special or unique. Perhaps they didn't want to use Dong Lai Shun, because its too attached to Beijing. Though if you're looking for hotpot, I find the Dolar Shop's Macau-style hotpot to be a lot more unique and something that isn't available all over the country.

I had to go all the way down to 30 before finding a place that I've tried. I was shocked to find Paul at Xintiandi when I was in Shanghai a few months ago, I remember fondly my morning tea and croissant at Paul in London as the perfect daily breakfast. Though I'd also come across it all over Paris, it just seemed sort of wrong and your local place would always be a better bet. However, in Shanghai it truly is the best bet for someone missing the joys of good bread.

The Wujiang Lu chicken wings at 28th are a fine choice, one that I sampled after a very "Chuppy" bar experience, making the (right) decision to slum it with good grilled food and beer instead of high priced mixed drinks.

Next, dropping down to 11th (wow, I've really yet to sample a lot of Shanghai's "specialities") are Beard Papa's cream puffs...There is not much I have to say about these as they are simply amazing. Though every time I eat one I can almost feel myself getting fatter, they are as addictive as crack. At 9th are Yang's Shengjian, though I'd argue they should be higher (I guess last year they were 1st). At any time of day, some of their Shengjian and a bowl of the curry duck blood soup (an absolutely amazing neon yellow color) are unbeatable and one of the city's cheapest meals (though prices have recently gone up).

Other Thoughts
-To me, City Diner's burger could very well be on this list.
-I've been to Jean George's a number of times and their desserts are excellent, but I've yet to sample the one on the list.
-Jade on 36 has been on my list of must eats (when I want to splurge) for awhile, and the list only confirms that.
-From the picture, Awfully Chocolate's ice cream looks like a thing of beauty, definitely something to sample during my next visit
-Surprising the minimal role crab plays on the list as there isn't a much better meal when in season and it plays such a big role in the local diet.
-It would have made the list a lot more user-friendly if they included the restaurant's address/Chinese name/etc (or at least a link to those things)
-Disappointing that the number 1 dish comes from a chain restaurant that serves Taiwanese-style food.
-If I have the time (and inclination), perhaps I'll create a list for Beijing, though it would be quite a task

2007/12/07

Welcome to Our Shitlist, Population: You!

In all the time since this blog was started, we've never had the need for a shit list, never got into scuffles with other blogs and were pretty peaceful overall, but now the time has come for the formation of one, and rocketing to the top of that list is one Hong Lao Wai ("Red Foreigner"). I didn't get involved when he started out singing revolutionary hits, nor did I really care about his "attempts" at Jay Chou (if you can really call them that), though when he starts blaring out about Lei Feng, wearing a silly/strange hat, he's committed a blasphemy that can't be overlooked. I, as much as the next guy, hate Dashan and think he's a total joke, but I must admit, his Chinese is damn good, even if he's just a big Canadian poof. As for Dashan's progenitor, though not very long, they were all just spinoffs whose Chinese were always worse and who did crazy stunts (a la working in a barber shop).

Hong Lao Wai is completely different. His "self taught" Chinese is barely passable and the kid's never been to China. If he's doing it for an offer of a free trip from CCTV or something like that, the kid's got a plan, but is it worth making a fool out of yourself? Do you really want to be that guy, Xiao Hong? Study Chinese, come to China, we'll take you off the list and we might even be able to have a drink together, but keep up what you're doing and you'll continually be one giant running joke, replacing even Dashan.

What's Next? Arguing for a Gender Neutral Olympics Logo?

This is truely absurd (hat tip to Beijing Olympics Blog)! BOCOG is, unsurprisingly, only looking for beautiful women in a certain age group to hand out medals at the Olympic Games. With all the talk about Chinese stewardesses lately, I don't know what Human Rights Watch was expecting to see at the medal stand, my local, neighborhood lao taitai? The jian bing seller around the corner? Get real! The best is this quote:
"Gender, age and appearance requirements arbitrarily exclude individuals
from jobs for which they are professionally qualified and constitute
discrimination," said the letter sent to the Committee by Executive Director
Asia Division Brad Adams.

Ahh, I see, it takes "professional qualifications" for distributing Olympics medals? Please! Perhaps HRW should be pushing for an employment law like the one that was in draft form previously, guaranteeing employment rights for women, the disabled, and minorities (I've seen it mentioned on a blog that the Labor Contract Law does this, though I defy you to show me where). HRW, you want to help people and promote human rights, read this post, until then, shut up!

Paralympic-Sized Headache

So, with one hand I like to pat on the back, with the other, I'll deliver a major slap across the face. I have the utmost confidence that Beijing will be ready for the Olympics on August 8th of next year, but with the countdown to the Paralympics set at 273 days, I'll be more than a little shocked if the city can pull things off for those games without a hitch.

This post is going to focus on transportation, first off, if you thought Chinglish was dead in our fair city, Beijingers, fear not. Did you know that game-fighting was forbidden on the staircases of subway stations? Well, now you know! For all you budding game-fighters, do it on a subway staircase at your own risk.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled blog entry. For those visitors with disabilities who are coming to watch the Olympics (or for disabled fans in town for the Paralympics), well, you have an uphill task ahead of you. The competitors are bound to be treated to a sort of Potemkin city in that their movements will surely be "restricted" to "tours" which are bound to have fully accessible buses that will take them wherever they want to go. If they do venture out on their own, they are in for a pretty difficult time. This will focus solely on transportation issues.

I would estimate that currently 1% (but probably more like 0%) of Beijing buses are accessible for wheelchair users. For the blind, bus stops are called out by a recording or in some cases by the ticket taker, but getting on buses can be difficult because stations are usually serviced by a multitude of buses and there is really no way to know which bus has arrived at the stop and no time to ask in the chaos of 2 (or more) buses arriving at once.

If buses aren't a good option, what about the subway, you ask? While I highly recommended the subway to all non-disabled travelers to Beijing in my earlier post, I wouldn't recommend it to the disabled. Just look at the chaos I described on the modern Beijing subway and imagine going through that blind. While the transfers to/from Line 1 and 2 aren't bad, going to Line 5 and 13 is extremely difficult (which is why so few blind people venture out alone, more on that in a future post, though). For wheelchair users, you're in for an even rougher time. One would think Line 5 would be built to be accessible, however that is far from the case. While there are elevators, stairs aren't totally avoidable (though they have set up lifts at the staircases). As for Line 1 and 2, there are no elevators and there are just too many stairs for lifts at the platforms, making the stations virtually inaccessible. But that's getting ahead of ourselves, because first you need to get into the station and even the station entrances aren't accessible. Only Line 1 stops from Xidan to Dongdan have both up and down escalators at station entrances. Elevators? You must be dreaming. This won't only cause difficulties for the disabled, but also for older visitors who are visiting the city, get used to climbing stairs.

The Olympics website offers this:

Obstacle-free service -- For the sake of welcoming the Olympic Games, all
the municipal authorities of Beijing Municipal Government are sparing no efforts
to reconstruct the obstacle-free facilities in Beijing, including the
obstacle-free buses, bus stops, slopes, bathrooms and blind roads [ed. note: I believe this is referring to the yellow paths in the sidewalk, which are often more dangerous than walking on the regular sidewalk] across the whole city. If you or your family members traveling along are the spectators with special demands, including the old, the young, the sick, the disabled and the pregnant, you may leave the marks on the reservation sheets for Olympic tickets, and then you'll receive one free copy of the Guide to the Obstacle-free Information Service of the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. You're reassured to watch the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Reassured to watch the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in Beijing from your hotel room, maybe? I've yet to see many of these obstacle-free facilities that the government is sparing "no efforts" to reconstruct. My guess is that they'll bring in some accessible buses for the games, but probably won't use them much after. They'll also probably attempt a publicity stunt like at this year's Paralympics in Kunming, where all taxis were made free for the disabled. While it sounds very nice, that's only because there was no other accessible means of transportation for them, so to save face, they came up with this.

In creating a "New Beijing" there was a real opportunity to make this city an accessible one and to help those with disabilities be able to play a greater role in society, unfortunately in the rush to make this city "modern," they've pretty much forgotten they have a responsibility to all citizens.

2007/12/06

"New Beijing"=Unlivable Beijing? Part 1 (Or Trying to Defend the Undefendable)

I consider myself a "老北京人" and my love for and pride in this city has been on display since my very first blog post. The slogan in 2001 when Beijing was bidding for the Olympics was "New Beijing, Great Olympics" and while its unclear how the latter will turn out, its obvious there has been "success" in achieving the former, whether that's a good thing has yet to be determined.

I've been in the "New Beijing" for about a month and my shock and dislike of many aspects of the city I call home is jarring. I've been meaning to blog about it, but after trying to combine it together in one post, I've quickly realized its best as a number of separate posts, though they will be interconnected.

To me, Beijing has always been the little city inside the 2nd Ring Road, or at the very most, inside the 3rd Ring Road. Thus, if there was someplace that I didn't choose to bike to or due to inclimate weather, the subway was always an excellent option for getting around. The movements toward a "New Beijing" that occurred during the first Olympic bid and also as preparation for the 50th Anniversary of China in 1999 were very welcome, an expanding of line 1 that was convenient for shoppers (Wangfujing, Yonganli) as well as tourists (Tiananmen East & West) and office workers (GuoMao). There was basically no place the loop line and line 1 couldn't take you (or at least a subway ride and a 10 minute bus/cab ride). The subway showed its age and could really use a good scrubbing, made all the more obvious riding the loop line after line 1 opened up, but it was convenient and never too crowded.

Over the past few years, as more and more people come to the city, the subway has gotten more crowded, but it always rationally so, during the morning/evening rush it could get pretty packed, but rarely (and only at the very height of rush hour) uncomfortably so.

However, the Beijing government has decided to reduce the prices of subway tickets to RMB2 and for your 2 kuai, you can now go ANYWHERE the subway will take you (instead of the previously scaled pricing). They've also ingeniously (sarcasm detector is going off the charts) decided to experiment with the proper number of cars needed at certain times of day. Well, the laobaixing have voted with their feet and now, no matter what time of day it is, if you're on the subway, expect a crowd. Whether its 7 pm on a Tuesday, 10 am on a Thursday, or 3 pm on a Sunday, don't expect to find a seat.

If its around 8 am or 6 pm, haha, you're in for an experience. First, just because a train is arriving doesn't mean you will get on, due to the lines it may be 2 or 3 trains later before you actually get on. Further, walking isn't necessary, just stand still and let the surge of the masses push you forward (as they surely will) and go from standing outside the train to finding yourself pushed into the middle of the car, squeezed tightly up against four people and with barely enough space to breath.

That said, if you wait until 9 (if your job gives you that sort of flexibility), the experience is much more humane. The subway is clean, with line 1 being cleaner overall than the older line 2 (the "loop line") stations, though the line 2 stations are often more interesting. The "notorious" nature of the subway and the smell talked about by this blogger is not something I've experienced. Granted, in the summer when you're squished that tightly against your fellow human and its already freaking hot outside, it can be a bit unpleasant and at the same time, you may be squeezed up against some peasant, but the subway cars and stations are pretty clean, especially compared to most major city subways around the world. Some of the older cars seem to have strange electrical problems at times, creating the surreal experience of riding (albeit briefly) in a dark subway car while an ultramodern, electronic led ad is showing just outside the subway window.

The Beijing subway is cheap, clean, and fast (and it even beat out Shanghai's subway, to my surprise). It's the best way to avoid the insane traffic on the streets and exceedingly easy for tourists to use as everything is well marked in Chinese and English, even which exits to use (something that was lacking in Shenzhen and I think Shanghai as well). As the city has expanded, so has the subway, and expansion is only going to continue in the run up to the Olympics. The great, old (very retro feel) paper tickets are now a thing of the past, but most Beijingers (me included) are happy about that, as most people use the modern transportation card that can be used on the subway and buses of Beijing. While I've avoided the crazy masses of the subway lately and once again returned to taking the bus (and in many cases been able to avoid the crowds), for my money, the subway is still the best way to get around the city.

2007/12/05

The Greatest Show on TV, EVER!

I don't think its an exaggeration to say that HBO's "The Wire", is the greatest show on tv. It is by far the most realistic example of inner city life (and probably the most realistic show, in general) that has ever made it onto the small screen and for whatever reason (cough cough, racism, ahem) the show has never really found its proper audience. Too many black faces and no recongizable stars has meant its been reduced to the outer edges of HBO coverage. However, the show has found its niche amongst the high-minded as well as the lowerer classes that it portrays, though losing everyone in between. I've gone through seasons 1-3 a number of times and am currently doing it again, with the promise of season 4 (thank you Shanghai DVD sellers) waiting at the end.

But I digress, season 5 (the final season) is coming up and is said to be moving the focus to the media, as can be seen in the trailers that have been released. Of course, there's also the promise that McNulty's back on the bottle, which is bound to lead to some interesting escapades. To check out the trailers, go to youtube or hit up the excellent blog, Can't Stop Won't Stop (whose author is also behind hip hop's bible of the same name).

Beijing Redeems Itself

Returning to Beijing was difficult at first, the city is in complete upheaval as it prepares for the Olympics and life can be...frustrating to say the least (more on that later). However, as a lover of the arts, this city is still the best, bar none. Just look at the calender from this past weekend. A difficult choice Saturday night between a PK-14/Retros show and a Secondhand Roses gig, plus the good people at Acupuncture were coming correct for lovers of house music. Sunday was much easier, with New Pants putting on a show elsewhere in the city.

These are only the musical acts, when you look at the art installations/gallery shows going on during a typical weekend, not to mention book readings/lectures, poetry slams, plays, etc it is staggering. Not to mention the (as of yet unfulfilled) promise of NHL hockey.

For culture vultures of a certain ilk (namely lovers of contemporary art and contemporary Chinese music), one weekend in Beijing promises more activities than a month (or more) in the Southern Square of Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Macau-Hong Kong.

Great Innovations: Nintendo Wii

I'd never previously played Nintendo Wii before this past Sunday, however I went over to a friend's for lunch and we ended up spending all afternoon playing Wii together. There is something strangely appealing about the system, forcing you to stand up and actually get (somewhat) involved in what you're doing, not just sit down and mash buttons. Granted, one of the games we played was ping pong, something we could have just as easily found in the apartment clubhouse, and another one was a fishing game. I've never gone fishing in my life (okay, not true, I went twice at Monroe Lake during my time at IU, but that wasn't real fishing) and would choose just about anything over going out fishing, however playing on Wii was (again, strangely) exciting and fun.

Nicely enough, the blog, Hotpoter, has provided excellent, succinct advice on how to buy a Wii in Beijing. I don't often agree with his other posts, but I really appreciate this one. My friend has had her Wii for awhile and it worked great, the only problem being that everything is in Japanese (read Hotpoter and find out why). While Hotpoter suggests Zhongguangcun, hers was purchased at Gulou DongDaJie. The price she told me for hers was above the Hotpoter price, not sure if it has come down, Hotpoter is a great bargainer, or Zhongguangcun is just cheaper. I'm currently considering buying my own (thoug PS3 is also tempting, when will someone come out with a buying guide for that?) and not sure which way I'll go (probably Gulou because its closer), though I definitely WON'T be buying it from XiuShui, Hongqiao, Yashow, or Wantong. Get your own Wii or come over and join in the fun, there isn't a much better way to wile away a cold, Beijing winter day.

2007/12/04

What's with all the negativity?

I've seen a lot of wondering on blogs and even in Slate (in what looks to be a new series from China) about Olympic preparedness and Beijing. Having driven past the venues in question, it seems like the Aquatics Center is more or less finished and the Bird's Nest is coming along nicely, though the green is far from ready and some of the outlying buildings aren't close to complete. That said, those additions are minor and shouldn't take up that much time, whereas the major stadiums are either done (the Indoor Stadium has already started hosted a Gymnastics event) or close to done.

Part of this may be jealousy about yet another foreigner who doesn't seem to have much of his Chinese chops down who is writing a book about here (though the author's chosen topic, Olympic preparedness, seems like it will have a very short interest lifespan), but I don't really see the point of the article.

Granted, returning to Beijing, I was shocked at what it has become, so I get this:

This means that a drab, grimy, exasperating megalopolis must scramble to
become a welcoming international showpiece. Construction, demolition, and more
construction are going on 'round the clock, throughout the city.


And I'm also further starting to understand about the building of "a whole new tier of ultraluxury hotels" as I wonder who the hell is going to stay at these palaces starting in October 2008.

The rest of the article, well, is bad reporting of the type that those in Beijing for awhile are going to have to steady themselves for in the days leading up to the Olympics. Not another "China coming out" story, but referring to the Woman's World Cup as a test event for the Olympics, huh? And what does he expect for a tennis event without any big names on a weekday afternoon? Or a baseball game between France and the Czech Republic? There wouldn't be a crowd for that sort of thing anywhere in the world, let alone in Beijing. People will go to these sports during the Games, but beyond that, these test events aren't going to be hot tickets nor are they going to draw much of a crowd or test the venues at large(r) capacities.

I am confident that Beijing isn't behind schedule and other than this article from Slate, I've yet to see much talk about this anywhere else. Perhaps that's because the focus is more on pollution, human rights, and everything else, but perhaps that's because unlike four years ago, Beijing is more or less on track. Oh, but why not take yet another shot at the city's pollution...

Slapping Wu Yi in the Face

Back in my old "hometown", down south in Shenzhen, the local government, along with the central government, is striking hard against counterfeit products. An inspection team from the central government that is to include Wu Yi is set to visit Shenzhen and its electronics markets this week and in the lead up to this, the local government has been actively raiding and threatening stall owners and market managers in and around the most famous of Shenzhen's electronics streets, Huaqiangbei.

What is so stunning about it is the open defiance shown by certain stall owners at the markets. Rumors about the markets future have taken over causing even legit businesses to close their doors, including in some cases grocers (am I being overly optimistic in suspecting the grocers are legit and not selling "fake" goods?). While the counterfeit sellers are shutting up shop, they were also reported to be promising customers that this was only temporary, after Wu Yi and the central government comes through, they'll reopen, and some had the audacity to say they'd reopen stronger than before.

I'm a bit surprised because there's yet to be much discussion of this in the English blogshpere or in the English dailies (especially Shenzhen Daily, or did I just miss it?). "Fake" mobile phones is a lot harder to deal with than fake LV bags. Everyone who is shopping at Luohu Commercial Center (Shenzhen's "Xiushui") knows they're buying fake goods, but when you go into the electronics markets at Huaqiangbei, you have no clue what you are buying. The phone could be an original Motorola, or a used one, or one reconstructed with a Motorola case and who-knows-what under the case. Only the briefest of looks at the repair shops they have in these markets lets you know the huge number of components and the skill the workers have with those items. Therefore, a crackdown on a market like this is much harder than one that is selling fake clothes and leads to confidence among stall owners of their success in avoiding the authorities. It's going to take a combination of harsher punishments and more diligent policing (it appears the Shenzhen PSB and other government agencies have been stepping up to the task so far) to shut them down entirely.

Until that happens, the cat-and-mouse game and trips like this central government inspection will only have a minimal impact at holding back the counterfeiters.

2007/11/26

Bits and Pieces from Around the Web

On the heels of yesterday's news about China's World Cup draw, the team manager (not coach), has called it China's "worst draw ever." This will be China's 8th attempt at qualifying, only once has the team been successful.

In other sporting news, check out some interesting articles on golf in China, as well as a book project on the subject, at Par for China (h/t to Shanghaiist).

A very scary picture is painted of how one goes about setting up a company when challenged with bribery and corruption in smaller towns in China in this article on Danwei. However, I'm left to wonder how much of this bribery would have been necessary and how much of it was just the wrong strategy by the business owners who implemented it. The article seems to state that they never tried taking a more normal path and instead resorted to bribery from the get go.

CLB's entry on advice for anyone who wants to break into the Chinese law field is interesting and mirrors most of what I tell people when I get the same question. Like any specialized area, networking is crucial and keeping up to date on the important changes also can go a long way.

And I'm a day late and dollar short as everyone and his brother has already linked to the NY Times article on Rock in China, but here goes. For my money, the most interesting change over the past 2-3 years has been the diversity of the acts who are coming over. In the past, it used to be limited to the pop "tarts", but now hip hop, hard rock, and alternative are all growing. It would have been interesting if the article looked at Okayplayer's focus on China, considering in the past 2 years Common, The Roots, and Talib Kweli have all made stops here. In any case, here's hoping Jay-Z will try again and this time be allowed to do his big pimpin' in Beijing.

Group of Death Awaits China

A quick note, the draw for the 3rd Round of Asian Qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa took place today and China was drawn in the "Group of Death." China will be stuck going up against Australia as well as the defending Asian Cup champions, Iraq. Rounding out the group is a strong Qatar side.

The Chinese FA is looking a bit bruised right now, considering the men failed to get out of the group stages in the Asian Cup and the women couldn't get past the Quarterfinals despite home field advantage in the World Cup. Vladimir Petrovic, the coach appointed after the Asian Cup debacle, is certainly going to have an uphill battle to get China into the World Cup. Only the top 2 teams in each group advance to the next round of qualifying, so China's in for a real battle. Perhaps the difficulty of the group will cause the always high expectations to be lowered a bit, but there is no reason why China shouldn't be able to get past this group, though this is the sort of thing you hear from Chinese soccer fans all the time, right before another disaster takes place.

The only other very interesting tidbit from the draw was that North and South Korea were drawn in the same group, those will certainly be two very exciting matches!

2007/11/23

A Strange Moment, Passed...

The events of 1989 affected my family deeply in a number of different ways. People willing to help the students or who were close to the students suffered silent (and not so silent) embarrassment and retribution at work and in their community. I've heard stories about some of the partners who I work alongside and their connection to the events of that summer, always on the periphery, but they knew what really happened.

That said, it was kind of strange at lunch yesterday when I mentioned the location of my new apartment only to be told by the partner I was eating with, "Oh, there...I had a friend who was injured there, well...was shot there."

Looking out from my office window at JianWai and ChangAn in the distance, it still feels like there are ghosts in this city.

2007/11/20

Is the iPhone taking over China?

Wired has a really interesting story on iPhones in China discussing how readily available they are now and how popular they've become. I know about the black market versions (ie most likely fakes) and when in Shenzhen I saw a few authorized Apple dealers that had unlocked iPhones in stock (this is not to say they don't exist in Beijing, I just haven't been shopping here that much). However, I've yet to come across anyone using an iPhone in China. My feeling is that Wired overstates the trend.

The number of authorized Apple dealers has certainly skyrocketed over the past few years and genuine Apple products are fairly easy to find, however the price still prevents many Chinese from purchasing them. In Shenzhen, where free wireless is abundant, it was common to see a number of foreigners using Apple, but you'd rarely see Chinese using them. Also, on the subway, foreigners seemed to be the sole users of iPods. In my short time in Beijing, I've noticed a number of Chinese iPod users, but that's about it. And when it comes to computer usage in China, it seems like there is only one choice for business people, Lenovo/IBM.

Apple definitely has room, and potential, to grow in China, but I think its still far from that point. Like in the US, I believe the cheaper, cool items like the iPod and iPhone will serve as a gateway, people will get hooked and then end up buying the computers, like in the US. The Wired story captures the iPhone/Apple popularity in China, but it is discussing a basically non-existent trend, though its easy to imagine that iPods and iPhones will be as ubiquitous in China could come close to matching the US if given more time.

2007/11/13

A Night of Drama (aka False Hope at FengTi?)

Wednesday, 19:30 Hours, Fengtai Sports Stadium/Shenzhen Sports Stadium

Beijing Guoan has led the CSL in attendance for most of the season and fans who make the hike out to Fengtai have been given something to cheer about as the boys in green sit just 1 point behind the Dongbei outfit, Changchun Yatai (52 points). Changchun will face off with season long bottom feeders in Shenzhen, though Shenzhen is clear from relegation and will have nothing to play for but pride. Beijing, on the other hand, will have a much more difficult tilt against a far more motivated opponent, with Shandong Lvneng, currently sitting in 3d place on 48 points, coming to the capital city. The result in Beijing could be rendered moot if Shenzhen lays down and plays dead like they have all season, but if they can come together and pull off a draw (a victory is almost unthinkable, even for the most optimistic Beijing or Shenzhen supporter) it could be a very festive atmosphere in the capital. On top of this, there is a good chance it will rain and possibly even snow tomorrow night in Beijing, so its surely going to be a unique experience. Changchun, the newly promoted side would seemingly be (MLF runs to the research books) the first ever newly promoted team to win the league title the next season. Beijing would also be making history, for despite a number of Cup successes and painfully close calls, they've yet to secure a Jia A/CSL title, making tomorrow an exciting night for all Chinese soccer fans!

2007/10/17

Chefs Whites are the New Black

At what point in our culture did chefs become as famous and watched as tv and movie stars? I guess its pretty obvious, the starting point is the day Food Network hit the air and Mario was trundling around in his orange clogs, Emeril was shouting bam, and, well, Rachel Ray was making a fool of herself (then again, its very hard to even mention her name amongst those of 2 excellent chefs).

The New York Times recently examined the phenomenon of chefs and reality tv. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what the article is saying, while also being thankful that this "trend" is unlikely to ever hit China, where I doubt it could ever take hold. The strange thing is these chefs seem to be making these tv appearances just to make them, for their (extended) 15 minutes of fame. In reality, while they are getting their name out (and their restaurant's name as well), those who have the serious cash to eat at their establishments will have already heard of them, while Joe Public isn't dropping $100 per person and up to eat at the restaurants of these "celebrity" chefs. Further, the more concerned they are with their growing empire and public persona, the less time they spend doing what they are most famous for, feeding people. Beyond that, where does public interest come from? The reality shows these chefs are appearing on are only vaguely about cooking and none will improve your own skills in the kitchen? What is with the interest in what goes on beyond those swinging double doors that lead to a restaurant's kitchen?

The Rain in Shenzhen?

I know its October and so this story of black rain in Shenzen is well past its "sell by" date, but now that Al Gore is a Nobel Peace Prize winner (since the environment and peace have a clear connection, eh?), why not give it a reprise?

When I saw the story it shocked me, not so much because of the black rain (it is a sad state of affairs when black rain falling isn't something shocking, but such is China's environment), but that it happened in Shenzhen, while I've been living here, and yet I had no clue about it. It seems this problem occurred away from the city center, however Nanshan is still within the SEZ. This is really surprising because at least during my experience here over the last 6 months, environmental conditions in Shenzhen are better than almost all other large cities in China. I've heard horror stories about the situation outside the SEZ, where factories are abundant, but that is far from the case inside the SEZ.

Beyond that, though, even if it is a freak occurrence, the fact you have black rain falling should come as a huge shock and lead to massive changes instead of being covered up.

2007/10/11

Live from Macau: Photo Edition V



Live from Macau: Photo Edition V



Shanghai Surprise(s)

Other than a brief stop in Shanghai a few months ago, my national day soiree was probably my first lengthy experience in that city in 2 years or so. It was strange to see last time that some old favorites like the hotpot restaurant at Shanghai Stadium is long gone, while Bourbon Street bar where once (or even twice) a crazy night was had is still standing. This time, however, it was about discovering new places and creating a new bit of "history" to be looked upon fondly in the future. While photos will have to wait for the future, 2 important observations can be made now...

1. It's gotten a lot of pub, and I often wondered whether deservedly as most western food in China is shite, but City Diner is amazing. The idea of having a good burger had been evilly placed in my head and it was a required meal before I left the city. I went into City Diner with a healthy doubt of what I'd be met with, but came out converted. while the menu tempted me with many of its options, I knew going in that I was having the burger, and it was a good choice. A large thick burger, lots of toppings, and a good bun, this isn't just the best burger I've had in China, but probably one of the best I've ever had. I would place it as the 3rd best I've ever had, close behind an unhealthy, since childhood addiction for Hackneyburgers and the Kobe beef and Foie Gras deliciousness that was the Rockit burger, before the idiotic ban. This place is not like any diner I've ever been in, I'd call it more of a gastropub (China's first?) and a definite hit. Just be warned, the service can leave something to be desired at times.

2. On a cab ride home going down Nanjing West Rd, I passed a very familiar sign from my travels through Europe, a red square with 4 Chinese/Kanji characters and 4 English letters, it was Muji. In Europe, its a one stop shop for stylish and reserved clothing, stationary, and household goods. In Japan, you can even buy cars and prefab houses at Muji. I've come across smaller stores in Beijing and Shanghai before, but they always carry strictly women's clothes and seem to stray away from the Muji style, however this was the real thing. I've bought a few favorite pieces of clothing at Muji, though in Europe, it is not exactly cheap. However at the Shanghai branch, prices were surprisingly reasonable, with much of the (men's) clothing below RMB200. For those in the US who haven't traveled abroad and experienced Muji, don't fret, Slate says its coming soon to your shores.


2007/10/10

Remembering the Roar...

I've been away from this blogging game for awhile, but golden week can't serve as an excuse for my failure to post on this particular story. The reasoning is more internal, trying to deal with the event in a composed, normal way and not react like the typical fan. There are few events that could force me back to Chicago from China and the majority are all family related, but if the Blackhawks ever made it to the Stanley Cup finals, I'd be hard pressed not to make the trip back. Good ol' Dollar Bill, William W. Wirtz passed away on September 26, a story that is now 2 weeks old. As a lifelong Hawks fan who experienced many a night in the old barn on the west side (remember the roar being the salute given to it during that final season when it was on its last legs) and the UC, Wirtz was always a villainous character to me as well as many Hawks fans who would curse his name for being a tight wad, refusing to put home games on tv, as well as a number of other injustices. The man basically ran an NHL Original Six franchise, once one of the league's strongest, into the ground, with the franchise being named the worst in professional sports by ESPN, failing to be able to give away tickets, barely getting the stadium to half capacity, and putting out a team that has consistently failed to make the playoffs (and hasn't won it all since '61).

It's easy to recite the bad, but there was also some good, as strange as it sounds to Chicagoans, he was a strong advocate for hockey and played a crucial role in shaping the NHL during his reign in Chicago and also was involved with a large number of charitable organizations.

If I was at the UC for the season opener, I don't think I'd be among the fans who booed the moment of silence for him, but a part of me can understand the fans who live and die with the Hawks that did. For me, its time to move on, the move by Peter Wirtz to step down instead of ascend to the top spot was a class move. Rocky Wirtz's takeover and his proclamations so far serve as a fresh start that hopefully will lead to the franchise moving in the right direction. Though still cursed with some old problems (Havlet going down in the first game of the season), the future looks promising for the Hawks, and the fans deserve it.

Live from Macau: Photo Edition IV

outside the seafarer's temple
on the public square
religion and gambling face off
on the steps looking out at the crowds
kids graffiti

Live from Macau: One Up on Vegas...

Macau, the small configuration of islands and a peninsula off China's south coast that was long held (and neglected) by Portugal, is coming on strong. In recent years it has even overtaken Las Vegas in gambling earnings. The opening of the Macau outpost of over-the-top Vegas casino, the Venetian, is sure to help Macau expand the lead over Vegas even more. Along with the local casinos, Macau opened up to Vegas exports and currently boasts a Sands, Venetian, Wynn, and coming soon, an MGM Grand (to be opened by mid-December). Vegas hosted the NBA All-Star Game, Macau's going to host exhibition games between Cleveland, Orlando, and the Chinese National Team to take place in 2 weeks time. There is also the upcoming tennis duel between Federer and Sampras, as well as Macau's famous grand prix, unique to Macau and another famous gambling spot that begins with M, Monaco.

While there is the gambling, beaches, and a very interesting, real fusion cuisine, what is most attractive about Macau, to me, is its uniqueness. While Hong Kong was a British colony for so long, it is hard to see or feel a Britishness there. However, Macau is oozing with a Mediterranean vibe, a relaxed Iberian lifestyle. Due to basic abandonment by the Portuguese, the islands were in a state of disrepair when the Chinese took over in 1999, but things have already started to pick up and the rough edges do a lot to add something to the atmosphere.

For those interested in a trip, here are some tips:
1. From Shenzhen, the best option is the boat, which will get you to Zhuhai Customs in about an hour (or if you're a foreigner with a multientry visa, head into Hong Kong, the boat will take the same amount of time, but HK Customs is a lot faster). Boats from HK leave from the HK/Macau port near Central, in Shenzhen they leave from Shekou. There are also buses from Huanggang Customs.

2. Avoid a taxi and just take a free casino bus, even if you don't intend on gambling at the casino, it's a good way to get into town. If you're going to the town center for some sightseeing, the best options are probably the Emperor or the Grand Lisboa.

3. If you're entering Macau from Zhuhai, consider spending a night there and getting up bright and early the next morning to avoid the huge crowds.

Golden Week Tales

Having just returned from my first ever experience of a "golden week" its been difficult to get back into the flow of things, especially the habit of blogging, something I wasn't so good about even before golden week.

During the golden week, the rich head to Europe, Egypt, anywhere far, far away (or do the smart thing and stay at home), the middle class heads to south or southeast Asia, and everyone else travels around China (or does the smart thing and stays at home).

After originally planning on just taking it easy and exploring some nearby sites in the countryside, hoping for a bit of piece and quiet, I did the exact opposite and headed to the packed metropolis that is Shanghai. Shanghai, a city that is crowded enough when the entire country isn't on holiday, was insane during the holiday. On top of the insanity that was golden week, Shanghai's calender was chock full of interesting events, including: the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics (and all the international and Chinese celebs that came to town for that), Yue Festival and Talib Kweli's debut performance in Shanghai, and the F1 race that could have been the crowning of Lewis Hamilton.

That said, I was still able to have a wonderful time in the city (that I hate) and of course got some good street shots. The worst part of the trip was leaving out of Pudong, Shanghai's beautiful and still relatively new international airport. While the upstairs part of the terminal is all glistening and nice, the downstairs area where my flight was boarding out of resembled a run down old Chinese train station, with the amenities and (lack of) seats to go along with it. It was a startling end to what was otherwise an overall great trip to a place I don't usually enjoy going to.