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2007/02/27

Beijing Outclasses Shanghai again?

Shanghaiist has an interesting post based on a list made by Virgin Vacations of the top 11 (why 11? who knows?) subway systems in the world. The list has Beijing ranked 9th, while Shanghai went unranked (there's no love for Chitown either!).

I should start out by saying that I absolutely LOVE Beijing and I HATE Shanghai with equal passion. However I'd take the Shanghai subway system any day of the week over Beijing. Perhaps since the list is focused on "underground transit" they dock Shanghai because a number of the stations (at least on 1 or 2 of the lines) seem to be above ground, but that can't be it because they credit Beijing for "interesting architecture on the newer subway lines," however all of these are above ground. More likely is Shanghaiist's guess that Virgin is just trying to sell more plane tickets to Beijing. Even this avowed hater of all things Shanghai gets jealous when he sees the ability of those in Shanghai to simply place their wallet or purse (with their card inside it) on the scanner and so easily pay for the subway, taxis, or buses while I'm stuck standing in line for 10 minutes some mornings to buy a subway ticket. The list does state one reason why they like Beijing's subway is its "ambitious expansion project" which is very true. The subway will go from this:
<span class=
to this: future <span class=by the 2008 Olympics. While it may not be as long as Shanghai's subway system, it will get you to everywhere you could want to go in Beijing.

It escapes me, as a rider of Beijing's subway on a regular basis (and an occasional rider of the Shanghai subway system) how my beloved city could be ranked ahead of Shanghai. Perhaps Virgin enjoyed the quaintness of buying your ticket from an actual person and then 10 steps later giving your ticket to an actual person (certainly the only subway system in the world with this feature). Or maybe Virgin loves the huge crowds when changing from Line 1 to Line 2, which causes people to start acting as if they are blocking for a star NFL running back, throwing elbows left and right. Perhaps it could just be the strange numbering system where you have Lines 1, 2, and 13 plus the newest line which is coming soon and will be Line 5. It boggles the mind...

Some pictures from inside Beijing's Fuxingmen station (sorry for the quality):
crowds trying to change lines
inside the station, waiting for the train

China vs. United States (On the Soccer Pitch)

It was announced yesterday that China will play the United States in an international soccer friendly on June 2 in San Jose (more information and stats found here). The match will serve as a warmup for the US team as they head into the Gold Cup and, more importantly, the Copa America. For China, it will serve as a good test as they get ready for the Asian Cup, which will begin on July 7 (China's first match is July 10 in Malaysia).

As a soccer fan, I'm really looking forward to this match and if I'm in the US this summer, I'll be making an appearance in San Jose (along with the 东北人都是活雷锋 - 哈尔滨真心球迷 banner already signed by a few Chinese women's team players). Both teams should put out their top sides or something close to it and the players should be going extra hard in order to win (or keep secure) their position on their respective teams. The US side is a bit better and will have home field advantage, though with the size of the Bay Area Chinese community, it may turn out to be a pro-China crowd. This is the perfect test for China, I'm sick of their friendlies against either crap sides or top European competition, this will be a team that is better than them, but still close skillwise to China. I can't wait for this match!

2007/02/26

Dining Out in China: What Needs to be Changed?

BBC America has started showing Gordon Ramsay's F Word, a very entertaining show and much different from "Hell's Kitchen" (though still with a good amount of screaming). Ramsay's approach is old school and many don't like it, but I don't mind it so much and the man turns out absolutely amazing food. The full extent of my respect for Gordon will be seen in a week or so, but I digress...In a recent episode, they talked about 10 things they wish would be banned from restaurants in London and here's that list (with our comments):
F Word
1. Double tipping (This is something that those in China never have to deal with, but there is a growing trend to add a tip line to the bill on top of whatever the "service charge" was)
2. tables too close together
3. mobile phones (YES!)
4. tables too close to toilet
5. public displays of affection
6. breast feeding in restaurant (take it to the bathroom)
7. children
8. too much perfume
9. bad background music
10. paying for bottles of still water (This growing trend is something I absolutely hate!)

Now, here's our list (with the assistance of some friends) of things we wish would be banned (or things that annoy us about dining out) from restaurants in China:

1. service
There are so many things wrong with service in China, not only in restaurants, but I think my ultimate annoyance is when I go to a restaurant with someone who I want to have a conversation with, I sit down, am given a menu with just a few pages less than War and Peace and then have a waitress standing over me impatiently waiting for me to order. When I ask her to return in a few minutes, she gives me a look as if I've just insulted her family, then (and this is a case even in an empty restaurant), she continually looks over with disdain
2. hidden charges
I get the bill and see 3 additional charges, what? Okay, one's for tea, one's for the "lovely" wrapped chopstick/napkin set that was on the table, the third is for the package of kleenex we were given when we asked for extra napkins. So all these extra charges amount to RMB4 total, I'm okay with that (well sort of), but PLEASE at least tell me you're going to charge me before hand. I think I'm just going to carry my own chopsticks with me from now on, plus it has the added benefit of protecting the environment.
3. smoking
Almost nothing annoys me more than this, especially in nicer restaurants. In China, smoking is allowed almost anywhere (and where its not, people often ignore this anyways) and people do it entirely too much. China is way behind the times as few restaurants have non-smoking/smoking sections and those that do barely make an effort to seperate them so its pointless. Its especially annoying in a fancy restaurant where it can ruin the meal.
4. inappropriate drink service
I was going to limit it to wine service, which is an area where China is severely lacking, but its true of other things. First, with beer, most of the time you'll get the option of warm or cold beer, but not always. Then there are those times they don't ask, give you a bottle of lukewarm (or worse) beer (made worse because its 100 degrees outside) and proceed to open the bottle without giving you the chance to at least feel the bottle to check temp. Second, there is the trend to give you glasses the size of a shot glass, what the hell is with that? Finally, adding Sprite and/or ice cubes to wine should be banned, period, even if the patron is begging the waitstaff to do it.
5. beer girls
This is mainly true in bars, but exists in some restaurants, too. You get to the table, the waitress is anxiously waiting for your order, and she's accompanied by 1 (or more) female(s) who are scantily clad in very tiny dresses trying to convince you to order their beer which is "on special."
6. dirty dishes
Too often, especially in smaller restaurants, you are given plates or cups that are either visibly dirty or visibly chipped, come on now, you need to take better care of the customers than that!
7. ordering too much on purpose
This is more a complaint with Chinese people/culture, but I hate, HATE those who go to the restaurant with "friends" or for business purposes and order enough to feed their table, three nearby, the entire waitstaff, and their relatives. I'm not talking about having a few leftovers, but having multiple dishes that were barely touched (and often not wrapped to take home) for the sole purpose of showing one's "prosperity."
8. bad personal habits at the table
I don't want to see someone picking their teeth at the table, I also don't want to see people spitting on the floor in the restaurant (a dying habit, but something you still come across at times).
9. bathrooms
You go to a restaurant and for whatever reason nature calls, so you go into the restroom and there's no toilet paper and/or all they have is old, dirty squat toilets, then you finish up and there's no soap at the faucet.
10. mobile phone
This one comes in two parts: 1. this goes along with the bad personal habits, include getting to the restaurant and placing your mobile on the table. I know, this is something even one part of our team is guilty of on a regular basis, but putting your phone on the table tells all who are eating with you that you are just hoping for someone more interesting to call/text you. 2. Nobody wants to hear your ringtone (always something annoying like the latest pop hit) at a decibel level comparable to an airplane landing. Pick up your phone right away and/or do everyone else a favor and put it on silent/vibrate while you're at the restaurant.

So what do you think? What annoys you most about eating out in China? What would you like to see changed?

Some random pictures, can anyone guess the Beijing restaurant in the first picture? The second (and not connected to the first), is a random meal of Sichuan food in Beijing...
inside a Beijing restaurant
a sichuan food meal

2007/02/25

Oscars and Humor for a Monday

Reading the Asian American blogsphere this morning, there's a lot of complaints about the Oscars and how Asians really aren't represented, this is summed up best by Angry Asian Man. I didn't watch the Oscars and could honestly care less about who won what as I barely saw any of the movies. I saw "The Departed" only because I bought the DVD in China (take that as my protest against the movie), I'm surprised the Peking Duck (who also blogged on this) whose main writer is also in China doesn't take advantage and buy more of the DVDs (perhaps those at Modern Lei Feng will be nice enough to take him to our haunts at Xinjiekou). I liked The Departed, it was an excellent movie, but I couldn't help the feeling of deja vu throughout the whole thing. As David Spade would say, I liked it the first time when it was Infernal Affair. I blogged on the remake when I first heard about it and I hate the idea. Hollywood is severely lacking in the creativity category lately, just look at all the remakes and sequels. Yet its one thing to remake a movie from the 1960s, or even the 70s, but its a different story when you just remake something from a few years ago. Why don't you just encourage people to watch the original, you could always rerelease it more widely. The lack of credit given to Infernal Affairs last night was just horrible and calling it a Japanese movie, how long will it take before Chinese start protesting in the streets?

Alright, some fun on a Monday morning afternoon.

I love Li Tie, but the sad thing about this is that its a highlight video where I think he only scores 1 goal...oh well, it received Tie Zi's seal of approval:


This via off wing opinion, I love it, maybe more Hawks fans would come out if Tommy did things like this:

Sunday Photo Thread: Carling Cup Final Edition

Sorry about there not being a Saturday photo thread, I'll offer some bonus photos today. A crazy 2nd half resulted in a disappointing loss for Arsenal today, but we're still in the Champions League and FA Cup...Without further adu...

beijing train stationLeaving
Beijing Train Station, Beijing - August 2002

guy bikes past ruins of buildingBiker and Building
Xuanwu District, Beijing - August 2005

market crowdCrazy Commerce
Xiangyang Market, Shanghai - November(?) 2005

2007/02/23

It's a Race, It's a Race!

Its amazing to think about, but with the new condensed primary schedule that both US parties are planning for 2008, by this time next year, we will probably know who won both parties nominations. For the first time in 80 years, there will be no incumbents running in the 2008 race, making it truly wide open. For awhile, it seemed like everyone and his (or her) brother may be tossing their hat into the ring and running in 2008, though right now the field (especially on the Republican side) is still fairly small. The race also appears to be the most diverse ever, a real representation of the nation with an African American candidate, a woman candidate, a Mormon, (potentially) a Hispanic, and a sleaze ball (Mr. Guiliani, please stand up).

This week, with the Iowa caucuses, which kicks everything off, almost a full year away, there's already been some news. Mitt Romney, the Mormon in question and arguably the GOP front runner in the race right now (until McCain jumps in), has already started a media ad buy and put out commercials. His biggest problem is name recognition, though his being a Mormon Republican from Utah didn't hurt him in winning the governership of Massachusetts, he does have potential as a national candidate. Further, just today there was the announcement that Governor Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa) is dropping out of the race after realizing that he is incapable of raising the money needed to make a serious run.

With Vilsack out, that leaves Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich, and Obama in the race for the Dems. I may be wrong, but while Hillary has created an exploratory committee and announced she intends to run, she has yet to file with the FEC, which seems like only a formality at this point. For the Republicans, its Brownback, Romney, and Guiliani with McCain, much like Hillary, ready to jump in when the time is right.

I'm not a died in the wool Democrat, but to me it seems that the combination of Edwards, Obama, and Hillary are going to be the shining stars, with the nominee most likely to be Edwards or Obama. On the GOP side, its McCain and (grudgingly) Guiliani, though Romney has the potential to stir things up. I just don't see Guiliani as a serious candidate because of his personal life issues and the fact that, if not for the myth of Guiliani created post-9/11, he would go down in NYC history as being a mediocre mayor at best (and I still think that's all he was). Plus, the fact he's probably "not conservative enough" for the GOP in a campaign where no hopes like Brownback (and Tancredo if he runs) are bound to pull the debate to the right. As it appears right now, the Dems don't really have a candidate who goes that far left (except maybe Hillary) and thus should be better positioned for the general election.

Anyways, while its fun to play this game, at the end of the day, its pretty useless, but its going to be interesting to see how everything plays out.

2007/02/22

The Godfather (or "Take the Gun, Leave the Jiaozi")

Cui Jian is considered the father of Chinese rock music, but he's probably the father of all modern mainland Chinese music. Until he came along, Chinese music was all about patriotic songs and weak attempts to copy the love ballads that were coming out of Hong Kong. I don't think its a great overstatement to say that Lao Cui's impact on a generation of Chinese can only be compared to the impact of the US' 1960s counterculture's preferred groups combined (update: or is he China's Bob Marley?). Lao Cui, who is Chinese Korean, and his band ( a mixture of Chinese and foreigners) spoke to a generation with little to do on campus in a country that was starting to change and open up more. I was too young to really appreciate his music, its the generation before me, those who are in their mid-late 30s, who came of age during the time period when Lao Cui's music was at its apex of popularity. I heard his music, but never really paid much attention to it.

I left China before that fateful summer of 1989, but when intellectual curiosity caused me to start picking up whatever possible books I could find on China in high school (books almost always on the events of that summer), I kept coming across the name "Cui Jian." When I returned for the first time in 1998, I wanted to make sure I could buy whatever I could of Cui's music, but after a few listens, I gave up on that pretty quickly. Being used to US music circa 1998, Lao Cui's late 80s-early 90s "rock" hardly qualified as such. His songs almost always had long, instrumental solos, often a sax or a trumpet (Cui was classicly trained on the trumpet from a young age).

After releasing "The Power of the Powerless" in 1998 (buy it on amazon), it seemed Cui was comfortable just sitting back, playing the role of elder statement in the rock scene, encouraging young groups both with access (through his club venue), money, or simply encouragement. He also went into acting, playing the role of the father in one of my all time favorite movies, 我的兄弟姐妹 ("Roots and Branches") and I defy you to watch that movie without crying! Then suddenly in 2005, influenced heavily by hip hop music, Cui released a new album where these new influences are quite obvious, but it still retains its Cui-ness. I decided to attend his 2005 concert in Beijing just because it seemed like a happening, I was going for the classic Chinese reason, to "kan renao", but his performance and the rapt attention paid him by his fans really won me over (or maybe I'm softening in my older age). Anyways, enough talk, let's get to the music!!

崔健 - 一无所有 : Cui Jian - Nothing to My Name
this is the song that started it all, the song that was so popular and iconic to the Tiananmen generation.

崔健 - 出走 : Cui Jian - Escape
this is a song that I "discovered" at the concert, it has the same feeling as "Nothing to My Name," but it portrays those emotions in a different way.

崔健 - 超越那一天 : Cui Jian - Get Over That Day
This is a song off his newest album and shows off that mixture of classic Cui, with newer styles of music, including hip hop and techno. I can't say I love all the new songs (well, I never was a huge fan of his), but its impossible not to respect him for his attempt to change up and modernize his style when he could have just lived off all his old hits. I think his change of styles is a sign of how truly talented he is as a musician.

ps: Sorry for yesterday's rant (stupid Gestapo cops aside). I'll leave you with a bonus video (I love this video, it shows a lot what Cui is about, with emotions that are meant for a girl, but equally applicable toward China). For those interested in more of Lao Cui's music, I'm adding his greatest hits to the suggested reading list on the right (in this case, listening). Also, keep in mind that mp3s will only stay up for a week or so.

Apology + Rant + the memorable words of NWA

Sorry to everyone (if there was anyone) who came here today looking for the latest installation of mp3s, that will be pushed back until tomorrow, though it will be well worth checking out. Today was a busy day of sitting in traffic, going to a bar, sitting in traffic, going to a bar, and then going home...Was in Wrigleyville for a meeting with good friends to watch some Champions League soccer and then traveled back to the 'burbs to again meet with friends and watch sports, though this time it was the Blackhawks. All I can say is when are they going to get rid of Aucoin? His late mistake is bound to be on blooper reels and was truly embarassing. Their season is over and the playoffs are no longer a possibility, I wish I could just stop watching them at this point, its torture!

The writers of this blog have the utmost respect for the police and the battles those who serve and protect fight for the rest of us on a daily basis. That said, those we have little (if any) respect for suburban cops who are almost always hacks who are too stupid or too scared to cut it in the "modern urban crime environment." They don't have any crime to deal with and are instead obsessed with harassing young minorities, those driving cars that stand out, and those coming from the "bar" street. If you are all 3, what is there to be said but, fuggadabout it, you are bound to get a ticket even if you are driving the speed limit and have never had a drink in your life. Most of all, if it wasn't already obvious enough, whether true or not, when you are being stopped and harassed for 25 minutes, never let it drop that you are (or were) employed in the Attorney General's office. The cop in question is more than likely NOT going to see that as a threat, but is going to consider it an invitation to harass and punish you even more. This incident make us really miss being in China where dropping a few names (and a few bills) can get us out of almost any problem...Anyways, in the classic (and very pertinent) words of NWA and Ice Cube, Fuck tha police!

2007/02/21

Bring a Knife to A Fistfight (Or How You Lose to a One Armed Man in a Boxing Match)

Even for a great site like Peking Duck, today was an unusually fruitful day, with a number of solid posts, including this one on the "soft power" battle between the US and China. That post is inspired by a Financial Times article on China's growing "soft power" (definitely read the article if you haven't yet and then you'll have the added bonus of understanding the title of this entry). With the nightmare of the US' war in Iraq and the hatred for President Monkey Brain Bush, I figured that China could surpass the US in favorable ratings. The FT quotes a European survey of 12 countries that still has the US ahead of China 48% to 45% favorable. Having observed opinions of China here in the US, it seems that people are at one end or the other of extreme positions. There is the dreamlike favorable opinion that China is a mystical great place or the still in a dream businessman's opinion that still views China as one big $. Then there are those who still consider China to be "Red China" or who are so concerned about globalization and the loss of jobs or human rights or whatever, but who basically just hate China. Yeah, I saw the "China Haters" post and I don't think the author of that is one of them, but there is definitely a segment of the US population that does hate China.

I think that 90% of those who travel to China and are exposed to what China is today come away with a favorable opinion of the country. They see the changes and while things aren't perfect, there is definitely an effort to make things better. And China doesn't even get full credit for its spread of culture. At the Oscars one of the movies garnering the most nominees is "The Departed," a remake of a Chinese movie from just a few years ago, something that many Americans don't even know. China's doing a lot in Africa and obviously not all of it is just based on charity (like any country). But they have done a lot of good in Africa and they are one of the only countries that is doing anything to help Africa (while admittedly also helping some pretty bad governments).

Leading up to 2008 and definitely during the Olympics, it will be Bejing's (and China as a whole) time to shine. I think that the 2008 Olympics will be amazing and will impress audiences all over the world. I hope that the rest of the world can see both the good and bad of China and will come away agreeing that the good definitely outweighs the bad nowadays.

Sorry for this post, this is why you don't blog when you should be sleeping, I haven't put my thoughts together completely and as professionally as usual, but wanted to get this out there and hopefully some others can help out.

2007/02/20

Entertaimnet Coverage That's All Over the Map

Sun Xiang enters the gameFirst, I wanted to note that history was made today when Sun Xiang (seen above) came on the pitch in the 65th minute of PSV Eindhoven's Champions League game against Arsenal. Sun became the first ever Chinese player to compete in a Champions League game, a great accomplishment.

On a non-China related front, I'm sorry, but if the death of American news hasn't already occurred (probably circa 1994 during the OJ Trial), its happening now. Anna Nicole Smith was famous for having a big chest and marrying (and then divorcing) an old guy. Her death, like all deaths, was a tragedy, but now, almost two weeks after her death, its still garnering headlines on tv news channels. The US is at war and could quite possibly end up starting another war. There is a lot of things going on in the world, the last thing that news media should be talking about is Smith. In a more perfect world, the crimes and death that occur on a daily basis in inner city America would get more coverage. Perhaps this is one of the greatest advantages to being in China and only having CCTV News, you get to miss out on these media created obsessions.

The rapper, Jin, is releasing a new album today, though this one will be entirely in Cantonese. As someone who is Chinese and a big hip hop fan, there's always been the desire to see an Asian rapper make it big. Sure, there's the Mountain Brothers (who almost tasted mainstream success) and Snacky Chan have been holding it down on the hip hop underground for awhile, but nobody really made it mainstream. Then, Jin made it big on BET's Freestyle Friday, got signed by Ruff Ryders and it looked like there was going to be an Asian rapper making bank in the mainstream. His first album, for a variety of reasons (lack of marketing, too many cliches, race(?)), was a bit of a disaster and led him to being dropped by his label. I lost a little love for him with his Uncle Tomish lyrics from that album, though he came back stronger in his independently released 2nd album. It feels a bit disappointing that his latest album is Cantonese, but its good to see he's getting at least a bit of press pub, you can view the article or check out the podcast.

In what has become an annual tradition, Hu Jintao visits "the people," this year traveling to Gansu Province.

Finally, Time's China blog offers a witty (and harsh) criticism of CCTV's annual Spring Festival program. I haven't watched this year's show, but the reviews are in from friends and this year the show has hit a new low. As the blog points out, there are so many alternatives nowadays and so the show is losing traction as it has long lost its freshness (or in US terms, it jumped the shark at least 4 years ago). Anyways, its time to either start from scratch and make it "new" again or completely scrap it.

On my way out, here's a clip from back in the day when Jin was hot! He may not be the best at writing rhymes, but "off the top" he's a crazy battle rapper.

2007/02/19

English Soccer Goes Subscription Only in China

The English Premier League (soccer) is considered the world's most popular, most watched sports league. The league consists of players from all over the world and is considered the very best (or at least in the top 3) soccer league in the world. The English game doesn't always match the beauty of Spain or Italy, though (especially when Arsenal is playing) it often does. However, what it does do is offer an unparalleled degree of excitement on a weekly basis. Its season is incomparable to any other sport or soccer league, going from mid-August to mid-May and the league is made up of players from at least 60 different countries.

In China, the EPL stays true to its "most popular" status, despite the number of soccer choices. The commonly stated figure for Chinese EPL viewers is 30 million, though some have claimed the audience to be between 100 to 360 million people in China alone. The 2007 transfer window saw Zheng Zhi (Charlton), China's national team captain, join Li Tie (Sheffield United), Sun Jihai (Manchester City), and Dong Fangzhou (Manchester United) playing in England. A number of English teams have established Chinese websites and attempted to build a fan base in China (most talked about recently was Chelsea's attempt, which in the end resulted in the QPR brawl).

With that said, it seems like now, more than ever before, Chinese fans are ready to enjoy English soccer. However, those fans are in for a rude awakening. Guangdong Provincial Television outbid all comers (including former holders ESPN/Star and CCTV) for the rights to televise EPL games in China. Recently, they've announced that they will show the games on a subscription-only station, Tiansheng TV. The rumored price tag is RMB 188 (US$24 or so), though they've yet to state how many games will be shown each week. To compare, in the US I pay $20 a month for a combination of Setanta and Fox Soccer Channel and get 7-9 matches each week. Will the price tag prevent Chinese fans from watching their favorite players? Many in the US avoid the cost by going to bars to watch the matches, but that isn't really possible in China where people don't usually go out to watch games and, even if they did, the games are televised live, well after midnight in China.

Will Chinese fans go for this subscription policy? Will the subscription only policy force more fans to the internet tv/bittorrent option, which is already very popular? Alternatively, will the policy effectively kill the bittorrent option, since the majority of these torrents come from China? With Chinese fans obsessed with English soccer and English soccer teams obsessed with the Chinese market, its going to be interesting to see how this change effects things (especially in light of the NBA's inroads).

2007/02/18

Sunday Photo Thread

Packed In
Beijing Subway Line 1, Beijing - November 2006

Is MSG really that evil?

I am in love with Fuchsia Dunlop! If I didn't already have a girlfriend, I would search her out. I dream of following in her footsteps and going to Sichuan and spending a few months (or 6 months or a year) studying how to cook real, traditional Sichuan food. Her first cookbook, Land of Plenty, is one of my cookbook bibles and is the reason so much of what I cook now is Sichuan (or Sichuan influenced) food. Her newest book, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, deals with Hunan recipes, using many of Mao's favorites, and is bound to have me start cooking Yunnan food (both can be purchased from Amazon on the right).

So that's my personal ad for her (and if you don't believe me, what about Ruhlman?). That said, she has a very interesting op-ed (found here) in the New York Times just in time for Spring Festival on MSG. Though the myths of MSG evil have long since been debunked (Slate discussed this awhile back), there are still fears in mainstream America about Chinese food and signs or menu notes that the food is "MSG-Free" are always welcome. As Dunlop notes:
Bad Chinese chefs, of course, just use MSG as a substitute for good ingredients and properly made stocks, just as bad American food companies cook up snack foods made from fat and carbohydrates laced with salt and sugar. But top Chinese chefs also use it, to refine and elevate flavors.
The reality is that, properly used, MSG can actually be a good thing. So, as Dunlop concludes, as you go out and sample Chinese food, keep an open mind about the usage of MSG!

2007/02/17

Saturday Photo Thread: Spring Festival Edition

Dumplings
Zhenyang Rd, Shenyang - August 2004

Chinese Beer Taking Over the US?

While many of you are out shopping for your Spring Festival feast, if it is to include alcohol, you may be surprised at the many new options. While my co-author, being a right, honorable Dongbei ren would declare the proper way to toast the new year is with glass after glass of baijiu, for those who dislike the white stuff but still want to drink, the main choice left is beer. See, for whatever reason, there is nothing better with a good Chinese meal than a nice, cold beer. While many we know will be gathering 'round the table and chowing down on hot pot and freshly made dumplings, they'll also be pounding down some beers. A city isn't a real city in China if it doesn't have its own local brew. While around the world the most famous Chinese beer is Qingdao (Tsingtao), its highly debatable what the favorite beer of China is. While I'm not the biggest fan of Qingdao, traveling to the city of Qingdao is an interesting experience that shouldn't be passed up. Beautiful beaches, lovely architecture, and good, fresh beer. One of the most interesting experiences in Qingdao is going down to the local shop where, instead of selling bottles of beer, you grab a plastic bag and fill it up from the factory fresh keg at the door.

Anyways, back on subject, those in the US (and it seems the UK) will be spoiled for choice this year when they go down to their local alcohol emporium. For the longest time, the only Chinese beer available was Qingdao, but recently a number of others have been popping up. Over the summer, I came across Qingdao Draft and SiWu (XiHu, from Hangzhou) in the stores. The fall brought with it the discovery of Beijing's famed Yanjing Beer (pictured below).But most importantly was this winter's discovery of Harbin Beer in the stores. Viewing the green 6 pack holder with HARBIN on the front almost stopped us in our tracks at the store, followed by us buying all the store sold. There are larger bottles available that have a fancy white wrapper around them with some cool circular logos on one side and a beautiful, cursive Harbin on the other side. My co-writer (did I mention he's from the Northeast?) would consider this the only acceptable alternative (or in addition) to paint thinner baijiu. Harbin is imported by Anheuser Busch (who took over the brewery a few years ago) through Harbin Beer Ltd Wuhan (WHAT???), but at least it keeps the Harbin name and the great logo Pictures of the glorious nectar can be found below:


Here's a picture of the Yanjing and Harbin bottles side by side:
Whatever you use to toast the new year, drink responsibly and have fun!

Happy Chinese New Year!


With the coming of Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year), not only does the world's largest movement of people take place as Chinese from all over the country take planes, trains, and automobiles to get home to their families. I can't speak for my fellow writer of this blog, but having been away from China during the Spring Festival period for so long, there is a certain longing that I feel at this time every year. Despite the cold of a northeast winter there was always a feeling of warmth as the family would gather round, make dumplings, and watch the CCTV Spring Festival program.

More recently, there are the memories of cold winters in a midwestern "small town" where, again, it was about gathering with friends and making dumplings, sharing in our happiness to be together, but sadness for the many relatives who were so far away. There would be a party put on by the Chinese student's association which was always a great event, a chance to see "friends" in different departments that you'd only see a few times each year, but kind smiles and friendly greetings would always be exchanged at the party. Then, someone would somehow have a copy of the CCTV Spring Fest program and it would make its rounds throughout the community.

Nowadays, with the internet and bittorrent, its a lot easier to see the program, but many don't bother because they'd argue the quality of the show has gone down over the past few years.

So however you intend on enjoying this Spring Festival, we just want to wish everyone out there a very happy new year!

I'll leave you with this from youtube, Zhao Wei from a Spring Fest show a few years back:

2007/02/16

Chinese Glory in 2008?

A few days ago on the great China Rises blog, there was this post about how the Chinese team has been steadily improving its gold medal haul while at the same time the US' take has been on the decline. Its not really a surprising trend considering the amount of money China has put into developing its sports and the ever improving quality of the coaching/training methods that the Chinese have been implementing.

China's ultimate goal is to be dominant in 2008 and finally be the overall medals winner and I'm sure no expense is being spared to achieve that goal. However, the problem will forever be their failure at the "big ball" sports (ie soccer, basketball, and to a lesser extent, volleyball). It was in thinking about this issue that I cam across this article from Sports Illustrated titled "Spawned by Yao, China's Next Basketball Generation is Taking Shape." Granted, for those "in the know" this article is your traditional filler that could be written by anybody at anytime since Yao came to the NBA, but its pertinence to the topic at hand is what inspired me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the NBA is as popular as ever, more Yao-inspired Chinese youth are playing the game than ever before, and the quality of the game is rising. Then there's this quote from someone who runs an important US basketball camp:
"China is where Europe was 20-30 years ago, but it's only going to take China 10 years to catch up,'' O'Neil said. "After the 2008 Olympics you are going to see a lot of players going to the NBA.''

So China's not there yet but improving at an unbelievable pace, sound familiar? The basketball team has shown dominance in Asia, but little promise beyond. Outside of the NBA players, the rest of the team can't really hack it and are focused on the more Euro-style focus on shooting (and in China that often means outside shots) rather than the street style, take it to the hole game of the NBA. So its the typical "China lacks toughness" argument. Perhaps the basketball team can be taught toughness from the soccer team (read my post "Aftermath of a Fight" if you don't know what I'm referring to). As for the soccer team, that's another story. As this is already lengthy, perhaps I should save the whole argument for another time, but what it boils down to is simple. In "small ball" sports that China does well in (ie badminton, ping pong, gymnastics), these are individual sports where, with China's size, its bound to produce enough decent atheletes. However, the "big ball" sports require producing a lot more atheletes and are equal parts teamwork and individual skill. Producing one Yao Ming is great, but 5 above average players would be even better. The problem is that with China's emphasis on education, many of the kids who may love soccer or basketball get discouraged from playing them on a competitive level if they don't show enough promise at a very young age (say 8 or 9). Okay, I'm not doing justice to the complete argument, but I just have to say I hope this changes soon so that China can finally find a higher degree of success in basketball and, especially, soccer.

Looking for a laugh? Check out this post from Granite Studio on apartment hunting in Beijing for a bit of a laugh (sorry that it has to come at Granite's expense) and a great example of a classic "China moment."

2007/02/14

The "Greening" of China?

I'm sure this (Why is a Barren Chinese Mountain Being Painted Green?") is going to make the rounds of the China blogsphere, but its too good to pass up, so I'm going to post it. The artilcle is titled, " It also includes this great nugget:
Others speculated that it was an unusual attempt at "greening" the area in keeping with calls for more attention to environmental protection.
Hmm...I wonder if this is strategy is going to be implemented by Beijing in their quest to host a "Green" Olympics?

In other news, I saw this article ("China Regulates to Help Disabled Find Jobs") and found it interesting, but its sort of a "I'll believe it when I see it" situation. My skepticism is focused on two main parts, first:
The regulation also requires government departments to create more job opportunities to the disabled and better protect their legal rights.

The other being:
The regulation also encourages non-government organizations and individuals to offer assistance to the handicapped.
China's laws are wonderfully liberal in theory, but in practice, they leave a lot to be desired and this is definitely the case when it comes to protecting the "legal rights" of the disabled. The reality is that with so many people currently unemployed, the government isn't ready to stringently protect the rights of the disabled to work and so those who make something of themselves do so entirely on the basis of a bit of luck, their own skill, and sheer will in the face of horrible odds. As to the second part, while it sounds good to let NGO's and individuals get involved, the reality is that the government keeps them in check and prevents them from being able to do very much. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think this will change very much...

Hate It or Love It: Valentine's Day Edition

From the start, one of the the weekly features I hoped to create for this blog was an mp3 post every Wednesday. This being the first week that things have really got up and running, I figured today was perfect for the inaugural mp3 post. My original intention was to start with Cui Jian, for a discussion of Chinese music isn't complete without paying tribute to the Godfather. However, today being Valentine's Day and Lao Cui's music being what it is, I decided to hold off for another week on that one.

For those in love:
陈明 - 爱情的原因 : Chen Ming - Love's Reason
I really like this song, its one of the few I'd dare attempt a karaoke, and for whatever reason, every time I hear it, I think it has a sort of "Dirty Dancing" quality to it. If this was on that soundtrack, it would not seem inappropriate.

For those who don't like the day or are angry about their current love status:
张震岳 - 走到底

For those who go for the sadder songs:
迪克牛仔 - 有多少爱可以重来
another classic song, another one of my favorites...

and finally, though it has nothing to do with Valentine's Day, here's the classic Spring Festival song:
陈红 - 常回家看看 : Chen Hong - Come Home Often


ps: Just want to wish everyone out there a Happy Valentine's Day and I hope you enjoy this first effort. If there are any problems listening to the songs, please tell me, I hope this works.

2007/02/13

MLS vs. NHL

Being a fan of both the NHL and the MLS, so when I saw the title ("NHL Should Take Lessons From MLS") of this post on Off Wing Opinion, I was surprised. The post focuses on how the NHL refusal to break up the division-centric schedule that it now has prevents a lot of the league's biggest stars from being seen. The MLS, on the other hand, has guaranteed that their main attraction, David Beckham, will be seen in every MLS city and for those who can't attend, almost all his games will be televised. As a Blackhawks fan, I know how true this is as neither of the league's two biggest stars, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, will be making an appearance at the United Center this season. While it makes it easier for me not having to see Ovie making an appearance on the west side (I love the Caps, a Hawks vs. Capitals Stanley Cup (I know how absolutely, totally unimaginable this is) would probably kill me), for your average fan in Chicago the decision to go or not to go to the UC is based just as much (if not more) on the opposition as it is on a desire to see the Hawks.

Anyways, the reason why I found the title so surprising is because fans of the MLS have long set their sights on the NHL, believing that with good marketing and more access to fans, the league could surpass the post-lockout "new" NHL. In a market like Chicago, there is very close competition between Fire (MLS) and Blackhawks attendance figures. Of course there is also the issue of TV deals: for the first time in the league's history, the MLS is getting paid for their TV rights and their games will be featured on ESPN2, while the NHL is stuck on the Outdoor Life Network Versus, a channel many people don't even know they have. Also, some of the NHL TV matchups seem a bit unusual like the Hawks and Columbus this past weekend on NBC or Philly and Boston next week on Versus (I shouldn't complain because Ovie and Sid the Kid will be on NBC this weekend, a great choice). While those other picks seem to be focused on local rivalries that are definitely worth promoting, when none of those teams are in the playoff picture right now, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Perhaps if I left Chicago more and saw how the league is in other cities I could experience the renaissance of the "new" NHL that I've heard so much about. The NHL's commercials (examples of the two newest (both are VERY funny) can be found here and here) are far, far better than the MLS' marketing campaign from last season focused on "Embracing the Colors" (an example can be found here). Also, though Becks is a world famous player, he's nearing the end of his career, while the NHL superstars are all young, most of them are barely old enough to drink legally (or, like Crosby, still can't drink). The NHL is the elite league in the world, where all the stars want to come and play, but the MLS only serves as a take off point for young American stars before they go off to bigger and better things in Europe. Even the Chicago market can be saved with a decent free agent pickup or two and finally putting out a winning team.

On the subject of free agent pickups, rumors have floated around that Dale Tallon may be on the hot seat. I have a soft spot for Tallon, having listened to him alongside longtime partner Pat Foley for so long and I believe he's done a pretty good job. The ultimate sign of how capable Tallon is will be what he does in the leadup to the trade deadline. I'd be more than happy to see Aucoin leave Chicago, I still can't understand how he got the Captain's C without having ever played for the Hawks. Getting rid of Cullimore would be fantastic, too, even if we only get a pair of skates and a stick in return for him (neither are things he used very well anyways) as his mistakes have cost us more than a few games this year.

Speaking of Chicago's losing ways, it appears that once again there's no hope the Hawks can make the playoffs, as things stand today, the Hawks sit 15 points behind 8th place, having played a game less than the 8th place team du jour, Minnesota. I've been a Hawks fan for most of my life and the past 15 years it has not been a good relationship. My devotion for the Caps doesn't go back as far as the devotion to the Hawks, but it has been equally frustrating. Therefore, when I saw this post by Caps Chick, I could feel her frustration, for all you sports lovers out there, its the perfect (almost) Valentine's Day post to a team that once again is breaking your heart.

Tomorrow night the Hawks are away at Pittsburgh, so it will be a rare opportunity for Hawks fans to see Sid and hopefully their success on this roadtrip will continue.

Only in Asia Experiences....

I saw this post on the excellent Seoul Life blog and really enjoyed it. First, it has to be great to have a boss who advises you to go home and have a few shots of whiskey as a cure for a cold. That's much better than the traditional Chinese solution, ginger boiled in sugar water (or the more modern version, ginger boiled in Coke).

Now perhaps I've been out in the suburbs for too long (like this guy), but the kind of strange moments that Seoul Life describes (even beyond the whiskey cure) just don't seem to happen in the United States. Weird conversations with strangers, headache inducing annoyances, and insane traffic jams are just shrugged off as part of the experience.

Beyond that, despite the stereotypes of Asian drinking in the US, there is definitely a unique and important drinking culture in Asia. In Korea and China, alcoholism is definitely a societal problem that, too often, is ignored. In these countries (in the Chinese case, its mainly in Dongbei), drinking is a test of one's manhood and a sense of personal pride. I remember that during my days as a law student, a Korean LLM classmate's biography on his law firm's webpage included that he was "pound for pound the top drinker in the country." Hmm...why do I see that being discouraged in the US?

So is it just me? Do these things happen in the US too? Have any good stories of "Asia moments'? Do share!

Dirty Underbelly of the Expat Dating Scene Exposed

Everyone loves juicy (or trashy depending on your point of view) gossip, and that's why a blog like Perez Hilton is so popular. Well, the China expat community is now blessed with a gossipy blog telling almost humerous, but more often nightmarish tales of women trying to find good men amongst the expat community.

The one entry that hit home for me the most came from a reader submission:
Oh - and to the 50+ something geezer who physically hauled my friend (25 yr old law graduate) on to the dance floor at Alfa, against her continuing protestations, so that I actually had to push you away from her so she could go back to her table, at which time you smirked at me and said, "Oh, is that not allowed?": NOT ALL CHINESE GIRLS ARE PROSTITUTES, YOU PATHETIC LOSER!! Go back to the all-service massage parlour where at least the girls get paid to put up with you!

The gist of this story is something that I've unfortunately witnessed too many times. When friends from the US, or even other parts of China, visit Beijing, more often than not they will ask about a visit to Sanlitun. I try to lead them away from this mistake, suggesting the Shichahai area or even making the long (for me) trip out east to NvRen Jie or DaShanZi. Unfortunately, sometimes the name Sanlitun presents too much appeal for them, and despite warnings, makes a trip to this hotbed of vice necessary.

Ultimately, what happens when my girlfriend joins us or one of these friends happens to be Chinese is a night spent dealing with (typically) ugly, (typically) way too old, and (typically) way too stupid foreign guys. First, it begins with the looks. Then, god forbid the girl, for whatever reason, ends up finding herself without the guys in the group around her, the wolves approach. When that happens, even if the girl speaks fluent English, for whatever reason these idiotic disgraces to the male race will pretend they can't understand her. Even if it doesn't get to this point, it is still so frustrating to see how these guys look at these smart (grad students, lawyers, doctors, etc) Chinese women and just think that if they are in Sanlitun, they aren't there just to have fun and drink with friends, but are prostitutes. After my last visit, I swore to myself that I wouldn't visit the bar scene there again and so far I've upheld that.

And mentioning the massage parlour brings back all the stories I've heard from innocent blind massuers who end up with a drunken foreigner who for whatever reason believes that all massage parlours are "full service" and ends up inappropriately throwing himself at a blind girl.

To the women who write that site, the guys of Modern Lei Feng support you and your cause.

2007/02/12

January Book Review

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Hopefully, this is to become a monthly feature, renewing a (brief) tradition from the old xanga blog. I fear that next month I'm not going to have very many books to talk about because I haven't been doing too much reading (and I actually still have 50 or so pages of the MacFarquhar book). I'll start out by talking about the Mamet book, Wicked Son, because that is the only one that doesn't fit into any of the other categories. It was a good quick read that hit home, but in a lot of ways doesn't really apply to me, so let's move on...

Category 1 - Politics
The political books were all written by prominent Democrats and were all pretty much the same thing written by 5 different authors (2 of the books had 2 authors) to make 3 times the money. The Democrats need to win back the social issues, blah, they need to regain their image of being strong on national security, blah, they need to work to reunite the country, blah. Okay, I don't mean to downplay these things, they are all crucial points, but I think after reading them over and over and over again, I slowly lost how these are important commentaries on the direction of our country and instead saw them as an oversimplified picture being sold to those outside of the much talked about "gang of 500" who dream of being "players" in that "gang" and so buy such books. Fortunately, I have a great library at hand so I didn't have to pay for any of these books. As I said, many of the points are very valid and fortunately the Dems were willing to implement a lot of them and win back Congress this past year, but things may start to come apart again in late 2007 as the primary bulldogs sink their teeth into each other.

Category 2 - Cookbooks
Once you've read one Jamie Oliver book, you sort of know what to expect, but I like his recipes because they are pretty simple, usually turn out good, and the books/recipes are well written. The Asian Grill and The Irish Pub books were good for some ideas and possible alternatives to certain recipes, but the Asian recipes are closer to fusion and if you're looking for an Irish cookbook, I'd recommend one of the Paul and Jeanne Rankin books (though, admittedly those are more focused on "new" Irish cuisine). Now, Dok Suni is like a new bible for me. I love Korean food and for whatever reason, I've always had the impression that its so much easier to prepare than Chinese food, and Dok Suni made it seem even simpler than I'd imagined. It has all of my favorite dishes and for the most part, the recipes are good at creating authentic Korean flavors. The problem is that some of the recipes seem to leave some things out and so unless you have a Korean mother (or Korean friend or another Korean cookbook at hand), its definitely a process of trial and error before perfecting it, but isn't that what cooking is anyway? Then again, if you're struggling, there is always the website, My Korean Kitchen, which has never let me down.

Category 3 - CHINA
I know, I know, what you've all been waiting for, right? Over the years, I've read what feels like almost every book out there on China and so its hard to find new ones that I like, but this month I've been a bit surprised. The book on Li Lisan, Before Mao, almost lived up to the drama and romance that the dust cover promised. A google search for Li Lisan turns up around 15,000 hits, though it appears many are connected to this book while a search for Mao Zedong turns up over a million hits. Inside China, Li's far from a well known figure, despite the extent of his work and dedication to the Communist cause. I only heard a little about him from grandparents and relatives that had a vague memory of him from his days in Dongbei. This is sad at almost every turn and, in that sense, sort of reminded me of the movie, "To Live."

Chinese Lessons, by John Pomfret, was an interesting romp through China's history, touching on everything from the Cultural Revolution (through the stories of his classmates) to the reform and changes of the early 80s (when he first arrived in Nanjing), to Tiananmen (where he was a reporter), to the changes of the 90s (through the stories of his classmates), up to the present including, for good measure, F---- Gong (with his return as a reporter). I am convinced a "popular" book can't be published on China in the West if it doesn't talk about the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen, or F--- Gong, and this one hit on all three. In doing so, however, it offers an interesting look at the country for those who are just getting to know China. For those "old China hands," there isn't very much, but it can be interesting to notice the same "types" of people that Pomfret talks about (the lovable loser, the person who keeps on fighting in the face of adversity and finds happiness in the end, the ethically challenged with a desire to reach the top) amongst one's friends and colleagues.

MacFarquhar's book, Mao's Last Revolution, is not something that the average person would want to pick up. Unless you have an intense interest in the Cultural Revolution, have a lot of time on your hands, and/or are a scholar, there's no reason for you to start reading this 462 page monster (609 if you include the notes). I guess its interesting to see things through the eyes of the Party (the authors focus more on the leadership than anything) instead of the common people, which is typically what you see in the Cultural Revolution memoirs published in the US. Then again, most of the leaders suffered equally (or worse) than those "common people." It also shows how out of control things were around the nation, instead of those other books which can only focus on the area where that person was, and how little control the central government had over things.


So out of all the books I've read this much, my main recommendations are for Dok Suni if you like to cook and want to learn about Korean food and Before Mao, a great nonfiction story that almost reads like fiction about love of a principle and love of a woman. If you're looking for an introduction to China, pick up Chinese Lessons, but otherwise you may want to consider something else.

Walk Away From Me My Love...

demolition of Wulihe
cloud of smoke
nothing leftI just came across these pictures of the demolition of Wulihe Stadium in Shenyang, which occured this afternoon. Many Chinese, especially soccer fans, will never forget the name "Wulihe," because it is where, in October 2001, China ended a 44 year drought and for the first (and so far only) time in history qualified for the World Cup. The play of "Milu's army" along with the excellent support of the Dongbei fans was truly something special.

I'd visited Wulihe a number of times and on the last visit, I was pretty shocked at how far it had detiorated. No ticket offices, no concession stands, and worst of all, NO LIGHTBULBS IN THE MEN'S BATHROOM!!! With Shenyang hoping to host some of the 2008 Olympic events, Wulihe was slated to be renovated, but the decision was ultimately made to destroy it and build a new stadium in its place. Much like when Chicago faced the destruction of Chicago Stadium and Old Comiskey, Wulihe was a total dump, but its a place that holds so many good memories and so its hard to part with...

Some personal pictures:

inside Wulihe Stadium
I Love Shenyangyes indeed, I Love You, Shenyang!

UPDATE: this from Li Tie's blog (one of the players who was on the pitch during those fateful Qualifying games in 2001) on Wulihe's demolition. A quick translation of what he said: I knew this day was coming for some time, but now that its here I still feel a bit uncomfortable. Wulihe is a place where I accomplished a dream of mine, it is a place that has offered me much happiness, one that I will never forget. I don't know what will become of this place in the future. If this lucky place could be turned into an apartment complex that would be great, I could buy an apartment and live here. Its interesting to think about.

Sad Times for 798?

That's Beijing's blog featured an article yesterday about the current flare up between Huang Rui, the founder of 798 Space Gallery at the Dashanzi Art District, and the property owners of the district. Rumors of the demise of Dashanzi at the hands of the city government have been commonplace for a number of years now, but its still going strong. I made my first visit to the area shortly after Huang opened up his gallery in 2002 and since then, try to go there on a regular basis, despite the annoyance of traveling there (since I live on the west side of the city). I love going mid afternoon during the week, when the galleries are empty and I can browse (and take pictures) in peace. If you live in Beijing and haven't been yet, you should definitely make the trip. If you're visiting Beijing for a week or more and have even a passing interest in art or history, I'd definitely advise going. For art lovers, there isn't a better place to see so many different galleries and for history buffs, the galleries are located in a former secret military factory complex where many Cultural Revolution era slogans can still be found on the walls. Its a great little halfday journey to get away from the city center. Like many things in Beijing, who knows what will become of it in a year or two (or even 6 months). Changes to the area have slowly become obvious and who knows what will happen once Huang (and potentially others) are kicked out. Even if the owners of the area, Seven Star Property, don't make mass changes, the Beijing city government's plans for Dashanzi could spell disaster for the area. Hopefully, the end of 798 Space doesn't spell the beginning of the end for one of the last truly unique Beijing experiences.

How to get to 798:
by taxi - tell the driver you want to go to DaShanZi (大山子), JiuXianQiao Lu (酒仙桥路) and stop at the 2nd pedestrian bridge on JiuXianQiao Lu and head down alley Number 2 or 4.
by bus - this is probably the best way, go to the Dongzhimen subway stop and take buses 401,420,405,909,955,991,or 988 (all are within walking distance of the stop) to the DaShanZi (大山子) stop.

Once you get there:
There are a number of great galleries, a few nice cafes to sit and rest, some restaurants, and even a popular nightclub. Stop in Timezone 8 to check out the large collection of art books and to purchase a map of the area.

some old photos:

I don't know why, but the above photo has always been a favorite of mine

inside one of the galleries
Kobe graffiti wall
The Kobe graffiti wall, the first time I saw it I was dumbstruck, this seems far more appropriate in LA than in Beijing!


2007/02/11

Obama '08







Doors opened at 3:30 pm, but Barack didn't go on until around 5:45 pm. The "opening acts" were Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Congressman Luis Guitteriez, State Senator Emil Jones and a female UIC student. There were many others in the crowd, if you notice to the right of where Schakowsky is standing on the stage, in the sport coat and blue sweater, is Sen. Durbin. Schakowsky was introducing many of those in the audience and when she came to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, the boos were almost deafening. Most definitely the loudest moment of the night.

Obama was up there for awhile, though he was interrupted at one point when he mentioned Iraq by a group of people chanting something like "Cut the funds, bring our soldiers home" and at another point "no justice, no peace", they caused enough of a ruccus that they were ultimately lead out by Chicago's finest. A packed and energetic house today, Obama's the man, let's see what comes from this.

Sunday Photo Thread

Daley Plaza, Chicago - August 2006

should be some pictures from Obama's announcement to run for President in the evening...

2007/02/10

Saturday Photo Thread

Xiao Xi Tian, Beijing - November 2006
admittedly it requires a bit of cropping...

2007/02/09

Aftermath of a Fight

China soccer is finally being talked about all over Europe and around the blogosphere, unfortunately (as usual), its not being talked about due to positive things. The Chinese Olympic team (the U-23's) were sent to England to train and learn from Chelsea and a few other London squads. After a game against Chelsea reserves which was broadcast live over the internet in which there were some pretty contentious incidents and some hard tackling, its been rumored that the Chinese players were warned before a match against QPR reserves. For the best summary of events, check out the news stories posted by ESWN in the big brawl part 1 and part 2.

QPR is a team in the English Championship and is struggling to stay up at that level, they are a physical team, playing English soccer, one of the more physical brands of soccer. Now anyone whose seen a Chinese Super League games knows that the Chinese players don't shy away from a bit of the rough stuff, the league and by extension the Chinese National team, is known as one of the more physical teams in Asia. There is very little footage of the game, but the reports I've read, the majority coming from Chinese reporters, tend to portray it as QPR having played very physical all game long with some harsh tackles and not the friendliest of language, but that's to be expected. After one particularly violent tackle, this became the scene:


I am a huge Chinese soccer fan, but I think the Chinese players are as deserving of the blame as the QPR players, especially considering it was Gao Lin that threw the first punch, no matter the factors that led to it. Further, the youtube video linked above shows one Chinese player chasing down a QPR player away from the main scene and 4 or 5 Chinese players circling a QPR player and offering flying karate kicks. On the lighter side, the fighting style of the Chinese players was pretty pathetic and very embarassing, no wonder non-Asians think all Asians know kung fu.

I've seen bloggers and posters on bbs' calling the QPR players "barbarians" and that goes too far. That is such a loaded word that needs to be avoided. I'm not a QPR fan and could care less about the situation from their standpoint, their players and trainers deserve to be punished and I'm sure the club or the English FA will punish them. My concern is with the Chinese players, especially Gao Lin, who couldn't control his temper and made these mistakes when he was representing his nation, not just himself or a club. I hope the Chinese FA comes down with a harsh punishment against him, at the very least not letting him play for any of the national squads for an extended period of time. For the rest of the players, there should be a monetary fine alongside some forced community service, which would have the added benefit of helping to promote the domestic league by getting these young stars in touch with the fans who pay to watch them. Whether it be helping out in the community or simply doing clinics for younger players (hey, in connection to my previous post, why don't they help out with the blind soccer teams at the local school for the blind in each of their cities?), they should be forced to do something.

What happened is inexcusable and extremely embarassing for all Chinese fans. The total lack of discipline shown on the field hopefully doesn't represent the future of Chinese soccer, because after all these years of inept play, we're deserving of a strong team. I find it wholly unsurprising that the "angry young people" that ESWN refers to came to the defense of these players, this lack of class and discipline is pandemic of the "one child" generation in China.

Blind Leading the Blind

When I first saw a story that Beijing was opening up its first "dark" restaurant, I thought it was interesting that this phenomenon had made its way to Beijing, having originated in Europe and moving over to the United States. Here you can find a China Daily article on this restaurant. For those that are unaware of this new "trend" in restaurants is that it was started in Switzerland by an organization for the blind. The majority of them (if not all of them) are staffed by blind or partially sighted waiters, which, if you're going to have people navigating a space in darkness, makes perfect sense. The dining experience gives sighted people a taste (pardon, the pun) of what being blind is like (though I personally don't think these briefest of brief simulations do much to enlighten the sighted, again, bad pun), forces them to experience a meal through their other senses and focus on the taste of the food more than anything, and gives them the chance to interact with friends and strangers at their table in a new way. It also, of course, gives the diners the chance to interact with blind people, which is probably not something they do on a daily basis.

Then the Beijing version opened up just last month and instead of having blind waiters it had:



Yep, instead of having blind waiters, the restaurant spent who-knows-how-much on night vision goggles for all the servers. In a country where the blind, as well as other disabled people, face unbelievable discrimination in their daily life, education, and jobs, this would be the perfect opportunity to give the blind a chance, especially considering there are plans to open 9 more of these restaurants in China. Why didn't the CDPF get in on this? It's a win-win situation, no? The blind, who are otherwise given the choice between jobs as masseurs or piano tuners, if they can find work at all, could be employed. The restaurant would save money on those silly night vision goggles. The diners would have the chance to interact with blind people and hopefully come away with a better understanding of blind people.

I'm not sure about the US versions of the restaurant, but I know the London, Paris, and Switzerland version are all closely connected to local organizations for the blind and some of the money goes to the organization. In China, there is no connection between the restaurant and any disabled charities. However, to the restaurants advantage, I will say that they stated that they are considering hiring blind people to work at the restaurant, though they are concerned about the time it will take to train them. What? Let them walk through the restaurants a few times, carry a tray and plates, and there you go, how hard can this be?

Beyond that, for those I know who've experienced these restaurants in Paris and London, they talk about how the loss of inhibition is one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of going to one of these restaurants. In Beijing, you can't really have that, because the waiters are wearing their night vision goggles. This is from an earlier China Daily article on the restaurant (sorry, can't find the link), "Eating this dish requires each sightless couple to place a deep-fried apple ring on a deep-fried apple stick before feeding the rings to each other, much to the amusement of the servers who watch the spectacle using night-vision goggles." Kind of hard to get into the experience when you know the waiters are watching and laughing at you the whole time, that whole idea seems kind of creepy to me, sort of a peep show.

Once again its sad that an opportunity to connect blind and sighted people was passed up. It's just a tiny drop in the bucket in a country and society where the disabled are ignored to the point of becoming invisible. Out of curiosity, has anyone out there eaten at the Beijing restaurant? How was the experience?

UPDATE: 黑眼睛 posted an interesting discussion on these restaurants that came from a QQ Group called "盲友之家" which can be found here(sorry, its inChinese only though I may translate some of the relevant parts). Also, hereis Shanghaiist on the restaurant, including some news footage.

2007/02/08

One Night in Beijing, Part Two

What got me thinking about the post that was "Part One" was a trip to a friend's home in Fatou. Most foreigners and even a lot of Chinese in Beijing have no idea about this part of the city, which is to the southeast (and part of the hugeness that is Chaoyang District) and just outside the 5th Ring Road. This area was heavily industrial and still is, though more and more people are slowly moving out to this part of the city. Many of the residents either work in the local factories or have been pushed out of the inner city, either literally (due to redevelopment) or figuratively (due to the high prices). But even this area is slowly getting redeveloped as the factories are closing down and apartments are going up. Younger people are moving out to this part of the city because of the cheaper rents and the general quiet, while still being a half hour or so from the much talked about CBD. Plus, with the subway expansion, there will even be stops out there.

This is not "The History of Fatou," but just one bit of experience in the "new" Beijing. A bad experience with a taxi driver involving a roundabout trip down the north and east part of 2nd Ring Road was further inspiration. Buildings that didn't exist or were only getting started in April were up and open to the public in November. Someone who has never been to Beijing looking out the window of that cab would have been amazed that this is what modern Beijing is, while someone who comes back after being away for a few months is shocked that this is what Beijing has turned into.

Most cities have areas that fall to gentrification and/or build up around the outskirts, whereas no part of Beijing, save the Forbidden City/Tiananmen and Zhongnanhai, are safe from the wrecking ball. You would expect an area like Fatou to undergo massive change as the search for cheap real estate goes on simultaneously with factory closings and new transport options opening. What you don't expect is to see these changes in central parts of the city like Dongsi and Qianmen.

These kind of changes, the things that shocked me when I first started noticing them in 1999, are simply par for the course today. A restaurant that used to be a great hotpot place suddenly turns into a coffee shop, if it stays an eatery at all. When amongst friends trying to pick a restaurant (unfortunately at that point, I wasn't aware of dianping) it made it almost impossible. Its a given that certain restaurants are going to be around, but many of them, especially the smaller, local places are often more likely to have closed down than to still be there. I

How do small neighborhood restaurants and shops suddenly turn into huge high rises? What is the impact on a huge populace that has to deal with these changes? This is something that people have come to expect in the West, but these are things that Chinese have only been facing for the past 15 years or so. Today its an amazing experience to take a bus or taxi ride from Fatou and the 5th Ring Road to Guomao and inside the 3rd Ring Road. What happens when its no longer such a surreal experience? And of course, by that time, those currently living in Fatou will be pushed further outside of the city.