Saturday Photo Thread: Early Edition/Final Four Edition

golfwith spring here, hope everyone can get out and golf this weekend, or do whatever they enjoy...The above is the closest I'll probably come to posting a photo of myself here...

I figured with the Final Four being today, I should inculde these:
dc and gtown campus in distancetaken from the Key Bridge, near the Georgetown campus. I have many found memories of running across the bridge and through Gerogetown when it was far from what it is today and when people were still whispering about the Starbucks where "it" happened.

columbus, ohthe same can't be said for the city where OSU is located, boring old Columbus...Over the past few years I've spent more time in Columbus than most wish to in a lifetime. If you're looking for somebody to cheer for, just don't cheer for boring Ohio State (nor should you cheer for Florida because Noah needs to cut his damn hair!).


"Since Most Kids Are Spoiled Today, We Let 'em Have It"

The one comment I get on a regular basis is about my music selection, its too old. I always considered myself a hip, happening individual, but I guess when it comes to Chinese music, I'm like Carlton from the Fresh Prince (complete with goofy dancing). So you want new music, taking a cue from Dilated Peoples, I'm giving it to you...

孙燕姿 - 我怀念的 : Sun Yanzi - I Cherish

I'm not a hater, she does have some good songs, but to me, this isn't one of them, its like all the other songs out there, especially all of her other songs. However, it's the most popular new song according to Baidu.

何洁+黄雅莉 - 花儿开了 : He Jie and Huang Yali - The Flower's Bloom

So I like the optimism of this song and the fact that its spring and so "topical." As a northerner, the fact they sing it as "hua er" instead of the more appropriate "huar" is annoying to me, but what the hell, spring is here, love is in the air, and I'm happy!

周迅 - 伴侣 : Zhou Xun - Partner

I'm a huge fan of Zhou Xun's acting career, though her singing leaves something to be desired. Amongst the "Four Flowers," I think Xu Jinglei is the only one not to have released some kind of music album. Its kind of different, especially her voice, so out of all these, its probably the best.

萧亚轩 - l.o.v.e : Elva Xu - L.O.V.E
This is the classic example of American pop (think Britney Spears) influencing Taiwanese pop music. It's catchy if you listen to it enough I guess, but who actually enjoys this stuff?

黄征 - 春梦 : Huang Zheng - Spring Dream

I needed a song from a guy so I went with this. Not sure what I can say, though it does stay within the theme.

So there you go, new music and even a theme, let's call it "spring love." Do you prefer this or my older choices of good music focusing on a certain singer or theme? Personally, much of this music isn't what I enjoy listening to, but that's what happens when you look at the most popular new music. It caters to such a large swath of the population, otherwise known as teenage high school girls across China, that its simply blah. Not good, not bad, just blah...


Hypocritical Hollywood?

Mia Farrow and her son wrote a scathing attack on China's Darfur policy for the Wall Street Journal and, adhering to my belief on the need for a catchy title they use "Genocide Olympics" (the article can be found here, subscription only).

The IHT did a far better job examining China's policy in Africa a few weeks back, though I can't find the article right now. China's current trade policy in Africa is frought with problems because of its lack of morality. They are willing to trade with anyone and everyone, no matter that nation's domestic politics, as long as they have something China wants and are willing to not recognize Taiwan, China will trade with them. This has led to some embarassing trading partners and situations, including currently trading with the Sudan. China's foreign policy generally lacks "morals" in the western sense because, recognizing China's own domestic situation, they refuse to pressure or influence other nations in their domestic situation. By taking part in the 6 party talks and pushing North Korea, this is probably the most China has done to "push" another country to change its domestic politics.

If you want to defend China, you need to get your shield ready. With less than 500 days until the Olympics, there will only be more attacks on China, its policies, and whether it legitimately has a right to host the Olympics. What the Farrows are doing here is unfair, but we are bound to see a lot more of it. What has the US done in Darfur? What has any country done for them so far? China trades with the Sudan, but that doesn't make the government a Chinese-backed one. There is no UN embargo on trade with the Sudan and the US, UK, and many other nations still trade with it. I don't fully agree with what China is doing, but the focus should be more on one's own country (especially when that country is doing nothing), instead of attacking another country. However, attacking China and its right to host the Olympics is a good way to get an article published instead of attempt to create real discussion in the US on the issue.


Top Chinese Brands 1 - Li Ning

It's not always easy to come up with a post, especially when there isn't that much going on and the ones I'm thinking about haven't been fully formed. Wang Jianshuo has a great look at Shanghai malls today which he beat me to as I was planning on one about Beijing coming up soon.

When you do go to a mall in Beijing or Shanghai or anywhere else in China, you are bound to see this:

which looks surprisingly similar to this:

However, the first logo is indeed unique and belongs to Li Ning. There never appeared to be a case because Li Ning's logo design predates China's "stricter" days of IP/Copyright protection.

Li Ning is founded by the famous Chinese gymnast of the same name who became a national hero after winning 6 medals, including 3 golds, at the 1984 Olympics. After retiring from competition, Li started his sportswear company in 1990 and worked hard to grow the business. With his fame and connections, he was able to turn the company into a major national brand, moving ahead of fellow Chinese competitors. The brand was quickly adopted by the Chinese gymnastics team and was worn by all other Chinese competitors on the medal stand in 1996, 2000, and 2004 (can't confirm '92). Unfortunately, the Chinese Olympic Committee is going with Adidas for the 2008 Olympics.

Over the past few years, Li Ning has changed from battling against Chinese brands like Anta and Kangwei to going head to head with the major international brands like Adidas and Nike in China and has even expanded abroad. The team has sponsored a few other national gymnastics teams and has a deal in place with Sweden and Spain (not sure how much those deals cover). They've also signed Chinese international soccer players like Li Tie, Zhao Junzhe, and Gao Lin to shoe deals. From that, they've expanded into the NBA signing Damon Jones last year and this year their biggest signing so far (in more ways than one), when they got Shaq.

For the most part, their gear is priced below the international competition, but above the Chinese brands. In recent years they've branched out with the creation of a teen's line and a line of golf clothing. A lot of their designs aren't quite ready for prime time, but for the most part, their products are high quality sports wear that would fit in at any gym or sports competition in the US.

As of yet, it doesn't seem like Li Ning has any plans to expand into the US, instead focusing more on continuing its strength in the domestic market and its minor expansion into Europe. A US expansion may be difficult for a number of reasons. A main point of contention would be the name, with growing fears in the US about the trade deficit with China, a Chinese brand with an obviously Chinese (or at least foreign) name may not go over well with Americans. However, those in China are lucky enough to find this brand and can now wear it with pride, knowing a bit more about the brand. In light of the fact Li Ning lost its sponsorship with the Olympic committee, will it start losing its market share inside China or will it continue to offer strong competition to the major foreign sportswear companies?


Don't Look Now, But....

There are only 500 days until August 8th, 2008 and the beginning of the Beijing Olympics. While a number of concerns exist with the running of the games, wholly separate of the Western human rights concerns, so far Beijing is far ahead of previous host, Athens, with building venues and getting ready for the Games. Whereas a year or two ago, official souveniers were hard to come by, nowadays there are stores aplenty, selling anything and everything you could imagine.

My first trip back to Beijing was in 98, so I missed the disappointment that occurred when the city lost the 2000 Olympics to Sydney under very dubious circumstances. However, I was in the city on that faitful Friday the 13th in 2001. While that date is considered very unlucky in the US, in China its considered just another day. But 2001/07/13 wasn't going to be like any other day. Much like a fan of a sports team that leads the pack, but fails in the end, there was the constant feeling of competing emotions, as anticipation and confidence did battle with dread and pessimissm. The announcement wasn't to come until around 11 pm local Beijing time, but there didn't seem to be much of a buildup. After a dinner at a Qianmen restaurant that wasn't THAT Qianmen duck restaurant (or maybe it was), me and some friends headed to nearby Tiananmen Square to find...nothing! It was an absolute shocker that on this day, such an important one, nobody but a few tourists and your usual assortment of plainclothes PSB would be found in the Square. All day long it was if the city of Beijing suddenly was a person with very palpable emotions and the number one emotion was anticipation, yet in the heart of the city there was no people?

Already after 9 pm and yet there was nothing going on in Tiananmen, we made the very regrettable mistake of hopping on the subway at Tiananmen West to check out the festivities at ShiJi Tan, the huge needle point/sundial monument thing that was put up in Beijing leading into the year 2000. For "security" reasons (I can't imagine what those would be), the Military Museum (located right next to ShiJi Tan) subway stop was closed down so we got off at GongZhu Fen and headed toward ShiJi Tan, only to find the road blocked off and a line of police about a block away from ShiJi Tan. We were surronded by a large crowd of regular Beijingers, a cross section of the city, parents with young kids, couples holding hands, old men in their tank tops, shorts, and fans waving. Mixed in with that was the odd foreigner and a number of reporters clutching their notepads and tape recorders.

While a huge swarm of people suddenly appeared in Tiananmen Square, including many performers, we were standing around, listening to music, catching some of the dancers in the distance, and getting updates on the situation from a nearby cop. Then suddenly he made the annoucement, Beijing had won! Moments later, a scream went up at ShiJi Tan, accompanied by music, it was official, the Games were coming to Beijing, they were coming to China. Fireworks started to dot the nights sky, an unbelievable show that never seemed to end.

The end of it, though, is what I will probably remember more than anything. The night's party was starting to wind down, but there were so many people on the streets that getting a cab was impossible. Not that it mattered, because the roads were so backed up that nobody was moving. I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that before. Everyone was suddenly best friends, everyone was being nice, people were hanging out of car windows and sun roofs, and everywhere, everywhere, the Chinese flag was waving proudly, often alongside flags with the beautiful Candidate City logo (here I lament its disappearance). It was a little like the Bulls first NBA Championship victory or IU's victory to get into the Final Four, times 100.

While I hope to be in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and I'm sure it is going to be an amazing time, I will never forget the events of 7/13, such a unique and wild night, now I can only hope for a similar experience for my "other" hometown, Chicago (what an amazing logo!).

There is more I can write about this and make it literary and great, but as usual, its at this point that I'll give up and wait patiently for feedback, and wait, and wait...I went back to my old blog to see what I said about 7/13 in years past and found very little. What I did find was that my blog was truly soccer obsessed, it was highly influenced by hip hop, and The Wire is truly the best, most realistic show on tv (need proof: go here, here, here and here Shieeeeeeeeet!)


Sunday Photo Thread - "O Canada" Edition


bikes in ShanghaiXintiandi, Shanghai - October 2006

bikes in BeijingXidan, Beijing - July 2004

Ignore the title, it's just what's in my head after going to the Hawks game today. In my humble opinion, "Oh, Canada" is behind only the Chinese anthem and just ahead of La Marseillaise and God Save the Queen in the realm of great national anthems.

My "desire" to also be a photoblogger is difficult considering I'm not "in country" right now, so all these pictures are from my "portfolio." Unfortunately, I haven't kept track of what I've previously posted, so if anything has been double posted, you have my sincere apologies.


Saturday Photo Thread

Art : 4 Ways

Mao and Marx
798, Beijing - 2006

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago framesMCA, Chicago - 2007

graffiti artGeorgetown, Washington DC - 2006


Baidu Working With the Blind

Baidu is working together with the China Association of the Blind to create a "barrier-free" service for the blind (hat tip to China Challenges). I am very interested to see what this project, called the "Blind's Lane Program," will turn out to be. While the headline mentions a search engine, Baidu is far more accessible than its competitors like Sina and Sohu and already is very popular among the blind in China. In any case, its nice to see a major Chinese website taking interest in the disabled and helping out.

South Philly to Shanghai

Questlove, Black Thought, Kamal, Hub, Knuckles, and Captain Kirk aka The Legendary Roots Crew are heading to China to play 2 shows (hat tip to That's Beijing blog). While Jay-Z claims he "does not lose," he lost when it came to Chinese censors who gave Jigga his 100th problem (since he's already burdened with 99, get it? get it? okay, too cheesy!). Hopefully The Roots won't face similar programs. The shows will be April 16th in Shanghai and the 17th in Beijing. If you are lucky enough to be in either of those cities, definitely check out these shows. Even if you aren't a hip hop fan, The Roots are amazing performers and you'll come away having gotten your money's worth.

Spanning hip hop, rock, jazz, reggae, The Roots are true showmen. Here's a sample from a BBC performance (I believe?) from a few years back:


Todai Comes to China

The very popular US seafood buffet, Todai, which has locations mainly on the east and west coast of the US, has slowly expanded into Asia, opening up restaurants in Hong Kong and Korea. On a recent visit to the Chicago ('burbs) location, I discovered they are planning to open in Beijing and Shanghai this year (as well as opening a lot more restaurants in Korea).

Todai locations are always huge restaurants, which have an unbelievable variety of food. The main (and only) reason to go is for the sushi, though obviously its not of the highest quality. There is also a hot foods station (most are borderline inedible), a noodle station, and a desser station.

The idea of Todai in China sort of came as a shock. I'm not sure where the Beijing and Shanghai versions will be located or when they'll be opening this year (can anyone on the ground can provide more info?), but wherever it is, the competition is going to be fierce. Each city already has a number of sushi buffets or low priced (at least during lunch), quick sushi options. The prices of Todai is what I think will kill it in China. In Chicago, during the week its $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner (more on the weekends, but they add crab legs and other high end offerings). However, in Hong Kong, the lunch price is the same as the US, but dinner goes up to $31. In Korea it's even worse, lunch is $21, while dinner is $29.

Without them improving their offerings from what is served in the US, I can't imagine paying RMB115 for lunch or RMB200 for dinner at Todai when there are so many alternatives. While it may be able to gain some popularity among the expat community, how will the Chinese take to the idea?

A Dream Worth Dreaming!

The US airline, Jetblue, has recently issued a passenger's "bill of rights" that includes:
  • Travel vouchers will be awarded to fliers with an amount scaled to the time of their delay.
  • Travelers are entitled to a full refund if their flight is canceled within 12 hours of its departure.
  • Passengers are to be deplaned if a flight has been grounded for five hours.

Furthermore, the "much asteemed" Chicago City Council, having tackled the "evils" of foie gras (still bitter about this) are moving on to the "friendly skies" and have put forth a plan to make any airlines who want to fly into Chicago abide by a passenger's bill of rights.

How far are we from having a national passenger's bill of rights passed by Congress? Is it even thinkable in China?

Having flown a lot in China and the US (though not so much in recent years), I can say it is absolute hell to fly domestically in China, far worse than anything in the US. First, when you aren't talking about the "big 3", airports are far from the gleaming facilities they are in the US. Departure times are basically taken as suggestions rather than a schedule. There was a period when I flew to Shenyang on a regular basis and every flight I took out of that airport would start boarding at or after the time the flight was actually scheduled to leave.

The worst, though, has to be flying from Beijing to Hohhot. Now, I absolutely hate flying and would have been more than happy to take the convenient and reasonably priced train, but time constraints forced me to the air. The flight was delayed 8 hours and it got so bad that they actually rounded us passengers up on a bus and took us to an airport restaurant for a meal. During that meal, I heard from passengers who flew the route on a regular basis and they were saying the typical delay was 4-8 hours, though one recently experienced a 12 hour delay after having just flown in from Europe. I'm not sure if things have improved since then (this is a few years ago), but I would still advise taking the train for this route.

Probert School of Hockey

I'm sorry, I saw a post on Mirtle's website today about Bob Probert starting his own hockey school and couldn't resist. While Probert was a decent player when he put his mind to it, probably one of the best playing enforcers and also definitely had great hands for such a big guy
(especially in light of what he usually used them for), most remember just one thing about Probert, his fighting. For much of his career, especially during the late 80s and early to mid 90s, he was the undisputed heavyweight champion fighter in hockey. On top of that, during a number of those years, Probert couldn't play in Canada due to a cocaine conviction on the border. For those who remember those aspects of his career, the mind fairly boggles about what he'd teach the youth of Canada.

These classic tilts with Tie Domi made them both cult heros with their teams and in Chicago and Detroit, you still see Probert jerseys around the arena on a regular basis.


Stupid, Annoying, F%&^*ing QQ!!!

qq penguins

While it is so absolutely uncool to be a young, urban professional in one of China's main cities and still admit to using QQ instead of MSN (despite the fact that a large number of those same individuals in fact DO use QQ), I will come out and admit to using it on a regular basis (when I can actually sign on to it). For those who are unaware of QQ, you must either be outside of China or under a rock, because its by far the most popular chat software in China with huge market penetration, a major place in China's modern culture, and has even led to a spin off clothing line.

Unfortunately, as a Mac user, using QQ is not so easy. Tencent has yet to release a version of QQ that can be used by Mac users. Instead, those who are mac users and still hope to use QQ have a few choses, iQQ, LumaQQ, and Adium. LumaQQ is probably the best choice, though with Adium you can run both QQ and MSN. According to some, if Tencent and Mac teamed up to come out with a QQ version, Apple would instantly become far more popular in China.

For those in China who are Mac users, especially those who have computer problems, you may want to check out this post (as well as the comments) from Danwei, recommending places to go in Beijing, as well as Shenzhen, for fixing a Mac.

Learning Chinese Becoming Too Common? Try Manchu!

In my school days, I remember someone mentioning that a fellow clas was studying Manchu (along with a number of other languages) on his own. These kind of language freaks, for whom learning Chinese isn't enough and so they move on to Mongolian or Tibetan or some other minority languages, were not altogether uncommon at my university considering its relatively strong languages program. Despite being part Manchu, I've never studied (nor ever thought about studying) Manchu. According to wikipedia, out of the 10 million ethnic Manchus, less than 70 can speak Manchu.

For whatever reason, this week the New York Times decided to take notice of this fact and came out with not 1, but 2 articles on the Manchu language. I can see it now, when the writer the article, the editors thought a paid trip up to the middle of nowhere for one article wasn't enough, so the writer put together 2 stories. The stories are "Chinese Village Struggles to Save Dying Language" and "Manchu Language Lives Mostly in Archives." Hmm...What do these articles tell you? It seems that if you are fluent (or close to it) in Chinese and also have a solid grasp of the Manchu written language, you certainly have a longterm job prospect (though don't think the pay would be very good). Granite Studio does a good writeup on the articles (suprisingly one of the few in the China blogsphere who took note of them), but, possibly because I'm less of a romantic, I don't exactly feel sad about the disappearance of the language. Of course, there is a side of me that wants to go out (or at least go on amazon) and buy THE book to study Manchu, but amongst the other Manchu people I know (and in my own thinking), the idea that the language is eventually going to disappear is a foregone conclusion and doesn't make them any less proud in their own identity.

Music of Minorities 1 - Siqin Gerile (斯琴各日乐)

siqin gerileIts hard enough coming up with good content for the blog, but mp3 posts are particularly difficult, especially putting together the content (I know, I know, I should stop whining about it). One subject that I thought might work is minority music, especially those artists who have went mainstream with it. Arguably, this thread started with Cui Jian, as he is ethnically Korean, but we'll kick it off with Gerile, a favorite of mine. Obvious future entries could be Han Hong, Dao Lang, and...well, not sure beyond that. So, on to Siqin Gerile, for those interested here is her webpage and here is the blog...

Gerile is born and raised in Inner Mongolia and (if it wasn't already obvious), she is ethnically Mongolian. Her first album called New Century (新世纪)was released in 2001 to much popular acclaim and led to an appearance on that year's Spring Festival special. I really enjoyed that album, though I haven't really followed her career much since (which has included 2 more album releases). She has a very interesting style, remaking some old school so, using some traditional elements, and throwing in heavy guitar riffs and rock or techno music. Without further adu, the music:

斯琴各日乐 - 山歌好比江春水
斯琴各日乐 - 故乡 : Siqin Gerile - Hometown
斯琴各日乐 - 新世纪 : Siqin Gerile - New Century
斯琴各日乐 - 捍卫 : Siqin Gerile - Defender
斯琴各日乐 - 我自己 : Siqin Gerile - Myself


Guide Dogs in China?

Chinese guide dog user and trainer
The first of China's guide dogs was trained at Dalian Medical University and completed its training during the fall of 2006 (here is a Chinese article about it). Now Shanghai is getting into the act, launching a plan to train guide dogs.

I first discussed the idea of guide dogs in China with the late (and much missed) Xiao Cao, who thought a guide dog would offer optimum independence for getting around, especially in a city without a path for the blind (mang dao, the raised, tactile walkways found on the sidewalks in China). Then again, even in cities where there is a an extensive mang dao, these are often not very safe because of a variety of obsticles that get placed on them.

The reality is that while guide dogs may be extremely helpful for the blind in China, at this point I don't think its the best idea to introduce them. Guide dogs in the US and UK have become a common sight over the years and are allowed total access. There are the occassional stories about a restaurant owner or a cabbie who won't let a dog user in, but these problems are rare and typically get harshly punished.

This, of course, is the crux of the problem. First, to my knowledge, China has no laws to protect guide dog users. While it is great that a dog can give a blind person the confidence to go out and travel on their own, if there is no law protecting them and guaranteeing the dog will be allowed on a bus or in a mall, the dog doesn't really help. Also, even if laws existed, they would need to be fully and properly enforced. Beyond that, at most of the reputable guide dog schools in the US, they require students first to have good (or at least basic) white cane skills down, something that very few Chinese have.

Ahh....just one more law that needs to be changed (or in this case written) in China.

Blogspot Now Blocked?

In "researching" some upcoming blog posts, I checked out Chinalyst this morning only to see posts from some of the prominent China blogs, namely Peking Duck and Danwei, saying that Blogspot is now blocked in China. Great, why couldn't they decide to start this last week when I failed to write anything of substance? Instead, they decide to do this now, when I'm chock full of new content. It appears that only those who are overseas will be stuck with the boredom of my blog posts on sports.

This does bring up a good point, though. With my "potential impending move" to Shenzhen looking more and more likely by the day, is it time to bite the proverbial bullet and pay up for typepad? What, if any, blog hosting service has not been blocked yet (or gets blocked the least) in China?

1 Start, 1 Goal!

Zheng celebrates a goal

Sorry, even more on the sports tip, this past weekend Zheng Zhi got his first start for Charlton and ended up scoring a goal and winning the penalty which led to the other goal. Charlton is still 4 away from moving out of the relegation zone, but more games like this last one from Zheng and the rest of the boys and it could happen. While Zheng doesn't have the honor of being the first Chinese to score (that belongs to Sun Jihai), until Dong can be a regular starter for Manchester United, Zheng is the most likely to keep scoring. Here's the highlight for what turned out to be Sportscenter's Play of the Day:


NCAA Tourney - Weekend 1 Done

To make this somewhat China related, while CUBA is growing in China and certain schools have a decent following and even some TV coverage, most Chinese are amazed at the phenomenon that is college basketball (and college sports in general) in the US. Its unusual to have 20,000 people attending professional sporting events in China, let alone collegiate ones. Plus, the 20,000 who go to a college sports events in the US aren't just "fans," but rabid and obsessed supporters of their teams. The majority of teams that take part in CUBA aren't exactly the best universities in China (though Qinghua has a men's team that is doing well this year, and Beida seems to have a decent women's team). In this respect, much like in the US, universities that nobody from outside the state (or province in China's case) would ever have heard of otherwise can become famous (in certain circles) due to their success in collegiate athletics.

The first weekend of the US' NCAA tournament is done, the week where people spend more time working on their sheets instead of working and illnesses become hyper contagious on Thursday and Friday is past us. I always hate those "talking heads" and columnists who offer their picks for the tournament to assist others, but who typically just pick the 1 or 2 seeds and maybe throw in a 3 or 4 just for kicks. They do so as they don't want to show disrespect to the better teams or piss people off, despite the fact they, like everyone else, know upsets are a given.

Well, surprisingly this year's tournament has deviated from the norm and there have been very few upsets (or close games), making for one of the most boring tournaments in awhile. With IU going down to UCLA because they failed to be able to get the ball in bounds, I guess I'm cheering for Georgetown now. Here's hoping the coming weekend will offer a lot more excitement than this past one!

Making Practice Public

This is NOT a sports blog, though sports is one area that I'm willing to delve into from time to time. If this does appear to be a sports blog this week and you aren't a sports fan, bare with me because they'll be other material, too.

Yesterday at the urging of a friend, I attended the Blackhawks practice, nothing out of the ordinary (like the rumored pushing and shoving between Havlat and Keith the other day) and actually kind of boring. I don't know how much I'd attend practices in the future unless I was paid for it (hint, hint?).

Anyways, it was a bit surprising that a professional sports team would open up their practices to the public. I knew the Caps hold open practices (and if I ever make it to DC, I'll go and make sure my Ovie jersey gets autographed) and so I sort of thought it was common amongst NHL teams, so I sent our research assistant to dig up some findings on the matter.

The teams that were found to host open practices are the (already mentioned) Hawks and Caps, as well as Atlanta, LA, Carolina, St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, Philly, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver. It's a mixture of non-traditional hockey markets and crappy teams. It was a very quick, unscientific review of the websites, I'm not saying the other teams don't hold open practices (the only team that said absolutely that practices were closed was Minnesota). Colorado, Dallas, and Vancouver didn't offer great information, but from digging, it could be found. Tampa Bay has some open practices, though they require a McDonald's receipt if you want to get in. Carolina was the best about practices, including opening up their pregame skates and practices in their actual arena to the public (instead of off day practices at a different facility).

It's not like these practices are stimulating entertainment, but its great for the kids and others who are interested in the team or want to see how the pros do things. Why is it that the NHL is the only professional league in the US with open practices? I guess baseball is kind of open with batting practice (and who would want to watch a baseball "practice"), but football (other than training camp) and basketball are closed. So what makes hockey unique? Is it only another attempt at building a fan base or is there more to it?


Sunday Photo Thread - Blackhawks Love/Hate Edition

Some random pictures taken over the past few days:
The Roots in concert
The Roots in concert, always an unbelievable show and well worth your money, even if you aren't a big fan of hip hop, its still worth it, they transcend any one genre label. Plus, they put on a great set (last nights they were on stage for over 2 hours).

El and Chicago Theatreblurred picture of the classic Chicago Theatre sign and the El station (looking south down State Street)

total bluris it a bad photograph or possibly art?

For whatever reason (probably because I'm part Russian), I've long been a fan of Russian hockey players (Bure, Mogilny, and now Ovie), but I've had an obsession with the obscure Russian players of the Blackhawks (Krivokrasov, Yakubov, and this year, Arkhie).

Koci stretchingFor a man whose career NHL stats look like this:
Games - 4
Goals - 0
Assists - 0
Points - 0
Penalty Minutes - 72
Shots - 0
+/- - -3
David Koci is VERY flexible!

Savy offering intstructionsSavvy surely dropping some wisdom on his young charges

What can I say? One of the only bright spots to this season...


Saturday Photo Thread: GO IU/NCAA Tourney Edition

Despite so many years in B-town, I surprisingly have few pictures, so all I can offer is the one below:

Stairs 1
Chicago : March 2007
Walking into the Light
Chicago : March 2007
Chicago : March 2007


"Spring is Here! Why doesn't My Heart Go Dancing?"

I don't know how the weather is in Beijing right now, but in Chicago we almost reached 80 degrees today. Is it still March??? What is going on? If anybody needs proof of the existence of global warming and isn't scared yet, this should do it for them.

I bemoaned the mild winter which meant my home away from home, the "pond," was actually that for much of the winter. Though during the 2 weeks or so it was actually "winter," I was able to snap the shot below:scenic pond hockeyAnyways, being outside today and especially coming out of the rink tonight and wearing short sleeves, it made me reminisce (cue "Back in the Day") about beautiful spring days in Bloomington and night walks home from the library while thinking about anything and everything (and especially what a young lad's mind turns to during the spring). I love spring (almost as much as I love the fall) as its a time of rejuvination and makes one feel anything is possible. Well, just wanted to share a bit of my hope...

I also wanted to note that while it seemed 12 Months in the Middle Kingdom was taking a break for awhile, he's back and with some great pictures.


February Book Review
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Things have been a bit crazy lately here in Modern Lei Feng land, perhaps there will be some news regarding that soon. We apologize for the lack of content as of late, after this week things will pick up. Here goes...

Will Hutton's book has been written about a lot through the China blogsphere (here's a good summary), but if you're looking for a "starter" book, this one may be even better than Pomfret's "Chinese Lessons." While Hutton's effort covers Chinese history from the very start and leads you through modern times, its written in a style that is less story and more academia. Hutton is willing to concede that Mao wasn't all bad and that communism did a lot of good, though its no longer appropriate for today's China, which is in need of democracy if it hopes to achieve its goals. Whether or not China goes that way, the cooperation that exists between the US and China needs to continue if both sides hope to continue and prosper. I'm not going to offer a long analysis of globalization, but I think there is more than enough evidence of the interdependence of the US and China. A book that's well worth reading if you're looking for an introduction, but again, if you've read a lot on China already, this may not be worth your time.

I first heard about Mark Thomas' book when he appeared on the BBC's show "Start the Week" (a definite must listen, available on iTunes, sorry for those in China who can't access BBC content). Thomas was very entertaining, the idea of a book about international arms sellers was intriguing, and, like any law school student writing a journal note, he knows a good title is necessary. His ("As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela") is great, unfortunately I think my expectations were too high going into it knowing nothing about Thomas. After having read the book, I'd describe Thomas as the British Michael Moore. The book was a very fast read and it was interesting, but I was expecting more of an inside look at the global arms game rather than a story heavy on his own exploits and protests. Worth a read if you're interested in the topic or if you want to be spooked at how lenient US laws are in this area, but not a book I expect most poeple are going to pick up.

The biographies this month were surprisingly similar: both came from outside England to settle in the North, both came from broken homes and dealt with difficult family problems, and both showed promise from a young age. I'd heard a lot about the biography of Ryan Giggs and most people seemed to think it was one of the most forthright biographies of an athelete. I hate Manchester united, but thought Giggs' story may turn out to be interesting, far from it. A mixed race kid growing up in that era in England, you would expect him to offer a lot more than just a paragraph or two. Beyond that, so much of it was heavy on game by game breakdowns rather than actual stories. It was better than what you get from a lot of players, but with all he could have talked about, I was hoping for more.

Ramsay's story is similar to Giggs up until injuries in his late teens killed his soccer career andcaused him to turn to the kitchen. He's a perfectionist who is out to make the best possible food, a truly driven personality, almost too much so. Some of the most interesting material is when he's talking about his drug addicted brother and how those in the rehab clinics saw Ramsay's own addictive personality as a problem. This was a quick read and very interesting, Ramsay did what Giggs didn't and went into a lot of the problems and controversies he faced, the type of things that people are most interested in when reading this sort of biography.

This month was a bit heavy on Gordon Ramsay. Love him or hate him, he's one of the best chefs in the world and definitely the top chef in London. He's a bit old school and his methods may seem to be cruel, but that is what he dealt with coming up. Ramsay's cooking style is sort of hard to explain as he often uses a lot of French techniques, but it also has elements of modern cuisine as well as rustic, traditional UK cooking. None of these books are "chef books" all of them are definitely cookbooks that contain recipes that anyone can turn out without requiring special gadgetry or a high skill level. Some of them require a lot of time and aren't going to be used every night, but even beyond his "Makes it Easy," the other 2 books contain a lot of recipes that could easily be done in a half hour or so.

Alright, that's it for now, hopefully I'll have finished a lot more books by next month...


Sunday Photo Thread - Late, Late Edition

This will be the height of laziness, no title, no date, no comment, no nothing...


Saturday Photo Thread

Leisurely Weekend
Pudong, Shanghai - March 2006

old and new buildingsPast and Present
Pudong, Shanghai - July 2004

kid's artArt
Wuhan - May 2002


Hip Hop China 1 - Gong Fu

zhen gong fu restaurantNo, not that kind of Gongfu (the fighting or the restaurant)...This one:
gongfu album cover
Hip hop China sounds like an oxymoron and, to be honest, it really is. There are a lot of message boards and a ton of people who are talking about hip hop on the web, but very few are actually doing it. Those that are tend to focus on the dancing more than anything, the other 3 elements get tossed by the wayside. Most likely, as with rock music, the Chinese language and hip hop simply don't mix.

Gong Fu, from Tianjin, was one of the first to break out onto the mainstream scene in China with a record called 冲动 (Impulse) a few years back. Yeah, so despite my promises of new music, we're talking about stuff from 2005 or so and not from yesterday. While the state of hip hop in China and my love for hip hop would both make reasonable post topics, those will be saved for another day, let's get right into the music.
功夫 - 日落 : Gongfu - Sunset


Chinese Taxis - Are Smelly Cabs the Least of Your Concerns?

The China blogsphere is a relatively small place and recently a prairie fire of sorts was set off by Imagethief's post on Beijing's smelly cabbies. As one of my goals was to follow the example of Wang Jianshuo and offer advice and insight into Beijing for those who are traveling there or newly arrived, I wanted to write a bit about taxis and an article (to be discussed later) made me think of the subject, the Imagethief discussion added a new element.

For the majority of those coming to China (or even living there), driving in China is not an option. The best bet transportation wise is probably a bicycle, but for a tourist with a brief schedule its not realistic and even for those living there it takes a certain degree of daring. Though, if you are "daring" enough, it can pay off. Not only is it great exercise and will really help you get to know the city and its streets, but it can also save you a ton of time. Think I'm wrong? Well, sit in a cab or on a bus in the late afternoon on any given day on Xidan or Xinjiekou or any other of Beijing's narrower and heavily trafficked streets while I ride by laughing at all you suckers!

Anyways, no matter the situation, a taxi will be a very common means of transportation, however one will need to be careful. The days of waiting patiently for a 1.2 cab while others passed by are now a distant memory as all Beijing taxis are 2 yuan cabs. What that means is that when you first get in the cab and the taxi starts the meter, it is automatically 10 yuan, then after the first 3 km it will be 2 yuan per km. For those that can't speak Chinese, have the hotel or a friend write down your destination on a business card for your hotel, that way you have the hotel's contact information and have something to show a driver when you want to go back.

While it is unusual to have a dishonest driver, there are some precautions that need to be considered. I would advise that you always go by the meter, never let the driver talk you into going off meter. Also, if you feel the driver is doing something wrong, make sure you get a receipt and write down his driver number, which should be promently displayed on the front dash. Most often they will try to rip you off by taking the "long way" to your destination, sometimes this means going a bit out of the way and adding a few yuan to your ride, or it could mean insane detours and added fees. The other possible way is for the driver to have a meter that goes up faster than it should or who wants you to pay extra fees. Then there are extreme situations like one foreigner in Shanghai underwent. If the driver asks you to pay extra fees, ask for a receipt to see those fees. If you have a mobile phone, and feel you are in a bad situation, call your (or any large) hotel and ask them how much the cab fare should be.

Like being ripped off by a cabbie, the problems of foul smelling cabs is a common problem the world over. The only unique thing about it in China (at least if you're coming from the US) is the fact that many drivers will smoke in their cab and may get standoffish if you ask them to put out their cigarette. So much for the customer comes first. Imagethief had a list of areas where he personally thought drivers needed to improve most and 2 of the 4 things on that list were:
  • An increasingly high rate of total unfamiliarity with Beijing's major landmarks. I've had to explain Wangfujing. If London's taxi drivers have "the knowledge", then many of Beijing's taxi drivers only have "the fog".
  • For those who do know the landmarks, a total lack of creativity on how to approach them during peak traffic periods. You'd think that the only roads in Beijing were the ring roads, Chang'an Jie, Dongzhimen, Gongti, and the airport expressway.
The (potential) passenger really has no rights in China. There are many times a driver will reject a passenger or say he doesn't know the destination, even if it is a major one. More often than not, this is simply feigned ignorance to avoid the fare for whatever reason, but I've personally noticed drivers are getting worse and worse when it comes to these two areas.

Despite all these problems and the feeling that so many drivers are just big louts or thugs, they have a heart of gold. Once you crack their tough exterior, they can be extremely friendly and interesting, the kind of person you'd like to have a drink with. For foreigners, its a great way to practice Chinese and hear a real Beijing accent. Maybe most of these drivers went the way of the 1.2 yuan cabs and the new "professionalism" that the taxi companies are striving for, but there are still a few out there.

ps: if you made it this far, I appreciate it, and if you're looking for the mp3 post, sorry, it will be up tomorrow...

Blind Leading the Blind - Shanghai Edition

While Beijing's "dark" restaurant (first discussed here) got skewered by That's Beijing, Shanghai is getting its own dark restaurant. The restaurant in question, called the "Black Cafe", would appear to be Shanghai's first "dark" restaurant. I know articles on the Beijing version mentioned that 10 would eventually be opened up around the country, I think those were the plans of the owner of the Beijing restaurant. That means Shanghai may end up having multiple "dark" restaurants, it seems like this may be an unfortunate growing trend in China. Surprisingly, China Daily has been the only source of news on the restaurant so far, though one would expect a write up in Shanghaiist can't be far behind.

For my money, the one thing that sets this place apart from the one in Beijing is that they've actually hired blind waiters, something I complained about when it came to the Beijing restaurant. The owner even seemed to take a shot at the Beijing version (where waiters wear night vision goggles) with this quote:
"If we had waiters with night-vision goggles, then customers may feel a little uncomfortable floundering in the dark," the former San Francisco resident said. "We want people to really get into their food, to use their fingers even."

It still appears that the Shanghai version has nothing to do with the Disabled Federation and isn't going to be donating any money to causes for the blind. The article, both by the owners quotes and how its written by the author, doesn't avoid the common stereotypes that people have of the blind. Though at least the restaurant has blind waiters, thus offering employment for some blind people.

The concept of the restaurant is very gimmicky and seems like the kind of place where people might go once to try. However, if this place offers the quality that the article suggests it might, people might actually want to come back. The Black Cafe is located at 65 N. Maoming Rd and the phone number is 021-52286575. If anybody in Shanghai has gone, I'd be more than willing to post a review or just your impressions of the restaurant (or if you have your own blog, I'd be willing to link to it).


Re-TROS Redux

After their set last night I had the chance to talk with the guys and gal that make up Re-TROS (or Rebuilding the Rights of Statues) and they were some real cool cats. The band is made up of Hua Dong on vocals and guitar, Liu Min on vocals and bass, and Ma Hui on drums. If you're interested in hearing their music, check out their myspace page or go to Modern Sky's website and check out the free downloads. If you're in the US and looking for more, you'll need to be patient as their first US release will be out in May (through Tag Team Records).

Having not written a formal article/review since my college (and really since high school) days, I was unprepared as a "journalist" and so can't offer any direct quotes, hey, the blog's just getting started, its a bit of a learning curve.

Anyways, what I was most curious about is that they, like a lot of newer bands on the scene in China, used English for all of their songs. The response was that while they tried Chinese at the beginning, the tonal nature of Chinese does not fit their style of music and makes it harder to get the feelings they want expressed to come through, whereas in English its much easier. Also, they are heavily influenced by foreign music and while the generation before them opened things up and gave Chinese "rock" a beginning, its the newer generation that is pushing things forward.

Since they'd only just arrived in the US a few days before, they couldn't offer much of an opinion about the country, however they did say they were surprised by the professionalism of the venues where they'd been so far, including in-depth sound checks before the shows. Part of their motivation for coming to the US, beyond the experience and playing at SXSW, was to take up a new challenge/challenge themselves. They understood the size of the US market and the professionalism that it requires and they hoped they'd be able to meet the challenge.

To them, Beijing was the only city where musicians could make a living solely off of their music. In Shanghai or other cities, musicians often have to work a day job to make ends meet, but with the number of venues for live music in Beijing, it makes it possible to focus solely on the music. However, despite Beijing being the main city for the Chinese rock scene, there tends to be a lack of professionalism, especially as compared to the US.

They put on a great show and have a real interesting sound, make sure to check them out. Below is their first video and a clip from a live performance. Enjoy!

El Bulli at My Fingertips

Ferran Adria
For those that don't know, El Bulli is considered one of the top restaurants in the world. The restaurant, which is closed from October to March, is almost impossible to get into and a dinner there is very expensive. To get a reservation, you must call in mid October for the following year, except if you don't call on the first day or two, you'll be out of luck. The man in the photo above is head chef Ferran Adria, who is credited with the creation of "molecular gastronomy," though it seems he wishes that term would go away.

He has published 5 huge books that are called "general catalogues" and document all the dishes the restaurant had on its menu over a certain period of time. It's not a cookbook as no home kitchen has all the tools needed to prepare his dishes and even if you did, you still couldn't make them. It's more to offer inspiration and get one thinking more about food. These books are insanely expensive (well over US$200) and, thanks to a great library, I finally have my hands on one (at least for a brief period), the 1998-2002 edition. So I'm very, very excited now!

While I've never been lucky enough to sample Adria's food, I did have the opportunity to eat at one of his discpile's restaurants in Washington, DC. Jose Andres has 3 VERY popular restaurants in DC, Zaytinya, Jaleo, and Cafe Atlantico. These places serve simple, true to their respective region cuisine, but the main attraction of the Andres empire is the restaurant within a restaurant, Jose's Minibar inside Cafe Atlantico. The Minibar is where Andres shows off the influence of Adria with an abundance (around 35) of delicious small courses. It's not the kind of food you'd want to eat every night and its not for everyone, but for those interested in something new and totally rethinking what food is, its well worth checking out. My meal at the Minibar is one of the most memorable meals I've ever had in the United States.

And the pictures, as usual. This is food as artwork just as much as it is food as food:

chefs at workThe chefs at work

foie gras cotton candythe famous foie gras cotton candy

meat and potatoesmeat and potatoes: thin slices of top quality steak served on top of a potato foam with a truffle (heavily) scented napkin

lobster americaine Lobster Americaine: You eat the lobster bite off the syringeand then squeeze the soup into your mouth.

(Chinese) R-O-C-K in the USA

Lonely China Day album cover
Every year we're graced by a few Chinese bands in the US who do a tour on their way to a performance at South by Southwest and this year is no different. This year the bands in question are Lonely China Day and Re-TROS (Rebuilding the Rights of Statues).

For those interested, here is their tour schedule:
03/02/07 - Des Moines, IA - Vaudeville Mews
03/03/07 - St. Paul, MN - Turf Club
03/04/07 - Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon
03/05/07 - Chicago, IL - Schubas
03/06/07 - Newport, KY - Southgate House
03/08/07 - New York, NY - The Cake Shop
03/09/07 - Brooklyn, NY - Southpaw
03/10/07 - Richmond, VA - Gallery5
03/11/07 - Boone, NC - Black Cat Burrito
03/12/07 - Columbia, SC - The (art) Garage
03/14-18/07 - Austin, TX - SXSW, venues tba

Living in the hell that is suburbia made me late for the start of the show and I missed Lonely China Day, but Re-TROS did a great set and is definitely worth going to see. In searching them out, it also brought me across the Rock in China blog, well worth checking out!
While these guys are Chinese, don't expect anything like the music I've posted so far, their influences are all European and their songs are in English. I'll have more for you about the show soon

As usual, I'll leave you with some photos, though I must apologize for their quality. Those who've been regular visitors and seen the weekend photo threads and other pictures can probably tell I'm basically a crap photographer who gets lucky from time to time. Tonight, with the added element of the dark setting, was not one such time.

Re-TROS in concert
Lonely China Day in concert