Expat Crap

For the past 10 years or so, I've skimmed through the expat magazines and for the most part, very quickly throw them out. It's like Playboy, you don't get it for the articles, its just for the events listing/restaurant openings (though there are those who believe if you need these mags to find out about restaurant openings, you aren't cool enough).

City Weekend's article on "Turf Wars" this month was equal parts laughable and offensive. It's the kind of "humor" you'd expect from white bread high school students/frat boys who have little or no understanding of the inner city. They also seem to fail to understand very much about expats in China, but that's beside the point.

The article attempted to divide up the entire expat population in Beijing into 5 small categories, a tough prospect, but not so bad. The problem is their appropriation of gang names (Bloodz, Latin Kings) as an attempt to be funny and some strange looking ABC flashing a "gang sign" and attempting to mimic black slang. This is the print equivalent of a frat holding a "player's ball". It is unfortunately the image that too many white Americans, who have never had any contact with African Americans, imagine black culture to be. This is like the dolt who writes the Shanghai nightlife newsletter who refused to actually call Shanghai "Shanghai" and instead wanted to come up with some kind of "hip hop" term to refer to it as. Please!

You could do a funny article on the (lack of) diversity among US/Canadian/Aussie expats (beyond that, it gets dicey) without the usage of that language, which makes it offensive and downright stupid. Anyways, I'm not a fan of the expat rags to begin with, with the possible exception of Time Out and again, the main thing is the event listings. For everything else, the expat magazines only seem to serve a community of expats who don't know any Chinese people and only hang around with other expats.

Rant over.


100 Days, 100 Restaurants: Pizza in China, All Styles But Chicago

The best pie in Beijing debate typically comes down to 2 places, Kro's Nest and The Tree. While there are many other options around the city, these two consistently are what pizza lovers desire.

Kro's Nest prides itself on its New York style pizza. I'm not a New Yorker and I've never been a fan of New York pizza and thus, I don't love Kro's. The slices are large and the choices are diverse, but while these pies are good, they don't match up to some of the other offerings around the city. Perhaps I'm too hard wired for Chicago pizza, but the crust on these pizzas doesn't do it for me. The pizzas are overloaded with toppings, a good thing until you realize it results in a crust that's a soggy mess with no crunch. Still, other contributors swear that this is the best New York-style pizza one can find in China and the atmosphere definitely has a US pizzeria feel to it.

Of the things you can say about The Tree's pizzas, one cannot be that they lack bite. A brick oven in one of the main rooms turns out incredibly crispy, tasty classic Italian pizzas. The ingredients are kept to a minimum, but taste definitely is a maximum. This place's thin crust is cooked perfectly and offers a great crunch, the perfect food to go alongside one of their many Belgian brews. The atmosphere is relaxed and isn't quite as good as Kro's, but with good beer and a good pie, what more can you ask for?

There are many other options for pizza around the city, not the least 2 very famous US chains, Pizza Hut and Papa John's. For the uninitiated visitor, China's Pizza Huts come as a shock as they are considered "expensive" and a "date place" by teens and young college students. This isn't your shotgun racks and rednecks dining out destination like in the US, no no, it has class. The salad bar and its strange to foreigners one bowl policy, leading to crazy geometric creations, is a thing of interest to foreigners, but its all about the pizza. Unfortunately, for the fancier digs, the pizza isn't much different from the US, though toppings often vary from Caribbean Spice to "French" Red Wine chicken. Papa John's offers a similar, if a bit more casual, upgrade on their US locations (I've never seen a Papa John's in the US that wasn't carry out only), but again, the pizza is almost identical to what I remember eating on late, drunken nights during my college days. On the subject of American chains, Shanghai has a California Pizza Kitchen (I believe that spot was formerly the Hard Rock, but not sure), but no correspondents have yet to try it.

There are also a number of non-traditional pizza joints that offer pizza, some worth mentioning are Mexican Wave, the Den and Pass By Bar. Mexican Wave and the Den both produce decent versions, but why would you go to either when you can hit up Kro's or the Tree within a 10-15 minute walk? Pass By Bar's pizzas are interesting, including yangrou chuanr and kungpao chicken pizzas, but beyond the crazy toppings, there isn't much going for it. If you're at Pass By drinking (or the Den) and really hungry, consider the pizzas, but it's not worth a trip just for the pizza. Schlotzky's in the CBD offers pizzas for lunch and while they are pretty good (especially the bbq chicken), for RMB40, I'd rather go to the Pizza Company where the pies aren't as good, but you get more for your money.

Dianping gives Pizza Buona top billing in Beijing, though it has only received 14 reviews at this point. Many expats give the nod to Hutong Pizza, though I've yet to try that. Though, despite all these decent (to delicious) options, I've yet to find a good Chicago style pizza in this city, guess there are some things you must go home for.

11. Kro's Nest (also a location in Haidian)
Inside Gongti North Gate, next to Vics

12. The Tree
43 North Sanlitun

13. Pizza Hut (locations around Beijing and Shanghai)

14. Papa John's (locations around Beijing and Shanghai)

15. Mexican Wave
Dongdaqiao Lu,

16. The Den
4 East Gongti Rd, next to City Hotel

17. Pass By Bar
108 Nanluoguxiang

18. Schlotzky's
China World Trade Center, Tower 2, 1 JianGuomen Wai

19. The Pizza Company (locations around the city)

20. Pizza Buona
7 West Gongti Rd

21. California Pizza Kitchen
Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu,

AIC vs. LV in Hangzhou: What's Going On?

A very interesting story has come out of Hangzhou that has led to a lot of questions and very few answers. Louis Vuitton, the high end French luxury brand, has run afoul of Zhejiang AIC, resulting in their Hangzhou shop being closed down. It seems that after a check of a (?, the?) Hangzhou LV boutique in May, some products were found to be "below standards." Zhejiang AIC insists that they didn't force LV to close down the Hangzhou boutique.

According to the AIC, this all comes down to LV's not including a small piece of sample leather with their bags shipped to China, an AIC requirement. LV failed to appeal the ruling and so a number of bags were seized by Zhejiang AIC.

So what's going on? Many immediately jump up and say this has to be political, another Chinese potshot at the French, however this was only one boutique, things are still going strong in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities. Did they all include the necessary sample or are do they just ignore this requirement (or not have it)? Is this the case of an overzealous local official continuing China's "war" on France? Is this some corrupt officials who are basically stealing LV bags by making this claim?

There has to be more to it, unfortunately we probably won't learn all the sordid (or boring) details as to why this seizure took place, but if LV can take a hit like this, it should serve as a cautionary tale to any small company looking to enter China.


The New "Dream Team"

Back in the day, the Olympics were supposed to be an event mainly for amateur athletes, but in basketball, the US always got screwed. Much like hockey in the winter Olympics before NHLers were allowed, when it came to basketball, the US squad would be made up of college players while the Soviet Union and other European squads always consisted of professionals. That all changed in 1989 when FIBA allowed NBA players to participate in the Olympics and in 1992, the first ever Dream Team was announced. That team cruised through the Olympics, embarrassing their opponents and having a lot of fun along the way, but it should have been kept to a one-off. It was amazing seeing Michael, Magic, Larry, Scottie, David Robinson, and Christian Laettner (what?!? yeah, he was on the team) playing together and doing so beautifully. Every time after that, the "Dream Team" idea was cheapened and in Athens, it was laughable, as the US went 5-3 in the preliminary rounds, even losing to Puerto Rico.

This year's team, announced yesterday, looks to be strong and should help re-establish the United States' basketball reputation. Kobe Bryant, the NBA MVP, will be playing in the Olympics for the first time alongside other NBA stars like Chris Paul, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Superman, Dwight Howard. The 12-man squad is rounded out with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd, and Deron Williams. This squad is only outdone by the Atlanta team in '96 for returning Olympians (that side had 6 returnees), with 5 members of the team having played in previous Olympics (Anthony, Boozer, James, Kidd, Wade).

The US will begin training in Las Vegas in July. Their Olympics training will include 2 warmup matches in Shanghai against Russia and Australia on August 3rd and 5th. The real competition begins with a tough match that many people are excited about against hosts China on August 10, and continues with games against Angola (Aug. 12), Spain (Aug. 16), and two Qualifier teams that have yet to be determined (Aug. 14 and 18).

"Us, Man..."

Rewatching the Wire lately and realizing that shit's classic, there will never be another, and not like Sex and the City, there will never be a "The Wire" the movie. This scene really strikes me, beautifully shot and so emotional and yet unemotional. Not going to spoil it for those who haven't seen the show, but this has to be the coldest scene in tv history. They each did things the only way they knew.

Cold man, cold, but like the show always says, "it's all in the game"...

Yet Another Restaurant Guide...

The Miele Guide (hattip to Shanghaiist) is a new restaurant guide focused on Asia and rating the restaurants in 16 different Asian countries. It sounds interesting, but its going to fail miserably at becoming the "guidebook of record" for Asia, at least for China. There is a complex 4 part voting process that goes into this guide's ratings. It begins with a shortlist put together by "experts", followed by online voting by the general public, then another team of "experts" offers their rating, and finally the guide's "in-house team" goes around and dines anonymously (a la Michelin) at the top ranked restaurants from Rounds 2 and 3.

It all sounds interesting except the general public is only allowed a total of 10 votes, even limited to 3 votes per country. Also, the general public is required to submit a Visa card number before voting. This is going to be a problem in China, and probably in other Asian countries as well and will skew the results. If you just look at the list, though, you'll realize that this really isn't legit. No restaurants outside of Beijing or Shanghai make the list, the majority are hotel restaurants, and almost all serve Western food. Their panel of critics for China also only includes 2 Chinese names, a scary proposition.

Shanghaiist says that "we're expecting results to burrow substantially deeper than another guide [Zagat] that recently passed through the city." I think they are completely off. Zagat, like Dianping, is completely democratic, and while the results often are questionable, it serves as a great tool to have with you as its small and includes information on so many different restaurants. This guide, however, only seems like it will feature top-end restaurants in the capital city (and maybe one or two other big cities) in each country. My impression is that, until it goes country-specific, this guidebook is going to be pretty useless. If you regularly travel around Asia on an expense account, this might be the guidebook for you. If your focus is just the Chinese food scene, just use dianping.


Bylines at Customs 2: It Only Took a Day

I've decided that this "Bylines at Customs" title will be used for a continuing look at really bad articles/blog entries by foreign reporters in China. The problem is, its almost too easy, everyday there's something new, from just badly worded headlines to downright false reporting.

Today's candidates are a WSJ blog entry and an article from Australian's ABC News.

The WSJ entry, entitled "Another Ticketing Headache" takes a critical stance against BOCOG/Bank of China for their handling of ticket issuance for foreigners. It seems that "several foreigners" at one branch of BOC in Beijing were unable to get their tickets because the names they used to register were different from the names in their passport (because they didn't include their middle names in the registration). Why BOCOG is to be blamed for this (as one blogger thinks), is beyond me. BOCOG instructions were to include your name exactly as it appears in your passport, which seems clear enough and not difficult to follow. Sure, foreigners, unlike Chinese, often have middle names, but in your passport (at least American passports), the middle name is not separate and is included in the part "Given Name". Why these foreigners should get off for not being able to follow instructions is beyond me.

The ABC article includes the headline Athletes Banned From Beijing Opening Ceremony. This seems pretty startling, right? But once you go beyond the fold and read the article, you find out Australia's track and field association decided its best to keep the athletes at their Hong Kong training base instead of moving them to Beijing for the Opening Ceremony. The reasoning for this is that the track events don't start until a week after the Opening Ceremony and concerns about Beijing's "pollution." The "pollution". I can't wait for all the whining about the "pollution" when the games actually begin. As if air quality in Athens and LA is unparalleled. My gut feeling is the team took a vote and decided it wants to boycott the Opening Ceremony and is using this as an excuse, but in any case, nobody was "banned" from the Ceremony. So the headline is inaccurate, but a more nuanced one would have caused most readers to flip past it.


Bylines at Customs

Its hard to imagine, but now the Olympics are little more than 50 days away. With them will come reporters from around the world. Every writer, “freelancer” and even some bloggers will suddenly find themselves getting bylines in major papers.

That seems to be the situation in the New York Times recently where 2 features section articles focused on China. The first in the dining section was about strange meals in China and how one father’s children raised here are far more willing to eat all kinds of things (and not just their vegetables) that US children avoid like the plague. There doesn’t seem to be any real point to the article, just that kids should open their minds to different types of food.

An article in Sunday's NYT looked at the Beijing nightlife scene and specifically high-end luxury clubs Suzie Wong, Block 8, and Lan. I can't say I've been to Lan, though its a favorite of one of my other writers, I typically end up at Mix, as I prefer their "hip hop" to the techno played at some of those other places. I don't have much to complain about this article, because unlike the food article which really doesn't say anything, this one is informative if you don't live and go out in Beijing every night, but for those on the ground, doesn't add much to the conversation. This statement did get me to raise an eyebrow:

Today, the Chinese seem to be discovering simultaneously the last 40 years of
pop music, not only house and techno beats but classic rock, salsa and punk. The
chaotic fusion of influences gives Beijing night life a creative, if hectic,

This statement may be true if it was 10 years ago, especially when it comes to classic rock, punk, and techno, which have been around for a long time, but the quality has improved (this is definitely an arguable statement, the punk scene may have gotten worse, but people like Miao Wang, who is quoted in the article, have definitely raised the game of the house/techno scene here).

The one quote I did really like from the article was: "Indeed, on any given night, rows of BMW’s, Porsches and black Mercedes S.U.V.’s, many with government license plates, line up outside nocturnal hot spots, often in the shadow of imperial temples and Communist monuments." This is very true (though the government license plates part is wrong). At any night in front of Mix (before the tents went up), there would be a line of cars in the front row that would go Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes, Cayenne, BMW, Cayenne, Mercedes and on and on.

The floodgates are opening, the warning siren has gone off, there will be some good reporting on this city and country in the next 2 months and a lot more bad reporting, and I'll be here to analyze it all.

Tianjin Deja Vu

I don't have much to say about China's match against Iraq in Tianjin on Saturday. They did better then against Qatar, as they were able to get on the board first after a questionable free kick decision that Zhou Haibin hammered into the back of the net in the 33rd minute. However, Iraq quickly countered with a goal in the 41st minute where two Chinese defenders were caught ball watching and ignoring their men.

At that point I realized there was no chance in hell that China was going to win the match, I felt very happy I'd given up my tickets to the match. I turned on Kungfu Panda and was entertained for the first time that evening.

3 points in 5 games, 2 goals in that time, what a total disaster. This double headed coaching system needs to end, though one figures Djukovic will be kept on through the Beijing Olympics. There is a lot systematically wrong with the CFA, but those things don't seem like they'll be changed anytime soon. Is there any hope left for Chinese soccer? With all the attention that's been focused on NBA stars Yao and Yi and kids already defecting from love of soccer to love of basketball, things need to change soon or 2011's Asian Cup and then the 2014 World Cup won't look any better.

100 Days, 100 Restaurants: A Little Different, but A Little Off...

Of all the diverse offerings in Beijing restaurants, Persian dining isn't one that comes to mind, but Rumi, located near Sanlitun has been going strong for a few years now. The decor is modern with floor to ceiling windows looking out while inside everything is white, with some colors thrown in at the small balconies as well as through the use of interesting, small sepia photos that double as light fixtures.

The menu is simple, appetizers, yogurt, salad, kebabs, and stews and for 2 people, one of the larger kabob selections (featuring multiple kinds of beef) and an appetizer (a number of interesting dips including classics like hummus and babaganoush) are enough to fill you up.

The "dips" are great and come with a neverending supply of free flatbread. A regular favorite is the hummus with meat or mushroom for around RMB20. Their made-in-house yogurts are great and have that sour kick that you'd expect in an unsweetened (and not overly processed) pure yogurt. The salad options are nice and light and full of extremely fresh vegetables.

The kebabs come with the choice of a side salad, rice, or a half portion of each (1 meat for around RMB50, 2 for under RMB100). These aren't your chuanr style kabobs, there's a lot of meat to them and they are all cooked to perfection, nice grilled flavor, but still very juicy. The problem is that there's something missing, the taste. The beef is a little better than the chicken or lamb, but they all seem to be missing seasoning or a sauce that would make them excellent. As a lover of grilled meat, I've only ordered the kebabs and not the stews, and yet I'm a little bit remiss each time.

Respecting the Islamic culture, the restaurant doesn't serve any alcohol, but IS byob and, amazingly, has no corkage fee (at last check), making this a very unique experience in Beijing. The meats can be matched perfectly with any number of nice reds and a really fabulous meal can be had at a very reasonable price. I just wish they'd take a hint from their Xinjiang cousins and spice up the kebabs a bit, it's the only thing keeping this place from being a regular weekly dining stop instead of an occasional meal.

10. Rumi (入迷)
Intersection of Gongti North Road and Third Ring Road, Opposite of Zhaolong Hotel


This Bud's for InBev? (And Why the Focus May Be China)

Ahh, I always love when I have a good reason to talk about alcohol, namely beer, on this blog!

There is a lot of talk about the potential takeover of Anheuser-Busch by InBev, the world's biggest brewer. InBev, which earned over 14.4 billion euros last year, controls the European and South American markets with a combination of its major brands and its local products. Despite InBev's power in these markets and its size, the company's US market penetration has really only taken place over the past few years with its brands like Stella Artois and Beck gaining in popularity. These merger/takeover talks have been around for over a year, but it now looks like things are getting serious and a deal could be forthcoming soon, if A-B is willing to give up its independence.

This is where US media usually ends it analysis of the proposed agreement. In my opinion, the reality, which is rarely touched on, is that while control of the Budweiser name and US market domination are nice, InBev's focus on A-B has to do more with China.

InBev currently has 33 breweries in 8 provinces in China and their brands include Zhujiang (Guangzhou/Guangdong), Baisha (Changsha/Hunan), Jinling (Nanjing), and Sedrin. Sedrin has been expanding its advertising campaign over the past few months and set to make a go of it around the country while Zhujiang is dominant in Guangdong. However, that pales in comparison with A-B's control of Harbin Beer and an equity interest in Qingdao, the number 2 and 5 beers in China and both establishing international presences. Further, A-B's Budweiser brand is one of the top placed foreign brands in China. InBev is currently the 3rd biggest brewer in China behind Qingdao and China Resources, taking over A-B would lead them to controlling the China market through A-B's Chinese brands and its shares in Qingdao.

It's going to be an interesting fight during the latter parts of this year and next in the beer industry. In Beijing, the fight between Yanjing and Qingdao is going to get a little more crowded as Snow and Budweiser/Harbin are both opening up major breweries close to the city. Further expansion of the Harbin label is expected in the Shanghai area as well.

While it may be hard for those in St. Louis to accept A-B's loss of independence, the beer game is a global one and A-B's China possessions make it a major player and a coveted entity.

A Wired City Isn't Just a Pipedream

I previously heard about Shanghai's plan for wireless internet access around the city by the Olympics and didn't have a lot of confidence in the idea. In the US, many major cities discussed the idea of wifi, some even proposed citywide free wifi, but most of those programs turned out to be failures.

One of the advantages of Communism is central planning, the government and thus the government run telecom company isn't so concerned with making profits and so the idea has potential, however the one thing the article doesn't mention is whether the service will be fee based or free (I have a feeling it will be the former).

My biggest concern is about how slow the network will be, China's internet is already infamously slow, but when the entire city can get on it, what will that do to speed? Also, unless they're really throwing money at this program, signal strength in buildings and apartments is unlikely to be very strong and could make for a very maddening experience.

For all those concerns, it will be interesting to see how this experiment turns out and if its adopted more widely. I've been saying for awhile that I think, with relatively minimal investment, much of China's rural areas and smaller towns can be turned into places with full internet connectivity and give the masses new found access to information. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

Bar Review: Enoteca Beijing

Wine drinkers of the capital rejoice, your home has arrived. I previously gushed about Enoteca's two Shanghai branches, particularly the Anfu Rd location, and so when I found out their would be a Beijing outpost a few months back, I was happy, now that its finally open, I'm overjoyed.

Enoteca's Shanghai branches are very hip wine bars (they call them lounges) with dark colors and lots of wood that would seem appropriate in any of the world's major cities. The Beijing branch keeps up the cool appearance with the use of wood throughout and also large windows that allow people watching and viewing the impressive sky screen at The Place. Unlike the Shanghai locations, the Beijing location has pairs of lounge chairs around the window as well as couches that gives it more of a coffee house/lounge feeling, then a row of tables that are (very) tightly packed together. There is a bar area and also high tables when it gets to be standing room only. There is also the "cellar"/boutique area, but unlike the Shanghai locations, it doesn't seem like its big enough for private parties. Much like the Shanghai locations, the music selection was an excellent mix of R&B, jazz, and electronic played at the right levels.

The main reason to come here is for the wine, page after page of choices under RMB200 BY THE BOTTLE, including a number of selections for under RMB100, and we aren't talking about swill, these are all quality wines, mostly New World, heavy on South American choices. Food choices are extremely limited, the menu offers a few tapas (RMB40-130), sandwiches (RMB40-50), and salads (RMB30-50) that are executed well, but portions are small and very pricey. This is a place to go to drink, stop in for a pre/post dinner glass or two of wine and maybe have a snack as you convince yourself to order that second bottle, but if you're coming here hungry, you will be disappointed.

Service was a problem, but the managers were on hand and hustling to smooth out any service mistakes. The lounge is currently undergoing its "soft opening", so hopefully this was first night (or first week) jitters and these problems can be ironed out when the doors swing open for real.

Some people won't like the closeness of things (definitely not a place for those who areclaustrophobic), but it goes with the communal, friendly feeling of wine bars the world over. I can imagine that on most weekend nights, this space will be entirely packed and very noisy (much like the Shanghai locations), but last night when the crowd was at a minimum, the atmosphere was great. It's a place to chill out with a glass of wine and chat with friends, there are no tvs, and music is meant to be ambient, nothing more. The location is perfect, close enough to major office buildings like Guomao and Fortune Plaza to the west so that it can attract the white collar crowd after a hard days work, but also close to the embassy district to the east. Expect a nightly crowd of lawyers, bankers, and businessmen to rub shoulders with diplomats and other wine lovers of the city.

Enoteca is sure to become an instant favorite and bring a touch of culture to our fair capital.

9. Enoteca (sorry, I'm getting desperate, and it does serve food, so its included in the 100 Days, 100 Restaurnts series)
Northern Tower, The Place, 9 Guanghua Lu


Surviving June While Looking Your Best

There are very few posts that require our full "editorial board" for approval, but this one was highly debated around here. For the most part, the contributors to this blog are men, straight men, sports-loving, beer-drinking, red meat-eating men. That said, we are men of the world, into art, books, and (shudder!) fashion/shopping. The tag "metrosexual" is so 2 years ago, we would prefer the more respectable, more classic gentleman.

We like to look good, but its been a little harder this month. The panda may be China's national treasure, but "panda eyes" is not a good look for men. Unfortunately, this month it's almost unavoidable for sports loving males around China. Euro 2008 (soccer/football) started last weekend and there are 2 group stage matches beginning each night (early morning), one at 00:00 and the other at 02:45. Things will get worse as the midnight game will go by the wayside during the knockout stages and most matches will be a 2-3 am start. Oh the humanity!

So what can soccer lovers/masochists do? There are a number of daily use under eye products for men (yes, most definitely for MEN) in manly packaging for men that are made specifically for men (are we starting to sound like Daffyd?). These products won't only help you get rid of those dark circles after a night watching European soccer, but can also be helpful in the future after a night out at the bars.

We haven't used all the products, but will give you a brief overview of what's out there:
Sephora Eye Countour Fluid - RMB120
Task Essential Active Eye Serum - RMB360
Nickel Eye Countour - RMB315
GF Eye Cream - RMB168
Clarins Undereye Serum - RMB340
Biotherm Homme Visibly Rejuvinating Eye Care - RMB420
Shisheido Men Eye Soother - RMB335
Kiehls Eye Alert - n/a

The majority of these products can be purchased at Sephora or most high end department store's cosmetics counters. Kiehls doesn't have a mainland outlet of its own, but Beijing's Lane Crawford may carry their products (we debated this internally and couldn't come up with the answer). Amongst the editors, the Sephora Eye Countour Fluid (works great and you can't beat the price), Kiehls Eye Alert, and Clarins Undereye Serum all have their fans, while one of us has quickly developed a preference for Sephora's new exclusive Task Essential products (though he's yet to try the eye serum). Additionally, Clarins offers a Fatigue Fighter (RMB380) that works fairly well to give you a bit of a wake up while helping your skin.

So there you go, men of Beijing and Shanghai, we can't help you in staying awake at the office (lots of coffee and Red Bull (in the old or new old cans) may do the trick), but at least you won't look like you were up until 5 am.

Finally, go Holland (and Russia)!


I Love My Chucks and So Does the Godfather

So I didn't realize until today that the Converse ads that you see around the city with guys and gals decked out in black and all wearing their Chuck Taylor's is actually a worldwide campaign. Beside Common, D-Wade, James Dean, and the Green Day frontman (sorry, his name escapes me now) among others, is Cui Jian and Xia Yu (in China at least).

Anybody know who else is in the ads? Who is the rocker with the keyboard? Who else is unique to China?

Can't Catch a Break

So a reporter is in Beijing and gets his article filed in the New York Times. No, for once he isn't complaining about the pollution, in fact he gives the capital some credit for cleaning things up, but instead he's complaining about a sandstorm.

Blah blah blah, Beijing’s polluted, Beijing has sandstorms, what the hell is this crap? Yes, one or two days last week were really bad, but this is far from a daily thing here and beyond that, its only a spring phenomenon, but why not pile on? The article would make you think dust is going to be a problem during the Opening Ceremonies. Ah, I love how this works, can't wait until we get to July and August and see what first time visitors are writing...


It's as if the GFW knowns my pain after the defeat and wants to console me, surprisingly, blogspot is back online, we'll see how long it lasts, but its a nice attempt at helping me get over the defeat...


Tragic Result in Tianjin...

Disappointment. What can be said about a loss that wasn’t meant to be a loss, that never should have been a loss. There is no question about it, the picture above says it all, the coach, sitting there, looking dejected, but with nothing to say, not acting like a coach. Those with a distant memory will remember back to that rough night in Qatar during the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup. Bora, the now mystical, beloved, coach, but at that time he was embattled, barely hanging on to his job, standing up angrily barking orders, but by his side was Hao Haidong, taken out of the game already all he could do was try to motivate the team, give directions, but who was the coach, Bora or Hao? It was a very different picture Saturday night, the coach, sitting there all game long, another 50/50 foul going against China, another yellow card, and Sun Jihai, probably in his last qualifying campaign, simply couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t take the coach ignoring what was going on, Sun jumped up and yelled at the ref, got himself a red card, got himself suspended for the next match, but it was worth it, it showed somebody actually cared. This is the problem, did any of those players actually care? Where was the emotion in Li Weifeng? Why was Han Peng, who still has many years left, the only one crying? And that's really the question, when once again it looks like China won’t make it to a World Cup, whether it's the players or the people around the country, does anyone actually care anymore???

It didn’t have to be that way. From the start China controlled play, before even a minute passed, Gao Lin had one of the games best chances off a long ball played up, but his shot passed barely wide of the left post. Within the first 10 minutes, another great chance came China’s way after Zheng Zhi beat his defender on the right wing and played a ball into the middle where Zhu Ting attempted a beautiful back heel that would have been one of China’s prettiest goals ever, though it hit the post. The only other scoring chance after that was on a first half cross which the CCTV announcers insisted was a handball in the box, though they (oddly) never replayed it and so it couldn’t be confirmed (and most likely wasn’t).

But then, the moment that changed the match, a free kick given to Qatar after a fine run up the wing by Yusuf Ali (who China didn't have an answer for all night) earning them a free kick and Gao Lin, the player who almost had the early goal, stupidly, wastefully, pulling down his mark, giving the Qataris a penalty kick which was coolly slotted away by Soria to make it 1-0 to Qatar.

And that was all she wrote. Unfortunately at that still early moment it wasn’t known, but it soon became clear, they could have played 120 minutes and China wouldn’t have scored a goal. The lineup, with only 2 veteran players, a major gamble to begin with, went to pieces after that goal. Playing in this do-or-die match, these kids, basically the Olympic squad, were outmatched by the Qatari veterans. The players that should have been leaders, Zheng Zhi and Datou, were as immature as the kids.

As much as the players are to blame for their poor performance, the coach’s role must be questioned. This time, an attacking lineup was chosen, but it was too young, too inexperienced, some players getting their first major national team start. The plan seemed to be to push the ball up the right wing, but when the Qataris figured that out and put 2 or 3 extra men on that side of the field, no adjustment was made. The plan seemed to be to play high balls into the middle and win headers, but Han Peng, the tallest striker, wasn’t on the field until the 2nd half, when that strategy already stopped working. A halftime substitution saw China’s defense, already struggling, reduced to only 3 players as Du Zhenyu went in for Sun Xiang. At that point in the match, to make this kind of attacking move seemed a bit unusual, but I don't have a problem with it. However, still desperately needing a goal (and less than 20 minutes later), the coach decided to switch like for like, taking off 2 forwards and putting 2 other forwards on.

Qatar, simply needing a draw from this result, played their part perfectly after getting the goal. They sat back, put their men in the box so that even when a Chinese player beat his man on the wing, the cross could be innocently parried away, and then played the counter attack perfectly, coming up with a few quality chances. They also used the Chinese players urgency and frustration against them. The Chinese team tallied up yellow cards with sometime stupid, sometimes iffy fouls, but this forced them to play more reserved. Li Weifeng, a veteran playing in what is perhaps his last World Cup qualifying campaign, led the way for juvenile play, often arguing with the refs and resorting to a number of questionable actions (including an outright push) that probably should have earned him a second yellow card.

So what's left to be said? Iraq comes into Tianjin next weekend pumped up after their win over Australia (like I said, no way the Aussies were going on the road and coming back with 6 points) and knowing a win in this match could see them going from bottom of the group (and almost kicked out of the competition) to a likely qualifier, while China will be without Sun Jihai and Li Weifeng and will seemingly have a hard time getting up for this match.

Oh yeah, let Petrovic finish up the qualifying campaign and then DUMP HIM! Let's just hope his replacement will do a better job...


Profiting from Patriotism

Its an Olympic year and, more than that (and if you've been sleeping under a rock), the Olympics will be in Beijing, so you can imagine all the sports brands are coming out with collections of China related clothing. In this year of tragedy and nationalism, all things that show love for China are sure to sell, though one surprising item (read 'till the end), stands out among all the rest.

Nike, who will sponsor and supply uniforms for a number of Chinese athletes and teams, has done it up big with models of Liu Xiang and Yi Jianlian, among others, in their stores and Yi jerseys (notice no Yao, he's with Reebok) and other China gear all over the place. Adidas, who is the official sponsor of the Chinese squad and will be supplying all their medal stand outfits, hasn't come out with very much yet, but does have its officially licensed Beijing Olympics clothing as well as the Chinese national team soccer jersey in is stores. Li Ning, on the other hand, who for the first time in many years won't be outfitting Chinese athletes on the medal stand, has come out with a collection of their previous tracksuit designs (and shoes to go with them), including those from Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, and Barcelona. Finally, Umbro and Puma, neither having any connection to Chinese squads or athletes, have chosen to attempt to capitalize on the Olympics by releasing Beijing themed tshirts and other clothing.

Most interesting among all this, though, is Kappa. Before March, I Love China tshirts really didn't exist, but after the situation in T!bet, they suddenly found their way in shops across the country and after the earthquake, they became an instant necessity for every patriotic (or wannabe patriotic) Chinese the country over. These shirts could be found everywhere, typically selling for RMB10-20 and are the new nationwide trend.

At many Kappa stores around the city, you can now find their own edition of this tshirt, selling for far more than RMB20. I highly doubt they could have rushed these into stores in the days following the earthquake, and even if they could, I doubt they'd try it, having already run afoul of many young Chinese for their selling of a T!bet tracktop that included the flag of the independence movement. Perhaps the sentiment was originally meant as an apology after the situation in Western China (and criticism of the brand) flared up, but this attempt to make money off the current streak of patriotic sentiment running through the country is disturbing. Let's hope some of the profits from these tshirts will be donated to earthquake victims or some other charity (if anybody actually buys one).

Beida's Bar Dreams

A hat tip to Above the Law for including an article about Beijing University's (Beida) ambitions to set up a new School of Law that would receive ABA-accreditation, allowing students to take the US bar after graduation (and requiring them to take the LSAT for entry), and teaching all classes in English.

The school will be set up at Beida's campus in Shenzhen and its new dean, Jeffrey S. Lehman, shows how serious Beida is about this new school. Lehman previously worked as President of Columbia University and Dean of University of Michigan School of Law.

A little more from the article:
The freestanding school will operate independently of Peking’s existing,
Chinese-style law school. Like any American law school, the courses will be
taught in English, the cases will be from American law – and most of the
professors will be from American law schools. In order to simulate the course of
study of a typical American law student, the school currently requires that
applicants major in a subject other than law as undergraduates, a stipulation
that Lehman suggested could be counterproductive in the long run.
This fall will see the first incoming class of only 55 students begin their studies and the price (around US$10,000 puts it far above any other Chinese graduate school, but still far cheaper than a US law school).

It's going to be an interesting experiment and if they do get ABA-accreditation, this could be huge. One can understand the desire for the experiment to begin in Shenzhen, but if its successful, I can't imagine it not moving to the school's main campus in Beijing. Beida already has a huge endowment and one can see how major international companies and organizations would be falling over themselves to help fund the school, as well as the many Beida (and particularly Beida law) grads who've gone on to success in China and around the world. With Lehman behind, ABA-accreditation, and money, one can see how this school could quickly take off and in 10-15 years (or even less), be a Tier 1 US law school.

What will the application requirements be? Will US students be allowed to apply? When could they (will they) get the ABA's blessing? It's going to be interesting to see what comes of this...


One Step Closer for the Windy City

News is out that the IOC announced its final candidate cities for the 2016 Olympics and the final four are Madrid (Spain), Tokyo (Japan), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and finally Chicago. Doha was in the running to be amongst the finalists, but in the end they didn't advance.

We're over a year away from the final decision, but my money is that it comes down to Rio and Chicago. Tokyo will be a hard sell with this year's games being in Beijing and Madrid struggled with its bid for the 2012 Games. I would love to see it go to Chicago as its such a great city and it deserves it, however there has never been an Olympics in South America and so it seems highly likely that Rio will win out, but we'll have to see how the applicant process goes. Anyways, good luck to Chicago!


Remembering ALL the Victims

Almost 20 years ago, an event happened in central/western Beijing that changed China and its people forever. Many people died in this event, but the exact number is not known, though the number could never compare to the number of deaths in the earthquake. I'm not saying if those people were right or wrong, I'm not going to guess as to what would have happened if those people would have won out, I believe in the government, but I also believe those people shouldn't have died.

This event had a greater impact than any other event that has taken place over the last 20 years, and probably beyond. Whether the Olympics or earthquake will displace it at the top is yet to be seen, but unlike those two events, this event isn't one that anybody talks about, at least not openly. It feels strange when talking to a coworker, a boss, and telling him where I'm living and his response being, "oh, I know that area, I had a friend who died there." What can you say, though, this city is still haunted with those ghosts.

I read yesterday that there are plans to build an Earthquake Museum in Sichuan and found that unusual. I sympathize with the need to remember what happened, but typically this would be done with some kind of memorial, not a museum. I can understand the desire to honor these people, especially in light of the current national sentiment, but at the same time, couldn't the money be spent helping the ones still living instead of honoring the dead? A memorial wall or statute costs much less than a big museum, and it is difficult to imagine what this museum really could have on display. It's about finding ways to remember the dead.

There is no way to publicly remember those who died on this day and the days that followed 19 years ago, there are no monuments, no museums, no public memorials, and those who try to honor them will find themselves in trouble. Whether their actions were proper, whether what they were fighting for was right, these things don't matter, what matters is what happened to them and what happened afterwords. If China didn't have that day, today would look different, the sentiment after the earthquake would have been different, the spirit of this city, on this day, would be different.

Remember the victims of the earthquake, but remember the victims of this day, and of Tangshan, and of the Cultural Revolution and everything else, for one victim is not less important than the other victim. Let us just hope monuments and museums will one day be built for these other victims.

Giving Credit Where Credits Due

Jaunted has put together an interesting series on the Beijing Olympics and a recent entry talks about Beijing's Olympic/Paralympic preprations as related to the disabled, the title being "Accessibility Is a Pipedream." I've been very critical about Beijing's treatment of the disabled and its Paralympics preparations, but in this sense, I'm a little frustrated.

Perhaps I'm just more optimistic lately about how things will go, but I think there is more than meets the eye on this issue. The article's focus is overwhelmingly on the 10,000 sign language translators that are currently in training. To be honest, I always thought the focus on sign language training for the Paralympics was a bit strange, the Paralympics don't include any deaf athletes. The article brings up a good point about what type of sign language the trainees are learning (its my understanding it is Chinese Sign Language, as well as some International Sign Language and/or American Sign Language) and how easy it will be for them to communicate with deaf people.

What the article is missing is the fact that Chinese people are learning sign language (and other lessons and skills to help them interact more conveniently with disabled people). The article states:

About 30,000 Beijing-based volunteers have now signed up for "disability
training" ahead of the Olympic Games. As we speak, they're undertaking crash
courses in how to deal with handicaps of all types, from physical disabilities
to visual and hearing impairments to learning difficulties.

The fact that this is true is what really matters. There needs to be more interaction between disabled individuals and everyone else, they need to be seen as worthwhile individuals who can be integrated into society. The more opportunities that people have to learn there is very little difference between the able-bodied and disabled, the better. Beijing's move towards making the city (and society as a whole) more accessible doesn't seem to be a temporary one, but a permanent attempt to change things.


Near Disaster in the Desert

China went to the Middle East once again, this time Qatar, and once again, the result was a letdown. China came out and played overly defensive, but still had a few decent chances, the best was a great series of passes that ended with a Sun Jihai shot just wide and a second half chance by Han Peng, which the keeper was just barely able to knock wide. China's defensive strategy was in one sense rewarded by the fact that, despite the intense heat and being on the road, they are able to return to China with 1 point.

Syed Bechir almost destroyed China's run of draws with a great chance just 2 minutes from the whistle, but the crossbar saved the keeper, as well as China's dream of a spot in the next round of qualifying (at this point, its too much to say "China's dream of appearing in South Africa"). Soria was strong and China failed to find an answer for him defensively for most of the match. China was outplayed for the most part, but a draw seems like a fair result, all things considered.

This means that the match on Saturday is a definite must-win situation for China. As things stand right now, after 3 games, things look like this:
1. Australia - 7 points
2. Qatar - 4 points
3. China - 3 points
4. Iraq - 1 point

China will put itself in a strong position to advance if it can beat Qatar and Iraq in Tianjin the next two weekends. This would give them 9 points and see them surpass Qatar in the standings. Australia has looked beatable in their previous two matches and their next two matches will be in the Middle Eastern heat, in Dubai and Doha, so a Qatari upset of the Aussies could really damage Chinese hopes. Taking care of business at home would make things easier for the Chinese when they go to Sydney on the final matchday. The Chinese side definitely doesn't want that final match in Australia be one where they need points to advance.

There will be a bit more for you on Friday previewing Matchday 4.

On the Subway 6: Beijing vs. Shangahi Part 2

Wired has an article about the world's most impressive subways and the 10 they list are (this is not meant as a top ten list, this is just the order in which the pictures are included):

-Tokyo (Japan)
-Moscow (Russia)
-New York (US)
-London (UK)
-Berlin (Germany)
-Paris (France)
-Shanghai (China)
-Hong Kong (China)
-Bilbao (Spain)
-Chicago (US)

The multimedia photo gallery is to celebrate the fact that Chicago's L, the US' second oldest subway system, started operations on June 2, 1883. The blurb about the L explained how Chicagoans love it, but its definitely a love-hate relationship as the CTA is an absolute disaster.

As for Shanghai, the text accompanying the photo states:

Shanghai is the third city in China to build a metro system, and it has
become the country's largest in the 12 years since it opened. Shanghai Metro has
142 miles of track and plans to add another 180 miles within five years. By that
point, it would be three times larger than the Chicago L. The system carries
about 2.18 million people a day.

Shanghai's subway is efficient and has expanded a lot recently to accommodate a large portion of the city and areas that would have previously been considered suburbs. The transportation card is amazingly convenient, working in the subway, on buses, and in taxis. Yet the subway is extremely packed and the people are incredibly rude, it is a battle to get on and off the subway, especially at interchange stations. I'd take Beijing's subway over Shanghai's any day (especially with the RMB2 price and all the lines that are to open this month), though I don't have to deal with the maze of the Xizhimen interchange.

People Are Talking, But Why Am I Listening?

John Amaechi, an ambassador to London's Olympics 2012 bid and now Amnesty Internationals's sporting ambassador, is urging athletes to speak out against China's human rights abuses during this year's Olympics. Most of you out there don't know who the hell John Amaechi is, so for the 99% who are reading this and asking "who the hell is John Amaechi?", I'll tell you. He is a former NBA basketball player, a career journeyman who averaged a mere 6.2 points per game (though the Guardian describes him as a "star"), he never really distinguished himself in basketball and the only reason anybody knows his name is that he wrote a book last year in which he came out of the closet, the first former NBA player to publicly announce that he was gay.

I don't find Amaechi's desire for athletes to speak out surprising, in fact I could really care less, what I do find surprising is that the Guardian thought there were enough people in England who actually cared to know what Amaechi thinks. However, when it comes to China, especially these Olympics, the bar is far lower, stories about human rights, pollution, and the like can make their way into the papers whenever any old crackpot whose earned him or herself a bit of fame opens their mouths. What's next? David Blaine on Beijing's sustainable development? Simon Cowell talking about China's media freedoms?

The iconic silent protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics live in everyone's memory, but the IOC has since cracked down on such protests and there have been very few memorable ones at the Olympics in the aftermath. The star athletes in the dollar earning sports will be in the limelight, but if some rower or a mountain biker decides to protest, it will more than likely fail to become much of a story (though anything in Beijing that remotely hints of a protest, will quite possibly be picked up by the media).

Amaechi and his ilk need to shut the hell up and realize nobody cares what they have to say. It is one thing to speak your mind, it is another thing to hijack the Olympics to put forth your own (in some cases idiotic) agenda. To all the athletes in Beijing, don't ruin your 15 minutes of fame (more like 5 minutes) and do something stupid in the name of idealism, you'll only end up with egg on your face and you'll fail to advance your cause.


Sunday Photo Thread: Children's Day

Some random pictures taken around the city, some in honor of Children's Day, some to show the rebuilt Qianmen, and some showing this city in its current state, under construction.

kid rides on his father's shoulders with the newly rebuilt Qianmen in the background
young child holds his grandmother's hand while walking down a leafy street
old, frayed signs on the side of a small building
the new Qianmen tram
an old building near the legation quarters

construction site near Houhai
crowded street at Qianmen with a man pushing wheelbarrel