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2008/05/30

100 Days, 100 Restaurants: A Taste of the Chinese Melting Pot in the Capital

Today marks 70 days until the Opening Ceremonies and we've only reviewed 3 restaurants so far (editors note: we know that now there are only 68 days, this post was delayed), so there's going to be a lot of pressure to get through this project, but it will be fun, too. Lot's of eating out and we're always looking for those who'd like to contribute a review or two (or would like to join in when the "editorial board" goes out).

Yunnan

I figured after starting out failing to review a Chinese restaurant it was time to start talking Chinese food, therefore the first review will touch on Yunnan cuisine. Yunnan food is a mix of Chinese, Chinese minorities, and the dishes of the bordering Southeast Asian countries, it is a true culinary melting pot. The local specialities the province is most famous for are mixian (rice noodles, especially crossing the bridge noodles), locally made goat cheese, Yunnan ham, mushrooms, and other wild vegetables.

4. S'Silk Road
When it first opened, this restaurant was named as one of the world's hottest and the Lotus Lane location is regularly packed, requiring reservations a day or two in advance (especially on the weekend. The passing of years has done nothing to impact this restaurant's popularity. The restaurant was set up by an artist and this influence can be seen especially at the Xiandai Soho branch.

The menu is varied, some popular dishes are the peppercorn sausage, the huge whole fish soup, the mushroom choices, and the barbecued options. While there are many drink options on the menu, your choice should be focused on two, the variety of pu’er tea choices (directly from Yunnan) and the homemade mijiu (rice wine).

The food is very fresh, but often less-than-stellar, especially when taking into consideration the higher prices. This is a perennial favorite and its Shichahai location is always packed so make sure to have a reservation. The Xiandai Soho is a bit out of the way for many, but its industrial chic interior is more representative of the artist/owner behind the restaurant. While the menu choices are authentic and there are some rare options, the execution isn't always there. If you are looking for the see-and-be-seen crowd, go to this restaurant's Shichahai location, if you're a rising artist or want to get a feel for the scene, sample the offerings at Xiandai Soho, for everybody else, the city definitely has better Yunnan offerings, but you'll still walk out having had a decent meal.

S'Silk Road (茶马古道)
Shichahai, Lotus Lane
什刹海前海西沿荷花市场
6615-5515
88 Jianguo Rd, Xiandai Soho, Building D, 3rd Floor
朝阳区建国路88号SOHO现代城D座3楼会所
8580-4286

5. Dali Courtyard
A unique hutong setting just off Gulou Dong Dajie makes this place difficult to find, but worth searching out. The restaurant is located in a small courtyard and you can choose to dine inside or under the stars, this place makes an excellent choice for a date or for those looking for a different experience.

The menu is simple as there is no menu, you get whatever the chef is preparing that night, with adjustments for any preferences or allergies diners may have. The set menu changes about once a month and will run you RMB100 per person for 5 or so dishes. There are higher priced set menus that you can choose from, but only if you’ve booked in advance.

When we last went, the overall experience was very good. It started out with a very refreshing vegetable salad that showed the Southeast Asian influences. The main vegetable was cucumber and radish, but contained the classic mix of flavors, chili added a spicy kick, fresh lemon offered sour refreshment, and fruit gave it a sweetness. The other small dish/starter was a delicious version of niu gan ba (preserved meat). The main courses, including a grilled fish and a mushroom dish, were more inconsistent. The mushrooms were great, but the fish failed to impress me, there just wasn't that much flavor to it and the Siracha-like sauce didn't do much to improve things.

This restaurant is hutong dining at its finest (yes, yes, I know how much I've already made fun of hutong dining) and is an excellent introduction to Yunnan food. While the price puts it as one of the most expensive Yunnan restaurants, the setting and the surprise that goes with not knowing what will come out of the kitchen next (but assured that it will be delicious), makes it worth checking this restaurant out.

Dali
67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulous Dong Dajie, Gulou
鼓楼东大街小经厂胡同67号
8404-1430

6. Middle 8
This longtime Sanlitun favorite has a lot to offer, but if you're looking for authenticity, it falls short, its heavy on atmosphere and style, but doesn't cut it otherwise. That is not to say the food on offer isn't great, all the dishes sampled were good, its just the trendiness of the place means the menu skews to the Southeast Asian side of Yunnan cuisine.

The hei san duo, a mix of diced pork and preserved vegetables, was good as was the mixian. The meat options were varied and all prepared very well. The cold dishes we sampled, which included a spicy chicken and a dish of mixed greens with wild vegetables, were all done excellently.

Also excellent, and a bit of a surprise, was the waiter's honesty. When we ordered the house made mijiu, our waiter informed us that the quality today was not up to the restaurant's usual standards and so they recommended ordering something else. The wait staff's attentiveness let a bit something to be desired, though. In the end, this is a stylish and reasonably priced restaurant in a very popular expat enclave (thus reservations are highly recommended).

Middle 8 (中8楼)
Bldg 8, Dong Sanlitun, In alley running east from 3.3 Mall
朝阳区东三里屯中8楼
6413-0629

7. In & Out
This restaurant is an interesting experience from the moment you walk in and see all the minority trinkets and the wait staff decked out in minority costumes. The atmosphere is very unique and has a rustic chic feel to it, some would even call it romantic.

The problem is that you will never be "in and out", because the wait staff is not very good, perhaps its the fact they spend their time singing instead of serving, but once you sit down, the battle begins to get them to help out.

As for the food, the mixian, the staple dish of the province, falls short of expectations, as do most of the other dishes. The cold jidou fen, pineapple rice, and grilled fish are very popular and often are good, but the kitchen is very inconsistent so you can also be disappointed.

The problems with consistency and the wait staff are too bad, because this restaurant is one of the cheaper Yunnan options in Beijing. With the large number of Yunnan options in the city and dining options at Sanlitun in general, its hard to recommend this restaurant, though you may get lucky.

In & Out (一坐一忘丽江主题餐厅)
1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, Next to Jenny Lou's
三里屯北小街1号
8454-0086

8. Southern Barbarian (Shanghai)
For our final foray into Yunnan cuisine, we took a trip south and sampled the offerings in Shanghai, after all, its also hosting some of the Olympic events. This small, extremely popular restaurant is flooded with expats (and almost exclusively expats) who come to sample the varied Yunnan fare.

The first thing? Toto, we ain't in Kansas anymore, and the prices make this quite obvious. For the most part, things stay within the realm of reasonable, with most cold dishes falling between RMB20-30 and meat dishes in the RMB40-60 range, but when it comes to grilled items, things start getting out of hand, especially with the vegetables (RMB15 for 4-5 skewers of grilled scallions???).

The (expensive) grilled fish was okay, but a little dry, while the toothpick beef and fried potato cake were all very good. The owner is from Mengzi and we didn't regret ordering the Mengzi rice cakes.

This restaurant isn't easy to find and perhaps its hidden location is what deters more Chinese from going, though my bet is the price is what acts as the repellent. Portions were relatively small and despite ordering more dishes than we usually would, we still walked out not feeling completely full. Also, while the menu was chock full of imported beer choices, it failed to offer a Yunnan beer and no home-made mijiu, a Yunnan restaurant staple in the capital. While Yunnan options are abundant in Beijing, in Shanghai, unfortunately, this is one of your better choices, but it falls below the standards of the capital's restaurants.

Southern Barbarian (南蛮子)
2/F, Area E, Ju'Roshine Life Art Space, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, Huaihai Zhong Lu near Changle Lu
卢湾区茂名南路56号聚荣轩生活艺术空间E区2楼(近长乐路)
021-5157-5510

African Dreams in the Mid Eastern Desert

Matchday Three of World Cup Qualifying in Asia is upon us and most of the attention is on Iraq as FIFA overruled its earlier decision and will allow the Iraqis to continue on their qualifying campaign. China goes to Qatar for a dual in Doha in a match that is very much a must win for China if it wants to keep its qualifying dreams alive.

This Group of Death has lived up to its name as no team has really come forward. China struggled to get a draw with Iraq and then outplayed Australia, though that match ended in a draw as well. Qatar got creamed by Australia, but then went out and solidly beat Iraq. Finally, those plucky Iraqis, perhaps bolstered by the fact they're still in the competition, went to Australia yesterday and gave the Aussies a fight, though they still fell 1-0 in the end.

Both China and Qatar are coming off 2-0 wins in recent friendlies, China's over Jordan and Qatar's over Lebanon. Any time a Chinese squad travels to the Gulf, weather is a concern, especially this time of year, but the Chinese coach believes his squad can overcome the conditions. They will also need to overcome the red hot Sebastian Soria, who has scored a number of goals for the Qataris recently.

The Chinese squad has high hopes for this match and wants to win for the people of China and particularly the Sichuan earthquake victims. Whether this will work as an inspiration or added pressure is yet to be seen. This match will kick off a very busy month as the two squads will finish their match today and quickly head to China for a rematch in Tianjin on Saturday, the 7th. A week after that, the Iraqis come to Tianjin and a week later, China goes to Sydney to face the Australians.

This group is still up for grabs, though it will all be decided in the next 3 weeks. China has a good shot at advancing, but it all begins with a win tonight in Doha, without that, it will take 3 wins in the final 3 matches, an uphill battle, especially considering the final game is in Australia.

It all begins tonight for China (or technically tomorrow) with a start time of 00:00 Beijing time (on 6/3). Sina's projected lineup is a 451 (or more likely a 4411):

Goalie: Zong Lei
Defense: Sun Xiang, Li Weifeng, Xu Yunlong, Zhang Shuai
Midfield: Zhu Ting, Zhou Haibin, Zheng Zhi, Sun Jihai, Hao Junmin
Forward: Han Peng

Prediction: The optimist in me wants to believe China can pull out a victory, so 1-0 to China.

Who Judges Progress?

Yesterday marked 100 days to the start of the Paralympics and this week, BOCOG was under fire for a guide it released for volunteers explaining how to deal with the disabled. It was something I wanted to cover, but things here are extremely busy, and China Hearsay did a pretty good job summing things up (the original Times article can be found here). Since then, BOCOG has withdrawn parts of the offending English guide.

I agree with the complaints about the article, it is a bit clumsy, but much of the blame can be placed on the translator (despite its attempt to put on an excellent Olympics, it seems BOCOG has failed to bring on the necessary translators and editors, not only in this case) and not of the actual Chinese version. In fact, the head of the Paralympics Games blamed it solely on the translator, saying "probably it's cultural difference and mistranslation."

The Times article (and its ilk) failed to go more in depth on the issue of disability in China and included a number of its own misconceptions. It also tends to focus on the negative, instead of acknowledge many of the positives, including the fact that an amended version of the Disabled Protection Law was passed this year (more on that in a future post). There was also this interesting quote:

The presence of a special guide denotes progress, according to Mike Brace, the
chairman of the British Paralympic Association. “It’s a clumsy attempt to
override years of limited awareness. It’s not ideal, but up to seven years ago,
they might not have acknowledged disabled people at all.”

The point he makes is a legitimate one and unlike a lot of minority groups, the disabled have only really gotten the respect they deserved and been included in society in western countries over the past 20-30 years. With that in mind, its hard to expect China to reach that point in a short span of time, things are moving forward here, improving each year, though the process has been slow so far, many place their hopes on the Paralympics to change all that and provide needed recognition and interaction for the disabled and the rest of society.

2008/05/29

On the Subway 5: Paper vs. Coin, Beijing vs. Shanghai

The US$1 coin didn't go over very well when it was introduced and these days you'll very rarely come across one. In China, there is a RMB1 coin as well as a paper bill, but interestingly enough in China's 2 major cities, things work very differently.

In Shanghai, you almost always will receive RMB1 coins from taxi drivers, shops, and restaurants, while in Beijing, you can go a month and not come across a single RMB1 coin, instead you almost always see bills here.

Why is this? The only possible hypothesis we have as to why RMB1 coins have such high circulation in Shanghai is because of the subway machines, the majority of which accept coins only. Any other guesses? It will be interesting to see if coins start popping up more in Beijing after the new ticketing machines open up in the subway.

Zagat Goes to the Olympics

Zagat, the ever famous restaurant and hotel guide, will be releasing its first ever Beijing edition that will be ready for all those who will be traveling to the capital city for the Olympics, according to the New York Times.

According to the reader reviews, Beijing's most popular restaurant is Alameda, top food goes to Made in China (no way!), and best hotel goes to the Peninsula Palace (ahh???). Alameda is always popular among expats and regularly wins awards, but Made in China? I've eaten there and had great meals, but its far from the city's best and the prices are just flat out outrageous.

As for the Peninsula as Beijing's best hotel, I'm a little surprised. Beijing has many high end hotels and it seems they are adding five star establishments exponentially. The Grand Hyatt is arguably the city's best, but is hampered by relatively small room size. The Peninsula was the spot in the early 90s, but now it just seems to have lost its glamour and the rooms are just okay. With all the other new hotels like the Ritz Carlton, The Regent, and the ones that have yet to open like the Shangri-La's and the Park Hyatt, its going to be tough for the Peninsula to keep its top spot.

Oh yeah, the top tourist destination was the Forbidden City, what a surprise, right?

2008/05/28

Differences in Foreign Policy/Differences in Personal Decisions

From our Shangai correspondent:
The US and China couldn't take a more different approach to foreign policy. America believes in "spreading democracy" the world over and often gets involved in another country's domestic issues when morals (with or without quotation marks)(and definitely oil as well) come into play. China, on the other hand, likes to be the pleasant neighbor that nobody sees or hears from. It keeps to itself and let's other countries handle their own problems. I've come to realize this extends down to the people from each country.

Over the weekend, I saw an incident in an area packed with weekend shoppers where a woman came running through the square shouting for help. A man in pajamas and sandals was chasing after her and when he caught her, the man grabbed her ponytail and ripped her to the ground, then started dragging the hysterical, crying woman across the ground. The woman would occasionally grab hold of a lamppost and stop the progress, but ended up being dragged all the way to the curb. By this point, a large group of shoppers and pedestrians gathered around to witness this shocking sight. Over 50 people, including security guards, stood around watching the guy swear at the woman and abuse her and nobody did anything but stare. The man hailed a cab, threw the woman into the car, got in, the cab drove off, and the crowd dispersed.

In the US, I could imagine two results if the above situation took place. The first would be that people would go about their business while pretending to ignore the scene, though someone would call the police. The other is that a few people would get involved, make sure that the two parties were separated, and wait for the police to arrive. While Chinese love to “kan re nao” (watch the commotion), they won’t get involved in anyone else’s affairs, no matter how brutal or public they may be. The US is the opposite, people, like the government, are always going to get involved in other people’s affairs. With the oft discussed lack of personal space in China, at least in the old days, one would think it would be the other way around.

I always believed the Chinese approach to foreign policy was appropriate, especially culturally, and that if the situation truly called for it, China would ultimately intervene. Seeing the brutality of the scene I witnessed this past weekend, I’m not so sure anymore.

The Westside is the Bestside!

I really want to love the Bizcult blog, they come up with such great titles for their articles, but having read 2 recent posts, I find a lot to disagree with, though, I should let them off as its the articles they're quoting that lead them astray. Their blog entries typically start out with some creative lead-ins to introduce an article and then goes into it further.

One, for example, looks at Beijing’s west side and a mall that’s a favorite here at Modern Lei Feng, Joy City (check out our post about it here). It starts out: “What’s the west side of Beijing known for? Maybe squat toilets, newspapers on bulletin boards or old men playing cards.”

Huh? Wha??? Wait a second, why diss the west side? By the way, what accounts for the west side? Does it extend to the southwest and Fengtai? Does it go northwest to the university area in Haidian? What about the foreign enclave that is Houhai?

It goes on to say: "International retailers could be giving that more 'traditional; side of town a makeover. We’re not talking about Gucci and Prada. It’s more mid-range international retailers that are interested in the west side.”

Umm…What can I say, but WRONG! The “traditional” side of town? According to whom? First, if there is an area of Beijing that has resisted “change”, it would be the southern part of the city, basically anything south of subway line 2. As for international retailers not being interested in the west side, that’s if you don’t go any further west than Xidan. However, if you take the subway one stop further and head to Fuxingmen, you’ll find Armani, Cartier, Burberry, as well as Prada and Gucci, plus Beijing’s only version of the ultra-luxury department store Lane Crawford (all located in Parksons and Seasons Plaza).

The west side is positively overflowing with big money, all the banks are located there and it has now become the financial district, walk around Fuxingmen at lunchtime and try not to bump into an I-Banker, I dare you!

Xidan isn’t a luxury spot, its sort of Beijing’s version of Tokyo’s Shibuya . It’s usually teeming with teens and twenty something’s who are looking for mid-priced goods. Joy City encompasses this outlook, full of your typical foreign high street shops or their Chinese equivalents (ie Zara, Next, French Connection, Izzue, and Esprit), but also the lower end Chinese brands like Baleno, Giordano, Semir, and all the rest. It’s basically a mirror image of The Place, which the writer described as “posh.”

The article states that Xidanhasn’t always been a hit with foreign brands” just because Uniqlo failed there is a bit of a stretch, what about the Uniqlo location that failed in what the article describes as the “luxe” (a major stretch as its very mixed) that is Oriental Plaza?

In another entry talking about Chinese retail therapy, Shanghai is used as an example. The lead in to this one uses Nanjing East Road as an example, though this isn’t a very useful example because that area is filled with low-end Chinese and Hong Kong brands and very few “high street” brands and no luxury brands (beyond luxury watches).

The article concludes “While it is clear from Nanjing East road that more affluent customers don’t mind paying extra for that hip foreign brand, it’s not enough to sit back and rest on your laurels quite yet.” Again, what? Affluent shoppers are NOT going anywhere near Nanjing East, their down the road on Nanjing West at Plaza 66 and Plaza City or they’re roaming around Xintiandi. Further, Nanjing East Road is NOT a place to find local Shanghainese, it’s a place to find tourists, Chinese and foreign, but only tourists.

We feel a bit sorry for the blog as they dropped these entries right into our wheelhouse, so we felt the need to correct them. We have 2 lifelong west side residents here and so they were especially sensitive about the insult.

We do really want to thank Bizcult though as the article which led to their westside post has us starting to dream as it said that major foreign stores like the UK's Topshop and the US' Urban Outfitters and Banana Republic are coming to China this year. If this is true, it could be an expensive fall for us...

2008/05/27

Teahouses, Temples, and WaiTan

The US edition of GQ has a photo spread in this month's magazine called "An American in Shanghai" featuring one of summer's best and most versatile materials, seersucker. The photo locations are M on the Bund, Fangban Rd (near Yu Garden), Fuxing Park, Dongtai Rd, Cheng Huang Temple (Yu Garden), Huxinting Teahouse (Yu Garden), and Nanjing East Rd.

The depressing thing for those in China who see the spread is that, despite the summer sun starting to bare down on Shanghai (and Beijing), options for summer suits are minimal. Summer suits made of cotton and seersucker are perfect for every occasion, dressed up enough for the office (though not for a major client/customer meeting), they also are very easily dressed down for a stylish, but casual touch at weekend parties or a night on the town. However, they are almost impossible to find in stores or at tailors in China. You'll either have to make a trip overseas or look at high end retail shops, as the fashion labels all feature these great summer suits. Even staid old school Brooks Brothers has released a cotton version of their great Fitzgerald suit (aka the JFK suit) for the summer.

Linen is the other great summer fabric, though it is more for casual situations (or possibly a more casual, non client/customer meeting day at the office). Senli & Ma, my favorite Beijing tailor, now has linen in, its extremely high quality, but with a hefty price tag to match.

Oh yes, and about the copy, I hate the DC is to New York as Beijing is to Shanghai, NO! Granted, Beijing is the capital and home of the government, like DC, and New York is the home of US financial matters while Shanghai has a stock exchange, but Beijing, especially with the creation of its Financial District, is an equal player in the finance world. To argue which city is cooler, has better restaurants or better nightlife is not an easy argument and it really depends on your own personal preferences. Finally, a correction, Shanghai is not Beijing's sister, its more like Beijing's granddaughter, thank you very much.

And before we go, on the Laowai front, the article did justice to our post last week, mentioning stuff Laowai like about Shanghai (#2):
"neighborhoods built in the 1920s and ‘30s.” (read: love the history and "authenticity")
"staggering mix of old and new" (read: Acceptably Chinese)
French Concession “1920s art deco mansions, tucked-away cafes”

Where Does One Begin?

At this point, the earthquake is likely to be the story of 2008 in China, even overshadowing the that magical day in August when the Summer Olympics kick off. It's already two weeks since that afternoon, but it still weighs heavily on everyone's mind. The absolute tragedy of it all, the sudden shock, the loss of 60,00+ and rising by the day, it's very difficult to put into perspective.

We've avoided writing about the subject for the most part so far, but have since decided its time to do our best and tackle it. There are a number of different perspectives to look at this from and we'll try to analyze it from all, or at least many, of them.

For the Chinese government, the earthquake was an absolute tragedy, but the size and nature of the tragedy and the government's response to it (especially as compared to Burma's response to the cyclone) caused the international community to do a complete 180 in their view of China. Even the Dala! Lama may (or may not) have changed his position on attending the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. The world community has stood alongside China, donating money and goods in huge number while the government has been very organized in putting together relief effort and aid. However, lest this outpouring of goodwill be forgotten and threaten to give Beijing's Olympics a black eye (like during those rough days in March), BOCOG has rerouted the torch so that its final stop before ending up in Beijing will be Sichuan. Sure it made sense to change the scheduling (the torch was originally supposed to go through Sichuan in early June), but a bit of the cynic is coming out and seeing this as a very (well) calculated move by BOCOG and the Chinese government. At the same time, this tragedy is sure to have major consequences for the Chinese economy during the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year and beyond, especially compounded with the Olympics hit China is sure to take.

The people are another story. There was an unbelievable outpouring of communal grief and patriotism, the likes of which I have never seen. While some may have originally written it off as disingenuous or government inspired, almost all of it was extremely heart felt, personal, and grueling. Donation campaigns started around the city almost immediately and charity events continue to this day. Sudden vigils/remembrances were popping up around Beijing each night, as well as a number of other cities. The political implications of the 3 days of mourning and the lowering the flags to half staff are also very important. The decision was unprecedented in Chinese history, this was the first time these actions were taken to honor ordinary citizens, it was the Chinese government recognizing that it has citizens. I think it was for this reason that after a procession that started in Tiananmen and went around the city on the first night of mourning, the police presence around the city was heightened to levels I haven't seen in a long time, especially in/around Tiananmen on day two (don't forget, we're not that far away from a certain day in June). Yet those events aren't on the minds of most people, perhaps down the road, this will be remembered as an unbelievable first step, but for the time being, everyone was concentrated on mourning and rebuilding.

Some of our contributors and friends witnessed the US response and the outpouring that took place after 9/11 and said that could hardly compare in terms of grief and true feelings to the response that ordinary Chinese felt after the earthquake. Of course the numbers and causes were very different, but the fear, the bravery, and the defiance were there in both cases, but so much stronger in China. The Chinese sense of patriotism and brotherhood is stirring, if not a little scary if you're a foreigner.

In the coming days, we'll take a look at how the media reacted to this and compare/contrast this response with US/foreign media. Even composing this was hard, right now, our hearts go out to all the people in Sichuan, Gansu, and other affected areas. We hope that this event stays in people's minds and the oversight that is required as the rebuilding begins will take place and people won't let this slip away.

UPDATE: Being extremely lazy lately and ignoring Chinalyst over the Memorial Day holiday, I've just found out some others have been saying similar things as we said here.

More Olympic Draws Completed

If you've walked around Beijing or turned on a tv in China, you know how important the Women's Volleyball team is to the country. Volleyball is extremely popular here and the women's team have been followed very closely ever since they started their winning ways in the early 80s, including PR China's first ever team sports gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. The Chinese women will be defending the gold they won in Athens, but have a rough road to gold. Groups were drawn after completion of the Qualifiers in Tokyo and the Chinese women are paired with the US, Cuba, Poland, Japan, and Venezuela in Group A. Group B will contain Brazil, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Algeria, and Kazakhstan.
The groups for basketball have also been drawn (though that took place about a week ago), on the men's side Group A will be Iran, Lithuania, Argentina, Russia, Australia, and one qualifier to be determined later. Group B will be China, Angola, Spain, the US, and 2 qualifiers.

For the women it will be Korea, Australia, Russia, and 3 qualifiers in Group A, while China, Mali, New Zealand, the US, and two qualifiers will face off in Group B.

While the Chinese are rabid about men's basketball and a lot of pressure will be placed on NBA stalwarts Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, the Chinese team will have a tough path to advance having to go head-to-head against sides like Spain and the US in opening round action.

2008/05/26

So Long Iraq, We Hardly Knew Ya?

A strange saga is going on right now as the Iraqi government seems to have disbanded its sports organizations, including, at least according to FIFA, the Iraqi Football Association (IFA). Executives at FIFA have decided to suspend Iraq and the FIFA Congress will meet on May 30th to decide whether to suspend Iraq for a year.

It seems that the original announcement from the Iraqi Sports Ministry was a bit confusing and now the head of the IFA has appealed to FIFA claiming that the disbanding only included a part of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and has no effect on the IFA. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but Iraq may also be facing punishment from the IOC, including the possibility of being barred from participating in this year's Olympics.

Of course, in World Cup Qualifying, Iraq is in the same group as China. During their qualifying match in February, China struggled to earn a point off Iraq. If Iraq is suspended, it will mean the group will only consist of 3 teams, making China's road somewhat easier (or at least more defined) and will require success in their matches against Qatar, the first of which is a road fixture to be played this Sunday (June 1st). Australia, who will be more or less assured qualifying if Iraq is dropped, is set to lose almost US$3 million if their match against Iraq, scheduled for this Saturday, is canceled.

For more on this story:
Iraq Suspended From International Competition

Sunday Photo Thread: Memorial Day Weekend Edition

JingAn Xiaoting was regularly packed with weekend shoppers purchasing everything you can think of and, unlike the old Xiangyan Market, the majority of shoppers were locals. The market will close down at the end of this week, to be replaced with a new transportation hub. It was especially crowded this past weekend with shoppers trying to get last minute deals before it all goes by the wayside. Some of the shops will relocate to the Email Fashion Plaza across from Jingan Temple, while others were closing down for good or dispersing around the city. The famous mala tang stall that regularly served a long line of hungry customers is moving just down the street to what will sure to be cleaner digs on Wanhangdu Rd, but the lines are sure to remain. Our Shanghai correspondent stopped by to snap a few pictures while munching on the excellent mala tang, the results follow:







Thank Goodness the Pandas Are Safe

I'm not going to criticize the foreign media that much for their coverage of the Sichuan earthquake, but there have been a number of "special interest" stories that focus on Sichuan's panda reserves. The AP even brought it up in an all-inclusive article about the dangerous state of Sichuan's dams, the very large aftershock that struck over the weekend, the miracle 80-year old survivor, and of course, the pandas. At the end of the article where it referred to the pandas, it talks about bamboo being trucked in for them to eat and includes the quote: "The road conditions are very bad and transportation takes much longer than normal. But thank goodness, the worst food crisis is almost over," Zhou said. When people are struggling to find places to sleep and food to eat, this comment about the pandas looks a bit callous, though I know its something on the minds of many foreigners who know Sichuan as the home of the pandas.

We have a lot more to say about the quake and will do it in the next few days, but for now, the NY Times had an extensive article about the "tofu buildings".

2008/05/22

Thom vs. Tom

Its interesting to see, yet again, the battle of the T(h)om's playing itself out, this time on the pages of the New York Times. These articles have been done to death over the past few years, ever since Tom Ford decided to "come back like Jordan" and start his own menswear line. Tom Ford, the man who reinvented Gucci and made it cool again, started his own label which featured traditional Saville Row tailoring elements alongside his concept of American masculinity. On the other hand, Thom Browne's style was classic Americana, the '60s with modern (read: strange) touches.

Fashion is a fickle thing, who do we credit for the current trend of narrowness (lapels, pants, ties) in men's wear? Should it be Europeans like Heidi Slimane for his work at Dior Homme and/or Jil Sander or are we living in Thom's world now? In any case, the trend of slim and narrow isn't only seen in high end US$4,000 suits, but in what you get at the local mall in stores like Banana Republic, J. Crew, and H&M.

Tom Ford hasn't impacted fashion so much anymore as he's going back to the classics, though during his Gucci days, he turned around that brand as well as men's fashion as a whole. Thom Browne's look has its impact, but only slightly, the overall Browne look, when adopted by the normal/average guy, looks ridiculous.

The Dior Homme aesthetic has taken over Beijing, as seen regularly on stylites, but will Thom's image of American men have its day in the Chinese capital?

Luxury Overkill Continues in Beijing

Saying that high end luxury is a growing trend in Beijing is an understatement, it’s getting to the point of overkill as the market seems incredibly saturated. I've talked about the luxury trend in hotels, restaurants, and bars, but its just as bad (or worse) when it comes to malls.

In the relatively short distance from HuaMao, down Jianguomen and onto Changan Jie ending a bit north of Fuxingmen, one would come across 5 Cartier stores (Huamao, Guomao, Yantai (coming soon), Peninsula, Xin Dong An (coming soon), Parksons (why not at Seasons Place?)), 4 Hermes stores, and 3 Louis Vuitton boutiques. Compare that to Chicago, America’s 3rd largest city with a much higher per capita income and larger number of millionaires than in Beijing which only offers 1 of each of the above stores.

This begs the ultimate question: who is shopping (and buying) at these stores and how can they survive? At Wangfujing, within a 10 minute walk you come across 3 Nike stores and 4 Adidas shops, not to mention the sporting goods mall which has one of each. The difference is that these stores sell goods that are obtainable by the average Chinese person. Most Beijingers can afford at the very least a hat or tshirt at Nike, which can be purchased for around RMB200 or less. Shop sizes differ from the mammoth Nike store in Dongfang Plaza to the small shop on the walking street to the impressive (but limited floorspace) XinDongAn store. The stores, with their huge swooshes, serve as permanent, additional advertising for the Nike brand.

That isn’t the case with Cartier. Even many white collar Chinese, the kind that might be able to afford Cartier, aren’t that familiar with the brand and its history. Nor can they really afford the wares offered inside which start at around RMB20,000 and go up, up, up. Isn’t part of being an exclusive, high end brand making the customer come to you? Unlike Nike, which can serve as an impulse purchase for someone who may have just intended on browsing, a person goes to Cartier knowing they want to buy something and having done their homework, nobody (well, very, very few people) are just going to stumble upon a Cartier and decide to drop RMB50,000 on a pen.

The rush to expand now has to do in large part with the Olympics (hell, everything is connected to the Olympics somehow), as (very rich) foreigners descend on Beijing for a month of great sporting accomplishments and conspicuous consumption. However, once the last medal is handed out and August’s revelry turns to September’s hangover, it will be interesting to see how, longterm, these ultraluxury brands can maintain so many stores in such a small space.

Blade Runner Coming to Beijing?

A few months back, I brought you the story of Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who dreamed of running in the Olympics but was rejected by the IAAF, which governs track and field. Well, Pistorius took his case to an arbitration panel that ruled in his favor. That means Pistorius and his blades could be lined up alongside athletes with 2 legs at this year's Games.

There's still a major hurdle in that Pistorius must qualify for the team, which would require him shaving down his time by 4 tenths of a second. Despite how little that sounds like, for him to actually achieve that would be very incredible and is nearly impossible. However, there is also the possibility that the South African track and field heads could select him for the relay team, which is picked and doesn't require qualifying. Doing so would be condemning the South African team to defeat, but as they aren't expected to be medal contenders to begin with, it could make them (ie Pistorius) the story of this year's Olympics.

One of the greatest concerns was about the precedent this sets as prosthetic legs, unlike real ones, can only improve with time as science gets more advanced. However, as a lawyer, I have a lot of respect for the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision. The decision applies solely to Pistorius and the prosthetics that he plans to don in Beijing, a new assessment would have to be done on another athlete or if Pistorius changes legs.

If you were the South African track and field heads, what would you do? Choose Pistorius over a more "deserving" athlete? It's hard to say Pistorius isn't deserving, but at the same time, he will be able to run (and most likely win gold) in the Paralympics, the person who he will be replacing on the relay team wouldn't have such a shot. If he can qualify, then the argument is moot, but as it looks like he won't be able to, its a tough decision.

2008/05/20

Sunday (Wednesday) Photo Thread - Remembering the Victims 2

Today is the final day of the mourning period, but we should never forget the victims and what happened....

These pictures were taken at a vigil last night in front of East Church at Wangfujing:






2008/05/19

A Note To Readers

Being in Japan, its hard to gauge the mood of those on the ground in China, but having talked to some correspondents to this blog and friends back in China, I think its a bit in poor taste to discuss things like a foie gras ban or the Olympics during this mourning period. Therefore, this site will go silent (or will only have earthquake related coverage) until the official state mourning period has ended. We would like to encourage everybody to donate in their own way and, by now, everyone knows how, but a great way is to go to the Bookworm in Beijing, Suzhou, or Chengdu and donate money or goods. Right now, money is no longer the most important thing, but tangible goods like food, clothing, tents, and blankets are an absolute necessity.

Foie Pas No More

The Chicago city council recently overturned its ban on foie gras, to the cheers of all Chicago foodies. I was sure I talked about the ban somewhere, but now I'm struggling to find it. In any case, the ban is a thing of the past. The fears that Chicago restaurants would lose their spot as arguably the best in the country and that it would damage their business didn't really pan out and very few restaurants were actually fined under the ban.

The city, using faulty knowledge of the treatment of the ducks whose livers become foie gras, should have never banned foie gras to begin with and it really made Chicago a laughing stock for awhile. The city has so many problems, to be concerned about duck liver and to send health inspectors to restaurants to search for foie gras in the cleanest kitchens in the city instead of checking out rat-infested diners and other small establishments was embarrassing. It was a disgrace.

It's great that logic has returned to the city council.

Sunday Photo Thread: Remebering the Victims

Pictures from last night's candlelight vigil/march around Beijing:






all images are property of Modern Lei Feng, if you'd like to use any of the pictures for non-commercial purposes, feel free to, but please contact the blog writers first.

2008/05/16

Chinese Paralympians Make Their Manchester Debut

An interesting article in The Times discusses Chinese athletes attending this year's Paralympics World Cup in Manchester. The article notes that this is the first time China has sent a complete team, this year composing of 50 athletes competing in each of the 4 sports. It also talks about China's overwhelming dominance in Athens 2004 and their predicted dominance this time around.

The Paralympics, which will take place 2 weeks after the Olympics in September will be a great opportunity for those who couldn't get tickets to take a peak inside all those beautiful venues, especially the Bird's Nest and Water Cube. For anyone interested, tickets are supposed to go on sale this Sunday.

2008/05/15

Bar Review: Yin

Having announced the charitable intentions of Yin Bar at the Emperor Hotel a few days ago, I figured I should at least check it out and give to the victims of the earthquake. Walking in to the hotel, you quickly see why it is part of the Design Hotels group as it has a very stylish, modern lobby area.

The bar is on the hotel's roof which is on the 4th floor, but there is no elevator (strike one, this is a brand new hotel, its failure to pay attention to accessibility is striking). It is an outdoor wood deck and the seating area is relatively small, however there are stairs that lead to 2 decks and more seating. Even with the upper decks, it seems they are trying to maintain a degree of exclusivity by keeping the number down and even at its fullest, it still felt very peaceful. For atmosphere, they had a live Dj spinning chilled house music.

The drink menu has one of the city's wider selections of top shelf liquor and some interesting cocktails with names all beginning with Emperor, except you quickly find out they just include HuangJiu. The Emperor Mojito was an interesting concoction, a regular mojito with the aforementioned edition of huangjiu and while I found it incredibly sweet, being an absolute huangjiu hater, I still found it drinkable, the flavor of the huangjiu masked by the lime. The regular mojito was a bit weaker than what I'd expect, especially having just sampled a mojito at The Saddle a few days prior (when The Saddle says the drinks are strong, they mean it!).

It's time to mention the prices, because this is important. To drink here, you don't need an expat's package, you need an Emperor's package. All the drinks are basically double or more what you'd pay anywhere else (bottled beers around RMB50, the mojito was RMB87). The drinks, however, aren't any better than what you'd get at one of the fancier places (Q Bar, Suzie Wong, etc) and in some cases, are worse. They are also some of the most expensive I've come across in China, even outdoing places like CJW or Shanghai's Barbarossa. US$12 for a mojito would be high in New York, in Beijing its downright offensive, especially when the quality isn't there.

For the price you are paying, you'd expect excellent service, but after sitting for 10 minutes without a single wait person stopping by and without a menu, I had to go find one. After that, service was somewhat spotty at best. When they could be found, they were excellent, even offering to switch the Emperor Mojito if it wasn't to our liking, but they often couldn't be found. Also, rarely found in the capital, Yin offers free snacks to all patrons, their offerings are nuts and breadsticks, a nice touch (referring back to The Saddle, they also offer snacks, though they choose (incredibly salty) popcorn to match with your margarita).

The view is what sets this place apart, you sit eye level with the Forbidden City and can see Jingshan and BaiTa off in the distance, its a unique experience from that standpoint. The location on Beichizi is dead at night, so its going to be hard to draw patrons and the prices will push a lot of customers away, except those out for a special night. It's a unique new edition to the Beijing scene, but who's going to go?

2008/05/14

Nike Releases its Uniforms for Chinese Athletes

While China will wear Adidas on the medal stand, many of its most famous athletes, including Yao Ming and Liu Xiang, will be wearing Nike during the Olympics. This week, Nike gave the media a first look at their uniform designs for Chinese athletes in a number of different sports including basketball, track, boxing, judo, cycling and a number of other sports. The designs were presented at a celebration held in the Forbidden City. For the most part, the designs all seem relatively boring and very, very red. Photos follow:


Stuff Laowai Like 2 - Shanghai

While laowai love to chase after "authenticity", they won't give up creature comforts for their desire to be "authentic", they'll find other ways to make up for it. For this reason, laowai overwhelmingly prefer Shanghai to Beijing.

Nas raps about the "acceptable negro" (ie Bill Cosby types, NOT Chris Rock types) and Shanghai is an "acceptably Chinese" city. It isn't necessarily a matter of racism, but more about societal norms and what one's been exposed to. The city is very much Chinese, but there are still parts that don't feel like China, this pleases the laowai. The number of foreigners in Shanghai and the excellent selection of foreign restaurants also makes the laowai comfortable. Yet the laowai can also have a very "Chinese" day and satisfy his desire to feel like he's in China. While short-term visitors typically prefer Beijing for its "authentic" Chinese "feel", the true laowai (ie the expats), love Shanghai for its creature comforts and how it mirrors their life back home in New York or London or Los Angeles.

The laowai will quickly identify himself with all things Shanghai and will lust after a French Concession mansion, thus fulfilling his desire for history(very important to laowai), authenticity, as well as all the comforts of modern living (once they fix it up, something laowai love to do).

While the laowai might have many favorite spots around China (hint hint Yunnan and Tibet, coming soon), he will call Shanghai home and will forever prefer it to its "Grandfather" up north.

Post-Tiananmen Patriotism

There have been a lot of articles about the trend of rising patriotism among the younger generation in China. These discussions are nothing new especially in light of the situation in
T!bet, the torch relay, and now the earthquake, all events that have raised the national fervor in China. I’ve read a number of similar articles and for the most part, they’ve bored me, except for one in particular which raised some interesting points.

The statement that struck me the most was:
Many middle-aged Chinese intellectuals are astounded by the differences between
them and their younger peers. Academics I know, members of the Tiananmen generation, are shocked by some students' disdain for foreigners and, often, disinterest in liberal concepts such as democratization.

I started thinking about this even more and there is definitely a point there. The “1989 generation” was liberal and very much open to western ideas. They were, and still are, very open to westerners and the concepts that they believed in during the leadup to what happened that year. After the events of that year, many of them went abroad and studied, came back, made a lot of money, and are generally happy.

After 1989, the country was basically on lockdown and the focus was inward until after the reforms and Deng’s 1992 Southern tour. The new generation grew up in a less chaotic, more powerful China than any previous generation had witnessed. They also grew up in a far more polarized situation, the outside world still strictly condemning China for ’89, but yet still interested in trading with them.

The pre-89 generation was wayward, not sure what they were living for, the post-89 generation was sold on the need for national pride. This situation planted the seeds and every condemnation, every attack or “attack” (like the Belgrade bombing and spy plane incident), and every slight (real or imagined) caused nationalist sentiment to grow and strengthen to the point its at today, where even students at top universities and white collar employees are under its influence.

The scary thing is, as the article’s author stated, "Beijing's leadership, for all its problems, might be less hard-line than China's youth, the country's future." If China ever were to become a truly free political system, it might actually become more, not less, aggressive. The government got its wish, a youthful populace that is “under control” and exceedingly loyal, unfortunately, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. The test now will be how the government can control this new problem.

2008/05/13

Drinking for a Cause

The new Emperor Hotel has announced that between May 13th and 16th, all proceeds from their beautiful bar, Yin, will be donated to the Chinese Red Cross and go to earthquake relief.

With the renovations of What? Bar, there has been a lack of any nightlife in the Tiananmen area (though this will change as soon as the Legation Quarter opens). Now, The Emperor Hotel has opened on Beichizi, just east of the Forbidden City, and offers a hot nightspot in the city center. This area, full of small touristy shops and hole-in-the-wall noodle places has been getting a dash of culture lately with the recent opening of the Zenith Art Gallery in a beautiful old building and now, The Emperor comes to town. The Emperor is a high-end boutique hotel that is part of the Design Hotels group, known for its very stylish hotels.

The bar at the Emperor, Yin, is the exact opposite of What? Bar, which was a dingy, loud, raucous spot to listen to live music. Yin has a very comfortable, relaxed spot with great rooftop views of the Forbidden City and the surrounding area.

Have a drink and help others!

A Lazy Foreigner's Look at the Beijing Dining Scene (Brought to You by the Wall Street Journal)

For a few months now, I’ve been frustrated with the quality of reporting coming out of China. It isn’t so much the news writers, but sports and features writers are coming to the capital and filing reports for folks back home in preparation for the Olympics, all too often just offering a guidebook glimpse of the city and failing to understand it. This time, a food writer from the Wall Street Journal works his lazy best on Beijing’s food scene. His recommendations and comments are straight of a Lonely Planet, giving knowledgeable readers the feeling that he could have written the article without even setting foot in one of the hutongs he talks about so much.

The writer states that: "the city has something else to offer attendees willing to venture beyond hotel and tourist restaurants: some of the best food on the planet.” Unfortunately, with few exceptions, he focuses only on tourist restaurants. The article talks about the “extremes of Chinese food”, listing a Crystal Jade fish dish that costs US$41 as the “most expensive” dish. Well, while it might be the most expensive out of the restaurants he chose, that’s far from the most expensive dish one could find in Beijing. Further, to call the Peking Duck at Liqun as the “most delicious” dish in Beijing is going a bit far.

He talks to 3 “foodies” to get his 8 recommendations, but these “foodies” qualifications are questionable at best. Let’s look at the choices:
Peking Duck – Liqun
Liqun has long been an expat favorite, probably because its in a hutong and its “authentic” because it is very run down. The restaurant is tiny, “inelegant” (as the author puts it), and the customer base seems to be entirely foreign. The duck is good, but isn’t outstanding and for my money, even though it is high on pomp, Da Dong’s duck is still the city’s best (with City Hotel’s restaurant in 2nd and Bianyifang in 3rd). Compared to those, Liqun’s just average.

Beijing Snacks – Jiumen Xiaochi
Another very popular hutong spot on every tourist’s list. It is one of the few places around to still sample many of the local specialities. The problem is, this place really isn’t very good, there are much smaller local places around that offer some of these dishes, but not many options to find them all in one setting. I still prefer the area around Huguosi for my Beijing snacks, but I can’t really complain too much about this choice, though why not sample another Beijing speciality, zhajiang mian at one of the many good options (like Lao ZhaJiangMian Wang)? Or what about the local chicken wings for places with real personality?

Tan Family Cuisine – Guo Yao Xiao Yu
Another hutong spot, are you starting to see the pattern? I’ve never been to this spot so I won’t say much about it. From my understanding of “Tan Family Cuisine”, its an offshoot of imperial dining, and while the idea of this tiny restaurant in a hutong might be appealing to some, there are better choices that aren’t necessarily on the tourist path. For my money, I’d go with Na Jia Xiao Guan, an excellent restaurant with an interesting design and always a huge line out front.

Guizhou - Jun Qin Hua
4th pick and 4th hutong you’d be entering. He describes this place’s Guizhou style lazi ji as the spiciest dish in China, though I highly doubt it could compare to a Chongqing style hotpot at Hai Di Lao. He completely misses the fact that while Guizhou food is spicy, it is a very different spicy from what you’ll find at the Hunan or Sichuan restaurants that foreigners are more used to. Guizhou food often incorporates sour flavors to cut the spiciness, not mentioning this is sort of doing a disservice to the reader. However, I do give him credit for not going with the easy choice of 3 Guizhou Ren.

Beijing Dumplings – Xian Lao Man
What can I say, this place does offer excellent dumplings and so I can’t complain too much about its inclusion.

Beijing CongeeHong Zhuang Yuan
I’ve never heard of “Beijing congee” before, and typically consider this a very southern dish. Never been to this restaurant and therefore don’t want to say too much about it, though it seems like he was just trying to mix it up by throwing in a cheaper restaurant.

Modern Beijing – Hua Jia Yi Yuan
This place is excellent and draws in a pretty Chinese customer base, I have no complaints with its inclusion on the list.

Hakka - Kejia Xiao Zhen
I’m not a fan of southern food and wouldn’t really choose to eat Hakka food in Beijing. I don’t have too much to say about this place except, you guessed it, yet another hutong restaurant

SichuanFei Teng Yu Xiang
This is a place that is popular with foreigners due to its Gongti location, but does get a decent amount of locals as well. The food’s good, but for the price, I’d go to the much classier South Beauty or Yu Xiang Ren Jia, which are just as good, and of course, the always popular Chuan Ban. Then again, there are many great choices for Sichuan food in Beijing and it’s kind of hard to go wrong.

Actually, this article (and the overwhelming choice of hutong dining), is connected to Stuff Laowai Like. Laowai favorites included in the article are: hutongs (coming soon), authenticity (coming soon), "local specialities", and contrasts.

On the Subway 4: Style Police

In the winter months in Beijing, everyone starts to bundle up and fur, sometimes real, more often of questionable origin, becomes an inevitable sight, as lining on coats, in/around hoods, and in totally fur coats. All too often, the fur isn’t even real fur, as chronicled by Stylites.

One day on a crowded Beijing subway car, there was a short, thick man (most likely from Dongbei) in a (very fake) fur coat, the type of coat that (if real) would only be worn by pimps and professional athletes in the US. It was hard not to notice him, but it’s not exactly an uncommon sight, one I’d only warrant a peak at and nothing more. However, a young French guy standing next to me conversing with his Chinese girlfriend thought it was much more important than that.

Frog: Do you see that guy?
GF: Yes, what?
Frog (excitedly): DO. YOU. SEE. THAT. GUY?
GF (even more puzzled): yes, what is so special with him?!?
Frog: He’s wearing a fur coat.
GF (perplexed): so?
Frog (perplexed and excited): He’s a man, he is wearing a fur coat.
GF: Do you have a fever? What’s wrong with you?
Frog (indignantly): He’s a MAN! Doesn’t he know that men don’t wear fur coats? What? Is he gay?
GF (pounding her head against the pole)

Ahh, don’t you just love the French?The US may serve as the “world’s police force”, but the French want to be the globe’s fashion police. My “biglaw” dreams and the salary that goes with it may have brought me to Japan, but the lack of these sort of exchanges have led me to miss Beijing on a daily basis.

What Will Be Rising Out of the Inner Mongolian Desert?

I can’t remember in what expat rag I first heard about businessman Cai Jiang’s project at Ordos (Urbane perhaps?), a town in the middle of the Inner Mongolian desert. It seemed interesting and unique, but I didn’t pay it much mind until I came across a long article in the New York Times about the project. Basically Mr. Cai is building a brand new district in Ordos, which is to consist of everything you’d want in what will basically be a new town: office buildings, apartments, museums, and malls, many that will be designed by world famous architects. The crowning touch of Ordos, though, is its 100 villas that are to be designed by 100 of the world’s hottest architects. They are to serve as housing for the rich, but also a sort of outdoor architectural/sculpture park.

The thing that most readers will probably take from the article is this part:
Not long ago, residents of this region 350 miles west of Beijing lived in elaborate tents called yurts. Now, with a population of 1.5 million, many live in homes that would make New Yorkers jealous. According to Bao Chongming, the regional vice-mayor, they have the second highest per-capita income in China (trailing only Shanghai, the country’s financial capital) and an annual economic growth rate of 40 percent.
I know, I know, you went back and made sure you read that right and, you did. The second highest per-capita income in China. Annual economic growth of 40% (mainly in coal and dairy). Granted, those stats are coming from a “regional vice-mayor”, not always the best source for accurate statistics, but even if they are remotely true, its absolutely shocking. Ordos is a city that almost no foreigners and very few Chinese, have ever heard of. And while it’s population of 1.5 million people might seem big by US standards, that’s small potatoes in China.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this, the artist Ai Weiwei, whose in part responsible for the Bird’s Nest design and is behind the Qu Nar restaurant in Beijing, is heavily involved in this project. The article explains that the architects picked were given free reign to design with very little guidelines, leaving one to wonder how integrated the villas will be. It sounds like it might be a situation where there are 100 beautiful individual homes, but when viewed together, it is complete chaos. The article also brings up the very real issue of environmental concerns when putting together such a large scale city project where now there is almost nothing.

Inner Mongolia has long been famous for its grasslands, beautiful prairies of great open space, will Ordos change all that? Will it become known for a sparkling city pushing the envelop of modern architecture in a country that’s already on the cutting edge or will it end up a desert disaster?

The Earthquake, Rumors, and What Might Be Coming

First, here at A Modern Lei Feng, our heart's go out to all those in Sichuan and around China who were affected by the 7.8 earthquake that hit near Chengdu yesterday. We will be donating money and doing what we can to help and encourage others to do the same.

There is not much we can add to the earthquake reporting, while it was felt in Beijing and Shanghai, it didn't create real damage and only those in high rises knew that it was even happening. I do agree with others, this is yet another bad sign in what was supposed to be a very lucky year for China. Beyond the snow storm, the T!betan protests (and the torch relay aftermath), and now this earthquake, there is hand, foot, and mouth disease that has been spreading through interior provinces, the Qingdao train accident, the thwarted terrorist attack in Xinjiang and the possible "terrorist" attack on a Shanghai bus, plus rumors about potential terrorist attacks against transportation targets in Beijing. At this point, China has been struck with so many disasters, both natural and man-made, what's next?

So what more can we offer? For those in Beijing and Shanghai, the earthquake wasn't so scary, but fear spread when rumors started circulating widely about aftershocks that would measure between 3 and 6 on the Richter Scale and would take place between 10 pm and midnight. This was sent as a legitimate SMS and was received over and over again, it even made it onto some reputed (if there is such a thing when talking about Chinese media) media websites, though it was quickly removed.

In the US, usage of text messaging is relatively limited while in China it is used by everybody as its cheaper than a phone call and often more convenient, especially when on a packed bus or subway. Usage of SMS is one of the main ways rumors spread so quickly (ie the AIDS Kabab rumor as another example). Rumors tend not to spread so much in the US because they often are sent through email and the reader has full usage of the internet to check the veracity of the rumor. In China, even when the text message defies logic (ie being able to predict the time of an earthquake, AIDS spread through food), the number of times you receive them and how they are often sent from otherwise highly intelligent individuals makes it harder to ignore.