July 9, 2004

the complete china experience

how could anyone claim to have had the complete china experience if they didn't eat something bad and get really sick. we'll i've finally completed my china experience... and the past few days haven't been pretty.

so after two and a half months in china, i've lost weight, i've been eating great, and relatively speaking i had no problems with my stomach... that is until wed morning.
tue night i had been at work late, until i ran out to meet kevin for drinks. since i was in a hurry i ate at McDs. then i proceeded to drink half a bottle of whiskey that night. after that we ate some food from a street vendor on the way home. i had some deep fried bread, what could possibly be wrong with that?
well, i new my stomach wouldn't like the McDs and drink, but what happened next was definitely not caused by that. i've never experienced anything like this in my life. perhaps it was the street vendor food? may be the ice i had with the whiskey was bad? (everyone tells you not to trust the ice, but i had been having ice in my drinks since i got here without major problems, so i didn't even think twice about it.)
basically, i've been pissing out my ass at least once an hour for the past two days. additionally i've had horrible gas.
wed when i woke up, i spent some time in the bathroom and then decided i should probably eat and go to work. that was a mistake. i was miserable at work. additionally i started to get really bad gas and i was belching left and right. and when ever i did i could taste the breakfast i just had. and the taste was getting really bad.
wed night i took a couple imoduim and passed out. the imodium got me through the night, but i woke up in the morning in a hurry to get to the bathroom. needless to say i didn't bother going to work thur. thur i didn't really eat much. i bought some bananas and yogurt, but any time i put something into my stomach, there was hell to pay.
and my belching was getting worse. i could still taste the meal from the day before. and it was starting to taste really rotten.
i didn't want to take any more imodium because i wanted to get whatever it was out of my system. before coming to china i got some ciprofloxacin in case i got really sick (my previous definition of really sick was bloody diarrhea, but i was getting ready to revise my definition) and if i wasn't better in the morning i was planning on taking it.
so thur night was hell and i kept waking up every hour. also my stomach gas was reaching phenomenal proportions. finally around 3am i lost my lunch, so to speak. quite violently as well.
the good news is that after that things really started improving. my leaky ass stopped leaking and my stomach stopped hurting. by friday afternoon i was feeling brave enough to eat a club sandwich from my local bar. and it wasn't painful.
since then the situation has improved. i think that the upcoming week i'll be able to go out to the schesuan hot pot dinner that i had to postpone.
well, at least i know that next time i'm in this situation i'm simply going to force myself to puke, rather than waiting two days for my body to get around to doing it.

July 6, 2004

adieu, adieu, pt 2

so today was kevin's last night in beijing. kevin's a guy i met at my local bar, platform. i've seen him a couple times around town and at the bar. tonight was hit last night in town and he invited me to join him and his friends for drinks.

they were going out to sichahai/houhai so there was really no way i could say no. also, i spent the last weekend working, and i've actually been working entirely too much recently, so the break was really needed.
also, kevin is heading back to the states and is going to be starting school in SF at the academy of arts, so i gave him my email address and told him to drop me a line when he gets into town.
well, we went out with a large group of people and i started into a good night of drinking. i ordered a bottle of whiskey, and everyone else mixed it with some green tea, but i decided to drink it strait. that always does the trick.
i told kevin about good bars and restaurants is SF. i also talked to a couple of his friends who's names i don't remember now although i've talked to them before (one from new york and another from new zealand.) also, raymond decided to sing a couple chinese songs for kevin with the accompaniment of a guitarist who was wandering the street looking for just the opportunity that raymond provided.
we ended the evening at two little carts with deep friers and assorted foods on sticks. after that we wandered the small hutong alleys in search of another supposed bar that we never found. eventually we got to an actually road with cars and called cabs and headed home.
i had a good time hanging out and i really needed the decompression break.

June 30, 2004

people suck

so it's not enough that this has been a shitty week of ronda leaving, and my working hours going to hell, and me staying at work way to late, but now i find that my blog is getting spammed.

so it's not enough that on average i get about 120 pieces of spam a day in my home email account (about 3500+ spams a month on average.) now i'm getting spam on my blog.
even though i haven't updated my blog in a while, today i logged in to update a spelling error that ronda pointed out. (i normally spell check entries, i just forgot to spell check the heading and so i made a stupid spelling mistake that got highlighted in bold, go figure.)
when i logged in i saw that there were two new comments on my blog.
one was asking if i wanted a bigger penis and included a url to a site with an obnoxious name that clearly indicated it could help in this area. i promptly deleted it.
this caused me to inspect the second new comment much more closely. the second comment said "hey man, i just found your blog, this is really cool!" and it was signed with the name cilias. now most people don't know what cilias is (and don't need to) but if you're like me and you get 3500+ spams a month, then you've seen it before. it's another name for viagra or other penis enlargement "supplements." normally the name of the person who posted the comment is the link to an email address or such, but in this case the poster had actually embedded a link to a web site selling the pills. so this was a cleverly disguised post that most people wouldn't recognize as spam, that included a link to a web site selling pills.
now why on earth would anyone do this you ask? because when my web site gets indexed by google, it will record these links and boost the rankings for the web site that the links point to. basically, by doing this they are trying to influence search engine results.
also, they are not doing this manually. they have written programs to do it. these programs search the web till they find web blog software that they know about. then their programs know how to post comments to articles on these blogs.
i have to say... this really, really, REALLY, i mean *REALLY* pisses me off. i think the death penalty should be illegal. but i think spammers should be deported to countries where it's not. actually i think they should be deported to countries where first they can be tortured horribly and unspeakably for a long period of time until they beg to be killed. and then they should be tortured for another few more years before they are killed. fucking scum of the earth. i really hate people.

June 29, 2004


ronda left today. i dropped her off and went to work. it sucks and this is gonna be a shitty week.

June 27, 2004

hookin' up around the world

it seems that where ever i go around the world, i usually meet up with leann there. leann is one of the polish posse and she was staying for three days in beijing before hopping on the trans-mongolian express and spending a month making her way to moscow with her parents.

pretty damn cool in my book. she was in beijing for three days and we finally managed to meet up for dinner. we, once again, went to sichahai/houhai to one of my favorite restaurants for dinner with ronda and leann's parents.
the great part is that while traveling i've met up with leann in more random locations than any other friend. looking back we've hung out in poland, rome, paris, and now beijing. (ok, the list isn't that long, but she's definitely in the lead compared to all my other friends.)
after dinner we went to a rooftop bar where we sat outside in the heat and humidity and drank beers for a while. around midnight her parents went back to their hotel and me, ronda, and leann went to a different bar to sit around for a couple more hours talking about all sort of odds and ends.
her trip sounded absolutely great. she had planned the entire thing (which came together really at the last minute, with tickets arriving the day they were leaving) and included many stops on the way. a week in mongolia, time in russia, etc. i was quite jealous.
when ronda was talking about coming over here we discussed ideas about going to inner mongolia or xingjiang, none of which i was sufficiently motivated to really plan out and make work. (ok, xingjiang would have been impossible given time constraints, but inner mongolia was a possibility that never panned out.)
it was also really good seeing her here and hanging out with her and ronda. i hadn't seen her the last time she visited san francisco, so i had a lot of catching up to do on the state of her life and what she was doing.
also finding out about friends, family, and posse members back home from a familiar face (and not over the phone or email) was really great.
we only hung out for one night, but it was a really good time and i'm glad that we managed to meet up.

i'm a stupid sucker

and i know it. today me and ronda went for horse back riding outside of beijing. it wasn't the greatest experience. i really should have known better than to think this would have been a good idea.

ronda loves horses. she really loves horses. so i though that horseback riding might be a good idea. (it was a great idea in Hawaii.) turns out not.
we followed up with a recommendation from a local magazine here. when we showed up in the morning i got on a bus that was full of young college girls. out of about twenty people there was only two guys (including myself.)
we drove for about an hour and a half to get out of beijing to an area which was described in the article we read as "the grasslands." it really wasn't. as far as i can tell, it was a dried out lake bed that was subject to flooding. there was lot's of dirt, some grass, lot's of sea shells, and even some washed out graves where we got to see human bones (skull, jaw, femurs, etc.)
some of the horses were in decent condition, and some were clearly very underweight. all of them didn't have enough water. how do i know? it was almost a hundred degrees outside and there was no water in sight. when we came up, there were horses coming back from the "the grasslands", and they weren't given any water. we just got right on them and went back out.
when they took us out, what it amounted to was all of us on horses, and a little chinese person holding the rains and waking our horses for us. when the horses got out of line or tried to eat something or walked too close they would hit the horses with a whip. me and ronda extricated ourself from this sad group as quickly as possible. it was surprising to see that some of the people actually stayed in this type of a group for the whole two hours that we were out there.
ronda has ridden horses a lot, but i don't really have much experience. regardless, i was much better off without having my horse led around. we walked around the plain for a while, and broke into a trot here and there. at one point, with some instruction from ronda, i even managed to figure out the proper movements to prevent my ass from getting broken when my horse would trot.
there were two notable incidents that happened while we were out there.
one was that one of the straps holding on my saddle came undone. this required us both to get off our horses while ronda fixed the strap. not a simple task since our horses didn't seem to get along too well. getting back on was also fun.
then, on the way back to the "ranch", two people who were on horses and racing decided to race past me. of course this got my horse excited and it decided to join them. unfortunately my horse was not the most responsive horse to different reign movements or pressure on his sides. (perhaps this was because he had a bit that didn't fit, as ronda point out, and he had probably had his sides beaten too much to notice when a rider was applying pressure.) also we were galloping in the direction of home, and our horses had a very strong homing instinct. needless to say, it took me an unnerving while to get my horse to slow down.
before getting back we stopped for a while to just let our horses graze. then when we were almost back, both me and ronda dismounted, loosened our saddles, and walked the horses back. they were really friendly and ronda was very upset to let her horse go. my horse even looked disappointedly at me that i was leaving it. after we handed over the reigns, the horses were taken to other riders. (no water for the horses.)
after that we had lunch out there and headed back home.

June 26, 2004

disneyworld of china

so today me and ronda went to the disneyworld of china, chengde. chengde is about four hours north east of beijing. it's a city that qing long bombarded with temples.

basically, during his reign, qing long tried to appease all the leaders of assorted minority religions by building temples in chengde that were modeled after famous temples from their homelands. there are a lot of them. we didn't even make any pretense to try and see them all. instead we went to a handful of them.
the guide books indicate that you can easily spend an entire day vising all the temples. then, additionally, there is a gondola outside of town to go up to an impressive rock outside of town which supposedly looks like the instrument that chinese women use to beat laundry, but to a trained eye, looks much more like a giant phallus. finally, the last bit of attraction in town is the giant summer palace. (for when qing long got bored of his summer palace in beijing and _really_ wanted to escape the heat.)
so we decided to do this all in one day. we actually rented a car and got up at 5:30 am to leave town. or driver picked us up just after 6am and we headed out. we arrived around 9:30 and started cruising the temples.
once again, it was a day of a death by a thousand cuts, with way too many tickets to buy. according to our guide books, some of the temples are destroyed, so we skipped those.
the reason that i equate this place to disneyland, is not only are there a bunch of famous looking temples there, but many of them are noticeably fake. instead of actually being a Buddhist temple. it's actually a huge building with fake windows and filled in rooms. you can't enter the towers because they are filled in. and then in the inside of each is a classic chinese temple. so they only look like the temples they are modeling from a distance.
regardless, we saw about five or six of them. we were very burnt out on temples by the time we were done. the highlight was a 40m tall Buddha statue made from different types of wood with at least 40 arms. there was also a temple with all sorts of Buddhas in wonderful sexual poses. unfortunately we were unable to take pictures.
then we took a gondola ride to the giant phallus, but we discovered that you had to pay extra if you actually wanted to walk up to it and touch it. we were sick of ticket fees at this point so we decided to head back to the park.
of course once we got to the part we discovered that it was closing in less than an hour and the entry fee was twice what it said in our guide book. they wanted 90 yuen (about 11 USD.) at this point were were exhausted (since it was really extremely hot) and decided to head home.
one of the more interesting sights that we saw while walking through some poorer areas outside town between some temples was a large number of dogs in cages. i don't think that these dogs were being kept for pets. (i have had some tasty dogs in china, but i didn't have any in chengde.)

June 25, 2004

joining the masses

so today i joined another billion chinese people. i bought a bike. now instead of spending 15 minutes walking to work and 15 minutes walking to lunch, and 15 walking back, i can hop on my bike and be there in 5 minutes.

i bought a pretty cheap bike. it's a one speed. the seat was a little loose and i had to tighten it when i got to work. the brake was also a little loose and needed some adjustment. in the end, i got the bike, an extra chain lock, and three wrenches (you can never be too prepared) for 160 yeun (about 20 USD).
course the fact that it's a cheap bike shows. but it's good enough for a billion chinese people so it'll be good enough for me. (for the truly minimal amount of riding that i need it for.)
my only disappointment is that there's no chance of riding it without using your hands. when i lived in san diego, i used to bike to school and back, and after i graduated i biked to work and back. when doing this i would usually sit up strait on my bike with my hands hanging at my sides and just ride. it's a great way to ride since you're not hunched over. (not efficient though, since you've got more surface area and if i remember correctly, drag increases exponentially based of surface area at power of three... but i digress.) unfortunately the front tire on this bike isn't really strait. if you watch it you can see it moving from side to side. this kind of throws off the balance and makes hands free riding impossible.

June 24, 2004

lost in the rain forest

at least that's what the hike we went on today felt like.

i took the day off work and me and ronda decided to get out of beijing and try a hike. ronda read about the hike in a book that anup had left in his appt (my current appt) entitled, strangely enough, "hiking around beijing."

the hike started in Jiu Feng Park. from there we were supposed to have an uphill climb for a long ways, at which point we would reach the a ridge. we were supposed to walk along the ridge for a while and then drop down on the other side and talk to a town called jian gou cun.
we arranged for a driver and left early in the morning. the starting point of the hike was a little over an hour outside of beijing and our driver supposedly knew where it was. of course he had to stop and get out to ask for directions about four or five times before we got close. once we got there we had some trouble identifying the actually beginning of the hike. finally we found a place that matched the description in our book and the ticket prices also matched, so we decided to go for it. we told our driver to meet us four hours later in Jiu Feng Park.
so we started on our hike right about the same time that the rain really started. we followed a rocky and slippery path up the mountain. we encountered a few different people on the trail (who were all walking down) and we seemed to be on the right path. at least until we got to the first temple. after that we were totally lost. and there was no one else on the trail. we walked for about three hours up the mountain. after about two and a half we were resigned to the fact that we were on the wrong trail because we couldn't see any of the landmarks that the book described and we hadn't hit any ridges.
the book was pretty poor and provided hand drawn maps with distance estimates that said "it should take you one and a half hours." we never saw the mythical fire tower and the two power towers. we also saw really lush foliage that was dripping with rain and team coming up from the rocks we were walking on, which gave the impression that we were in a rain forest.
after about three hours we reached the ridge of the small mountain we were climbing up. (based of the estimates in our book i'm guessing that we had climbed about 1000m.) we were very tired.
amazingly enough, when we reached the top we heard human voices. the first we had heard in the past two and a half hours. i have to say, coming from beijing, finding silence for that long is quite an unusual situation. we approached two gentlemen sitting on the ridge, eating and drinking tea. they didn't speak any engligh (of course) but seemed to indicate that the town we were trying to find was down the other side of the ridge.
we started waking down from the ridge and wandered into the sunlight. all the clouds were backed up on the other side of the ridge and this side was sunny and hot. after walking down a considerable ways we didn't have any sight of the town we were trying to go to and were feeling *very* lost.
we turned around and headed back up to the ridge in hopes of being able to see our destination from there. shortly before reaching the ridge we encountered an old man and his son. once again we started saying the name of the town we were trying to get to and pointing. the man realized we were talking english and turned to his son and (i imagine) told him to talk to us. of course his son (who was probably about seven) looked confused and tried using the dozen words of english that he knew to help us.
eventually we concluded that we were on the right path and had to keep going for about another hour.
so we turned around again and headed back down the ridge. after a while we started getting into areas that showed signs of habitation. gardens filled with assorted flowers and other plants in bloom. even a stray donkey standing by the road.
eventually we made it to jian gou cun and i was extremely happy to see our driver. on the ride back i fell right asleep while ronda sat terrified as our driver veered into oncoming traffic at high speeds to pass other cars and trucks.
but before falling asleep, when we were leaving the mountains, we did notice lots of areas that look like there were land slides. after a while we also noticed lots of trucks and quarries at the base of these areas. it seems like they were blowing up some of these hills to mine them for rocks. we passed what seemed to be a few quarries, brick factories, and a cement factory. i guess this is where the raw materials come from to support the insane rate of construction that i see daily in beijing.

i'm a wanker

so today i learned that i'm a wanker.

i got an email from one of my co-workers, michael today. he let me know that i'm a wanker. apparently, his mother had discovered my web log and read some material that she shouldn't have.

i re-read through the material and i couldn't find anything objectionable, but regardless, michael didn't want his full name on my blog. (so at his request i removed his last name.)
that said, this brings up more interesting issues.
up to this point i've been including people's full names in my blog. why? my blog is for other people to read (so i don't have to tell the same stories over and over), but it's also a permanent record for myself. i'm archiving the pages and perhaps, some day when i'm senile, i'll go back to read it, and perhaps i'll even enjoy it. (since i'll be senile and i won't be able to tell the difference between good writing and bad writing because i won't remember examples of either.) i hadn't really thought much about including peoples full names, but i guess they could object. of course i don't think i'm writing anything objectionable, but apparently opinions differ.
that said, i'm not sure if i should change my current blogging habits. i find it interesting to throw this information out there and see what comes back around. anyone else got an opinion on this?
well, michael's complaint also got me interested, so i googled for his name, and low and behold, on the third page of results, there it was. highlighted on a page called "Home of the Innane." (course the title of the page was not what michael objected to. :)
i also realized that up until i set up this blog, my web pages wouldn't be indexed by google because i had set up my web server on a non-standard port to avoid unwanted inquiries. but web setting up this blog i decided it would be a good idea to start running a more standard web server.
well, i'll just have to see how this develops. i still have no idea how long this blog will live or what content will reach it in the future. it's all just a time wasting experiment.

June 22, 2004

play it again sam

so in an effort to make sure that ronda will have a good time her second time around in china, i've decided that she should repeat the past and visit the places she's already seen and not liked.

actually, this wasn't really my plan but it's what happened. since i hadn't yet seen the forbidden city (after living here for a couple months, just like any good local) ronda decided that we should see it and that she wanted to go back.
i finally, and a little reluctantly, agreed. i would probably have to see it before leaving anyway.
so we struck off to tianaman square to see mao first. this was my second attempt to see mao and it failed. first off, we didn't have any type of id on us and there were signs indicating that you had to carry id. then we also had backpacks on, and there are no bags allowed. we saw someone else try to go in and the guards indicated that they should leave their back pack on the ground near the entrance, where i'm sure it would be waiting for them when they got out. they intelligently declined the offer.
as it turns out, weeks later, i learned from someone over some drinks that there is a large bag check across the street, and these days no one really check for id.
regardless, we felt thwarted and decided to stumble on past mao to see the forbidden city.
the forbidden city was pretty impressive. you don't actually get a feeling for the size of it till you leave it and climb the hill in Jiangshan Park just north of it and look back at it from there. (which we did after we left.)
the entrance area consisted of extremely large plazas where an emperor could inspect his armies. moving back it got more interesting as we entered the living quarters, which housed different museums, exhibits, and a starbucks. the starbucks was the latest addition to the summer palace since ronda was there last so she was pretty anxious to see it... and she wasn't disappointed. to add the the western aspect of the palace, many of the signs describing things has a tag line at the bottom: "Made possible by American Express." i had no idea that american express was around back in the days this was built.
we wandered around the palace, sitting down in different areas, and reading different storied from our respective tour guides. (lonly planet and the rough guide.) in the end we didn't spend nearly enough time there to do the place justice and we missed many a museum inside. but to do so you'd really have to dedicate much more time than we were willing to.
one of my favorite areas was a small are surrounding a temple in the center back. it was filling with interesting shaped rocks, old contortionist trees, and a tiny temple at the top of a bunch of rocks which made me immediately thing of "the old thunder mountain railroad" at disney land.
this small area was at the norther most end of the forbidden city and after we walked around it, we left and went to Jiangshan Park park. after wandering around there we went west to beihai park to wander around and see the white pagoda.
visiting the white pagoda was the standard chinese park/temple/exhibit experience of "death by a thousand cuts". what i mean by this is that a lot of paper changes hands before you reach the pagoda. first you need to buy a ticket to get in to the park. then you need to but a ticket to get into the temple around the pagoda, then you need to by a ticket to walk up the stairs to take you to the base of the pagoda. oh wait, you want to go into the bell tower now? that'll be another ticket.
i have found this type of experience to be the pretty standard fare for visiting anywhere in china. if they can quarantine off any area and have a reason to believe that people might pay for admission they will. even if you thought you already did pay for admission. perhaps they are trying to discourage people from actually getting all the way to their desired site so they will buy the postcards?
once we reached the pagoda, we were considering vising the north side of the park but there was thunder rolling in the distance and rain was threatening so we decided to call it at day. we grabbed a taxi to head home, and we stopped by South Beauty (another favorite restaurant of mine) to make a reservation for dinner for ourselves and a few people from work.
we got home and it dumped rain for about an hour. this was great because afterwords it was no longer overwhelmingly hot and stuffy outside. we actually had a pleasant walk across the rain soaked streets back to the restaurant for dinner.

June 19, 2004

the messiah arrives

finally, after what can only be described as an unendurable and excruciating sentence of solitude in purgatory, the messiah has arrived in beijing. i rented a driver (car included) and picked up ronda from the air port.

she was doing surprisingly well for having left SF at 1am and traveling for over 24 hours. i was overjoyed to see here. i took her back to my apartment to get settled.
we had almost a full day to ourselves, but we didn't really go anywhere. we only went to my favorite dumpling shop down the street for guo-tie (pot stickers) and then to sichahai/houhai for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.
unfortunately, ronda had pulled her back at yoga shortly before coming over here she was in quite a bit of pain. since advil wasn't really helping the situation we decided to made a go at the local pharmacy where the staff looked a little upset that they would have to be dealing with people that didn't speak chinese. in the end we walked out with some red pills and white ointment that later experiments demonstrated to be effective.
so this is ronda's second time to china, and she didn't like it much the first time around. it's one of my goals to make sure that she enjoys this trip much more than her first.

June 13, 2004

more tourister 3000

this would have been entitled tourister 2000 (which i personally think sounds better), but times have changed, centuries have passed, and upgrades have been released. so i'm making an active effort to keep with the times.

even though i was really tired today from hiking yesterday i met up with fintan and sean to see the biggest tourist attraction in beijing (at least according to my lp tour guide.) No it's not the forbidden city but the summer palace.

it was a blazingly hot and humid day (again) and apparently this was the place royalty went to when they wanted to escape the heat. unfortunately, in my not so humble opinion it offered a absolutely no respite from stifling atmosphere.
since all of us were pretty worn, we weren't really driven to make the full rounds of the park and see everything. we spent a considerable amount of time just wandering through through the forested areas. the abundant stairs to the assorted temples were greeted with sighs and groans. after wandering around the north side and finally seeing cixi's famed marble boat, we took a short ride across one of the lakes in the palace. during this ride the humidity finally hit 100% and it started to rain. this managed to clean up the air and cool things down a little bit.
we wandered around a bit and marveling at the prolific writings of quing long (which could be found on every temple, sculpture, and paining imaginable) we finally decided to leave and head to Sichahai/Houhai.
now comes the part where i got pissed. i got scammed for about five bucks. i really shouldn't get upset, but i did. we got a taxi from outside the summer palace. it had a 1.20 yuen sticker on it when we got in.
for some background, taxis in beijing come in different denominations:
- 1.20 yuen/km - basic cheap cabs
- 1.60 yuen/km - sometimes the drivers are more cluefull, sometimes they are assholes, yymv.
- 2.00 yuen/km - your living it up.
- unmarked - negotiate your rate ahead of time.
i normally take 1.20 or 1.60, whatever is available when i'm looking for a cab. this time there was a ton of cabs waiting and i took a 1.20 because it looked like the best 1.20 cab i had ever seen.
normally 1.20 and 1.60 cabs have a steel cage around the driver with bars and possibly plexiglass covering the bars. they are also really small. sometimes they have a disinfected sticker on them, but i was never able to determine if this meant that they were disinfected once at the factory after they rolled off the assembly line or at some later date.
this cab had no cage, comfy seats, and was actually a nice car. we got into the cab and the driver seemed really nice. i pointed on a map where i wanted to go and said the name in my broken chinese. he pointed to the map and showed me the best route to get there which i agreed with. it seemed like a perfectly negotiated ride.
on a side note, during any cab ride in beijing, i always use my decent sense of direction to try and make sure the cab driver isn't ripping me off and driving in circles. a couple months in a city also help with getting to know your way around town.
my frustration started about 3/4 of the way through the ride fintan pointed out that the meter was reading a really expensive price... about twice what i was expecting. then i realized that this guy had no official laminated taxi license sitting on his dash like all the other taxis normally do. a close look at the meter indicated that we were being charged 1.88 yuen/km. i looked back and the 1.20 sign was gone.
at that point i realized that when cabbies walked up to you holding the 1.20 sign trying to indicate that they had a cheap ride, what they were really telling you was that they had a removable sign that would disappear once you got in the car. (probably courtesy of his friends.)
i was really pissed. fintan and sean were trying to convince me that it wasn't worth getting upset over a few bucks, and they were right, but i was pissed regardless. i do believe that this is the first time i was aware of being ripped off in china. it's probably happened before, but at least at that time i was unaware of it.
in the end i didn't really do anything about it. i yelled at the driver a little in english and paid the stupid fee. i didn't want to start an argument in a language where i couldn't fully express my rage. of course doing this just means that the driver will keep doing this and piss of other people, which leaves me mad at myself.
to get over my anger at the driver and myself i engaged in the normal american distraction of consumption. we went to have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants that has an unbelievably good mutton dish. then we went to a bar with outdoor tables to sit for a few hours, sip beers, and shoot the shit. a nice way to end the evening since we were all pretty exhausted.

June 12, 2004

it sure is a great wall

that's supposedly what richard nixion said when we saw the great wall in 1972. well, saturday was my first time seeing the wall and i'll have to say... it was beautiful, impressive, daunting, and tiring.

so jarrett arranged a driver for us for the whole day saturday. the driver had a huge red flag car (a chinese luxury car) that had the most leg room i've ever seen in a car that wasn't a limo. the cost for the entire day was 800 yuen for the four of us. (that's less than $100USD.)
me, jarrett, sean, and fintan climbed into this monstrous car at around 8am and headed out to jinshanling. jinshanling is one of the most remote and undeveloped section of the wall that people commonly go to. it's actually outside the beijing providence.
we got to jinshanling around a quarter to 11. the good part is that there was a huge parking lot for busses and cars and it was compleatly empty. while walking up to the start of the wall we didn't see any other tourists. (the downside to this was that the hawkers stuck to us like flies on fly paper.)
our goal was to walk from jinshanling to simatai. a 10+ km walk that would take us past 32 watch towers. simatai is supposedly the most beautiful and rough section of the wall. (rough as in really steep and no steps, just damaged section of the wall where you're walking on sand and loose stones.) when we started walking the sun was blazing down on us, it was about 38C (100F), and i had over four liters of water strapped to my back.
it was a brutal hike with many stops to apply more sun screen. we encountered many other people on the hike (including a french tour group that was having a wine break) but only four other people who we met were doing the same hike that we were doing. (all the others were doing shorter hikes.) of course, there were hawkers along the whole route (usually hanging out in the watch towers) who would offer you coke and ice water.
the scenery around the wall was gorgeous. there were rolling green hills on both sides of us. the wall itself was impressive. the sections near the start and the end of the hike had been extensively restored (IMHO) and the steps were in great condition. but the middle section had a compleatly different feel. there were quite a few watch towers that were just half standing crumbling husks. if there were stairs then they were usually very uneven. in some sections there were huge stairs that took you strait up or down at ridiculous angles. for some of the watch towers you simply had to walk around them. (unless you wanted to climb 12 feet strait up the face of them to a door.)
the best part about the watch towers was that they were usually really cool inside with a breeze blowing through them. so we stopped in quite a few of them to catch our breaths, drink some more water, and much on some food.
the wall followed the ridge of some small mountains so there was a lot of up and down walking. looking down from the wall you get the impression that anyone thinking of invading china past this wall would have to be compleatly insane.
so the entire hike took us about four and a half hours. at the end there was a large valley that had a small suspension/rope bridge across it. after crossing the bridge we were in simatai. the wall doesn't stop there though. the wall continues up at a stupid steep angle right out of the valley. when you look up at it you can see that it runs along the top of a ridge with very long drops on either side. the views from there were probably more impressive that what we had seen on the section that we hiked, but at that point none of us were ready to start climbing again. we all decided that we'd leave that section of the wall for the next time we were in china.
from there is was a long walk along a road next to two reservoirs to get to the parking lot where our driver was waiting for us. luckily there was a zip line right near us that would take you sailing at hight speeds over the entire first reservoir, at which point you would take a small boat across the second. the price for all this was 35 yuen (about $4 USD.) since we were all really tired and sore there was no way we could pass this up. i have to say, it was a pretty exhilarating ride with my feet dangling at least a hundred feet above the reservoir.
after getting back to the car i immediatly tapped a bottle of er guo tou and started passing it around. this impressed our driver and some of the locals immensely. they were so impressed that one old lady offered me a couple green peppers for free. (i kindly turn them down.)
after a long ride back to the city we went to a duck resturant for dinner that our driver had recommended. the duck there was absolutely great and our driver joined us for dinner. we had an expensive bottle of bijou (52% liquor) that cose 168 yuen. we also had one duck, about four other plates of food, two desert plates, and a bunch of beer. all this cost us less than 500 yuen (less than $62 USD.) this meal at the fancy and famous beijing duck resturant would have easily cost over 1200 yuen. and the duck here was just as good or better that the duck there. i can safely say i'll be comming back here a few more times before i leave beijing. to top it off it's really close to where i live.
needless to say after all that walking, drinking, eating, and drinking i was _really_ tired. so after dinner i went strait home, took a shower, and passed out. i must have been asleep by 10pm.

June 11, 2004

the wheel is still turning

but the hamster is dead. when i got home this evening i was greeted by a small slip of paper taped to my door. the paper was covered with chinese characters but i was able to recognize three critical things on it.

the first was my building number.
the second was my appt number.
the third was the stamp i saw on each page of my police registration paperwork.
sigh. more police fun.
so i guess it's worth mentioning that i moved apartments. this past week i moved into anup's old apartment since it's quite a bit nicer than my old one. (it's in the building right next to mine and i don't have much junk so the move was really easy.) while this seemed like a great idea at the time i may come to regret it.
i had jarrett translate the note for me and basically it says that the police have been by my place a bunch of times and i haven't been there so i should come to the police station to register.
either i'm really unlucky, or the police have someone working for them in the building who let's them know when it looks like people are moving in or out, or both.
so i guess it's time to contact maggie (the admin) to get the long and painfull registration process started _again_...

strangers always talk about

the weather. and it's miserable. this entire past week it's been about 100F (38C) _every_ _single_ _day_. i feel like i'm melting when i walk into work or walk to lunch. the days have been: 8AM == 80+F, 9AM == 90+F, 10AM == miserable until 9PM == 90+F, 10PM == 80+F.

thank god the humidity has been around 25%. dry heat is survivable. if it was humid i would have already booked my ticket out of here. of course when i check the weather report it's supposed to continue like this until next tue. then it will be in the 80s with thunderstorms. sigh.
blake tells me that it's a wonderful summer in SF with temperaturs in the 70s.
that sounds great... exactly what i want to hear.
so basically i'm wearing shorts and sandals into the office every day. the strange part is that aside from me and the two other americans in the office (bev and jarrett) no one else wears shorts. and most of them bike into the office. you think they would have noticed that their director (bev) is wearing shorts and that it's really not necessary to make yourself more miserable than you already are in this heat. a'well... i'll write it off to a cultural difference.
as i side note, i think my skin is about 10 shades darker then it has ever been in my entire life.

June 10, 2004

another one bites the dust

so today andrew has left us. it's been a great couple past weeks hanging out in beijing with him.

we had a going away dinner at bevs place last tue night. the best part is that he cooked the meal and it was great. bevs aie was there and was really surprised that a guy was cooking the meal. she also worked with andrew to help him with making some really great dumplings. there was quite a few people over and it was a really good time.
andrew was a very adventurous food eater and i'm sure my meals will be much more bland now that he's not here. i'll also won't be learning any more insults of foul phrases in latin.
the "rotation" part of the program is really kicking in for me now.
one of the next rotation people has also shown up. jarrett is here now and he's comming up to speed with the eating and drinking. he's also a native chinese so he has a home field advantage here. it'll be interesting to see how things change here as new people arrive.

June 8, 2004

the yanks are coming!

actually it's only one yankee that i'm interested in. ronda is comming later this month on the 19th!!! yay!!!

so ronda will be comming over to visit for 10 days from june 19th to the 29th. we spent a bunch of time on the phone last night and made the final arrangements. this will be great. i really miss my ronda. it's been a very long time since i've seen her.
ronda has actually been to beijing before a few years back and she didn't like it much. but i'm convinced that this time it will be different. everyone i've talked to was told me the city has changed dramatically in the past few years. also, i'm here. :) and since i've been living here i've discovered good places to eat, drink, and hang out at. this months
edition of "that's beijing" even included some articles about good equestrian places around and outside of beijing, so i'm sure well get some horse back riding in as well.
lastly, there is a massage place in the appt complex where i live, so if we're not out of town ronda can get a full body massage every day. (with the discount card it's only 50 yuen a massage... that's about $6 USD)
with all those options i don't see how she couldn't have a good time. :)
we've also started talking about the possibility of going to inner-mongoila or some other places outside of beijing. we need to start researching our options.

June 6, 2004

all work and no play

makes for a really dull blog. so i spent this entire past weekend working. pretty boring. since i was really burned out by sunday night i went to lush around 8pm to get dinner. they have a pretty good club sandwhich (the best one i've found in beijing) and coopers beer (from austraila... it actually has some flavor, unlike most the other beers here.) it turns out that sun night is open mike night, and since i was sick of working i hung around for a while.

the open mike night was pretty different from any i've ever seen. it was hosted by two guys on gituars who were playing songs and singing. things like sublime, ben harper, classic rock songs, etc. they were actually pretty good. also, most the open acts consisted of other people comming up and playing gituar and singing as well.
after about four or five beers i noticed that they had a small and delapitated drum kit on stage and i decided it would be a good idea to play along with some of the songs on drums. i talked to the guys running the show and they said sure. so i sat down for a few tunes to play drums. it was pretty entertaining. i did a pretty crappy job and eventually they told me that they didn't need any more drums.
i hung around for a while longer to suck down a few more coopers and then i headed home a little after 1am.

June 3, 2004

adieu, adieu

so anup has left us today. he's off to spend a couple days in south korea and then it's back to the bay area after being gone for over three months.

last night we had a farewell dinner at a really nice french-vietnamese resturant. the food was expensive and had small portions, but it was really good. anup was there with me, andrew, zhou yun, and yuan yi. much of the talk was about zhou yun and yuan yi pending trip to the states. anup is planning on taking them to tahoe, yosemite, and a bunch of other places. unfortunatly i'll still be in china while they are in the states.
so i'm going to miss anup. anup is a really motivated guy and if it wasn't for him i'd never have traveled around the amount that i already have. he's also a great traveling partner. anups travel plans seem to change on a minute-by-minute basis, always with new suggestions about where we could be going and what we could be doing. i love this type of traveling style. finally, he's a fun to hand out with and a great drinking partner (since he's always up drinking.) i've had a great time going around china with him and he'll be missed on future adventures.

May 30, 2004

blogging contortions

so i've blogged myself to death. i've somehow missed the point of a web blog. instead of documenting things as they happen or as i think of them i've spent the entire day today composing blog entries for the past two weeks. i've known what all the entries i wanted were but i never got around to writing them so today i played catch up and created a bunch of antedated entries. now i'm all blogged out. the only break i've had today from writing this drivel your reading now was a short trip to see some chinese acrobatic theater.

me, anup, andrew, bev, and her daugher went to the wan sheng theater. we go overpriced tickets for 150 yuen (about $18 USD) that put us in the only row that had tables and vip plaques. there really was no real difference between our row and the rows in front of us or in back of us except for the tables and about 50 yuen. a'well.
i though the show was actually pretty good and worth the money. (it was _much_ better than the lao she teahouse.) it started off with lots of girls with lots of spinning plates on sticks. it was pretty cool because they were all dressed in white outfits with white plates and the show started with a dark stage except for some black lights, which gave a great effect. later they danced around and did assorted acrobatics while spinning the plates.
this was followed up by a troop of boys who were jumping though an assortment of hoops stacked on opposite sides of the stages. after that there was a girl who worked her way up and down to pieces of cloth hanging from the ceiling. one could only wonder if she ever accidentally tied herself into a knot that she couldn't get out of while practicing her act.
later in the show there was a woman that was pretty unhuman. i'm convinced she was either an alien or she had had every other vertebrae in her spine removed because no human should be able to do the things she did. (being able to fold your back and touch your ass to your head is not normal.) she did a very impressive act of contortion while holding stacks of shot glasses. there were eight separate stacks. one on each foot, one on each hand, one on her forehead, and three balanced on a tray that was attached to a mouthpiece. after contorting herself she proceeded to take apart one of the stacks and pour some water from one of the shot glasses to another.
the last act i really liked involved to large poles on stage where six boys were climbing the poles and jumping from one to the other.
k. i'm done here.

May 29, 2004

underground rock in beijing

today started obnoxiously early. i woke up at 8am to head out with anup, andrew, zhou yun, and yuan yi for a day of shopping... and i hate shopping. then the day in a cafe watching a indie documentry film about the underground rock scene in beijing. who'd a thunk it?

yes, i know it sounds strange. i agreed to go out for a day of shopping. but i figured that since yuan yi was driving us i could see all the shopping markets in one day and then i'd never have to go back. the start of the day was exciting because yuan yi had lost his drivers license and official id card the night before. this was particularly bad since he was planning on going to the us in two weeks. so after calling the restaurant he was at last night and a cab company we discovered that he had lost his wallet in the cab the night before and we made arrangements to meet the cab driver later in the day to get it.
once this was settled we really started of the day by going to a not-so-great dim sum restaurant for breakfast. this was a restaurant that really should not have had fish in the windows. one fish looked very dead and pretty moldy. there was also a lobster that spent most it's time on it's back. there was one live fish that kept trying to jump out of it's tank most likely in an effort to commit suicide.
once breakfast was over with we started the shopping. first we went to liu li change. this was a larger street in one of the hutongs. (a hutong is an older undeveloped are of the city.) we spent a couple hours here walking up and down the street. the stores had mostly chinese tourist junk. andrew and anup also bought souvenirs for people back home since they are both leaving in about a week. by the time we were leaving i was already completely sick of shopping and wondering why in the hell did i agree to go. but of course this was just the start.
we went to grab some quick lunch and then went to the panjiayuan market. this was like a low budget swap meet that was out in a large covered lot. all the vendors simply had their ware spread out on blankets that hanging on temporary walls they had propped up. (most the vendors didn't even have the walls propped up.) this market was full of junk and we left after about half an hour of wandering around.
after that we went to hongqiao market. this was essentially a huge swap meet in a large building. it was about four stories high and had lots of random things. you could buy watches, binoculars, place mats and chopstick sets, prada bags, flasks, etc. anup and andrew bought a few more gifts here.
then to finish things off we went to the xiushui silk market. this was an outdoor swap meet and there was no real silk to be seen. but there were plenty of cheap diesel and quicksilver t-shirts, nike shoes, columbia pants, north face jackets, etc. all knock offs and relatively cheap.
luckily at this point i received a call from kieth. kieth was a new bar friend i met while hanging out at platform (my local bar.) he told me that we had had a conversation about live music a couple night ago in platform (i didn't remember it) during which he told me about a documentary film about the underground rock scene in beijing. the film was playing at 8pm and i agreed to meet up with him. so i left the crew to their shopping and hopped a subway to get to sanlitan. i met up with kieth, lucy, and another friend of theirs. we headed over to a small bar on south street called hart. the film was plying upstairs. admission was 30 yeun (about $3 USD) and included a beer. we sat down upstairs with about 20 other people and they started the film up.
the film was call "the underground rock scene in beijing." it was very much a student film. from my best guess i'd say it was a little dated as well since in one of the music festival they were documenting in i saw posters with the year 2001 on them.
that said it was an interesting film. the first third of the film documented a suburb of beijing where all the rock bands go to live and rehearse. basically rent is super cheap there and the only people there are farmers and rock band members. there were all types of bands living there from blues bands to heavy metal bands. they practice there and once in a while catch a bus into town to play a show. the shows they documented were interesting in the fact that after playing a thrash metal set and inspiring a large mosh pit in the audience the band would tear down and then sit down at tables in the same bar order food and drinks and hang out all night with their fans before heading back home the next day.
the next interesting part of the film documented a music school that sponsors an annual music festival that is the equivalent of the chinese wood stock. lots of free beer (supplied by the school - go figure), weed, graffiti, and music. it was a pretty interesting picture of juvenile mayhem and partying.
but in the end the film did manage to portray a picture of a very active and energetic local music scene. i really hope to make it to check out some good live music shows before i leave.
after the film we grabbed some dinner and then i decided to head home while kieth and lucy were going to hit up some bars on south street. normally i'd never turn down an opportunity to go to a bar but tonight i just wasn't up for it. unfortunately my stomach was _extremely_ unhappy and i felt the need to be within running distance of a bathroom at any moments notice.

May 27, 2004

no more jailbait

i'm legal. it's official. i even have the paperwork to prove it... now i'll feel much better about wandering around outside my apartment because if i get randomly stopped by the cops i'll have something to show them.

so today maggie (the admin here) and i finally went to get this issue resolved. this was after two weeks of "tomorrow" we'll take care of it. (and if it's wasn't tomorrow it was always today until i never heard anything back and it became tomorrow by default.)
we first went to a management building at my apartment where we met some guy working there (let's call him bob) that had been authorized by the landlord to handle this issue. he took us to a second management office where we filled out a bunch of paperwork and i had to sign some forms. then we went back to the first office to pick up more paperwork. at this point bob realized that he didn't have his "official" chinese id card. this was a problem since he needed that card to do the registration on behalf of the landlord. so began the unfruitful quest for the landlord. after an hour we gave up on finding the landlord and decided to head to the police station to give it a try anyway.
unlike the last time when we were there (when the police station was deserted) the police station was a mob scene. there was a huge number of people there, all chinese, and they all seemed to be registering. this was lucky for us because the extremely unfriendly woman that refused to help us last time was there but she was busy yelling at other people so we managed to get a more friendly officer. (bob actually told maggie that he'd had lots of problems with the unfriendly woman before.) after about half an hour of talking with the friendlier cop it was determined that i actually could register. this took another half hour and i finally left the police office with a small sheet of paper the size of a check that indicated that i was officially registered. i quickly took this piece of paper to work and photocopied it so that i could carry the copy with me at all times.
i'm glad that's over.

May 24, 2004

all's well that ends badly

so it's been another _long_ weekend. this time we had a great three day trip to qingdao (also) in the shandong providence. qingdao is a beach city originally founded by germans. qingdao produces the standard beer (named qingdao) found all throughout china.

the trip was organized through the social group at work here. there was a total of about 17 people that went that included me, anup, andrew, zhou yun, yuan yi, and a bunch of other people from the office and some of their spouses. the social group at work organizes these trips via a tour company and then sun pays about 1000 yuen (about $120 USD) for each employee to cover expenses. unfortunately they weren't covering expenses for the US employees (me, anup, and andrew) but we still went along.
we left thursday evening at 8pm on a hard sleeper train. once again we were well equipped with whiskey and er guo tou for the trip. we arrived in qingdao around 6am and i was happily greeted by a fresh breeze from the ocean when we got out of the train station. we then proceeded to check into our hotel, grab some breakfast at a random hole in the wall, and start exploring the town.
we started off walking along the coast near our hotel. after a while we decided to go for a boat cruise, which turned into a giant waste of time (and no one ever set foot on a boat.) we first negotiated a personal boat for all of us with a guy on the beach. he put us on a bus to go to the boat, we paid him, and headed off. but once we got to the boat it was obvious that things were going wrong. the boat was designed for 50 people and they refused to let us have our own trip and wanted to wait for more people. so the group decided to cancel the trip and go back to get their money. of course this whole process took a couple hours, involved much heated arguing, the bus we were on ran out of gas _and_ oil, etc. me, andrew, and anup were fully prepared to just suck it up and take the boat cruise rather than waste hours arguing with people to get back a total of 300 yuen (about $36 USD) but apparently the concept of "time is money" has not made it to china yet.
one interesting thing i noticed while waiting to get gas for our bus was a elementary/middle school. first, the school building had a huge (about half the size of the building) neon qingdao beer sign on top of the school. what are the odds of seeing that in the states? :) also, all the students were standing in uniforms in the school playground being addresses by loudspeakers about the rules for the school and the penalties for violations (at least this was the translation i got from one of our co-workers.) as far as i could tell this lecturing went of for a good _few_ hours since when we passed the school later in a taxi all the students were still standing there in formation. i was wondering how many of them were close to getting heat stroke at that point.
after giving up on the boat tour we went back to walking around town. we turned away from the coast and headed into town. qingdao is interesting in the fact that it has two old churches, one catholic and one protestant. we went to the catholic church to take a look around. the church is actually a small cathedral and is _very_ plain compared to most european cathedrals. the most interesting part of the cathedral by far was all the plaques that had chinese and english explanations of all the religious icons present in the church. try to imagine someone explaining christianity in poorly translated english to someone who knows nothing about the religion. these signs were a good laugh. also a few of the chinese with us took this opportunity to take a quick nap inside the cool church.
after this we decided to wander around the streets some more in search of the fresh fish market. we eventually managed to find it and i though it was pretty impressive. there was a _huge_ amount of dried sea products of every imaginable type. there was also a huge variety of bins with different live sea creatures. walking down the corridors here you were liable to get water spit on you from many an unhappy sea creature trapped in the bins.
after this we went to lunch at a fancy restaurant looking over the ocean. before we got to the restaurant i thought qingdao was a small beach town. by the end of the cab ride i realized that qingdao was a huge beach town that we had only seen a tiny section of. lunch was a long affair that involved countless dishes of seafood. (think 17 people around a table all sharing dishes.)
after lunch we went to the beach. me and andrew went swimming and i'd guess the water was about 17 degrees celsius. there was also lots of other entertainment available on the beach like kite flying, kayaking, getting a ride on a speed boat, and renting jet skis. after swimming i took a seat under a large tent and ordered a few beers. it started getting cold when the sun was close to setting and we wrapped up the relaxation with a game of frisbee.
then it was off to dinner. another mad excursion since trying to get this many chinese people to agree on a restaurant is like herding cats. we did eventually manage to feed ourselves and then almost everyone headed back to the hotel. i say almost everyone because me and anup decided to check out a small bar that anup had spotted from a taxi about a block from our hotel.
it turned out to be a great hole in the wall and the staff was really friendly. the bar was very small but they had all sorts of cool little games and puzzles. (i dig that kind of stuff.) they also had more things like cards, dice, and instead of a dart board they had a small board on the wall and a blow gun. (the second night we were there the bar tender even took a bunch of time to explain the rules of their dice games to us.) so to show the staff our appreciation of their fine establishment me and anup drank all of their jack daniels and made a good attempt to drink all their jim bean.
the next day we got up bright and early to head to lao shan (a taoist holy mountain but not one of _the_ five holy mountains.) there was a temple at the base of the mountain which we explored. this was actually the _most_ crowded tourist attraction i have been to so far. these was a ridiculous number of people there. after this we went to the start of one of the trails up the mountain and climbed up to one of the more famous water falls. while walking up it started to rain but we kept hiking anyway since the rain wasn't too bad. there was one small artificial lake that we passed that was truly beautiful. it was nestled in the rocks and the water was an intense deep blue/aqua that must of been caused by some kind of mineral in the water. when we got to the water fall we managed to hike down to the pool near the base and it was so nice there a few of us curled up on some rocks and napped for an hour. we ended up leaving when the rain really started coming down. the rain pretty much canned the rest of the day for us and after slipping down the mountain we climbed into the bus and headed back to the hotel.
dinner was once again a fiasco. we ended up making countless phone calls to find a good restaurant (everyone was calling friends for recommendations) changing tables four times, and restaurants twice before we actually ordered anything. after dinner we walked down to the beach for a sort while and then most people headed home. but of course a few of us went back to the bar for a night cap, or two, or three...
the next day we began the final touristic assault of the city. we ran up the biggest hill in town that had three strange red mushroom like observation towers that you can see from all over town. the view was pretty good and it revealed a thick layer of smog over all the city that even the ocean breeze couldn't get rid of. :( we then went to the old german governors mansion and started wandering some more streets.
while doing this we discovered beer in a bag. what is it you ask? shops here have what looks like two kegs of beer stacked on top of each other. the top keg is somehow kept cold and there is a tap on the bottom side of it. then you basically buy the beer in plastic bags. what type of bags? imagine the ones you get at the grocery store when they as "paper or plastic?" there is a variety of sizes available from the personal bag to the super sized family pack. and you pay by weight. so at around 11 am me and anup ordered our first ever bags of beer. we were given two straws to go with each bag. anup quickly proceeded to accidentally poke a hole in his bag with his straw and had to drink half the bag on the spot.
so beers in hand we hopped into cabs and headed out to the navy museum. here we had a chance to walk through an old chinese diesel submarine, a couple destroyers, a hovercraft, and some navy patrol boats. (i made sure to take lots of reconnaissance photos that i can pass onto my sister later.)
after this we all headed out to lunch at a tiny hole in the wall seafood restaurant that was recommended by a cab driver. it was really cheap and really good. (a few people went back to it for dinner later in the evening.) after lunch we decided to chill out and just headed back to the beach. for me this mostly involved drinking beer and dozing off while staring at the ocean.
at sunset we all took off to head to the train. another hard sleeper that was supposed to put us back in beijing at around 6am. we loaded up on liqueur and decks of cards to entertain us and started planning for the next day in beijing where lot's of people visiting from SF and the UK would be stopping by on their way to sun network in shanghai (during the next week.)

May 19, 2004

working the corner

so today after a long and exhausing day at work me, andrew, and michael decided to go out to dinner. i was in a pretty grumpy mood when me and andrew were standing around on the street corner near our appartment waiting for michael to show up. while waiting there me and andrew saw some blatent pit pockets working the corner. it was about 6 guys aged 15 to 20. i saw them run after three girls on bikes who had purses slung over their shoulders and in each case they managed to lift the girls wallets from their purses without them noticing. even more surprising was the fact the the people biking behind these girls who could see it all going on were saying nothing. after getting the wallet they would go back to their group and rifle though it taking whatever they could.

at one point there was a girl who walked past us on foot with a backpack on and on of the thiefs ran up behind here and started opening her backpack. she was close enough so that when andrew yelled out the theif ran off. after this aborted attempt the group simply crossed the street to be on a different corner than us and kept working.
seeing this really sent me from a bad mood to a truly foul mood.

May 17, 2004

the stairs of enlightenment

so this weekend was another eventful and exhausting excursion outside of beijing to climb more holy mountains, see temples, and visit the birthplace of confucious. conveniently this can all be done in the shandong providence in china. me, anup, andrew, zhou yun (aka cathy), and yuan yi (aka kyle) all jumped into a soft sleeper train friday night at about 8pm to skip town. i was very glad to be getting out of the reach of the beijing police.

our train ride consisted of the usual shenanigans. drinking the english version of "hong cha" (aka, red tea, aka whisky) and er guo tou (a chinese liqueur that's 56% and usually sells for about $0.40 a bottle. you can't really go wrong with that.
our destination was tai'an and we got there around 5am. our first bit of excitement was trying to figure out how to get home. in china there is no such thing as round trip ticket. travel is all one way. when you get to your destination you can by a ticket for the next part of your journey. to make things more confusing, there are multiple places to buy tickets. at the train station you can only buy tickets for travel on that day. there is usually another place somewhere in town that you need to go if you want to but tickets for travel in advance. (and you simply can't buy them more than a week in advance.) when we got to this place we discovered that the only tickets available to beijing for sunday night were for hard seats. since an overnight train with hard seats didn't sound too appealing we decided to worry about it later.
we then headed over to our hotel to get checked in. even though it was 6am and a little before the standard check in time we did manage to get one room where we could drop our bags and freshen up a bit. we got breakfast at 7am when the hotel restaurant opened and then headed off for mt. tai (aka tai shan)
tai shan is on of the five holy mountains in china. the mountains has about 6660 steps and is broken up into two sections with the midway gate to heaven in the middle. busses available that can take you from the base up to the midway gate and from there you can take a cable car to the peak. but instead of doing this we decided to climb the whole thing. it turns out to be about about 4.6 miles (7.5 km) long hike with a roughly 4500 feet (1300 meter) gain in elevation.
the actual walk up the mountain itself is interesting. the surrounding forest is beautiful. there are also lots of little temples and tea houses on the way up. as you get higher up there are more and more chinese carvings on rocks and the mountain itself. i could only appreciate them as artistic scribbles (sorta like my own handwriting) since i have no idea what they were saying. of course by the time i was approaching the summit i was so exhausted i didn't really care anymore.
so unfortunately, aside from the natural beauty of the mountain there was the usual annoying and frustrating human stain that saturates every corner of china here too. there were _droves_ of people climbing the mountain with us (although, while looking around during the climb i realized that me, andrew, and anup were the only non-chinese people i saw climbing the steps. it's not peak tourist season yet but i was pretty surprised by this.) worse, there are tons of vendors trying to sell you junk throughout the _entire_ climb. we also saw beggars with leprosy and missing legs (which raises the question of how the hell they got up there) and some guys standing on the side of the path with dressed up monkeys hitting them till they danced. (this kinda pissed me off.) and the whistle
vendors... oh, they've earned their own blog entry.
in the end we eventually made it all the way up to see the temples and vendors at the top of the mountain. there were lots of beautiful blooming flowers there that seemed to support a huge gnat population which we tried very hard to ignore. after exploring the top of the mountain we bought some more er gou tou ease our aching legs and decided to take the tram and bus down the mountain. the bus ride down the mountain was supposed to be beautiful but the weather was really hot and i was a little sun burnt so i passed out for the whole ride down.
after getting back to the hotel, cleaning up, and taking a quick power nap me and anup decided to head over for some anmo (massage.) the hotel advertised that they had foot and full body massage so we decided to go for both (the full body massage we got was done with our clothes on and we didn't ask for the other type of massage although i believe it was offered.) the massage was administered by a couple of women with hands of steel who proceeded to beat us to pulps. when i walked out of there i felt like a bowl of jelly. all the pain, stiffness, and soreness had been beaten out of me. (unlike the last time i tried climbing one of these mountains and was sore for the next three days.) there was one surprising things about the massage process, and that was looking at the womens hands. their knuckles were actually bruised and swollen from beating the hell out of me. now i love getting and giving massages but i usually don't hurt myself in the process. this was the first time i had ever seen a masseuse inflict physical damage on themselves in the process of giving a massage. after the massage we had a good dinner and promptly passed out.
for sunday we had rented a driver and a van. we first went to dai miao in tai an. this is actually one of the largest temples in china. we wandered around the halls, courtyards, and walls there for a couple hours before climbing back into the van to head for qufu. qufu is the birthplace of confucious. the first place we went to was the confucian forest where we saw the mound that confucious was supposedly buried in. the forest is actually a huge cemetery with many mounds and tombs all over the place. we wandered around here for a while and also took a quick golf card tour that went past the more famous and/or extravagant tombs in the forest.
after this we went to a restaurant where we got seated on the second floor and were server mediocre food for too much money. this left me a little angry. there's another separate blog rant to be had here.
after this we went to the confucius mansions (home of the kong family of which confucius was the founding father) and the kong miao (aka confucius temple.) the kong family had been living in the mansions up till as recently as 1948 when the most recent descendant fled to taiwan. the mansion was really a maze of small houses interconnected by courtyards and passageways with a really nice garden in back. the temple dwarfs the mansion and we spent a while just wandering around the temple looking at the trees, colorful buildings, some beautifully carved pillars, and giant tablets resting on the backs of tortoises. (these tablets contain chinese writing are pretty common in temples in china. they also have a name which i can't remember right now.)
after this we climbed back into our van and headed to the capital of the shandong providence, ji nan. during the day we had paid someone to drive to ji nan and try to buy us train tickets from there to get back to beijing. luckily he was successful and we had gotten tickets on a hard sleeper that was leaving at around 8pm and getting into beijing around 6am on monday.
the drive was a couple hours long and involved a driver change in tai an. me, anup, and andrew picked up a couple bottles of er guo tou to try and make the drive more interesting. we had dinner in ji nan and then jumped onto the train so that we could drink more er guo tou and pass out. we finally got to beijing on time and i managed to go home to shower and nap for an hour before showing up to work.

May 14, 2004

moving on...

tonight me, anup, andrew, cathy, and her husband are catching a soft sleeper train to Tia an in the Shandong providence (south east of Beijing.) saturday should be a really long day since our train arrives there at 5am. once there we plan to climb our third holy mountain Tai Shan (there are five holy mountains in china) and see Dai Miao (apparently one of the largest temples in china). sunday we're planning an enlightening visit to Qufu - the birthplace of confucius. we're planning to head back to beijing sunday night and hope to get home sometime around 5am again. then if we're not totally dead tired may be we'll visit chairman mao before going into work. it's an ambitious plan and we'll see how it pans out.


i think i got caught in a drag net this morning. while walking to work a police officer stopped me and asked me if i had been to the police station to register. i told him no and he told me that i should have registered with the police when i first got here (within 24 hours of arriving.) so began my first experiences with the police in china and a day of fun...

the officer took me to a small room tucked away in our apartment complex where there were about four other westerners and about four or five police officers. luckily all the officers seemed to speak a decent ammount english.
i was informed that i had broken the law and was being given a warning. the canadian next to was busy writing and signing a statment which they later had me copy and sign. the statment basically said my name, when i moved into my current housing, the fact that i had broken the law because i didn't know about it, and that i was accepting the warning they were giving me. the officer also had to fill out about 10 pages of paperwork, all of which i had to sign and date (including the time of day.) i was then given one piece of paper and told that i _still_ needed to register with the police office... all this was just for the warning. they also told me that i could be fined for every day for which i was here and i wasn't registered.
i was never warned about this requirement by anyone at work. my co-workers from the us (who had been here for a couple months already) had also never registered. i spoke to michael (a canadian co-worker who has been here for quite a few years) and he told me that hr normally fucks this stuff up. he has had the police stop by his place a few times and he told me i should get registered asap. he also told me the fine is about 500 yen (about 60USD) a day. i would love to file an expense report for that...
the officers that detained me in the morning told me that all i would need to take to the police station was my passport and the warning they gave me. of course michael told me different. he recommended that we bring the lease paperwork for our appartments. it turns out that what the police are really interested in is figuring out who the landlord is and making sure they are paying a tax for us living in the appt. it seems that most landlords avoid paying this tax till they are taken to the police station.
of course it gets more complicated. the admin who arranged the appartments is on vacation this week. so i arranged with our other admin maggie to go down to the police station with me. andrew and anup also wanted to get this issue resolved so they wouldn't have any future problems. so at 3:30 we all headed over to visit the cops.
it was a waste of time. there was a woman behind the counter at the police station who really wasn't interested in doing anything except telling us to go away. she told us we need to come back with our landlord within the next 10 days. she said it was extra important for me since they now had my name and address on file. fun, fun. she didn't ask for any info on anup or andrew. (a good thing.) we also tried to get her to write down that we had been there just to have some proof that we were following up on this isse and she refused... she even refused to tell us her name.
i'm glad i won't be around during the weekend, but next week will be fun... i've heard michaels tales of the police knocking on his door.
when i woke this morning i was in a really grumpy mood and pretty upset with life. but with all the excitement that started the minute i walked out the door i quickly forgot about being grumpy and started thinking about what i had to do to stay out of jail. that's some great therapy and it hasn't even cost me anything (aside from time) yet...

May 12, 2004

sleep deprivation experiments

so i'm home from the local bar, platform. i've had one too many beer and i've decided to "blog from bed" (tm). it's been quite the night. i've met many new people and now i have to get up in just a few hours to meet and talk about _important_ lab issues.... ah the joys....

so i decided to go out for dinner today with michael. michael is a co-worker here in beijing (originally from canada) who has been living here for a couple years and has learned enough chinese to get arountd town and be a very effective flirt.
unfortunatly michael doesn't drink... so after dinner i dragged him to my local bar to watch me drink and play darts. while it was fun talking about work and chinese women, michael eventually got bored of my alcholism and decided to got home with his ex-girlfriend. (who met us to play darts and pinched his ass all night. not bad from my prespective.)
after michael left the entertainment (and serious drinking) really started. i met raymond, a chinese native eager to practice english, and he introduce me to his sister (lucy), his american friend from north carolina (kevin), and another lady friend (tiffany). shortly after the new introductions a large number of additional friends arrived and all of a sudden the bar was crowded and there were lot's of people dancing to latin music and hanging out. everyone was having a good time drinking and dancing till late at night. i talked to breifly to carolina (from dublin, ireland) and tamara (from canada.)
i also spent a quite a while talking to alan. alan was from mexico city and had been living in beijing for three years. he was studying martial arts and was also working at platform as a dj four nights a week. we talked about mexico, china, the us, and music for quite a while. i introduced him to Ozomatli (via my ipod) and he was really impressed and he worked it into his live mix on the dance floor.
finally, everyone was leaving and it was time to head home arountd 3:30am... a good idea since by then i'd had way too many beers to keep count and i know that i have a meeting tommorow at 10am. :)

texmex for lunch?

so i just got into the office after lunch. me and anup went to a mexican resturant down our street called El Nina. the food was better than i expected but still left a lot to be desired. growing up in california will spoil you like that.

it was a strange experience since our waitress spoke english to us when we walked in and we got a menu that had english on it as well. i had beef enchiladas with corn tortillas for 38 yuen (under 5 USD) and anup had three soft chicken tacos with flour tortillas (same price.) both meals came with spanish rice and refried beans fresh from the can. the food better than i expected, but i don't think i'll be back soon.
the interesting part was that the place was very obviously run by a tall meiguo ren (american). anup had ordered a margarita, and the presumed owner was yelling at one of his staff members asking if he understoon the difference between a shot glass and a shaker. i didn't understand it all.
once again, we were the only customers in the place up to the very end of our the very end of our meal, when one other person entered.

May 11, 2004

manequins mock me

so tonight me, andrew, anup, and eugina (anup's wife) went out for dinner to a korean resturant. it was euginas last night in beijing after being here for over a month. she has been our translator, tour guide, and friend while roaming around china for the past three weeks and will be dearly missed. dinner was great and afterwards we went to a new bar (club-X) near the resturant and it had the best selection of bottled beer i've seen since i got here. we were the only clientel there... aside from the freaks standing outside.

so this weekend we're planning an extended excursion out of beijing.
leaving friday evening and getting back monday morning before work.
stay tuned... more detalis are comming.

May 9, 2004

the madness begins

holy shit. i'm drunk in bed and i should be going to sleep now but instead i'm trying to make sure this stupid web log i've spent all day trying to set up actually works. sweatshop union is playing and i've had a dinner with 17 different course of meat at a brazilian resturant in beijing... damn... i need a spell check... screw it, i love atkins. well, let's see if this all works. g'night.

your teahouse is no match for my lao she style

tonight we (me, andrew, anup, eugina, and two of anups friends visiting from the states) went to the lao she teahouse.

the executive summary? it's kind of a tourist destination teahouse that has live performances. there were too many cat drowning (read singing) acts and a few really good acts. imho the last two were the best. a man juggling and balancing heavy pots on his head and a performance called "the changing faces of schesuan" which involved a man dancing around in tights, a cape, and wearing a mask. then he would flick his head (or hand) and reveal a new mask. visually pretty cool.

when we entered the teahouse we were first met by the specter of a life sized representation of ghengis khan sr (ie george bush sr.) after we recovered from our shock we noticed that the walls were covered with pictures of ministers, diplomats, and other "important people" from around the world.
admission cost 110 yuen (about 14USD) and included tea and snacks. a few of us were also starving so luckily they had a full menu and we were able to order shipin (food) and pijiu (beer).
the show started with some storytelling by a woman who was smiling like she hadn't quite recovered from a horrible accident during her most recent face lift operation. this was followed by dancing combined with mime like fighting to act out the story she had just told.
after this there were a few more good acts that were interspersed with the cat drownings. there was a decent magician who had the ability to pull live fish out of strange places. the most interesting musical act was one with four musicians and five instruments. it was interesting because all the musicians had their arms crossed and were each playing one half of two different instruments. the played two songs and for the second song they were also singing along with their playing... pretty cool.
the last two acts i mentioned earlier were the best. eugina had told us about in advance about the mask changing act and we were eagerly anticipating it. it didn't disappoint.