Feb 28, 2005

subway anecdote

In China, rather than wearing diapers, babies just have a flap near their “output ports”. When it's time to go, the parents can just open the flap and the kid can relieve himself, usually by squatting on the sidewalk. This is prerequisite knowledge for the anecdote that follows.

The other day I was riding a very crowded Beijing subway during rush hour. A woman was sitting in the train with her two year-old toddler standing between her knees. He was just standing there screaming at the top of his lungs for several minutes. I did my best to ignore it, but I finally looked over to see what the fuss was about. The kid just couldn't hold it anymore, so his mother unbuttoned the flap and he let loose with a nice, long number one right in the subway car. The problem with this was that the kid didn't squat down. He chose rather to remain standing between his mother's knees, so the liquid had to fall about two feet to the floor. This led to a nice CSI-style splatter effect all over some businessman whose back was turned to the whole scene. When the guy finally walked away, there was a set of dry shoe prints in the splatter and mist that had engulfed his pants. At each subsequent station when the train started to accelerate, the puddle of liquid ran further back toward the end of the car, causing the people sitting there to squirm in their seats to try and dodge it.

Feb 26, 2005

An accident waiting to happen. This is a metal slide that you can go down in a wheeled luge. Despite very many people at the ski resort, I didn't see one person going down it.

skiing in China

Beijing has some small ski areas located 1-2 hours outside of the city. I went on a package tour to Nanshan resort for the day, which ran about 200 RMB for everything except food. I think it costs about twice that much if you go individually without a large group, which definitely would not be worth it given the size of the resort. They only have 2 lifts, but one plus is that it's built on an actual mountain rather than on top of a landfill.

Some interesting observations:

  • The rental skis and bindings were OK, but the boots were not very good quality

  • If you've been to China, you'll know that pushing and shoving is normal crowd behavior. The inability to wait patiently in an organized queue also applies to the ski lift line. People huddle in together as close as possible and step on each other's skis while waiting. I guess if you have a nice set of skis you would be advised to rent instead rather than bring them.

  • Credit cards are still not commonly used in China, so you must leave a deposit of 200 RMB for the ski rental which you get back when you return everything.

  • There are numerous open manhole covers and dangling electrical wires that one encounters while walking around China. It's considered one's personal responsibility to not do anything stupid like falling in an open sewer or getting electrocuted. In spite of this, the ski resort employees were vigilant in making sure that everyone used the safety bar while on the lift.

  • In addition to skiing, there are some other mountain-oriented activities, like sliding down a cable attached to a hang-glider, or going down a stainless steel slide in a wheeled sled, sort of like a luge or bobsled. The latter looked like an accident waiting to happen

  • I didn't see anyone coughing up phlegm and spitting it from the chair lift.

View of the ski area from near the top of the lift.

This appears to be some sort of brick production facility near the ski area.

Feb 25, 2005


It's easy to find a bowling alley in Beijing. Many are located in the large hotels. They are on the smaller side, less than 10 lanes. When I went, there was no one else bowling, so we had the entire place to ourselves. It was quite unusual to have almost complete silence and no distractions while you are bowling. Regardless, it didn't help my score.

There were no tatooed men named “Snake” drinking Budweiser and smoking while bowling with their league. Prices are about the same as in the US.

Feb 20, 2005

Azithromycin and other apothecarial amusements

You can self-medicate to your heart's content in China. The other week I told the pharmacist I had a sore throat, and she wanted to sell me a package of azithromycin. I'll wait until I really need antibiotics and just take herbal remedies for cold symptoms.

I ended up taking something called 肺宁颗粒, which I would translate as "peaceful lung pellets". It's an herbal mixture that you dissolve in hot water and drink three times daily, and I think it was quite effective for reducing my symptoms. If they can think of a better translation than I came up with for the product name, they can probably give Tylenol a run for their money in western markets.

On the subject of medicine, I was looking at my stash of pharmaceuticals that I brought with me. The inventory is reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson's drug collection at the start of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but lacking the narcotics and hallucinogens: “two bags of Halls cough drops, seventy-five pellets Cipro, five sheets of transdermal scopolamine, a ziplock bag of malarone and a whole galaxy of Pepto-Bismol and Immodium.”

Feb 14, 2005

Lots of smoke and incense

at Yonghegong (Lama Temple)

Ice skating on Houhai lake. The sign to the right says "dangerous ice surface, please stay off". Obviously the warning isn't scaring many people away. I think that some parts are thin and you just have to stay in the safe areas.

Feb 12, 2005

As would be expected, there are many Pekingese dogs in Peking. They don't all dress as nicely as this one though.

Feb 11, 2005

The Ikea nesting instinct

The Ikea in Beijing is pretty much exactly the same as those in California. Even the furniture prices are the same, except converted to RMB. It's surprising that Ikea can do such good business in China despite the price discrepancy compared to other brands available locally of similar quality. From what my local friends have told me, Ikea in China is not thought of as disposable low-quality furniture, the way people think of it in California. To their credit they did have cheap snacks, only 1 yuan for an ice cream cone.

Feb 9, 2005

Scorpions, silkworms, and sea stars. I think that covers all the food groups!

Paper lanterns and umbrellas above one of the walkways.

Crowds at the temple fair.

One of the food stands at the temple fair. This one has some Korean snacks. They had skewered meat, on the left they were offering fried sea stars, and on the right they have silkworms on a stick. The silkworms are supposed to be rich in proteins and amino acids, and are now considered more upper-class than a cheap street food. I had my daily Centrum multivitamin that day, so I skipped out on the silkworms.

Feb 8, 2005

new year's activities

Monday and Tuesday this week, the office was pretty deserted since people were traveling back to their hometowns for the week of new year. Most people will have at least 7 days vacation total. It's a fine time to travel around in China if your goal is to be stuck in crowds with a billion other people on the move.

Tuesday night, the eve of Chinese new year, was the main event when families get together for a reunion dinner and then watch the annual CCTV variety show together. I was invited to eat with a friend's family and I got to try some new foods from their region (Shandong).

There were no government-sponsored fireworks. They only do that in October for another week-long holiday. Despite the lack of official displays, there was no shortage of people shooting fireworks at night, but they weren't part of any organized festival. From what I heard from my friends, you're not allowed to shoot fireworks in the populated areas of Beijing (inside the 5th ring road). That rule didn't seem to stop anybody though.