Jan 19, 2006

Avian flu risk indicators

A couple of months ago, the Chinese were pretty concerned about bird flu. Traffic at KFC dropped off, and from what I observed, they were ordering less poultry in restaurants. This seems to no longer be the case. Observe exhibit A below.

Above and below:
Is this something for dinner, or some parasitic creatures that will attach themselves to your face and lay their young inside of you?

Jan 14, 2006

SNL "Lazy Sunday" slang in Chinese

After repeatedly watching the hilarious Saturday Night Live "Lazy Sunday" short over the past couple weeks, I thought it would be useful to share some similar obscure slang that you can use when you're in China.

The lines from the SNL skit I was thinking of are:
Reach in my pocket, pull out some dough
Girl acted like she never seen a ten before
It's all about the Hamiltons baby

Roll up to the theater
Ticket buying what we’re handling
You can call us Aaron Burr
From the way we’re droppin’ Hamiltons
The Chinese regime didn't choose different historical leaders for each denomination. Rather, they've put Mao Zedong on all of their paper currency from one RMB and up. Maybe you'd think, "All the bills have a portrait of the same dictator. How can you possibly do the equivalent of calling them Benjamins or Hamiltons?" But it is possible.

The 50 RMB note used to contain portraits of a worker, a farmer, and a soldier. Due to this design, you can call it Gong Nong Bin (工农兵: worker, farmer, soldier). In recent years, Mao's mug took over that bill also, but most Mainlanders should recognize what you're referring to.

Above: the old 50 RMB note (top) and the new one (bottom)

The 100 RMB note, the "Benjamin" of Chinese currency, is the Laotou Piao (老头票: old man bill) or Mao Laotou (毛老头: old man Mao). These are more widely known than the slang for the 50.

Above: droppin' laotou piaos like a Party cadre

When you're in China you should try to throw these terms around loosely when you're out and about. The locals will probably think you're as cool as Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg in their skit with their Hamiltons, licorice, and cupcakes. You'll get the same looks of appreciation and admiration as if you had been in the US and had mentioned "Benjamins" and "Hamiltons". Best of all, when you're out on the town dropping laotou piaos, you're really only spending $12, a little more than a Hamilton.

Jan 5, 2006

Asian tour of Rent in Beijing

The Asian tour of the musical Rent (吉屋出租) played in Beijing for a few days this week. I went to the final night's performance. Ticket prices were from 100 – 1000 RMB, comparable with what you'd find in the US. I estimate the theater could accommodate about 2,700 people, but only 800 or so were in attendance. This meant that regardless of what ticket you had bought, people could move up into the first 20 rows or so. It reminded me of taking a crowded passenger train in China. You can buy a really cheap standing-room only ticket, and then when one of the passengers in the soft seat area disembarks, you can sit there. First-come-first-serve.

For many, if not all of the locals, the draw was seeing HK pop singer Karen Mok (莫文蔚), who played Mimi. Quite a few people were taking (flash) photos when she sang her numbers. On the sides of the stage were a vertical LED displays showing a Chinese translation of the lyrics. The subtitles were going at blindingly fast speed, like half a second per sentence sometimes. I'm not sure that the show would be very enjoyable for non-native English speakers. The translations were pretty much accurate but it lost the musical quality and wit.

As far as the performances in the show, I would mostly agree with the comments on this forum. That is, Karen Mok was ok, but she's obviously not the appropriate actress to play Mimi. However, her presence makes the production economically feasible in Asia. The rest of the cast ranged from a few stand-out performers to some others that are just so-so.

The only other negative thing I'd mention is that the venue's acoustics were unsuitable for a musical that is heavy on rock and roll. It was an oval, pillbox-shaped auditorium with hard, smooth walls all around. The fact that it was under one-third full didn't help the reverberation.

Overall, it was an enjoyable show and I'd recommend it as long as you're tickets are on the cheap side of the scale.