Apr 23, 2006

Pinggu county fresh air

As a weekend escape from the Beijing dust and pollution, I tagged along on a bus ride with a local friend to Pinggu county (平谷县) for the day. To the left is a map I captured from Google earth. There are two semi-popular tourist attractions in Pingu. One is Jin Hai Lake (金海湖) and the other is some rock formations in another area. I spent the afternoon walking around at the lake. Here's a rundown of what you can expect if you go there:

You can enjoy the mountain scenery, and if you pay 2 yuan extra you can walk out to the statue of a horseback rider

You can nibble on taro ice cream bars with your gal pals

You can bribe a worker to let you take a spin on this decomissioned flying bicycle contraption

You can cram into a tiny boat like a family of Haitian refugees and zip across the lake

Keep in mind that at this lake, no "hatchet man machines" are allowed during thunderstorms. The use of hatchet men and other unscrupulous behavior is limited to good-weather periods only.

When I saw that horseback rider statue up close, I really started craving a Big Boy hamburger. Certainly, the horseback rider is not as chubby as the Big Boy, but the resemblance in the facial expressions and posture is striking.

Apr 21, 2006

Using your bare hand as a particle respirator

As part of my continuing efforts to educate the public to bring about a "harmonious society" and bring China into the 21st century, I'll share some helpful hints regarding respiratory protection. First, a quick message from one of the Kill Bill: Vol. 2 characters to the girls with surgical masks wandering around Beijing:

Above: no, it's not Michael Jackson

In Beijing, whenever the wind stirs up the dirt from the street or a diesel bus farts out a cloud of black smoke, there is inevitably a group of Chinese women nearby who immediately cover their mouths and noses with one hand to protect themselves from the pollution. It's conditioned behavior learned by imitating others. Just stand around and watch, and you'll see it for yourself. Now, unless Chinese hands are made of some type of new age porous material that blocks out airborne dust and pollution, the air is still being sucked in through the gaps between the fingers, and between the hand and mouth, along with whatever particles are in that air. I just wanted to point this out to anyone that may be reading so they can save themselves the wasted effort of covering their mouths. As an aside though, please do, however, cover your mouth and nose when you cough, sneeze, or pick your boogers in public. It's really gross and one reason I prefer to cook for myself these days.

That last paragraph should take care of the remedial students. Now let's move on to people that have figured out that a mask of some kind is the only real way to reduce your exposure to particle pollution. A lot of Beijing folks are giving it the old college try. They're making a commendable effort to protect themselves, but unfortunately it's in vain. I'll not go into all the details about the difference between surgical masks and respirators, you can read about that on other sites. Essentially, a surgical mask is a barrier to protect a patient from the wearer's fluids and provide minimal protection to the wearer himself. A respirator, however, actually filters the air being breathed by the wearer. It requires a proper fit so that the air passes through the barrier and does not leak through the sides of the mask. Respirators come in different grades, such as N95. Certainly, one can buy high grade respirators with replaceable cartridges, but a respirator is not necessarily any more pricey than a surgical mask. In fact, a cotton surgical mask that provides almost no protection to the wearer costs about US$2 in Beijing, while N95 disposable respirators you can buy are about the same price.

Maybe the folks that wear the surgical masks are being considerate to others. Perhaps they have respiratory viruses and want to minimize the possibility of infecting their comrades. Spend more than one day in China, see how considerate the locals are to one another, and let me know if you still think that's true. Until then, I'll amuse myself by laughing to myself at girls that think their bare hands can function as particle respirators, and I'll be silently thanking the unintentionally considerate people who wear surgical masks.

Apr 17, 2006

Dusty days

Due to some fine particle dust that blew into town over night, the sky has been tinted reddish brown for the entire day. I'm composing a song about it, sung to the tune of Dancing Days by Led Zeppelin:

Dusty days are here again
And the sky is tinged fart brown

Not to give the impression that Beijing usually has blue skies or anything like that. The Beijing ren usually defile their environment beyond belief and the air here is disgusting six days out of the week if you're lucky. But today, add to that the dust, and the atmosphere is especially abysmal. I donned my N95 respirator mask and went out out for a brief stroll to take some photos and capture the effects of the dust.

Folks here aren't very experienced with cars and auto maintenance, so you'll see a lot of them sweeping the dust off their cars using what appears to be a dry miniature hand mop. I think the real reason Chinese consumers don't buy used cars very much is because the previous owner will have already scraped off all the clearcoat. To their credit, I did see a gentleman today using a damp towel, rather than a dry brush, to remove the dust and clearcoat from his car.

Apr 9, 2006

Sunday afternoon Beijing photos

Above: Grilling shish kebabs.

Above: As old neighborhoods are torn down and high rise condos put up in their place, this is a common sight in Beijing. On the photo to the left, the character 拆 means "tear down", and it's painted on buildings slated for demolition. For another building, in the photo on the right, someone had the bright idea to scratch off the 拆. I wonder if that will save their building.

Above: No, it's not a war zone in the Middle East, just some kids playing in the rubble of a building that was recently torn down.

Above: A waste management entrepreneur. Does this man need to kick back part of his monthly profits to Tony Soprano in order to keep his route?

Apr 8, 2006

Rolling Stones censorship

The Rolling Stones have their only mainland China tour date today in Shanghai. If only I had that sweet ex-pat salary package, I could see myself jetting down there for the weekend, staying in the Ritz-Carlton, and enjoying the concert from US$200 seats. Some day perhaps.

Above: billboard near Workers Stadium in Beijing

In this article regarding the censorship of some of the Stones' songs while in China, Mick Jagger says:
"..I'm pleased that the Minister of Culture is protecting the morals of the ex-pat bankers and their girlfriends who are going to turn up."
He's right-on with that comment. To add to that, even if the audience consisted mainly of locals, rather than ex-pats, they could be listening to an Andrew Dice Clay stand-up act, and the overwhelming majority wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of it.

To be sure, China is not the only place with restrictions on free speech. However, the censorship of some of the songs is really too much, given that nearly every neighborhood in China has its own collection of whorehouse "barbershops" and sex toy stores, men frequently go to karaoke bars to solicit escorts and hookers, and extra-marital mistresses and girlfriends are accepted practice. The songs the Chinese government is restricting are related to hookers and various aspects of sex. When you've got a national population of one point something billion and a thriving adult entertainment industry in every city, it's time to admit that the sexual morals of your citizens aren't going to be erroded any more than they already have.

We should point out that the censorship here is no different than what's occurred elsewhere. Let's Spend the Night Together was censored on American television at one point as well... 39 years ago!

Apr 2, 2006

South Park Chinatown gate analysis

My last entry talked about nonsensical English on the back of a girl's jacket. The letters came quite close to spelling out some actual words in English, but the real meaning was unclear. What a coincidence then, when watching the latest South Park episode this week that they had some Chinese characters that were almost correct, but not quite. The premise of the South Park episode was that Kyle's family buys a Prius ("Pius") hybrid car and becomes so smug that they relocate to San Francisco, the "smuggiest" city in America. During the scenes showing them relocating, there are some famous sites in San Francisco, including the Chinatown gate, which is where this topic comes in.

In the screenshot below, I've superimposed the Chinese characters next to the original cartoon. Let's take a look at what's going on.

大 級級: "高級" is normally used to mean high-grade or high-level. 大級級 is a close guess. However, we're dealing with South Park here, which is not the cleanest humor around. It's very possible they have a Mandarin speaker on their staff who knows that 大級級 (da4 ji2 ji2) is very close to sounding like 大 雞雞 (da4 ji1 ji1), which is crude slang for "big penis". Or they may have simply stumbled onto an unintentional joke.

研: usually used in conjunction with another character to indicate something related to research or education. By itself it means "grind" or "pestle" and it's infrequently seen this way.

快位大度: this makes no sense. In real life that little sign says "天下為公". This is a quote from Confucius in the Book of Rites (孔子禮記), "When the Great Way prevails, the world belongs to all." (大道之行也,天下為公)

級: this one could work. Perhaps it's a sign that says "超級" (super) and the top is cut off.

快度人街: this one makes no sense, but the last three characters "度人街" look similar to "唐人街", which means "Chinatown".

超: again, this could be part of "超級" (super)

To me it looks like the South Park writers put a lot more effort into realistic foreign language usage in this episode. In the Bin Laden episodes they usually just scribbled some random Arabic squiggles.