Aug 29, 2007

Grassland trip

I went on a weekend trip to the grasslands north of Beijing, not quite yet to the border of Inner Mongolia. It's called Bashang, on the northern edge of Heibei province. This fella has a good write up. It took about six hours to drive there in the 12-seater van. When we arrived we ate lunch at our rustic motel, and then negotiated with the locals for horses and guides.

Afterwards we rode horses from three in the afternoon until seven, and then feasted on half of a whole roasted lamb. As we started to eat our lamb it began to rain. The rain continued the next day so we headed back to Beijing a little earlier than we had thought. The scenery and horseback riding were worth the trip, however.

Hey, there's actually blue sky not too far from Beijing, it's amazing! Who would have thought.

Mongolian yurt on the grassland during horseback riding.

Signs of a coming rain shower.

Horses much some grass during a photo snapping stop.

Mountain road exiting the grassland area on the way back to Beijing.

Aug 12, 2007

Beijing ’08: Let the Politics Begin

The one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympics was this past week.

This New York Times article from this weekend does a nice job of summarizing the political side of things. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Aug 11, 2007

How not to pour draft beer

I had dinner at a Beijing duck restaurant the other night. I'll start off by mentioning that we drank bottled beer, not the beer on tap. Twenty feet or so away from where I sat, there was beer on tap, pictured in the photo here. In the picture, pay attention to the large serving bowl and soup ladle that sit directly underneath the beer tap. Observe the lukewarm, flat beer head sitting in it.

Throughout my meal, I watched as the waitresses occasionally wandered over to the keg to fill up half-liter sized mugs for customers. It wasn't the keg that stood out to me, but rather the technique that the waitresses used. I'll describe their pouring style as best I can:
  1. Hold an empty half-liter beer mug in the right hand.
  2. Raise the mug into the tap so that the tap head nearly touches the bottom of the glass.
  3. Use your left hand to open the tap and start filling the mug.
  4. Fill the mug until it's three-fourths filled with beer, and the head foams over into the bowl.
  5. Tilt the mug to 30 degrees and let any remaining head dribble down the side of the mug, over your hand, and into the bowl.
  6. Look dazed and confused for as few seconds.
  7. Move the mug to your left hand.
  8. With your right hand, pick up the soup ladle.
  9. Use the ladle to scoop out the foamed-over head and other beer remnants from the soup bowl, and gently layer it into the beer mug.
  10. Serve the concoction to unsuspecting customers.
Now you're ready to work as a waitress in Beijing.

If you haven't seen draft beer properly poured, I found this on
Pouring the perfect pint

A perfect pint of beer starts with a just-rinsed, beer-clean glass held a half-inch to an inch below the faucet. Tilt the glass 45° and open the faucet all the way, pouring down the side of the glass. When the glass is half full, stand it straight up and continue pouring directly into the center of the glass. Quickly close the faucet, leaving a three-quarter-inch head at the top of the glass. This thick, creamy head should leave lacing on the glass as the beer is enjoyed.

Beer faucets are designed to be opened all the way every time. Opening a faucet only partway makes the flow turbulent, supplying nucleation sites and making the beer fizz up.

Achieving the ideal pour depends on starting with beer from a fresh, cold, properly carbonated keg. The beer must then be pushed by clean, appropriately pressurized carbon dioxide through a coupler with good seals that connects to a smooth, recently cleaned, temperature-stabilized, leak-free line through a clean faucet, and out into a beer-clean glass.

And this other one on
The dispensing spigot should never come in contact with the beer in the glass. To prevent the foamy head from dissipating quickly, glasses must be absolutely free of any dirt, grease, oil, or soapy film.

Draft beer should be poured directly into a glass and never allowed to run first. Traditionally, draft beer is served with a head of approximately 3/4 to 1 inch. Tilting the glass and letting the flow of draft beer slope off the inside of the glass will inhibit the amount of head that develops. When the glass is half-full, the beer should be allowed to pour directly into the center of the glass. This technique will produce the appropriate amount of foamy head.

In neither of those articles did I read anything that says, "place a large soup bowl under the tap so you'll be able to recycle the foamed-over, lukewarm beer."

In China, you'll probably be fine at an establishment that has a properly stocked bar. However, order draft beer only if you can see who's pouring it and how. Be very, very cautious if the same person that is brining your food is also pouring draft beer. You never know what steps the restaurant owner has told the wait staff to take in order to save a few fen, like recycling stagnant beer.

Aug 4, 2007

Elevator chats

We've all heard of the concept of the "elevator pitch", right? Well, my apartment community in Beijing has elevators, which is great, and even better, they are staffed by female elevator attendants from Henan province. They sit inside the elevators from morning until night, and they'll hit your floor's button if they recognize you. 99 times out of 100, I never get asked for my floor. The 100th time is the day when there is a new worker on board, and afterward, they always remember me.

I have at least two great chances every day, going out in the morning to work and coming back at night, to have an "elevator Chinese lesson" with the attendants or whomever else is around. It's hard to come up with fresh material to chat with them about, though. I feel pressure to keep my jokes and my routine fresh and up-to-date, much as a stand up comic might feel.

Obvious, but boring topics, might be: "gee, this weather is something, huh?", "how are you doing today", "how long are you working today", and the like.

I've had some new material over the past few months, which I'll share with you here, translated into English for your reading convenience:

Exchange 1:

Scene: I stand outside the elevator door on the ground floor. The "going down" light illuminates. The elevator door opens, and the female attendant shouts out "下" (going down). The elevator is descending to floor B1, the basement level, and it will return ten seconds later. Two or three Chinese folks get on the elevator and go down. I wait ten seconds, the same elevator returns, the "up" arrow illuminates, and the door opens. The same two or three Chinese folks that just got on the elevator are still inside. They didn't get off in the basement for some reason. I now enter the elevator.

[Talking to the attendant] Looks like some people got on the elevator, rode down to the basement, and then came back to the first floor.

Elevator attendant girl:
[Blank stare]

Other Chinese folks in the elevator:
[Ignoring me]

[Talking to the attendant] Yeah, they should check out the signal outside the elevator that shows whether it's going up or down.

Elevator attendant girl:
[Blank stare]

[Talking to the attendant] It's a good way to save time.

The elevator arrives at my floor

Elevator attendant girl:
See you

See you

[I think this exchange was funny only to me. I can't help it if no one else understands my sense of humor.]

Exchange 2:

Scene: I've entered the elevator with a couple of Chinese residents. One of the residents is a man carrying two shopping bags, one stuffed to the brim with giant leeks, the other packed with about thirty eggs. The man with the bags exits the elevator at his floor, and I stay on board to chat.

Me: [Talking to the attendant] Looks like that guy is really hungry. So many leeks and so many eggs! He must really like eggs if he's buying so many.

Elevator attendant girl:
[Blank stare, then matter-of-factly speaks] He's shopping for the people in his family also.

[Thinking to myself: I guess they don't stress the teaching of irony and sarcasm in the Chinese educational system. This was yet another joke that was funny only to me.]

Exchange 3:

Scene: I've entered the elevator. After I'm on board, a tall Chinese woman, at least 5'10", gets on board. The elevator goes up, and the woman exits at her floor.

Me: [Talking to the attendant] Wow, she was so tall! Like a bean sprout!

Elevator attendant girl:
[Smiles, bashfully] Yeah.

[This is one of the best responses I've gotten so far from an elevator attendant to one of my jokes. I believe that it was the term "bean sprout" (豆芽菜) that did it.]

Exchange 4:

Scene: I've entered the elevator. After I'm inside, a Chinese guy lugs his full-size mountain bike onto the elevator.

Me: [Talking to the man] Hey man, you know we've got a bike parking area in the basement of our building, right?

Bike man:
Yeah, I know.

So why do you bother lugging the bike up and down the elevator?

[I already know the answer to this one, of course: thievery. I already had two bicycles stolen out of the basement of our building, even though it's supposedly watched over by our apartment community's security guards. This guy's bike would no doubt get stolen within one day, should he be silly enough to put it in the basement.]

Bike man: It's safer. I already lost a few bikes here.

"Lost"? Do you mean "stolen"?

Bike man:

Yeah, I know what you mean. Bike thieves are running rampant around here. I think they're in cahoots with the security guards. Bikes are being stolen even after the bike parking area is closed up and locked for the night.

These are all the routines I'm going to share for today. If you're living somewhere with an elevator attendant and want to try out these comedy gems, go ahead, but please give credit where it's due.