Sep 12, 2007

Chestnuts

It's the start of autumn, and I've noticed the Beijing street vendors are starting to switch their merchandise from peaches and grapes over to roasted chestnuts. The vendors stir the chestnuts together with miniature coals or rocks of some sort in a large, hot wok. The roasting chestnuts smell wonderful.



I'm very tempted to pick up a bag of fresh chestnuts and chow down, but I have some reservations. I brought some tasty chestnuts home for the relatives during a visit last winter, and I might as well have brought dried dog turds, seeing how poorly they went over with the crowd. Even the few adventuresome relatives that were willing to experiment with new foods gave up after trying one or two chestnuts.

Short story, I ended up eating most of the chestnuts myself. I'll be damned if I'm going to waste sixty kuai of prime chestnuts that I carted around the world, I thought to myself. It turns out that eating too many chestnuts can give you the most horrible, smelly gas you can imagine. It's the kind of flatulence that makes paint peel, the really nasty silent-but-deadly ones. They keep on coming and don't stop.

I was ripping gas for three days straight. I would get gas pains if I tried to be polite and hold it in. Like Dr. Dre, I was droppin' bombs like Hiroshima.

I found this informative piece called "Educated Fart Analysis" which points out:
Endogenous gas is produced within the digestive tract.The endogenous gases are produced as a by-product of digesting certain types of food. Flatulence producing foods are typically high in complex carbohydrates (especially oligosaccharides such as inulin) and include beans, milk, onions, yams, sweet potatoes, citrus rinds, chestnuts, cashews, broccoli, cabbage, Jerusalem artichokes, oat, yeast in breads, etc.
Give the chestnuts a try when you have a chance. It's probably a great way to flush out your gut and cleanse your colon. If you've got a hot date that night, though, it's best to hold off until another time.

Sep 9, 2007

Butterflies

I often take the Beijing light rail to and from work. This past week, I had seen this poster for a musical called "Butterflies", a few times already.



The first few times I walked by the poster, I couldn't figure out what was so fascinating about it, and then it hit me: he looks like Furio from the Sopranos. This Chinese guy could almost be his long lost brother.













If you don't know the Sopranos, this resemblance probably won't mean anything to you. Basically, Furio was Tony's ponytail-wearing bodyguard who was down for any kind of violence, and it made him one of the best Sopranos characters. Unfortunately, Furio disappeared back to Italy in season four and we never saw him since.

Finally, the comparison shot:








Pretty close, huh?

Sep 8, 2007

McDonald's breakfast

I was in the unique position one morning this past week of both being up early and not having any early conference calls. It was a perfect opportunity to enjoy a delicious McDonald's breakfast. It surprised me to see more than a few Chinese people sleeping inside of McDonalds during the breakfast period. Some of them were slumped face down on tables. Some were sprawled out inside the dining booths like they were chaise lounges. I didn't know what to make of it. I decided to take some photos so I could contemplate the significance at a later time when my body was fully awake and I was more alert.



The thing that I find strange about this photo above is the fact that these lovebirds just chugged some of that new special blend coffee that McDonald's recently started offering in China. I can't understand how someone could slug back a cup of strong coffee and then pass out on the table like Barney Gumble. The last thing I would want to do after drinking a cup of coffee is slump over a table in McDonald's and fall asleep.

On top of this, you have to realize that Chinese are overwhelmingly morning people. I suspect it has to do with a combination of the facts that:
  • The Chinese government has rigged the timezones such that sunrise in Beijing is at four in the morning, so there's an incentive to get up early and take advantage of the daylight
  • The Chinese have a long agrarian history and culture
The prevalent morning person mentality makes it even weirder to see so many of them sleeping about the McDonald's during breakfast time. Is this the start of a new trend in China? Are they becoming like night owl Californians who can't be bothered to get up before eight?

Finally, I must give my endorsement of the new McDonald's coffee. Up until recently, they had not been serving the tasty coffee that they do in the US, but rather something that tasted more like instant coffee. I don't think that the one they have now is exactly the same as in the US, but it's much better than before.

Sep 5, 2007

Beidaihe and Nandaihe impressions

Beidaihe and Nandaihe are two summer beach towns a few hours drive away from Beijing. Here are some photos from a recent trip I took there.



South of Nandaihe there are some relatively uncrowded beaches with somewhat white sand. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a non-tropical beach, except all the Chinese guys wore swimsuits that looked like spandex biker shorts. I'm not a fan of smugglin' plums unless I'm in swim training or actually in a swimming competition. I mean, make up your mind, pick a Speedo-type racing suite or board shorts, leave the spandex biker shorts to Lance Armstrong.




When you get to the beach at Nandaihe or Beidaihe, there are some hastily erected changing rooms you can pay one yuan to use. They are flimsy-walled shanties put up over the sand, and the sides are made from either canvas and metal or corrugated steel. I made the mistake of using one of these changing rooms at the first beach I went to, where I discovered nasty turds in the corners and pools of urine still in the sand. At other beaches, I looked for some secluded spots to change in because there was no way I was going to pay to use another one of these turd chambers again.



This unfortunate guy got heat stroke, so the security guards tossed him under a lounge umbrella on the sand to cook for a while longer. Here they are, having returned after twenty minutes or so, to put the victim on a stretcher. The Red Cross should use this in a training video of how not to do first aid. Up to this point, I've always been impressed when I hear about the five thousand years of Chinese culture and medicinal knowledge, but after witnessing the expert care given to this victim, I have some doubts.

(Here is the correct way to treat dehydration and heat stroke, in case you're wondering.)



Here's the heatstroke victim, finally on the stretcher, the midday sun beating down, while the security guards fart around and decide what to do next. Notice the one security guard more interested in sending text messages to his girlfriend on his cell phone, and the tourist in blue jeans taking photos at point-blank range.



When you're done bathing in the sea, or getting sunstroke, you can pay a few yuan to shower and rinse that seawater off your body. This was another uniquely China experience for me, as I noticed more than a few Chinese that were urinating while they showered. Gross. Don't they know that the corner of the changing shanty the proper place to urinate? As I showered, I made sure that I was upstream from the pee running towards the drain.



Beidaihe is full of white-complexioned Russians and Russian restaurants, one of them which is pictured here. Strangely enough, the shopkeepers would still try to talk to me in English, not Russian. I guess they haven't figured out that Westerners have more than one language. One merchant, however, a banana vendor, did shout some things at me in Russian. Upon hearing his calls, I was content to no end. In retrospect, I should have bought a banana to give the guy some positive reinforcement.



The beaches in Beidaihe have more Russians, and are more crowded in general than the beaches in Nandaihe.



This Buddha carved into the sand dunes was at a beach south of Nandaihe.

Overall, I'd recommend these beach resorts if you're in need of a break from the city heat of Beijing. I wouldn't much recommend them to tourists with limited time in China. There are much more interesting and unique places to see than Beidaihe.

Remember to bring flip-flops for the public changing room and shower.