Oct 31, 2008

Halloween special: gruesome meat market photos

Happy Halloween everyone! I've been saving this photo set special for Halloween this year. These are some photos I took at the wet market in Yangshuo, Guangxi province in September. It was a spectacular market if you wanted to get some gory and grotesque pictures.

In the back of this market, there were disemboweled dog carcasses hanging from hooks. The bloodied horns and jaws of water buffalo lay in coagulating blood and tissues scattered about on tables. The smell of half-day old fresh meat and blood permeated the air. Walking thorough this market for five minutes, I got just about as nauseous as I care to be.

Without any further build up, here we go, my Best of Halloween Photo Set. Being the considerate gentleman that I am, I've shrunk down the thumbnail photos, converted them to black and white, and pixelated them a bit to make them hard to see clearly from my main blog page. I'm not going to force any sensitive people to look at anything disturbing. You can make your own choice. If you really want to see these pictures in higher resolution, full-color, just click on each picture.

Be warned, it's not pretty. These are pictures that are sure to gross-out any vegetarians, vegans, dog lovers, and anyone else with a weak stomach.

Butchered dog heads in a tray

Below: Close up of some bloody, butchered dog heads

Below: Water buffalo horns and jaws on a table, lying in a pool of blood

Below: Close up of water buffalo jaw and some blood

Below: The grossest one of all... disemboweled dog on a meat hook. Nasty!

Click here to view.

Hope that wasn't too gross for anyone.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 29, 2008

Beef bourguignon

The other week, I cooked one of my favorite dishes, beef bourguignon. It's one of those great tasting, hearty dishes, with lots of animal fats and flavors. It's also one of the few foods where the taste improves in the refrigerator. The peanuts in leftover kung pao chicken get soggy and taste worse over time; beef bourguignon, on the other hand, tastes more complex and tender after a day or two in the refrigerator.

One question I ask myself, though, is it really beef bourguignon that I've cooked? Not having the luxury of an expatriate salary package, including the fancy villa estate, driver, maid, and French wine collection, I have to make due in my kitchen with Australian wines, and some of the passable Chinese wines.

If I make beef bourguignon with Changyu-brand Cabernet 1997, should the dish really be called something different, like beef chinois-on, or beef changyu-on? Or perhaps boeuf à la chinoise, or boeuf à la changyu? I never learned French, so I think I'm in need of some help.

If the essential ingredient of a dish is a specific wine, and then you swap that wine out for a replacement, does it change the name of the dish? Who knew cooking could raise so many deep questions.

Oct 27, 2008

Correction: Auntie Anne's pretzels post

I posted recently on an Auntie Anne's pretzel shop opening here in Beijing and some free samples they were giving away. I need to make a small correction to that post. I had originally remarked that Auntie Anne's was giving away a "frozen coffee drink" that tasted like "sour Kool Aid", "sour milk", and "acidic belch" mixed together. I passed by that very Auntie Anne's shop over the past weekend, and realized that I had inappropriately described their frozen beverage.

The drink was in fact not frozen coffee, but rather frozen Yakult. According to the wikipedia entry, "Yakult is a Japanese probiotic milk-like product made by fermenting a mixture of skimmed milk with a special strain of the bacteria Lactobacillus casei Shirota."

So, when you re-read through my previous posting, please be sure to remember that the concoction that I'm describing is not coffee, but actually a Japanese probiotic milk-like product resembling coffee...

...and tasting like an acidic belch.

Oct 25, 2008

Safety razor

Here's the razor I've been using for some time now, the Merkur Heavy Duty Safety Razor. There's definitely some learning curve involved, but once you get past the phase of slicing up your face like Swiss cheese, you get a closer and less irritating shave than with those triple or quadruple cartridge razors.

Oct 23, 2008

Electoral-night scenario toy

Check out this election-night scenario clickable map from the Washington Times, where you can try out the combination that can put Barack Obama or John McCain in the victory column.

This was a fun thing to play around with. Here's my unscientific guess, starting with the "2008 Battlegrounds" map and then setting the states to blue or red based on my gut feeling as to how people there are going to vote. This could be a nice tool to facilitate an office betting pool. Everyone chips in a buck, prints out their guess as to how the electoral map will do, and the pot goes to the person whose map is closest to how the actual states went.

Oct 21, 2008

Free stuff!

I inherited the must get free stuff gene from somewhere. Not everyone seems to have it, so I guess it's one of those recessive ones. Whenever there's a giveaway or some other freebie, I've got to check it out. In college, I'd figure out which corporate recruiters were coming by in the evening to do presentations, and swing by just long enough to grab a few slices of pizza, Italian food, or whatever else they had for dinner, and then slither out of the room.

Having seen a blog entry about a giveaway, we stopped by a new shopping mall in the area to get some free pretzels. I think I'd seen this Auntie Anne's pretzel place in malls in California before, so it's nothing special, but then again, if it's free we've got to get some of whatever it is.

For Chinese people, the must get free stuff gene is definitely not recessive. It seems like ninety-nine percent of them have this uncontrollable impulse. (Remember the stampede over discount cooking oil at a big grocery store chain here? Imagine if it was free oil, not just cheap oil!) If this particular Auntie Anne's pretzel give-away was better advertised, they would have had, without a doubt, hundreds and hundreds of Chinese people lined up to get free stuff. Thankfully, the event was very low key. Other than the posting on TheBeijinger.com and a few small signs near their counter in the mall, you wouldn't know about it.

So here's my assessment of Auntie Anne's:
  • Pretzels: good, and I'll continue to eat them if they will be given away. Otherwise, I'll probably spend my money on a chocolate fondant cake from the Beard Papa store nearby, or get a Blizzard from DQ.
  • Lemonade: not freshly made, just powdered mix and water with a few lemon slices thrown into the dispenser for looks. Not worth the price (10 yuan).
  • Frozen coffee drink: they had a stand set up in the center of the mall, away from the actual store, handing out sample-sized frozen coffees. They market it as a "Dutch Latté" or something. Anyway, the first time we walked by the sample area, they were still in the process of freezing the coffee inside of a large, Plexiglas frozen drink machine. The youngsters handing out samples offered us a couple shot glass-sized samples of coffee-colored liquid, and explained that usually it's frozen, but we can try this instead. Let me tell you, this liquid looked like coffee, but it tasted the way that Kool Aid powder tastes when you lick your finger and roll it around inside. I'm not talking about the sugared Kool Aid that they sell these days, I'm talking about the tiny little packets of Kool Aid that you can use to dye your hair with, the kind you still need to add sugar too. On top of the sour Kool Aid taste, throw in a dash of sour milk taste, and some acidic belch taste to round things off. This is how the liquefied coffee drink tasted. I went back after another half hour to see what it tasted like in its frozen form. Much, much better, in fact. This drink is clearly not meant to be consumed in liquid form, but rather only in iced form. It was sort of like the frozen coffee drinks from KFC or McDonalds. But I couldn't get the Kool Aid flavor out of my mind from before. I definitely have to stay away from this Dutch Latté stuff. It makes me queasy to think about it.

[Photo credit]

Oct 19, 2008

Beijing marathon 2008

Today we got up early to partake in what's become one of my annual traditions in Beijing, the 10K run portion of the Beijing Marathon. Last year, due to some government meetings near central Beijing, the route started near Yingdong Natatorium and wound around the Olympic park. (my post on the 2007 marathon)

In the previous two years I ran in it, the marathon started at Tiananmen and went west and then north. This year, the route reverted to how it was a couple years ago. One major improvement was that they closed off both directions of traffic on Chang An Avenue, rather than just the westbound direction. In 2005 and 2006, they only closed the street in only one direction. This left a parade of smoggy, idling cars on the side opposite the runners, resulting in horrible air for everyone for the first few kilometers of the run. (my post on the 2005 marathon)

One of the higher-ups must have been reading my blog, or otherwise heard the complaints, because this year the marathon was very well done. With the full width of Chang An Avenue for running, the first part of the route wasn't nearly as congested with runners pushing and shoving as it used to be. And of course, the air was much better.

Here's the start of the race, looking north along Tiananmen Square:

The start of the race, looking behind me:

Here are some race participants next to us, looking like Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter, or possibly like a human garbage bag:

And yes, all those plastic raincoats that the many college kids were wearing to keep warm in the morning simply ended up on the ground a minute after the starting gun, creating a nice hazard for us all to slip and slide on.

Here's the official starting line, which we got too around 8:30 AM, a good half hour after the official marathon start:

Winding the turn out of the square:

Running west on Chang An Avenue. Notice the wide space available for running compared to years past:

My favorite photo of the day, which I've named "Belgian with bladder infection":

This scene was at about 9.5 km into the race, in which a 40-something guy, who appeared to be talking French or Flemish with his buddies, and whose shirt said "Team Belgium" or similar, lost control of his bladder. I think he must have a bladder infection. I for one wouldn't have had the nerve to pee in full view of hundreds of runners, at least ten Beijing police officers, and a handful of PLA paramilitary police. If he could have held off until just another 500 meters ahead, the guy could have used the porta-potties the event organizers had set up.

There's a line in Fight Club that this scene reminds me of. The lead character, a banquet waiter at a fancy hotel, pees into as soup tureen of sweet tomato bisque with cilantro and clams, and then turns and says to his buddy next to him, "Don't look at me, or I can't go."
I was thinking, it would have been hilarious if this Belgian guy swung his head around while he was facing the concrete pillar, and shouted that line at the hundreds of runners racing by. "Don't look at me, or I can't go." He could have said it in English or Chinese, it doesn't matter. Itwould have been hilarious.

This is the 10K finish area:

This is a street near my place, almost four hours after the race started. You've got to plan your driving routes carefully on marathon day since traffic gets messed up until the early afternoon.

Oct 18, 2008

Black as my hat

During the National Day week vacation the first week of October, the Water Cube, Bird's Nest, and other Olympic venues were supposedly open to the many visitors in town. This information was all over the local news. There was even a light and musical show or something inside the Water Cube, of all places.

What the local news didn't mention, however, was that at all the venues, they done turned off all the fancy lights at night. Gone were the pretty blue lights outside the Water Cube, like they had during the actual Olympics. This is a picture I took the night when Usain Bolt break the 100 meter dash world record:

During the Chinese National Day vacation week, the Bird's Nest was also completely dark. When I brought my parents, visiting from out of town, to see the fabulous Bird's Nest and Water Cube through the spectacular Beijing nighttime smog, there was absolutely nothing to see.

The whole disappointing scene made me think of Stephen King passage from "Autopsy Room Four" which describes it exactly:
"...black in here, black as your hat, black as a woodchuck’s asshole, black as midnight in Persia, and what’s going on?"
The taxi driver that night told me that the Bird's Nest was black as my hat because they're trying to save electricity... I don't quite buy that excuse. I think they were trying to eliminate nighttime gawkers and tourists, but why? We may never figure it out.

Oct 16, 2008

Cleaning lady musical chairs

I've got a cleaning lady to make my life easier. She comes by once a week in the mornings and cleans while I'm doing some conference calls for work. I have her mop the floors, wipe the dust off the cabinets, wipe down the tables, and clean the kitchen and bathroom. She gets paid ten kuai an hour, and finishes the job in about two hours. This ends up costing me a total of $2.92 each week, a fair price indeed, in my opinion.

I only need her to come by once a week to clean, but other people hire similar cleaning ladies to do all manner of housework. They might even have them cook and take the kids to school. Recently, my cleaning lady let me know she couldn't make it during the week anymore, as she'd gotten a full-time gig with a regular family. She could still clean for me, she said, but only on the weekend.

Since the whole point of the cleaning lady was to help me multitask, while I'm already doing stuff for my work, I told her I'm going to look for another one that can come by during a more convenient time for me.

Cleaning lady number two came from the same placement agency where I got the previous one. She called me ten minutes before she was supposed to be at my apartment; she was at an apartment complex a half mile away with a name similar to the one where I lived. I gave her directions over the phone and she ended up getting to my door twenty minutes later.

Right after she came through the door, cleaning lady number two tells me, "I'll clean for you today, but I'm not coming back after this. Your place is too far for me." I tell her, fine, thanks for coming, and I show her around my mops and cleaning supplies.

Next week I'll be getting another replacement. I've called twice to make sure that the placement agency has made clear to the next cleaning lady where exactly I live, and to try their best to have the same person come by consistently.

We'll see how it goes. Hopefully we have less cleaning lady turnover in the coming weeks.

Dinner at Blu Lobster

For my birthday dinner splurge, we finally got to try out Blu Lobster. The restaurant has been around about a year now, and I've read about it in quite a few places. This post and this post are pretty similar to what we experienced. In fact, there was an article just the other day in the China Daily about the place as well.

Overall, Blu Lobster was a very nice dining experience. They have very creative dishes, most of them pretty tasty. My favorite ones would have to be the lobster bisque, and the egg yolk-filled ravioli. Here's some photos.

Fresh oyster served inside half of a green orange. I have to say, this was the only item that didn't quite work. I think the Swan Oyster Depot type of plain Jane style works best, but putting an oyster inside of citrus was cute.

Vegetable salad over fruit salad, topped with a poached egg yolk. Having made no small number of poached eggs myself, I can appreciate the technique here. The inside of the yolk was still runny, and they did an excellent job in making sure that the finished product got from the kitchen to the table, preserving the different temperatures of the hot egg and the cool salad, without anything breaking.

Aerated lobster bisque, served in a cocktail glass. This was very good, nice and spicy. Big chunks of lobster meat at the bottom. I imagine this isn't far off from Soup Nazi lobster bisque.

Fish with some foamy sauce and some creamy sauce:

Prime rib and the much written-about yolk-filled, spinach ravioli. The prime rib was just good, the ravioli was very unique.

Chocolate fondant, and basil ice cream. Very nice flavor and temperature contrast.

Oct 5, 2008

What is this building supposed to resemble?

I've had quite a few debates with different people as to what the Pangu Plaza building in Beijing is supposed to look like. So far, we've been trying to figure out if it's meant to be an Olympic torch, a busty maiden, or a perhaps a dragon. Here's the aerial view, with the Olympic park in the background:

According to the New York Times, it's shaped like a dragon. My feeling is, if it's supposed to be a dragon, paint the whole complex green and add some red glowing eyes. If it's a torch, add a flame at the top. If it's a busty maiden, add a bra or a dress, or something.

Here's my artist's rendition of the direction I think they could take this in. All it would require is a few thousand cans of spray paint. Afterward, there'd be no more confusion. Here we go:

An arm and a hand holding a torch:

A grinning green dragon:

Finally, the busty maiden — my personal favorite:

Any more creative ideas?