Dec 28, 2008

Detroit photos

Here's some brief photo impressions of a trip through Detroit this weekend.

Ambassador Bridge drive-by:

Interracial angel love (SE corner of W. Fort St. and 1st St.):

Stained glass window near Lafayette Coney Island:

Graffiti paper towel dispenser, basement men's room of Lafayette Coney Island:

Graffiti fluorescent light, basement men's room of Lafayette Coney Island:

Dec 26, 2008

Christmas movies

What comes to mind when someone mentions "Christmas movie"? I would bet that most Americans think of some of these classics:
  • It's a Wonderful Life, it's a family feel-good movie that takes place during the Depression. I guess people are too depressed this year, so they're not showing it much on cable this time.

  • Miracle on 34th Street, another old classic.

  • For a more recent classic, a lot of people love A Christmas Story. These days, this movie is so popular that they're even mass-producing the leg-shaped lamp that the father in the movie receives as a gift. They run a 24-hour marathon showing this movie all day long on Christmas on one of the cable channels.

  • The new addition I'd like to propose to this classic list is the movie Apocalypto.

    At first glance, you might think, hey, this has nothing to do with Christmas at all. It's about Mayan warriors slaying animals, raping and pillaging neighboring villages, and decapitating prisoners of war to satisfy the sun god. Not to mention, the tribes in the movie are not even Christian.

    If you watch this movie a few times, however, you realize there's actually a Joseph-Mary-baby Jesus story buried there. The plot revolves around Jaguar Paw, the main warrior, trying to survive being captured by a bloodthirsty rival tribe. He needs to get back to his pregnant wife and son in time to save them from drowning in an underground pit.

So when you need to explain to your relatives, your wife, or whatever why you need to watch a movie like Apocalypto during the Christmas season, it breaks down like this:
  • In the beginning of the movie, the men of the good tribe slay a tapir, and bring various forms of tapir meat back to their village. The gifts of meat paralell the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the wisemen in the traditional nativity story.
  • Jaguar Paw, Jaguar Paw's wife, and Jaguar Paw's baby are paralells for the holy family.
  • There are Christmas animals, just like in the stable in Bethlehem, but adjusted for what it would have been like in Central America: tapirs, monkeys, and jaguars
  • There's a total eclipse in the movie that plays a big part in the plot resolution, just like the star that the wisemen see.
Good luck with this explanation, and enjoy the show! And if there's anyone that missed Sunday school as a kid, here's a good recap of the nativity story.

Dec 6, 2008

"His name is Robert Paulson"

I think I've seen Fight Club or The Rocky Horror Picture Show one too many times. One of the lines that Rocky Horror audience members sometimes shout out when Meat Loaf's character dies is "His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson." (Meat Loaf's big movie role was in Rocky Horror, then he was Bob in Fight Club, very clever, right...)

So during the most recent CSI episode when I saw Holt McCallany, who played The Mechanic in Fight Club, I felt this urge to start chanting "His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson" at the TV. I was impressed with myself for recognizing this particular actor from Fight Club, since he's a very minor character in that movie. The main thing he does is get everyone chanting "His name is Robert Paulson" after Bob dies.

Here's the whole glorious dialogue (borrowed from IMSDb):

They shot Bob... they shot him in the head. Those fuckers...

We gotta do something.

We got to get rid of the evidence. We have to get rid of this body.

Bury him...

Jack looks around in disbelief.

What... ?

The garden. Take him there. Move, people. Let's do this!

Several Space Monkeys gather around Bob's body.

No... !

Space Monkeys stop. Jack gets between them and Bob, SHOVES a few Space Monkeys back...

Get your hands off him! Get off...! What the hell do you think you're doing... ? Evidence?! This is a man... ! You killed him!

He was killed in action.

No! Look at you! You're... you're running around in ski masks, exploding things...

He was killed serving Project Mayhem.

It's what he would have wanted, sir.

What he wanted? Look... look at him. Look at him! What does he want? (wipes tears, points at Bob) This is a person. This is not a cog in your machine...

But, this is Project Mayhem.

No, no. This is a man -- this man has a name...

But, in Project Mayhem, we have no names.

No! Wrong! This man's name is Robert Paulson.

Robert Paulson?

Robert Paulson is dead. He's dead, because of you...

I understand.

Everyone just stares at Jack.

In death, a member of Project Mayhem has a name.

No -- !

His name is Robert Paulson.

His name is Robert Paulson!


His name is Robert Paulson!

Stop that -- !

(louder) His name is Robert Paulson! His name is Robert Paulson...

Jack backs away, surrounded, PUSHES his way out of the room.

CSI is a great show for catching glimpses of actors that have played small parts in the past and others that have fallen into semi-obscurity. Another good example is episode four of this most recent season, where they had the actor that played Smith Jerrod on Sex and the City cast as a night club owner that gets whacked in the end by a Columbian drug lord.

It's curious how the guests on CSI contrast with those on 30 Rock. CSI gets minor actors like Smith Jerrod and The Mechanic from Fight Club. 30 Rock gets people like Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah, Al Gore, and Jennifer Aniston. I like both of these shows a lot, but as far as guest spots go, I like the CSI approach since the actors they get aren't so big as to be distract from the overall storyline.

Dec 5, 2008

Trying to rip off Steve-O?

I read about this Honglaowai fellow recently, and the first thing I thought of when I saw what he looks like is, "this guy is trying to be Steve-O in China". He needs to at least change his look a little bit so it doesn't look like so much of a rip off. At least he's not copied the tattoos yet.



When I was looking for a picture of Steve-O that I could use for comparison, I came across this one (from here), which made me laugh. He's at the Gene Simmons Roast with a bowl fashioned out of a Dr. Pepper can:

Dec 4, 2008

Indoor pepper farm

At any given time, I have a bunch of edible plants growing in my apartment in Beijing. It's not easy to grow things in an apartment window that only gets partial sunlight. Not to mention, it's tough to have things survive through the Beijing winter with the low humidity, coldness, and limited sun.

Right now I'm growing two types of basil, some chives, some Italian parsley, two types of mint, and two kinds of hot peppers. I chose these specific things because I like to eat them. It turns out that they smell nice, and your apartment seems nicer with some live plants around. Also, for the most part, the vegetables I'm growing are hard to find in China. You can usually find some basil leaves and occasionally some mint at Jenny Lou's, an overpriced import grocery store. If you grow things yourself, though, you can always have fresh basil on hand, not to mention, different varieties of it.

I grow all my plants from seed. No nursery transplants here. Dill was the only thing that I've not had very much success with in my windowsill garden. I was able to grow it to about six or eight inches during the summer, but it needed more sunlight than I could offer and it eventually died out.

As far as hot peppers go, I've only seen habaneros on Hainan island in the south, and I've not seen fresh jalapeños at all in China. Typically, the hottest fresh pepper you'll see at produce markets in China is the Tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens, 朝天椒). To give you an idea of the heat of each of these peppers, check out the Scoville rating comparison:
It's clear that the Tabasco pepper typically used in spicy Chinese dishes is just average, not even in the neighborhood of the habanero. Which is exactly why I had to grow my own.

I'm really pleased with my pepper plants. Here are some recent pictures of my jalapeño plants and habanero plants.

Below: mature habanero pepper, ready to eat:

Below: habanero pepper, still ripening:

Below: jalapeño pepper, already turned red:

Both of these types are tropical peppers that would do just fine growing in the dirt in Mexico, but it's pretty hard to get them to thrive and produce peppers in a windowsill garden. To facilitate better pollination of the pepper plants, I use a small paintbrush to artificially inseminate each flower. I'd say about 90% of the flowers ended up producing peppers. The ones that didn't were usually because I got to them too late.

Dec 2, 2008

Local ski trip

Free ski trip!

It's the start of the ski season for the small resorts around the Beijing suburbs. Over the weekend, we signed up for an almost-free trip to a place called Yuyang ski resort. The only thing we had to pay for was the chartered bus out and back, around eight bucks per person.

Entry to the ski resort was gratis, as was rental equipment, both skis and snowboards. The only trade off was that since it had just started to cool down in Beijing, the resort had only created snow for about one-fourth of the resort. The only two runs open were two bunny hills, serviced by a few T-bar lifts.

Below: Here's our group from the bus, with the bunny hill in the background

Despite the small area to ski on, it was still pretty fun. I got to play around on a snowboard and get the feel of it again, which I haven't done for a couple years. Midway through the day I switched over to skis so I could play ski instructor for my girlfriend, which was rather fun. I think that after this second time skiing, she can probably go on a few blue trails without too much trouble.

Quick review of the ski resort

The resort has surprisingly good food and service. They have a nice dining area with lots of plants and small courtyard rooms. They even request that you remove your ski boots before entering the dining area, which avoids the problem of soggy floors.

Outside on the bunny hills, a team of orange-jacketed workers lined the side of the slopes. Whenever a novice skier -- and ninety percent of them are novice skiers -- wiped out and ate snow, a worker or two would run over from the side and help them up. That would have been nice to have when I was learning to ski. It gets tiring trying to get up over and over again after falling.

My only small complaint about this resort was that they didn't have even one scrap of toilet paper in the men's room of the main ski lodge. Upon realizing that there was no toilet paper in the men's room, I went outside the bathroom to look for some. "You can buy some tissue paper over at the little store," one resort worker told me. I wasn't going to walk two hundred yards and pay extra for something that should be part of any properly-stocked bathroom.

So I started fishing around in the recyclable and non-recyclable garbage bins outside the men's room. A young Chinese man walked by and asked me what I was looking for. In Chinese, I replied to him, "I need to find some newspaper or something. I'll need to wipe myself after I use the bathroom." He looked at me like I was crazy, and walked away quickly. What's so crazy about wanting to clean yourself up after a trip to the squat toilet?

Below: drawing of the ski resort

Interesting facts about skiing in China

You might be thinking to yourself, "Skiing in China sounds pretty good, as long as you remember to bring your own toilet paper." Well, there's one more aspect you need to get used to, which is something you have to adjust to almost everywhere in China. When lining up at the lifts, the resort-goers ball up and shove to get on in the same way that they would push to get on a public bus. Here's an illustration to help you visualize it:

People literally push and shove the whole time like they really are giving away gold coins at the front of the line.

Below: If you look down at the ground as your lining up for the ski lift, you'll see something like this:

Yes, it's perfectly acceptable to walk all over other folks' skis and snowboards, with complete disregard for scuffing up or otherwise damaging others' property. Remember this fact if you ever consider bringing your personal ski equipment along with you. For this reason using rental equipment is highly recommended.


All in all, skiing in China can be a lot of fun. It's true, you might need to endure some minor groping and goosing as you wait in the lift lines, but it's all in good fun. When the day's over, though, you'll have enjoyed yourself and you'll be back out on the slopes again to do it all over.

Below: Happy campers on the bus on the road back to Beijing

For your further amusement, here's another posting I did a while back on Chinese ski resorts.