Apr 29, 2008

Train collision

And I've always thought that train travel was one of the safest ways to go in China. Apparently it's not without danger.

Apr 25, 2008

Pirated razor blades

Above: authentic Gillette blades from a reputable grocery store, with a little circular hologram on the packaging

When shopping in China, I'm usually pretty aware if I'm buying something that's pirated or genuine. However, I had a bit of a surprise recently when I bought some Gillette blades for my double-edge safety razor. I wasn't purposely trying to be cheap and buy pirated stuff. In fact, by chance I had happened to see them being sold at a market I frequently go to, and I figured I'd save myself a trip to the drug store.

A pack of five Gillette blades is around 5.80 yuan in the store. That's about 17 cents US per blade. You'd think it's sufficiently cheap that there'd be no incentive to pirate it. Think again. Apparently in China the margins in pirated safety razor blades are high enough that someone has gone through the trouble of manufacturing very accurate-looking imitations.

Back to my story, I unknowingly had the pirated blades in my medicine cabinet along with some other, authentic blades. One day after I had replaced the blade in my safety razor, I couldn't figure out why my shaving experience was so horrible. My normally pleasant wet shave experience had become painful, like scraping your face with a steak knife. I was getting razor burn like crazy and it was impossible to get a clean shave. It turns out there was a huge difference from the previous blade, because I had unknowingly put in one of the pirated blades.

In isolation, the pirated blades look identical to the real thing. You need to look at a real and a fake together to see the difference. I noticed that the fake blades easily crack along the horizontal axis after installation in the safety razor, and sometimes the corner of a fake bladeswill break off during a shave. Also, despite the fact that the shape of the fake is the same as the real ones, the blade tends to rotate slightly off-center once inside the razor handle, making for an unpleasant shave. I suspect that that metal is more pliable than it should be.

The moral is, there's nothing in China that's too cheap to be pirated. If it's manufactured, someone is probably creating high-quality copies. I scanned the fake and real blades together, here's a look:

Below: On the top, an authentic Gillette blade, on the bottom, a pirated one. The metal appears to be coarser and of lower quality in the imitation. The manufacturing looks sloppy and rough in comparison.

Below: On the top, authentic packaging for one razor blade, on the bottom, pirated packaging. The printing is almost identical. I don't think I would be able to pick out the fake without opening it up and inspecting the razor blade itself.

Apr 22, 2008

The loquat: a mango-looking novelty fruit

There's no shortage of imposter fruit in China. I had an imposter grapefruit once, and recently I had a fruit posing as a mango. I ate a loquat for the first time in while traveling in Jiangxi. Not to be confused with quat, kwat, or dumb-quat, the loquat is not a fruit that I've seen in the US before.

It's easy to be conned into thinking that the loquat is actually a small mango. In fact, it's a mango-looking fruit that doesn't taste quite as good as a mango. They're pretty cheap though. The fruit vendor near my place in Beijing was selling a shrink wrapped tray of a bunch of them for around 12 kuai ($1.72).

I'd recommend trying one for the novelty value, but stick with real mangoes if you want good flavor.

Apr 14, 2008

Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest

Did some sightseeing over the weekend at the Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest. There's a nice mountain to climb up, some waterfalls, and a bunch of pagodas, the remnants of an old temple complex.

It's relatively easy to get to with public transportation. There's a bus to Changping (兴寿站), and then you can switch to a ramshackle minibus packed with yokels to take you the reminder of the way to the park. It's much more relaxing than Xiangshan park, which is more like waiting in line at the train station.

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Apr 6, 2008

Wuyuan trip: scenery

The countryside scenery and village architecture in Wuyuan (婺源) is really unique and photogenic.

They grow rapeseed in this particular area, and it's extremely popular among Chinese tourists to go there in April to see the flowers during the couple week period that they're in bloom.

This is a color photo taken near dusk at the back of a small village, Hongcun (洪村), and because of the misty rain, whitewashed houses, and back lighting, it's almost like a black and white:

One of the villages along side a stream:

Path into a field:

The "rainbow bridge" in Qinghua village:

One of the alleyways in Qinghua village:

An alleyway in another village:

And of course, the free condom dispenser for the village. It's just like college!

Here's a Google Maps link to Wuyuan, you can zoom out to get an idea of where it's located:

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Wuyuan trip: people

In Wuyuan (婺源), we got to see lots of local villagers going about their daily lives.

Villages in China have a completely different feel than the large cities. People are more laid back, more welcoming, and more friendly overall. They don't seem to have the pushy-shovey mentality so pervasive in large Chinese cities. Unlike those big cities, you don't see people lining up and crowding into buses and doorways like they're giving away krugerrands on the other side of the door.

Some friendly locals, with a unique hexagonal doorway, that were joking around with us:

Some local villagers justing hanging out in an alleyway eating and talking:

I like the way this photo turned out of an old man in Hongcun (洪村), just after dusk:

Some women doing laundry by the riverside:

A woman squeezing moisture out of garlic chives (韭菜):

One of the villages we went to had gotten on the official Chinese package tour group itinerary for the country. Needless to say, it was packed with shutterbug tourists, and it was like getting on the Beijing subway during rush hour. I'm sure it's a lot more relaxed in the off-season:

We got to take a ten minute ride on a rickety bamboo raft. I calculated our odds of sinking or capsizing at 50/50, but we ended up safe and dry in the end:

Wuyuan trip: animals

During our trip to Wuyuan (婺源) we got to interact with some local animals.

A dirty little dog that followed our tour group all around a temple complex near Jiujiang:

Stray dogs socializing in a village. I try to make a point to get as close as I can to strange dogs in remote areas of China. It's exciting to gamble with the prospect of having a series of rabies shots.

A nippley pig that we uncovered in the village of Hongcun (洪村) :

Apr 3, 2008

Hosting visitors in Beijing

I've been pretty organized in the past when I've had family and friends from the US staying with me in Beijing. My checklist of supplies for visitors generally included:
  1. map of how to get to my apartment and workplace
  2. a local cell phone to contact me in case of taxi driver difficulties
  3. petty cash to get them started
  4. older editions of the Lonely Planet
Here are some new things that I've thought of to add to the list of supplies to give visitors are:

1. Copy of the Bristol stool chart
Each morning and evening, I'll do a quick status check of all visitors staying with me and get their stool type, 1 through 7. I'll aggregate this information and use it to plan the meal schedule. If they're still in the 1 through 3 range, we'll do some experimental local food. Number 4, traditional and clean local food. Number 5 through 7, pizza or other Western food.

2. Red track suit
Each person gets a track suit, like what these tour group members below are wearing. This will help me keep track of any visitors should they get lost in the crowd, and will aid in filing a missing person's report.