Jan 30, 2009


I like the way this photo turned out. There's garbage from fireworks laying around, and there's a silhouette of a mother and child waiting for a taxi as traffic drives by.

I took this Friday night while waiting along side the road for a cab. In the foreground there's exploded fire crackers and the smoldering packaging of mini-mortars laying around.

Friday was the fifth day of the lunar new year, and marked the last big night for fireworks.

Jan 23, 2009

Free drinks

One of last weekend's events we stopped by was the opening of a new bar called The Stumble Inn, near Chaoyang park all the way across town.

Things I liked about the opening:
  • All you can drink, free Stella Artois on draft, San Miguel bottles, plus a bunch of mixed drinks with bottom-shelf liquor (rum, whiskey, vodka)
  • Attentive staff. No one gave me any guff about going to the bar to get two pints of beer, then coming back ten minutes later to get another one plus a cuba libre, and then coming back again ten minutes later to get a screwdriver and a whiskey.
  • Guitar Hero hooked up in the basement of the bar, free for all to play. I discovered that my skill level improves as I drink more.
  • Hall & Oates greatest hits collection on rotation on the PA system
One thing I didn't like, was the path to the restroom in the lower level of the restaurant. You have to go across a two-foot high, six-foot long arcing wooden bridge, which passes over a small pond. It's absolutely fine when you're sober and have your motor skills, but it's a little too difficult of an obstacle course to put in a bar.

Overall, I like this bar, and I would go back. The main problem is that it's way across town, where the upper class expatriates live, so it'll have to be a once and a while bar for me.

Jan 21, 2009

Obama inauguration

I watched a little of this inauguration business on CNN, but wasn't motivated enough to stay up to watch it live. It was shown in the early morning here in Beijing. The photos and videos all over the web are enough to get the feel of what it must have been like.

I just saw this photo set on CNN.com. What do you see that's wrong in this picture below?

If you answered, "them Frenchmen hung the American flag backwards", then you're correct. Instead of taking another bong hit, what these five study abroad kids need to do is turn their butts around, walk five feet to that shop front, and flip the flag so the union is in the upper right.

...and another great example of a person treating the flag in the exact opposite way that it is supposed to be:

Yep, twist and wrap the flag up like a pretzel and use it as a scarf. Real display of class and respect. I hope no one with a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan sees that photo.

Jan 18, 2009

Buying eggs

I was running low on eggs the other day, so I marked it on my grocery list. My local supermarket has eggs sold by the pound in plastic milk crates, and also pre-counted eggs in transparent hard plastic containers. I usually buy the bulk eggs to cut down on recycling waste, and also because I can purchase exactly as many as I want. Five eggs, thirty eggs, it doesn't matter, the price per weight is the same.

As I squatted down on the floor to sift through the eggs, I noticed a couple of chicken feathers mixed in the eggs. For some reason it made me think of the bird flu case in Beijng from earlier this month. In general, seeing some chicken feathers is not unusual at all, but it made me think to ask a grocery stock girl standing nearby, "These eggs don't have bird flu, do they?" Just an off the cuff remark to which I was expecting to get a "you're crazy" look, or at least a chuckle. Anyway, the stock girl stood there for about three seconds while she did some brain processing on my question, and then replied, in a very serious tone, "I don't know."

No-nonsense customer relations. I like it.

On the topic of eggs, here's an explanation on the difference between white eggs, which are the standard at Safeway and Kroger in the US, and brown eggs, which seem to be the standard in China.

Jan 16, 2009

The peddlers and the jakes

In these weeks leading up to the lunar new year, I see lots of Tibetan peddlers coming out of the woodwork in Beijing. They spread out little blankets on the ground on crowded pedestrian overpasses and on busy sidewalks. They've all got exactly the same junk, but yet they chose to set up shop right next to each other. In business, I believe that's referred to as sales cannibalization. It's like the Lewis Black routine where he talks about the Starbucks opening right across from another Starbucks. I should tell these peddlers need to divide and conquer.

The street vendors all have pretty much the same selection: red and blue beaded necklaces (supposedly coral, but probably plastic), silver jewelry, bronze Buddha statues, German Shepherd pelts painted orange and black to look like snow leopard skins, and bowls of caterpillar fungus. Maybe they're trying to earn enough money for a train ticket home in time for the Tibetan New Year. Or maybe I just work in an area with a recent influx of Tibetan peddlers.

This morning as I came out of the subway station near my office, I discovered a minor tussle in progress. There were eight Tibetan peddlers and one uniformed beat cop (城管), armed with just a billy club. It looked like the cop was forcing the peddlers to disperse. If I learned one thing traveling in Tibet, it was to not mess with the large, rabid local dogs, and more importantly, don't scuffle with the local dudes, since they tended to carry Bowie knives under their coats.

The peddlers and the cop all looked rather worked up, so I made sure to keep a safe distance as I circled past them. I was certain I was going to see a cop get beat down by a group of Tibetan guys. But, as always seems to happen in China, a small crowd started to gather around, the tensions suddenly diffused, they all packed up their shit, and moved on to another location down the block.

Jan 14, 2009

The farmer's blow

From Urban Dictionary:
farmer's blow

The process of plugging one nostril, and blowing air out of the other, in order to shoot out mucus. In order to make this technique successful, you must use great force, otherwise you will just look retarded when you have one nostril covered and are breathing heavily in front of your friends. But if you get that dang snot of of there...you will be known as a stud.

Jim had a nasty cold, and didn't have any tissues. He decided a farmer's blow would do lots of good, until he shot it on his girlfriend's prime rib.
In Beijing, January is not only the season of the lunar new year, but also the season of the farmer's blow, the snot rocket, and loogie hock.

Today, as I was strolling to lunch beneath the unusually clear and midday sunshine, a forty-something male office worker was walking in front of me. As he walked along, he covered one nostril, and blew a clear stream of snot at a forty-five degree angle towards the ground. The liquid glistened in the sun. Part of the snot aerosolized, carried away in the breeze. The remainder collected in a spatter on the ground.

Feeling especially generous, I called after the office worker, who was now about ten yards away.

"Hi!", I shouted politely, in Chinese.

As he turned back to see who it was, I reached in my back pocket. As the man faced me, I pulled out a one yuan coin, and held it out in front of me.

"Here's one yuan, you can go buy some tissues", I offered to him, again, very courteously.

After about five seconds of brain processing time, the man raised his hand dismissively. "Thanks", he told me, as he waved me away, and left without accepting my offer.

I'd like to think that this particular office worker will think twice in the future before doing a snot rocket in the middle of our high tech office park, but only time will tell. Until then, I'll keep a supply of one yuan coins in my pocket, ready to hand out to other tissue-challenged individuals.

Jan 12, 2009

Jet lag adjustment

Having done some timezone jumping during the Christmas holiday, I thought I'd share my formula for speedy jet lag adjustment. Some people choose to take Ambien, Quaaludes, or their other favorite prescription sleep aid to get some rest during their multiple time zone trip. Using my pointers here, however, you should be able to get by with no heavy drugs.

So this is what I recommend:
  1. Follow the Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag-Diet (more info). Make an Excel spreadsheet for yourself so you can do the timing properly. The automatic formulas in Excel will make the math easier for you. Make sure you eat your airplane meals according to the diet schedule. Don't just eat because the stewardess brought your your airplane food.
  2. Only sleep on the plane when it's sleepy-time at your destination. If it's four in the afternoon at your destination while you're flying, you shouldn't be napping.
  3. At your destination, go out in the sunlight for a half hour or so during the early afternoon during the first two days to suppress melatonin.
  4. Maintain your normal exercise schedule at your destination.
  5. Optional: pop an over the counter melatonin tablet before you go to sleep the first couple nights at your destination so you don't wake up in the middle of the night.

Jan 8, 2009

Recap of Christmas and New Year's trip

Here's a recap of some parts of my Christmas and New Year's trip:
  • Visited with a lot of relatives and family
  • Went to two museums in Detroit that I'd never been to, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Historical Museum

  • Saw "Kwame a River" at the Second City, which was an excellent show, and also made me feel good about having followed Detroit politics during the past year

  • Drove through ghetto streets on Detroit's east side. Didn't get shot at.

  • Saw the Michigan Stadium expansion construction

  • Spun the Cube

  • Gorged at Zingerman's. Didn't have to look at the menu to know what I wanted. Left with several pounds of baked goods, including a $20 pumpkin pie

  • Saw the ruins of the Warren City Pool (if you want more, also see this)

  • Ate a Big Boy combo and a hot fudge ice cream cake

  • Ate enough Buddy's Pizza to not want to eat it anymore
  • Ate multiple kinds of Americanized Polish food in mass quantities. Passed lots of Americanized Polish gas. This picture below shows only half of my Polish dinner. There was another plate, which was also part of my meal, with two pirogi, a crepe, sour cream, and onions. My gas would create an extra hole in the ozone if I ate like this every day.

  • Ate Dunkin' Donuts
  • Ate Lafayette Coney Island
  • Ate at another coney island
  • Ate raw oysters
  • Ate White Castle

  • Ate Taco Bell
  • Lost money at the Greektown Casino
  • Cooked Chinese food for the family
  • Cooked French food for the family
  • Saw Gran Torino and Marley & Me
  • Went to REI and exchanged my four and a half year old hiking boots for the newest model, since the sole was falling off and my Chinese cobbler wasn't able to repair them (Thanks, REI)

  • Saw a crap load of movies on the airplane ride, which I would rank from best to worst as follows: The Duchess, WALL·E, Hellboy II, Ghost Town, Henry Poole Is Here, Death Race.
  • Almost bought an orange t-shirt that shows Kwame Kilpatrick's face with the words "You've got jail" stenciled beside it. Figured I'd get shot if I wore it in Detroit, and that people outside of Detroit wouldn't know what the heck it meant, so I decided to save the eighteen bucks.