Apr 29, 2009

Clever ad

I read TheBeijinger.com quite frequently for updates on events around town. Not to mention, reading the forum postings by trolls are almost as much fun to read as the rants and raves section on Craigslist.

I got a kick out of this ad someone created for an event at a Mexican restaurant. It's cheesy, but still clever enough to make me laugh a little. Here's a screen grab of the clever part:

If you don't see humor because you were sleeping in government class or Chinese class the day they went over this:
  • The Three Represents (三个代表)
  • Deng Xiaoping: his Chinese name is 邓小平 (Deng Little Peace), but the word for the third character, "peace" (平, píng), is the same pronunciation as "bottle" (瓶, píng). Very clever pun -- Deng "Lil' Bottle" Xiaoping.
  • And the original quote, 不管黑猫白猫,能捉老鼠就是好猫. Translation: It does not matter whether the cat is black or white; as long as it catches the mouse, it is a good cat
The socialist heroes valiantly raising bottles of Tsingtao beer is another nice touch.

Apr 25, 2009

Subway comedy routine

If I had a stand-up act, I'd have lots of stories from living in China that I could incorporate. I'm probably the only one who'd think my stories are funny though. Here's such a story that happened to recently.
The other day, my girlfriend and I walk into one of the Beijing subway stations downtown. Before you go through the turnstile, they've got an x-ray scanner you have to put your bags through. They've had these scanners every since the Olympics were in town. It turns out on this particular day, there's a Beijing city cop with a drug-sniffing German Shepherd at the far end of the x-ray machine. I guess it's an extra check, just in case the machine missed something.

So my girlfriend puts her bag through the x-ray machine first, there are no problems, of course, and she picks it up on the other side. I'm next after her, so I throw my bag into the x-ray machine. She's already walking away, and I'm still waiting for my bag to go through. So I make a point to shout out real loud to her, "Hey, hold on, wait for me. I got some chocolate cookies in my bag, I'm gonna feed some to this dog, he looks hungry."

I make sure to say it really loud and in nice, clear Mandarin, for the benefit of the cop to hear. Of course, the cop takes me one hundred percent seriously and says sternly, in English, "No, no, no". He holds out his palm in the universal "no" gesture, and then he tells me in Mandarin, "You can't feed him, you can't feed him." Then I make sure to say really politely, "Ok, no problem, I understand". Then I'm on my way, no harm done, and he's not discovered I'm being stupid on purpose.
After this little comedy act, I'd find myself saying "chocolate cookies" to myself out loud and cracking up.

I'm not sure why I find my anecdote so amusing. I think it's the mental image of someone hand-feeding chocolate cookies to a huge, scary-looking police dog, and the dog latches onto their arm and starts shaking his head back and forth... and then the fact that someone would believe a person could be crazy enough to try something like that.

It would make my story a lot funnier if this had been a more sarcastic cop who came back with something like, "Hey, sure, go right ahead and feed my dog... but you're on your own getting to the emergency room to get your arm stitched up..."

Apr 23, 2009

Where's my brownie melts?

So I'm reading this article in the Free Press the other day about the joker who got arrested on suspicion of throwing some fake pipe bombs into the parking lot of a casino, and to the right side of the web page I see this catchy McDonald's advertisement for something called "brownie melts":

I say to myself, "this looks pretty good, a brownie dripping with chocolate and frosting, maybe some coffee to wash it down". I make a point to go to McDonald's later in the week. So when I go to McDonald's today to get my lunch, I'm disappointed to find that my local Beijing franchise doesn't have the brownie melts.

They've just got the same old yucky localized pies... Red bean pie -- it looks like someone threw up on your plate:

"Fragrant taro" pie, looks like something that came out of a Smurf:

Where's my brownie melts, McDonalds? Look how delicious this thing looks. Somebody was nice enough to post a photo on Flickr. I think it looks even better than in the ad.

Apr 20, 2009

Happy Valley

Took a day off last week to enjoy the only significant theme park in Beijing, Happy Valley. It's very close in area to the amusement park portion of Cedar Point, but with a lot fewer coasters. There are, however, enough rides to bring you to the edge of vomiting that you do get your money's worth. I think the three best things in the park have to be:

1. A HUSS Giant Frisbee, named the Apollo Wheel, with a nice feeling of vertical g's, and a pretty short wait time since each time it seats 50 people at once:

2. Crystal Wings, a flying roller coaster that looks like it's pretty slow, but it's pretty exciting since you are suspended headfirst down the track. This one had lots of vomity wet spots on the platform below the track right before the ride finishes:

3. Golden Wings in Snowfield, a short but fun inverted coaster:

I highly recommend doing Happy Valley on a weekday rather than a weekend or holiday. The wait times were about one hour for the roller coasters and for the water log ride. After 4:30 PM, all the grade school and middle school students at the park on field trips disappeared, and the wait times went down to about 30 minutes. I suspect you'd wait around two hours per ride on the weekend.

If you phone Happy Valley to check the opening and closing times, you also should ask the opening times of the specific rides. For example, although the park gates may be open from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM or 9:00 PM, it's possible that your favorite roller coaster is only open from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM, so you need to plan your time accordingly. Each ride seems to have a slightly different opening and closing time.

As others have mentioned, food, drink, and other add-ons are very reasonably priced for a theme park:
  • 5 kuai for a bottled soft drink
  • 10 kuai for a tub of popcorn
  • 20 kuai for a high speed digital print out of you on the roller coaster.
The water log ride is pretty standard and you get wet. The Twin Heroes, a drop tower ride where you get raised up and then dropped free fall for a few stories, is very fun. The nice thing about the Twin Heroes is that you have some variety: one tower lifts you up nice and slow to the top, and then drops you vertically; the second tower shoots you up vertically at several g's to the top, you pause for a split second, and then fall vertically. You get to pick the one you want to wait in line for.

Apr 18, 2009

Pimp hat

During the winter months, my house cleaner— a woman in her mid-50's, straight from the countryside, and a diligent worker — would show up at my apartment wearing a bucket hat (you know, the style Gilligan wore on the show?).

Now that spring is upon us, she's switched it up a little. She's upgraded to a wide-brimmed, gold trim pimpin' baseball cap like this one:

My house cleaner is a hustler, baby! If she's got a grill next time I see here, I think I'll pass out.

On a serious note though, this is one of the nice things about China. Regardless of your age and income bracket, many more people have a shot at being fashionable here. In the US, if you're on a restricted income or if you're just plain economical, you'll probably do your shopping at K-mart or Wal-mart. You don't have much of a chance at getting anything fashionable there.

In China, however, you can spend a lot less money bargaining for a piece of clothing at a local market than you would paying retail at a chain like Wal-mart. As an added bonus, at the local markets you'll often find name-brand clothes originally meant for export. They might have been snuck off a truck, pirated, or otherwise discounted, but somehow they make it into general circulation here.

As a result, you tend to see senior citizens and other people with no huge interest in fashion who are wearing some really decent clothing, and don't seem to care where it originated. When it first came on the market, the gold pimp hat was surely a status symbol for many a youth in Detroit. In China, it's just a hat. It's the same price as many others, and it has an extra wide brim to afford better protection from the sun.

I think what we've learned here is that the pimp hat manufacturers should now have a clear idea where they can unload their excess inventory once the fad passes in the US. If only I had more great business insights like this, I could become a highly paid China Consultant.

Apr 13, 2009

Beer in Beijing

There's good imported beer to be had in Beijing if you know where to look. They have Duvel as well as Orval Trappist Ale at The Tree. Hoegaarden is available at more than a few places, like the Kro's Nest. I even saw Brooklyn East IPA at Fish Nation in Sanlitun.

These bars and restaurants are great when you're out on the town, but what do you drink for regular occasions? The variety of beer at Beijing supermarkets is pretty consistent. Here's a ranking of the beers that I've seen frequently at grocery stores, restaurants, and lower end bars, ranked from best to worst according to their grade on beeradvocate.com:

Carlsberg C
Heineken C
Tiger C
Harbin C
Tsingtao C-
Coors C-
Asahi Super Dry C-
Tsingtao Pure Draft C-
Yanjing C-
Corona Extra D
Beijing Beer Original Draft D-
Budweiser D+
Sol D+
Five Star D+
Laoshan D+
Snow F
As you can see, the locally available beers range from "mediocre" to "avoid", but there's a few there that will get you by until you visit a specialty bar.

Apr 11, 2009

Road trips

After you've lived in China for a while, you get accustomed to the seemingly chaotic traffic. You might decide to get a local driver's license and do some exploring. What are the differences and similarities between a road trip in the US and China? Of course in China, you'll not have Tom Green to keep you company (BTW, did you see how pudgy he is these days on Celebrity Apprentice?). Here's what else you can expect.

Stuff that's cheaper
  • Insurance and gas are a little less than in the US.
  • Parking is much cheaper compared to a big cities like Chicago or San Francisco. Usually, you can park wherever you want for free, even blocking the entire sidewalk, and no one will bother you.
Stuff that's expensive
  • Highways in China are mostly toll roads, and they can be expensive. The toll roads from Beijing to Qingdao average 11 cents per mile.
  • Comparatively, driving the Mass Pike from the New York state line to Logan airport in Boston averages around 4 cents per mile in tolls. This makes driving on toll roads in China about three times more expensive.
  • The toll highways in China are nice and smooth. You get your money's worth.
  • You need to plan out your gas stops in advance in China. Sometimes, you'll not see a working gas station for a half hour or more at a time.
  • You also need to bring sufficient food with you. In the US, you've got Cracker Barrels, Waffle Houses, In-n-Outs, Carl's Juniors, and so on every few miles. In China, you'd think they'd have some popular chains, like Yoshinoya ( 吉野家), Ajisen noodles (味千拉面), maybe even a 7-11 at a gas station, but there's absolutely nothing except for the rare cafeteria attached to a gas station here and there. The closest thing I've seen in the US would be the interstates in the remote areas of Utah and Montana.
  • Navigation in China is harder than in the US, and it has nothing to do with reading Chinese characters. Exit names and interchanges on the highway are often listed only once. There are many large trucks in the right-hand lanes in China, often blocking a critical sign. Lots of times you'll blow by some critical information that was obscured by a truck, and you won't even know it. In the US, I think those car GPS devices are completely unnecessary, but in China, I'd seriously consider getting one.
  • When you're speeding down I-5 to Los Angeles, you've always gotta be on the lookout for the filth. In China, though, there's not one cop with a radar gun along the highway. What they do have in China is quite a few speeding cameras. It's unclear how speeding violations get processed across provincial lines, and how much over the threshold you need to be to have a ticket sent to you.
Fellow motorists
  • The ratio of inconsiderate motorists on the highways in California and in China is very similar. In California, you've generally got two groups: the unsafe and reckless speeders, and the slow pokes who linger in the passing lane. In China, mostly you have large trucks that linger in the passing lane at half of the posted speed limit. You've also got the group of Audi or other tinted window car drivers. They think that the 4-ways are for driving at high speeds to let others know you're coming, and they pass traffic unsafely without signaling.

Apr 9, 2009

Qingdao trip

Had a nice road trip down to Qingdao over the long weekend for tomb sweeping festival. When you consider the available options such as planes, trains, and buses, road trips are comparatively more expensive in China than in the US. But to a place like Qingdao with a lot of nice surrounding beaches and mountains to explore, you have a lot more freedom and access to places.

My last trip to Qingdao, a second-tier city, was in 2006. This time around I noticed that they have more of the chain stores and restaurants that they have in Beijing: Quanjude, Bellagio, and a few other national chains. Here's some photo highlights:

Fishermen unloading their catch, close to Laoshan:

A closer view of the fishermen's catch:

...and an even closer view. What is it? Tiny cuttlefish to be used in stir fries.

I have a strong urge to build a raft like this out of Styrofoam and wood and sail it in Houhai or Yuyuantan in Beijing. This looks really fun.

Now for the food and drink pictures...

Outside of the Tsingtao brewery; directly across the street are a bunch of local seafood restaurants. Your choose the live seafood you want before you sit down, and how you want it prepared. The restaurants sell fresh beer right from the brewery for 25 yuan a pitcher. It's very tasty.

I've got crabs...

Local clams, stir-fried

Fruit that I've not seen before

Cicadas for sale in a local chain supermarket, already weighed and wrapped. Not sure why any Qingdao-ians (or Qingdao-ers?) would want to eat cicadas when they have lots of excellent local seafood and fresh beer. I suppose some people like seafood, while others prefer cicadas or rabbit heads.

These are some scallops we had at a local mom and pop restaurant at a restaurant out along the coast. This was my first experience being presented whole scallops in a restaurant. In the US, you typically only get the white adductor muscle. In this restaurant you get the entire scallop and you get to figure out what you want to eat. Here's a picture of the anatomy of a scallop. I'd advise you to pluck out the white adductor and stick with eating that. Avoid eating the stomach and the anus — it tastes like _________ (you fill in the blank).

This is how you climb Laoshan in comfort:

Someone translated drunk people as "stoned people" in rule number 6 of this sign:

Inside of the Qingdao aquarium:

Here's a comic posted above a urinal in the men's room. It shows an OJ Simpson-esque rooster, who sees that his hen has just given birth to an elephant. As he strangles the hen with two hands, he shouts "Why did you betray me?". This is dark humor if I ever saw it...

Here's a nighttime shot of the German church in Qingdao: