Jul 31, 2009

Beijing comics

I came across this hilarious thread on thebeijinger.com recently, with someone's very original comics about life in Beijing. There's about 20 of them there so far. These are the one's that made me crack up the most:

[Note: the last guy there is Yang Rui]

[Note: the last guy there is Mark Rowswell]

[Note: Yang Rui again]

[Note: the character the vendor is shouting is "", which means "kabob" in Chinese. In these case, he's got Kat Kabobs for sale. Yum!]

The credit goes to user RemmyM on thebeijinger.com. If only I had as much creative talent.

Jul 29, 2009

Swine Flu Diary: Caught in a Beijing Dragnet

I've been following many of the news reports in the past few months about student groups and tourists from the US being quarantined in China. This report in the New York Times is by far the best written and touching of them. Check out this excerpt:
Saturday. They didn’t have an ambulance so we took the bus to Tiantan hospital, just me and the driver. I got to see the slums of Beijing, which I would never have seen otherwise. The houses were made of patched-up straw and metal. There were kids running around barefoot who looked like they needed more to eat. Everyone was tan and dirty, and there was laundry hanging everywhere.

When I saw my room, I was, like, “Uhh, this is a hospital?” The paint was peeling and the pipes were exposed. But I was so happy to see a bed. I just wanted to go to sleep.
I feel for these kids that are getting caught in this unfortunate mess. Navigating your way through all this ridiculousness would be challenging even for us expatriates that have spent a number of years here and are fluent in Chinese. I can't imagine the way these poor students are feeling.

Jul 28, 2009

China mysteries: elevators part 2

I rest my case about the compulsive pushing of the elevator "close door" button here in China. This morning when I was taking the elevator up to the office, there was just one other person, a 50-ish Chinese woman who got in with me.

I entered the elevator first, then she got on behind me. The door started closing automatically after she stepped on. She reached across and pushed the button for her floor, and then guess what? She pushed the "close door" button, even though the door was already half way closed.

A true mystery indeed.

Jul 26, 2009


Living in China, I've grown to hate it when people refer to me in the third person in front of my face, as if I'm deaf or retarded. It usually happens when you're out in a group with one or more Chinese companions.

You're there minding your own business with your friend (or friends), and then someone from outside your social group that you're out with asks your buddy, or you girlfriend, or whomever, "So where's he from?". It's like they're asking the AKC breed of your new dog. "Cool looking dog", they ask. "Yeah, he's a Labradoodle. He's a designer hybrid", you respond.

To put this in perspective, imagine if you were out at TGI Friday's in your hometown, and you happen to chance across some college buddies of yours watching the game at the bar. You exchange greetings, have some polite catching-up conversation, and find out what everyone's up to these days. You notice an Asian-looking fellow in their group, not someone you remember from college. "So where's that guy from?", you ask your buddy, while casting a brief look at the Asian guy standing right beside him.

No, you would never do such a thing, because it would be incredibly rude to talk to someone else about a person you've never met while you're three feet away from their face, and they can hear everything you say. It would be incredibly rude. Before you even reference the person you don't know, you'd politely introduce yourself. "Hi, I'm Fred, nice to meet you," you'd say. "I know these guys from back in the day. I don't think we've ever met." Then the new guy lets you know his name and relation to the group, and you didn't have to act like a racist douche, as is the treatment I often get over here.

Sometimes you won't get referred to in the singular third person (he, she, it) in front of your face; often times it will be the collective "they". I was at the local vegetable market recently with my girlfriend, buying some meat and vegetables for dinner. I'm in this market about twice every week, so it's not the first time the vendors have seen me.

So we're buying peppers, onions, eggplant, and garlic from a vendor. I point out that we should get some potatoes to cook with, and then the vendor chimes in, unprompted, with a comment to my girlfriend, "Yeah, they like potatoes".

That just got my goat, the way the vendor dropped in that "they". And right in front of my face too. I know, it's not like Ross Perot saying "you people", but the ignorance gets to you just the same.

I wanted to ask that vendor, who do you mean, "they"? Did you mean, "People that live in apartment community XYZ"? Did you mean "youths"? Did you mean "white folk"? Did you mean "dudes"? I'd appreciate a more descriptive term next time I'm being talked in front of my face like I'm three years old.

Jul 24, 2009

China mysteries: elevators

In many on line discussion forums I've seen people comment on The Elevator Mysteries of China. I continue to by mystified by two particular elevator habits of Chinese people, so I thought I'd write about them myself.

Mystery 1: compulsively pushing the "close door" button

Whenever you're riding an elevator in China, pause what you're doing. Observe the habits of the Chinese people that are sharing the elevator with you. What I've noticed is that around 95% of the Chinese people must, absolutely must, push the "close door" button each time someone exits at a floor.

Elevators in China are no different than back in The World -- the doors open automatically, people get out, a sensor in the door detects there's no one in the way, and the door shuts. The lag time between the last person leaving and the door closing is about half a second to one full second. Not a long time at all.

Despite this, nearly every time, you'll see the Chinese person that happens to be standing closest to the buttons hammering away on the "close door" one. I have a hypothesis to explain this: Pavlovian conditioning occurred within the majority of the Chinese population in the years before I arrived in China. Up until the year 2003, every elevator in the country required manual intervention to close the doors. People grew up automatically conditioned to hammer on the close door. If they didn't, the elevator would never go anywhere. In 2004, the elevators started to get upgraded in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, and now you didn't have to manually close the door. The majority of the population was preconditioned, and the behavior continues.

Mystery 2: going down to go up

In my office building and in my apartment building, I usually get in the elevator on the first floor and then travel up to my desired floor. In both my office and my apartment, you can also go down one or two floors from the first floor to the basement.

Here's the scene that puzzles me:
I'm waiting at the first floor for one of the elevators to come down from a higher floor. There's a Chinese person or two waiting with me. The "up" button is lit, and we can see that the elevator is making its way towards the first floor.

One of the elevators in front of us opens. The "down" button beside the elevator door is lit, indicating that this elevator is first going down to the basement, and then up. The "up" button we've originally pushed is still lit, indicating that this is not an elevator that's traveling up. The elevator adjacent to the one that just opened is still headed down towards us. It's maybe a few floors away, judging by the overhead display.

The Chinese people waiting with me pile into the elevator headed in the down direction. The doors close, and the elevator goes down. Two minutes later, the same elevator opens again, and the Chinese people that were waiting with me are still inside. They weren't headed for the basement, they just took an unnecessarily long ride in the elevator! They continue on, headed to an upstairs floor, just as I am.

When I see this behavior, I'll get on to the elevator and ask these people what they're doing. "You did see that this elevator was headed to the basement, and you still got on. You're obviously going up, not to the basement. Why did you do that?"

I've never gotten an explanation. Usually just some grunts and scowls.

My hypothesis for this one is that the people I'm seeing are deathly afraid that thirty people will pile into the elevator in the basement, and there will be no room for them to get on at the first floor. So they hop in at the first floor to secure a space, waste a few minutes riding down to the basement, and then continue up again.

Jul 22, 2009

Solar eclipse day

When I think of solar eclipses, it's hard to not think about one other thing: the human sacrifice scene in Apocalypto. Apocalypto is, of course, a great family Chrismas movie, but it's even more fitting to reference it on the day of a full eclipse. I'll run through the great scene from the movie since it's so cool:
Our hero Jaguar Paw and his companions have been captured by an enemy tribe and sold. They've been chained together and painted from head to toe in blue. They're all wondering why.

A Mayan priest/politician gets the crowd riled up. He's like a Mayan Jeremiah Wright.

One after another, each of the blue painted men are bent backwards over a stone altar.

The priest takes aim, and...

...cuts each man's beating heart out of his chest as a sacrifice.

Then the head gets chopped off and unceremoniously kicked down the temple steps.

The bodies are piled off to the side.

This continues again and again until the high priest notices a sign from the gods:

The sun starts to become darker and darker

...and finally a full eclipse. The gods are satisfied with the sacrifices, and the rest of the blue men can go free now. Go Jaguar Paw!

Back to real life, and the actual eclipse in Beijing:

Anticipating a bright, sunny day here in Beijing, I prepared a pinhole projector with which to safely view the sun and the partial eclipse here. However, it turns out that the pollution was so abysmal today (AQI between 300-400) that you couldn't even see where the sun was in the sky.

This was no problem for me, since I have the outdoor skills of a Cub Scout. I already knew which direction was north, so then I used the famous Bear Grylls technique to figure out where the sun should be at 9:30 AM, the time when the partial eclipse was around its maximum in Beijing. (find the point between 9:30 and 12:00 on your watch dial, make it point due south; the hour hand of your watch is now pointing about where the sun should be)

Most of the time, I was staring at grey-white smog, but for a few seconds, the clouds parted and I got a nice glimpse of a partial solar eclipse through the pollution -- no safety glasses necessary. It was a very amazing sight indeed.

I'm too much of an amateur to take a good photo of the smoggy eclipse, but here's a screenshot of CNN's eclipse coverage in Chongqing:

Happy eclipse day!

Jul 20, 2009

Running in Beijing

One of the things I sincerely miss ever since living in Beijing is the ability to go outside for a run whenever I want. I would say that typically, one in ten days here are suitable for running outside. The main limiting factor is air pollution. The only thing you can do, really, is get a gym membership and run inside on a treadmill like gerbil.

If you go running outdoors on a day with high particulate pollution, you're sure to feel lousy afterwards. When you run, you take giant lungfuls of air, so you could be exposing yourself to three times the bad stuff that you would be otherwise.

These days, I try and monitor the US embassy's real time air pollution data and see if there's a chance for air decent enough to run outside. The opportunities are far and few between. When there is a window of breathable air, I try and make the most of it.

On a recent evening, there was such a window of opportunity, and we went over to a neighboring university's outdoor track to run some laps. Interestingly enough, everyone in the immediate area, and I mean everyone, had the exact same idea. The only time I've seen more people on a 400 meter track is during the Olympics opening ceremonies parade of nations.

Despite the crowds, somehow we managed to run a few kilometers at a decent pace. I decided to run a mile at a quick pace, which turned out to be a total time of around 6:30. Before you mock me, realize that this was the maximum possible speed for this crowded track. The pace I was running is just a little over 9 MPH, which again, seems slow, but it's really quick when you're coming up from behind on little grandmas and fat folks plodding slowly in the inside lane. Some other obstacles you have to watch out for:
  • kids on waveboards, going the opposite direction of the running traffic
  • soccer balls being kicked across all 6 lanes of the track, as you're running
  • holes and puddles, on the inside of the track, which you might encounter as you're running around the slow folks who shouldn't be in the inside lane
Note that all of this activity is taking place on a dimly lit track at night. This makes it all the more exciting.

I can think of one good reason to train on this kind of track, in this kind of environment: mass participation running races. If you've ever done a long distance running event, you know that it's tiring and difficult to make your way through a huge crowd of runners, everyone going at different speeds. You get an elbow to the gut as you pass by someone; you almost trip over someone's back as they suddenly stoop over to tie their shoes; the pack of runners slows down to a crawl for no apparent reason; these are all things you just can't prepare for running by yourself.

Jul 18, 2009

Swatch in US vs. China

I like Swatch watches. The Irony line of watches they have is a nice middle ground between a real watch and a Casio. The watches look pretty stylish, and you're not going to be too upset when you whack it on something accidentally and it breaks. There's nothing I've seen that's over $175. Another benefit: you probably won't get mugged for wearing a Swatch. I wonder what a pawn shop give you for one anyway.

Swatch has stores everywhere, it seems. Most fancy malls, airports, wherever -- you're bound to run into a retail display. And they'll always polish the watch face crystal for free when you go in. Or so I thought.

I wear my watch all the time, so the crystal gets scratched up after a few months. In the US, you could go in anytime, toss your watch at the high school student behind the counter, and he'd come back in one minute with a brand new looking, polished watch crystal.

Swatch seems even more ubiquitous in China than the US. There's a mall every hundred yards in Beijing, it seems like, and there's a Swatch stand in every one of them. The prices are the same as in the US, the selection is the same as in the US, but when you axe them to polish your watch crystal, they give you this look, like, "You A-Hole."

When you press the Chinese Swatch store workers for an answer, they direct you to go over to mall such-and-such. Then when you actually go to mall such-and-such, the Swatch workers there direct you to another one. You're dealing with an infinite loop of morons. But really, I'm the biggest moron for continuing to be fooled by these guys and traveling this loop.

If you research enough, you'll discover that the Swatch retail stores in China don't polish the crystal. In fact, they don't do anything but stand by watches and make sure no one steals the display models. If you want to get your Swatch crystal polished in Beijing, the official way is that you're supposed to go to floor X of some office builiding near Guomao, way on the other side of town, a one hour journey.

Once you're there, you need to take a number like you're at the butcher's, then hang out inside a waiting room. The place does repairs for Swatch and a handfull of other brands. You wait around forever, depending on how crowded it is, and then you can get the thing polished in about ten minutes, for around 50 yuan or so. What a waste. It's stupid to have to wait in line for something that takes literally one minute to do.

It seriously doesn't take longer than a minute. The last time I dropped into the Swatch store in an upscale mall in California, I felt bad about getting this free service done. So I start looking at the watches on display, like I'm going to buy one, then I walk over to the counter and tell the guy, since I'm here looking at new watches, would you have time to polish the crystal on my old Swatch? "Of course", the guy says, and as I'm still babbling excuses to the guy, he pops back out from his work closet, and the job is done. It's very, very quick. There's no reason to have to travel to a remote repair shop and wait in line.

So if you want to get your Swatches polished for free, don't plan on doing it in China. The labor cost may be a lot cheaper than what it is in the US, but it don't apply to Swatch stores. Wait until you're back in the US at a mall and get it done.

Jul 16, 2009

iPod battery

The battery in my iPod, based on the way I use it, which is almost every day, starts to lose it's charging capacity after 6 months or so. After that, it gets worse and worse, and then after about a year and a half it stops holding its charge completely.

Not to worry though, it's easy enough to find a replacement battery on eBay (in the US) or Taobao (in China) for about five bucks and install it yourself. Here's a video of the process:

I recently did the replacement for the second time. It gets easier as you become experienced in the process. Now that I'm finished, I've got a cool, working retro iPod mini, without having to spend $200 for a new one.

I have to admit, I'm always a bit worried after swapping in the new Made in China knock off battery and plugging it in to the charger for the first time. I'm not sure if it's going to explode all over me, or maybe start producing blue smoke. So far, no big problems, and I've been pleased with the performance.

Jul 14, 2009


What's not to love about Andrew Dice Clay?. I had the great opportunity recently to catch Dice do a live show (not in Beijing, thank you -- would his visa even be approved?). On my list of comics I would want to see perform live, Dice would be towards the very top. Dice is one of the comics that's helped me through many a difficult day living in China. I can't count how many times I've re-listened to The Day the Laughter Died.

I re-watched I'm Over Here Now recently, and I have to say, Dice has mellowed his show out considerably since 2000. There's still plenty of inappropriate humor in his 2009 act, but I would rate his 2000 act 9 out of 10 for profanity and inappropriateness, while the 2009 show is 7 out of 10.

Above: Dice in the middle of his set: "Oh!"

Dice is not always funny, but he's always entertaining. When you see him live or on TV, you go through many different emotions: amused, offended, shocked, angry, worried (if you're sitting in the front row and you think he's going to pick on you). Do you get this range of emotional response with Dane Cook?

The Dice show I saw was great. I realize he's is not for everybody, though. There's plenty of people that are really turned off by just the mention of the guy's name. But if you think of Dice as a character, kind of like the Tony Clifton character, I think he can be appreciated and enjoyed a lot more. Dice, with the occasional sexism and misogyny, is just a long, dirty joke, for everyone's entertainment, like The Aristocrats.

Dice's act these days has very funny material, and some good jokes about Obama. I'm most entertained when Dice interacts with and makes fun of audience members. There's nothing quite like Dice talking off the cuff. Although I enjoyed seeing him on that first episode of The Celebrity Apprentice, what I really enjoyed was when he was interviewed on TV shows afterwards, complaining about being the first one fired by Donald Trump. During the interview I saw, Dice is making fun of Clint Black (Dice: "I thought to myself, shit kicker"), disparaging Donald Trump (Dice: "Donnie Chump"), and raving about Khloe Kardashian (Dice: "You know me, I like my chicks thick and beefy").

I'll end this post with one of my favorite bits from the show I saw. I liked this one so much because it was so true. Here it is (you'll have to imagine the New York accent and Dice's cadence of the delivery):

People today are assholes. They don't know how to have fun anymore.

I go to a party, all I see today: people standing around in a circle.

"Oh, look at my phone." Assholes. "Look at my phone. Look at the case my phone came in."

Asshole humans. This is what you do.

All you do today, is walk around, searching for a f*cking signal.

With buses coming at you. You're assholes.

"D-d-did ya get my email?"

And you look at the guy, "Just f*cking tell me, you're right in front of me. What the f*ck is wrong witch you today?"

"You wanna hear my ring?"

The next part of the bit is where Dice describes how much fun parties used to be. I'm going to leave that part for now. Too many dirty words and body fluid references for my PG-13 blog.

If you get a chance, check out this clip of Gilbert Gottfried impersonating Dice. Hilarious.

Jul 12, 2009

Do the right thing

While chowing down on a bowl of a beefy-cheesy, Americanized version of Korean bibimbap in a Japanese restaurant in Beijing, run by Chinese people, I happened to see a really cool shirt.

A skinny young Chinese man came sauntering into the joint wearing this t-shirt, styled after the logo from Spike Lee's 1989 film.

It's a clever pun. Apparently Nike is marketing some other stuff associated with Do the Right Thing, including some shoes. Makes me want to rewatch the movie again.

Jul 8, 2009

True Blood book set

I started to anticipate the show True Blood last year after I listened to the NPR interview with Alan Ball, the show's creator. This is now my favorite cable show since The Wire and The Sopranos finished up. (Dexter is supposed to have another season in the fall, and that takes a close second.)

Near my office in Beijing, I came across a book peddler, the kind that rides an adult-sized tricycle with a platform full of books in the back. He had the set of the first 7 books in The Southern Vampire Mysteries. His opening price was 65 yuan ($9.50) for the set. My final price, after taxes and AAA discount, was 45 yuan ($6.60). The martinis and Long Island that I drink in Beijing clubs cost me more than that.

Each book is individually shrink wrapped to protect against the Beijing dust and pollution, and the set is bundled together with nylon string. With this set of books, I'm looking forward to picking up the story after the current season of the cable show.

The stories are very fresh. I enjoyed the books so far as much as I've enjoyed the cable show. I hope Charlaine Harris is getting some type of royalties from my Chinese book vendor, but I suspect not. If you don't have a Chinese book peddler in your neighborhood, the same set of 7 books can be yours for $30 on Amazon. I figure the least I can do is put a little advertisement for the author here.

Jul 6, 2009

Transformers II movie censorship

In July 2007 I wrote about how the Chinese government censored some dialog in the first Transformers movie. Now it's July 2009, and they've done the same thing in the second Transformers movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

In the first movie, I counted 4 instances of censored dialog; in this second one, I counted 2. I saw the English version of this movie in the theater in Beijing, shown with Chinese subtitles. Keep in mind that when the English spoken dialog is garbled by the censors, it's completely omitted from the Chinese subtitles. Unless your English listening ability is very good, you might not even notice that something got garbled out by the censors. Here's what they're censoring. (Hold your mouse over the garbles below to see what was said in the uncensored version).

Censored dialog 1:
about 21 minutes into the movie
Scene: Inside an aircraft hanger, with some US military leaders talking with the Autobots, the good Transformers. This scene takes place immediately after the US army and the Autobots were rampaging around Shanghai, battling with the Decepticons.

Defense guy in suit: After all the damage in garble, the president is hard pressed to say the job is getting done.

Censored dialog 2: about 1 hour, 49 minutes into the movie
Scene: Inside a military command center. The US general in charge of transporting Optimus Prime to the Egyptian desert is trying to figure out why they've lost communication with the troops on the ground there.

General: Something's not right, it doesn't add up. Contact the garble, see what air assets they've got in the area. And get Egypt's General Salam, ask him to clear some USB (?) overflights in Egyptian airspace. We need an assist in confirming visuals now.

It's bizarre censorship, right? Why go through the trouble of removing "Shanghai" and "Jordanians"? Who cares about whether it's the Jordanians, the Syrians, the Israelis, or the Egyptians? It's all a movie. Maybe the Chinese censors got confused and thought that the Jordanians are the ones with the oil, so they thought they'd be real nice to them in the movies they're showing domestically.

Transformers 2 is not as engaging and unique as the first film (note that this one gets only 1 star from Ebert, but 3 stars for the first), but it was very entertaining to see the special effects, and to see it in a large theater with a loud sound system. If you need a good plot line and superb acting, I'd sit this one out. However, if you're a fan of special effects and cool noises, go see this movie in the theater.

Jul 4, 2009

Live show: She Wants Revenge at Bimbo's 365 Club SF

I had the good fortune to be in San Francisco while She Wants Revenge had a show at Bimbo's 365 Club. The band doesn't seem to tour very much, and they don't get much airplay on the radio, which is unfortunate. I'd been hoping for an opportunity to hear these guys live for quite some time. If I had a "bucket list" of bands that I wanted to see live, this was one that's close to the top of the list.

Bimbo's was an excellent venue to see them perform in. I'd say there were somewhere between 500-700 people at the show, and you could get a great view and have great sound from anywhere.

She Wants Revenge does a pretty good live show. One thing I learned is that the band, despite being from southern California, are not big weed fans. In fact, at one point early in the show, the lead singer paused and announced something to the effect of, "Now it's the time in the show where it gets political. There is just way too much weed smoking going on in here. Now, I know this is San Francisco, and you guys might think it's cool, but the thing is, we don't smoke weed, and it's making it hard for us to play up here. I respect everyone's choices, but if you could limit yourselves to out in the lobby, or after the show, we'd appreciate it." After a few obligatory F-U's, the crowd pretty much complied, and there wasn't much smoke at all after that.

There's some video clips floating from the show around on YouTube, for example on this user's page, if you're interested.

Jul 2, 2009

Swimming at the Water Cube in Beijing

The famous Water Cube, where Michael Phelps broke so many records, is now open to the public for swimming*. Anyone with 50 yuan can drop by and take a dip. Notice my asterix at the end of the first sentence. I wish the Authorities had been so kind as to have an asterix at the actual Water Cube ticket office so I could have a better idea what to expect. First, allow me to build up the anticipation, and then finally explain the asterix.

The Olympic complex is completely accessible these days. Visitors no longer need a ticket to get inside the Olympic Park. You can take a subway ride right to the middle of the sprawling area containing the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, hop out where the temporary McDonald's was set up during the Olympics, and stroll around to your heart's content. We brought my upgraded Wave Board to the area.

The central walkway of the Olympic Park is massive. It's long and wide like an airline runway, and it's paved the whole way with smooth, white granite blocks. I took my shirt off (the only shirtless guy in the whole place) and took advantage of the reflected sun from the white stone to try and get rid of my farmer's tan. I still have a lot of work to go though.

When you first approach the Water Cube after a 20 minute walk from the subway station, you encounter hundreds and hundreds of baseball cap-wearing peasant-looking tourist groups from rural China, pushing and shoving, and spitting and littering. They've come to the Olympic Park to view the interior of the Water Cube and the other buildings, but not to swim. I doubt if most of them could swim anyways.

You walk around to the western side of the Water Cube, the one adjacent to the Pangu Hotel, and there'san official entrance for people that want to go swimming. As with all things Chinese, the procedure to get yourself from the sidewalk to the water is complex. Here's the algorithm you go through to get inside:
  • To start with, you cough up your 50 yuan per person (cash or Carte Blanche only), and pay that to a guy in a booth. He gives you a souvenir ticket.
  • You line up to go through an airport-style metal detector and x-ray conveyor for your bag. It's all for show. A third grader would do a better job at security than the crack team they've got here. I was interrogated for a few minutes about my Wave Board though. They're afraid I was going to skate around the deck of the pool or something.
  • As you're lining up go through the metal detector, a man with a hand held electronic device will come by and scan the palm of your hand with a laser beam to make sure you're not running a fever (the dreaded pig virus!)
  • You finally walk into the Water Cube building itself, and a young gal checks your ticket again.
  • There's a Chinese doctor wearing a white lab coat sitting at a folding card table with a sign that reads "health check". You're supposed to have this guy check you out before you can go swimming. He probably takes your temperature and grabs your crotch while you cough. We walked by the doctor without stopping, and no one batted an eye.
  • You come to a circular service counter with three more young gals milling about inside. They'll ask you for two pieces of documentation: one, your "deep water certification" card, and two, your "health check certificate". To get a deep water certification card, you go to any major public pool in Beijing, pay 10 yuan, give them a photo of yourself, swim 200 meters, and tread water for a few minutes. They slap together a laminated card that's good for 3 years. If you don't have such a card, you could get one at the Water Cube itself. The health check certificate is what the Chinese doctor with the card table was supposed to provide. We told the girl that we didn't have the health check documents, but we had the deep water certification cards. This was no problem.
  • The service counter girl gives you an electronic key for the locker, and a green bracelet that you wear to show that you are Deep Water Certified.
  • You can now make your way to the locker room, change, rinse off (mandatory), and head to the pool.
Now I'll explain my asterix from the first sentence of this post.

As I changed into my swim suit and showered, thoughts went through my head of the historic significance of the place I was in. Perhaps Michael Phelps had changed his clothes in the spot where I was. Perhaps he had used the shower I used. I made sure to pee in all three urinals in the locker room, just so I can say that I've used the same one he did.

I stepped through the foot bath separating the locker room shower from the pool. I looked around to see a very modern, nice looking fifty meter Olympic pool. But -- son of a gun -- it's not the pool that I saw during the Olympics. Not the pool where I saw Kobe Bryant lounging about on TV. No, this was the warm-up pool, the one adjacent to the competition pool.

The bait (what you think you're getting):

And the switch (what you end up getting):

It's a great pool, don't get me wrong, but I would have liked to know beforehand that I was going through the grief of the body cavity search, the temperature check, the health check, and everything else for the benefit of swimming in the warm up pool.

The real pool is still being used for the entertainment of domestic Chinese tourists. See this article for more details. They have an Astroturfed stage overhanging the starting blocks at the far edge of the competition pool, where dancers will be performing, and probably jumping into the pool to do synchronized swimming. They have plastic banners laser printed with palm trees draped around the edges of the pool. They're trying to make the pool look like a lake surrounded by a forest to complement the dancing performance they have at night.

The warm up pool of the Water Cube is very nice, if you can get a lane to yourself. The air filtration of the building seems really good. The water is crystal clear and seems to not be overly chlorinated, which is impressive considering the large number of swimmers. When I had a lane to myself for 15 minutes or so, it felt really fast. I've swum laps in hundreds of pools over the years, and I can say that this Olympic warm up pool would be great to train or compete in. I'm sure the competition pool is even better.

Most of the time though, you'll not have a lane to yourself. You'll be bumping and grinding with people, and you might even get gouged from someone's overgrown yellow toenail. I wrote about swimming in China a few years ago, and as much as I can tell, nothing's really changed much since then.

One complaint: there were pubic hairs all over the locker room showers. Pubes on the floor, pubes on the shower walls, pubes in the soap dish in the shower, pubes on the towel rack in the shower. How do you get your pubes in the soap dish, anyway? That had to be deliberate. It's just very gross.

Make sure that you keep track of the time while you're swimming. You're limited to exactly two hours from the time they give you your locker key to the time you return it. If you take two hours and five minutes because the showers were crowded, the service desk is going to ask you to pay more money.

In closing, if you're around Beijing, swing by the Water Cube with your deep water certification card. I'd highly recommend this experience, even though there's some hassle and complex process involved. And you might get pubes in your soap. Go and use the urinals that Michael Phelps used, go for a swim in the warm up pool, and take some pictures. You'll have fun.