Aug 30, 2009

Party school!

Party time! Yeah! Keg bash! Jell-O shots! Woo-hoo!

And I always thought we had the best party schools over in the US — San Diego State, Ferris State, and so on — who would have thought the city of Qingdao has one too?

I smell heightened interest from American students looking to study abroad.

Before you apply, kids, note that at this party school, they don't drink beer, they drink the Kool-Aid of the CPC. I'd recommend you stay with Milwaukee's Best.

Aug 28, 2009

Brave guy

Seen on the streets of Qingdao. I wouldn't have the guts to shave down my chest and traipse to the beach wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs and a swim cap.

Aug 26, 2009

Unsettling TBJ Gallery Photos

There's a very entertaining thread on the forum section of called "Unsettling TBJ Gallery Photos". People have picked out some of the strange photos from the gallery section of the site to comment on. Here's some of the photo highlights and the comments that people have left:

People's comments:
  • "Did the photographer really think some greasy chunks of fried chicken would make a good foreground? Is this the choice Ansel Adams would have made?"
  • "I can only imagine Admin gave his camera to his kiddie to play with then uploaded every shot to this website for 'encouragement'"
  • "what kind of animal is that around that chinese girls neck"
  • "it looks like a soup kitchen for homeless dorks and hutong laowai"
  • "oh, this girl looks like a sick pig....."
  • "The sheer joy of everyone really jumps off the screen, doesn't it?"
  • "mock it if you must but please don't underestimate the difficulty of capturing this classic moment in time. Our photographer had to spend 45 minutes crouched in a pan of tepid kung pao chicken to get this one."
  • "...the homeless laowai soup kitchen is open from November to mid March. They have fewer opportunities to panhandle in the colder months, and tend to freeze to death in their hutong hovels without electricity."

Another one:

One entertaining comment:
  • "Chinese dude on the right has the NJ guido look down pat--the head angled down, the pouty lips and the spray-on tan."

And someone's Photoshop edit of the first picture above, Being John Malkovich style:

Take a break from work or school and enjoy the entire six pages of inappropriate commenting and bad behavior. I had a good laugh or two, and even more, I learned a new slang term: "starfish".

Aug 24, 2009

The sales presentation

I frequently walk through the lobby of an adjacent office building to get to my gym. Inside this lobby, they've set up a small counter that serves coffee. Patrons can sit at tables spread around the atrium.

Passing through the lobby recently, I noticed a group of three middle-aged Chinese men sitting around a table together with one young woman. The men were all intensely focused on what the woman was saying.

Spread before the young lady on the table were a handful of different types of Maxi pads. The three guys were staring in awe at her as she dripped water from a glass into each one. It was just like a TV commercial. She might have actually been demoing pantiliners, but I didn't ask.

I can't decide which was more entertaining, that there was a Maxi pad demonstration in a public venue, or the stunned reactions of the three guys watching. The guys didn't seem grossed out or anything. It seemed more like they were fascinated, having made a deep discovery about the secrets of the female sex.

Aug 22, 2009

Lesbian Vampire Killers

I was inspired to have a look at this movie after reading the "Best DVDs from Beijing shops: Lucky Find" recommendation from City Weekend.

The movie combines three great elements any guy would enjoy. It reminded me of From Dusk Till Dawn, but not quite as good.

Aug 20, 2009

Crazy cat boutique

After dinner one night at a new restaurant at the Jian Wai SOHO office and shopping complex in Beijing, I stumbled upon a proprietor who had converted her entire apartment space into a cat store. The place is decorated with flowery, frilly wallpaper and white furniture. There had to be around fifty cats running around this place.

If they enforced health codes and zoning more rigorously over here, I'm sure this shop would be in violation of something. Fifty darn cats pooping and shedding in the same building that houses twenty floors of offices and a few restaurants can't be a good combination.

Even the store doesn't get removed for a health violation, I don't think this is a sustainable business. Rents at SOHO are so high that the cat store would need to turn over their whole cat inventory each month just to stay even. I took some pictures of this crazy cat boutique for posterity.

Some of the tamer, flat-faced cats are allowed to roam free around the store. The smaller cats are locked up in glass paneled cabinets, as you'll see here:

If you're a cat lover or just want a unique experience, give this place a walk-through if you're in the neighborhood. You can pretty much play around with all the cats as much as you want. There's even an obese, hairy Pekingese shuffling around, trying to fit in with the cats.

I believe this crazy place was in in building 9, second floor.

Aug 18, 2009

Complimentary sack

During a recent weekend trip to a mountain resort in the Beijing suburbs, the hotel was kind enough to provide this complementary little plastic baggie along with the room:

In the dim light of the hotel room, a guest might mistakenly think it was this:

Anyway, it turns out it's just a little bag of tea leaves.

[photo credit]

Aug 14, 2009

Make big bucks: sell your old wooden tennis racquets in Beijing

I was out shopping recently in Beijing's tennis and badminton equipment area. Quick digression: You'd think that it would make more sense to have good mixture of stores on a given street, but that's not the way they do things here. There's a specific street in Beijing that has stores selling only tea leaves. There's another street where they sell only kitchen equipment, another street with a dozen stores selling plaques and trophies, and yet another street where they sell only toys, and so on and so on.

If I had a retail business, I can't imagine setting up shop right next to a dozen competitors selling the exact same thing. My business would be forced to compete mainly on price, and my product would become a commodity -- something to be purchased at the lowest price. Incidentally, this is the same problem that General Motors had with it's many dealerships. There were so many dealers that GM cars became just a hunk of steel and plastic to be purchased at the lowest price from whichever place would give the best deal.

Now back to the tennis racquets: I was in one of the stores on this tennis equipment street, just browsing, and I noticed that among all the new, high-tech equipment, this particular shop owner had hung a wooden tennis racquet from the 80's, a Wilson Lady Evert. It was a nice contrast with the carbon fiber and fancy racquets they have these days.

So I ask the shop owner, "Hey, that's a nice retro tennis racquet. How much do you sell that for?"

She tells me, "Three thousand kuai", which is over $400 US. Realize that this is a pretty common wooden tennis racquet you should be able to pick up for under $20 from a garage sale in the US. Here's one on eBay for $26.

I guess that in Beijing, there must be quite a market for old wooden tennis racquets from the 1980's. It gave me a great business idea, which you're welcome to borrow from me. Just let me know how things go.

To anyone heading over to Beijing for a trip in the near future, I highly recommend that you stuff as many old wooden tennis racquets in your suitcase as possible. Stuff it to the brim. Drop me a comment, and I'll point you in the direction of the tennis equipment street and you can be thousands of dollars richer.

Aug 12, 2009

KFC chestnutwich

Thanks to some Direct Mail the other day, I noticed that KFC in Beijing has a unique new sandwich:

It's a fragrant chestnut, double-decker fried chicken sandwich. I can almost guarantee that three hours after you scarf down this greasy concoction, you'll be headed to the men's room to take a dump that can fill eighteen toilet bowls.

I have a personal problem with chestnuts — they give me the worst gas ever — so I'll be droppin' bombs like Hiroshima for hours afterwards.

I am just so unappetizing by chestnuts, I don't think I can even give this new sandwich a try. I've still got really bad memories of being ballooned and bloated after eating handful after handful of roasted chestnuts.

Aug 10, 2009

Three credit cards habits of Chinese people

Some people get really impatient when they have to wait in line at the grocery store. I enjoy standing there and observing the habits of other people. Since I do this at least once a week, I've become acutely familiar with the credit card habits of Chinese people. Now, of course, there's one point five billion people in China, and everyone's different. What I'm describing here are some general patterns that I've seen over and over again when I shop in Beijing.

  • Habit 1: not signing the back of credit cards

    Somewhere along the way, I had it drilled into me that as soon as you open up that envelope with your new credit card in it, first thing you do is sign your name on the back. This is of course to make sure that a thief doesn't make off with your card and charge thousands of dollars to your account while you're unaware. You better sign your name quick, and definitely before you go to sleep that night, because ninjas and sneakthieves could be on the prowl, and they're all after your credit card.

    I'm very nosy. I like to poke around and watch other people swiping their credit cards and going about their lives. I can't help to have noticed that many, many Chinese people have not signed their credit cards. It disturbs me so much everytime I see this. Having a signature on the back of your credit card, for me, is like washing my hands after I use the restroom. It's a must.

    I'm often questioned when pay with my local credit card in Beijing restaurants. The way it works in Chinese restaurants when you pay with a credit card is this:

    1. The waiter presents you with the bill, you check it over, then you give him your credit card, and he disappears for ten minutes
    2. The waiter comes back with a receipt for you to sign; you sign your name and he disappears again
    3. Five minutes later the water gives you your final receipt and your credit card

    You may not realize this, but what happens between steps 2 and 3 is that the waiter goes and looks to make sure the name you signed actually matches the name on the back of your credit card.

    I can never remember if I signed my card with or without my middle initial, so the Chinese waiters are always coming back a second time asking me to resign my name. Of course that adds on another ten minutes to the wait. If I'm drinking during this procedure, I could go through a dozen or so rounds with the waiter before I get it right.

    Other times, since I typically sign my name very sloppily out of lazyness, the waiter comes back and makes me sign my name over again, only neater than the first. It's like I'm back in grade school being reprimanded for my handwriting. I've got to remember how I signed my card on that day I got it, when I was trying my best to be really neat and have a nice signature.

    I think that maybe the lack of signatures could be related to Habit 3, which I describe below.
  • Habit 2: using a credit card for very small purchases

    I try to be courteous and considerate when I'm shopping. That means that if there are a couple people queued up behind me, I'll use cash to pay when I'm just buying a few things. In the US these days, places will swipe your card and you won't even need to sign anything if it's under twenty bucks. In China, however, you can buy a pack of chewing gum with a credit card, and they'll fumble around with computer gadgets and pens, and it ends up adding about two minutes onto your transaction and inconveniencing everyone behind you.

    I've been in many grocery store lines in Beijing where the cashier takes thirty seconds to scan the person's purchases and bag them, but then the swiping of the credit card and the signing of the receipt add on another two minutes.

    The only thing I can think of is that people are trying to accumulate frequent flier points or something, and they're hoping all those little purchases add up someday.

    I usually try to pay with cash if there's a huge line behind me. There's nothing more rewarding than pulling out a fat roll of 100 RMB notes (about $15 each) in front of a line of people and peeling off a few bills to pay for your stuff. Makes me feel like Tony Soprano every time.

  • Habit 3: using a PIN for credit card purchases

    Credit cards in China have the option to add a point-of-purchase PIN. This means that whenever your card is swiped, the transaction only goes through after you've successfully entered your six-digit PIN. You can choose to not use a PIN, of course, and it's just like in the US. You'll always have to sign your name whether you have a PIN or not.

    In the US, some people like to pay with their ATM card at the grocery store. This requires a PIN because you're effectively using cash on the spot. Using a PIN is probably a good thing if your wallet gets lifted on the subway. Odds are, however, that a pit pocket will dump all your non-cash items into the nearest garbage can the first chance he gets.

    I don't think my US credit cards even have the option to have a PIN for non-ATM transactions.

Be observant when you're shopping at the grocery store in China. I think you'll definitely notice these subtle habits.

Aug 8, 2009

Pig virus preparedness

Shopping centers in Beijing continue their vigilance to contain the spread of the fearsome H1N1 pig virus. I noticed this sign at a local grocery store complex the other day:

I have a better picture of the sign below. My translation:
Kind reminder regarding prevention and control of the H1N1 pig virus:
In the interest of everyone's health, we request that people returning to Beijing from countries and regions with epidemics, as well as those who exhibit flu-like symptoms go to a medical establishment to seek treatment. Additionally, the aforementioned people should reduce their visits to public places.

I'm trying to do my part to reduce the spread of H1N1 as well. The other day when I was waiting for the elevator to go up to my office, I see this guy walking over, and he lets out this long "haaaaaack" noise (the noise we're all to familiar with here in China) like he's about to cough up a big, thick, yellow loogie.

The guy starts to lean forward so he can spit his yellow wad of phlegm all over the metallic knee-high wastebasket with the cigarette ashtray on top. So I says to the guy, in Chinese of course, "Swallow it. (吞下吧)" Then he gives me this animated look with wide eyes, like he can't figure out what to do. So I tell him a couple more times. The guy starts pantomiming to me like he wants my permission to spit up in the ashtray, as he was originally planning. Then he ignores me completely and spits up his phlegm all over the garbage can and the ashtray. Horrible.

I'm trying to do my part, but I'm having little effect other than to amuse people.

Reminds me, I should schedule a latent TB skin test.

Aug 6, 2009

Photo quiz

Here's a fun photo quiz for you.

1. Who are these two people?
A. A priest regretting his celibacy vow while staring longingly at one of his parishioners
B. A co-ed gangsta rap duo
C. A Chinese couple's wedding photo

2. Who are these two people?
A. Brother and sister, prior to the brother going away to the seminary
B. Folk singers from Yunnan province
C. A Chinese couple's traditional-style wedding photo

3. Who is this man?

A. Father Zhang, of Xuanwumen Catholic church in Beijing
B. A bouncer at a nightclub in Sanlitun
C. A fashionable celebrity

The correct answer to all of the questions above is "C". Up until recently, I would have incorrectly answered "A" for all of them.

This is because whenever I would see a Chinese man wearing one of those cool black jackets like they're wearing above, I'd think he was a priest. When I'd encounter someone like that on the street, I'd start to ask him which parish he's from, and what times they have Sunday mass. I'm always on the lookout for new churches to try out, you know. I still haven't found a church that has donuts and coffee after mass. That's my ultimate goal.

It turns out that I was mistaking regular Chinese guys for priests, and that they were wearing the so-called Zhong Shan Zhuang (中山装), named after the famous Sun Yat-sen.

If I wore one of these numbers to Sunday mass when I'm in the US, would it be wrong? People would come up to me and say, "Good morning, Father. Why are you sitting in a regular pew?"

And then I'd say, "I'm sorry, I'm not a priest. This is actually a Zhong Shan Zhuang. It just happens to look very similar to priest's attire." I've shied away from this little practical joke, though.

[Photo sources: 1, 2, 3 ]

Aug 4, 2009

Differentiating "safeguards" and real cops

Friends and coworkers that have come to Beijing to visit have often mentioned that there are a lot of police in China. This is usually because it's easy for visitors to mistake building security guards for real police. Everyone has a uniform in China, and you might have a problem figuring out who's actually a cop and who's a security guard unless you can read some Chinese characters.

Let me give you a simple way to figure out if you're observing a security guard or a real policeman. If the person is actively preventing someone from entering someplace, stopping property from being pilfered, or having a shouting match with someone, he's a security guard. If, on the other hand, the person is filling out an incident report, checking people's identification, or otherwise mulling about, he's an actual cop.

Incidendly, cops in China do not hang out at donut shops as they do in America. (I only wish they did, because that would mean I could have easy access to donuts here.) Cops in China, as you would expect, prefer Chinese donuts, called you tiao, deep fried and rolled in sugar. American cops dunk their donuts in hot coffee served in a styrofoam cup; Chinese cops dunk their you tiao in a warm plastic cup of soy milk.

In Chinese, security guards are called bao an (保安), which if you translated directly, would be "protect" + "safe". I think this might be the reason I've often heard my Chinese friends referring to security guards as "safeguards" when they're speaking English.

I occasionally follow this guy's very cute, Chinglishy blog, which sometimes has an interesting perspective. He's got a posting recently talking about safeguard this and safeguard that. I had to put the whole thing in context to figure out what he meant.

While you're in China, you might occasionally see 14-year old-looking boys dressed up in police uniforms. These boys are not, as you might mistakenly think, recruits fresh out of the police acadamy. Rather, they're usually just entry-level security guards. I think the uniforms must only come in size XL, so they have to wait to grow into them.

Aug 2, 2009

The moldy muffins

There's a small convenience store on the ground floor of our office building. It's more of a converted broom closet than an actual store, and they sell everything there from tampons to Tang.

So I went in the other day, hoping to stock up on my junk food collection for those late nights at the office. I'm partial to mini donuts, Oreos, and chips. As I was looking through the shelves with the donuts and other pastries, I came a cross a bag of Bimbo brand lemon flavored muffins that had turned green. My first thought was that, hey, maybe these are in fact Key lime muffins, but then I remembered that they don't got no limes in China. Obviously, this was a bag of lemon muffins that had gone bad.

So take the bag of muffins and walk ten feet to the cashier, and I says to the little girl at the counter, "Hey, these donuts have gone bad. Look at the date on this bag", I says, as I point out to her the date printed, which was from two weeks ago. "We oughta throw 'em out", I says to her. Then I make start to toss the bag into the cardboard box near the door that serves as their rubbish bin.

The cashier girl starts to go hyper on me, and nearly jumps across the counter to prevent me from throwing the bag out. "We can return these, we can return these", she angrily yells at me. I guess they have an agreement with the donut supplier where they can exchange their moldy muffins for free.

Then the hyper girl grabbed the mold muffins from my hand, and casually tossed them back on another shelf.

Always be on the lookout for moldy muffins if you're shopping in a convenience store set up in converted broom closet.