Nov 29, 2009

McDonald's stew bums

Running late to work one day, I swung by the Wudaokou McDonald's and scarfed down a Sausage McMuffin. In the second floor seating area, I was a little disturbed to find not one, not two, but three stew bums camped out at one of the booths.

The three stew bums were sitting around a table, with three big bottles of er guo tou (Chinese moonshine) arranged before them. They had even brought their own glassware with them. These guys were real professional drinkers.

I must say, they kept to themselves. I sat about fifteen feet away, and didn't smell a thing. Had these been San Francisco bums, you would have smelled 'em a football field away, and they would've been hassling you for spare change right away.

After I finished my breakfast, I walked downstairs and asked to speak with the shift manager. All in Mandarin, of course, just in case you were wondering.

When the manager came over, I asked her, "Hey, did you know there's three drunk bums in the upstairs seating area?"

She says, "Yes, we know."

"So why don't you call the cops on them?", I asked.

"We've called the cops bunches of times. The police come over, the bums leave, and the next day the bums are back here again. As long as the bums aren't yelling at anyone or acting disorderly, the cops can't do anything to them."

You'd think that Beijing would have some ordinances against drinking 120-proof liquor at nine in the morning at a McDonald's, which, as far as I know, doesn't have a liquor license. There have to be some vagrancy laws on the books as well. Not to mention, McDonald's is private establishment, and they have the right to throw out non-customers as they see fit.

If you've got kids and you're thinking about throwing a birthday party or some other even at McDonald's, skip it. There's just too much riff-raff there. If you're a hard-core drinker, on the other hand, you're going to love McDonald's in Beijing.

Nov 27, 2009

Pyro Pizza ad

I recently came across one of these postcard-sized advertisements for Pyro Pizza and scanned both sides. Check it out:

Doesn't it just make you wish you're back in college again? I'm wondering who that guy is. Is it some random guy off the Internet, or a buddy of the owner that he wants to prank.

Nov 25, 2009

Racial profiling by the Chinese police

I got racially profiled and harassed about a half dozen times while I was out in western China around the October first holiday. I got messed with so much that I was glad to be back in Beijing breathing the polluted air afterward.

Let me illustrate one example from the several instances that I remember. We were headed into one of the main hiking paths of the Yading nature reserve. There were a few uniform cops hanging around the entrance. Mostly, they were instructing drivers on where to park, and making sure there were no traffic jams.

Below: cops mulling about

Upon seeing my face, one of the cops walked over to us.

"Are you his tour guide?", Racist Cop says to my girlfriend, like he's inquiring about his neighbor's new poodle.

"Ask him yourself, he can speak Chinese", she says to him.

Racist Cop then asks me for my passport, which I suppose I was lucky to have been carrying. How often do you carry your passport with you when you're about to do a full day trek up a mountain? This guy probably would have given me even more guff if I hadn't had it on me.

So I pull out my passport and give it to the cop to take a look. As he's fumbling with it, I turn my back and slurp down my Coca-Cola, and talk with my girlfriend and one of our Tibetan drivers while we're waiting.

After a few minutes, I walk over to the cop, who's looking like an illiterate redneck flipping through my passport as he leans over the hood of his knockoff brand SUV. I ask, politely of course, "All set?" And he hands me back my passport.

Then I ask him, real friendly, "Just wondering, why'd you ask for my passport, and no one elses?". I know the answer of course, it's because he used racial profiling to figure out that I'm most likely not a PRC-national. For all this sloth knows, the group of fifty Asian dudes that walked in after me were from Korea or Japan, and should have had their passports inspected as well.

So the cop replies to me, "As a police officer, I have the right to examine the identification of anyone that comes here." Pretty good response, I thought to myself.

Do the police in America have the right to arbitrarily request the identification of a pedestrian?

I bet I made this police officer's day. He probably bragged to all his cop buddies about harassing the honky, and even told his countryside wife about it when he got home. I'm glad I has the chance to brighten someone's normally unexciting life.

Nov 23, 2009


This is a real photo that I took. I didn't Photoshop the pigs in front of the police station sign to make a joke. There were actual pigs wandering around the courtyard of this place.

This is a real police station somewhere in Podunk, Western Sichuan. I captured this scene after a bathroom break (using the outhouse of this very police station, in fact) while traveling along the road to Daocheng.

Nov 21, 2009

Tigers hat dude: part 2

I recently wrote a post about a Chinese dude masquerading as a Tigers fan in Jiuzhaigou National Park. A similar incident just happened to me again, this time in Beijing, really close to my apartment.

My girlfriend were playing tennis on a public court near my place. At one point, thile I was collecting our practice balls from various places around the court, I noticed a young Asian man wearing a Chicago White Sox cap. He was resting on the chairs beside the adjacent court, waiting for his buddies to finish their game. I was wearing my Detroit hat at the time, so I decided to shout out to the fellow, in English of course, "Hey man, you from Chicago? You're a White Sox fan cool. I'm from Detroit." And I pointed at the 'D' logo on the front of my cap. The young Asian guy gave me a long blank stare and a friendly wave. Apparently not one word I said had made an impact.

After the two of us had finished playing, and our court time that I paid for had expired, we headed out. As we walked past some of the other courts, I was excited to see a guy from Detroit playing tennis. I shouted out in a booming voice to another young Asian fellow, this time wearing a Tigers cap, "Yo! Tigers dude! You from Detroit? We did ok this year, but not good enough. Maybe next year." Another blank stare.

Drives me nuts, all these Tigers poseurs wearing our hats. I need to stop saying hello to these guys.

Nov 19, 2009

Hypoxic Han Chinese tourists

While I was out in Tibet during my last vacation, it seemed like any time I was at a tourist site above 9,000 feet in elevation, the bulk of the Han Chinese tourists had obvious problems with altitude sickness.

After seeing so many of them struggling with the elevation, I'm wondering how they ever managed to successfully invade Tibet in 1950. I guess they mostly marched in, instead of flying in like they do these days, so they adjusted slowly.

Here's some photos from Huanglong, Sichuan, which is around 9,800 feet.

Below: Check out this youngster's rig. It's an air pillow connected to nasal cannula type tube that he's sucking out of. Dad had one too. In my medical opinion, this thing is going to do you more harm than good since you're expending energy and lung pressure to suck the air out.

Below: a close up of the bag, which says "Three horse brand oxygen bag".

Below: an oxygen hut. Inside there are a half dozen Han Chinese huddled around, sipping air out of nasal cannulas. Looks like of like a shisha bar at first glance.

Below: sign by the door of the oxygen hut. Air is free, but disposible straws to sip the air are 1 yuan each (15¢).

The local Tibetans, in contrast to the Han tourists, have spent their whole lives at elevation. They seemed to be a good source of advice. One of our Tibetan drivers saw I was going to buy a bottle of suds while we we're staying at around 13,000 feet. I took his advice and held off on the beer for later.

Nov 17, 2009

Brushing snow, China style

You'll see a lot of unusual behavior when snow falls here in Beijing. What odd things do you spot in the photo below of a fellow brushing snow from his car?

A closer look:

Odd thing number one:
Why flip up your wipers? I've scraped ice and brushed snow from my windshield more times than I can remember. I can't think of any time when it was necessary to flip up my wipers. The only time that it's made sense to flip them up like that is when I'm swapping in a new set of wipers after the rubber starts to wear out. Do they teach this technique in Chinese driving school?

Odd thing number two: I'm not a fan of the California Car Duster to begin with. It's like a miniature dry-mop that you'd find in a tool and die shop, but you drag it over your car to remove the dust, putting microscopic scratches all over the clear coat in the process. This guy can't make it over to Wal-Mart and buy a proper snow brush? (For anyone reading this that doesn't live where it snows, a snow brush looks like this)

Nov 15, 2009

Computer components delivery boy

I noticed this delivery boy looking miserable in the snow and sleet on the corner. He has a box of computer components near him. Some parts are covered in plastic, some are not.

I wonder if later that day, his boss had a phone conversation that went something like this:
Customer: Your company delivered some hardware to us today.

Store manager: Yes, did things work out well?

Customer: Well, we installed the cards in our systems, but when the engineers powered on the computers afterward, we saw a lot of blue smoke.

Store manager: You must have installed them in an incompatible computer.

Customer: Oh. I thought maybe it was because everything got soaking wet in the sleet and snow when your delivery boy was sauntering by the roadside on his way to our office. Never mind, I'll buy some more cards.

Store manager: I'm happy to help.

Nov 13, 2009

ATM craziness

There was an amusing story recently in the Global Times entitled "Expat fights ATM, detained ". Some highlights:
A foreigner named Tom, surname anonymous, was taken into criminal detention Wednesday for attacking an ATM, Beijing police told the Global Times Thursday.
Tom grabbed the screen of the ATM and started shaking it violently, hitting and kicking the machine at the same time.
The screen went black and failed to reboot. Bank staff called the police after failing to persuade him to leave.
I almost had my own altercation with an ATM this week. One day, the ATM I was using froze up and wouldn't give back my card. I wasn't drunk or high on PCP like some other people may have been, so I handled the situation a little more normally. I just called the bank phone number and they sent someone right away to fix the machine and retrieve my card.

I noticed that the ATM I was using on this particular day was about twice as slow as usual. At some point after entering my PIN, but before the point of actually withdrawing cash, the screen just froze up. There was no way to eject my card after this point. After a few more minutes, the screen turned into this:

Yes, that's right folks. China Construction Bank, the second largest bank in the entire world, is running Windows XP and Internet Explorer for its ATM user interface. Amazing. They're obviously not hiring Tsinghua University grads and MIT grads for their software department. I can't imagine why these engineering choices were made.

Here's another close look at the error message that's displayed on the ATM screen:

Play this YouTube video I uploaded, and you can hear the annoying Windows XP error beep that the ATM was making as this screen was displayed:

Imagine your ATM card is captured inside the machine, and you have to stand there waiting at the ATM like an asshole, listening to that stupid XP beeping over and over again. Let me tell you, it's a good test of your patience.

After the helpful bank employees resolved the situation, this is what the ATM looked like:

I think that the third graders who wrote the software for this ATM have a memory leak in their code. I must have happened to come upon the machine just as it was completely out of resources. You would think a bank, of all places, would use something a little more professional than Windows XP and Internet Explorer for their ATM software.

Nov 11, 2009

Beijing snow day

Despite being at a similar latitude to Chicago, Beijing doesn't get much snow at all. When it does snow in Beijing, it's quite the event. Here are some photos from the snowfall the other day, taken around my place and the commute to work.

Below: Look at this kid's bag of loot! I'm thinking that there may have been some school closures that day, so she didn't have to go to school.

You've heard of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China? Let me introduce the Three Great Snow Removal Inventions of modern China:
  • Invention 1: bamboo stick with straw attached to it (also see this post from 2006)
  • Invention 2: plywood board nailed to wooden stick

  • Invention 3: multi-use deep fry strainer / snow-scooper

Below: Invention 2 in use. My fellow entitled Americans, I encourage you to print this photo and use it for motivation next time you're outside plowing your sidewalk with the snow-blower. This little lady probably weighs in at less than a hundred pounds soaking wet, and she's pushing snow with a splintery stick and a plywood board. You've got it good.

Below: Team snow shoveling outside a restaurant. I like that everyone from the chef to the bus boy to the waitresses are helping out. They're using whatever dustpans and kitchen utensils they could find. It's a group effort all around. And there's no lazy management standing around, looking dumb and supervising.

Nov 9, 2009

Beijing subway security slackers

Ever since the months before the 2008 Olympics, subway passengers in Beijing are supposed to run their bags through an x-ray machine. You'd think that this hassle would have disappeared after the Olympics. But China is a socialist country where stability and employment are primary objectives, so the new security procedures and the jobs they've added are here to stay.

In each subway station, there are a bunch of new jobs that were created to staff the x-ray machines and search the bags of incoming passengers, more jobs to maintain the x-ray machines, and more jobs to disinfect and clean them. If the subway security policy was changed now, the end result would be higher unemployment and instability.

The security check is annoying, but you get used to it. It's more for appearances than anything. Sometimes to save time I'll chuck my bag at high speed into the x-ray scanner, so it lands about two-thirds of the way inside. Then I grab it at the other end, and it's only taken me about two extra seconds. Never a complaint from the security personnel. As long as my bag has passed through the machine, they're happy. Doesn't matter if they saw what was inside or not, apparently. I'd only recommend the bag-chucking approach when you don't have breakables inside.

Recently, I had to get on the Beijing subway at the Dongzhimen stop. The first thing I noticed when I descended the stairs to the station was that there were around twenty migrant workers with blankets and their loot for sale spread out all around the floor. With all their junk spread around, these people occupied over half the available floor space in station entrance.

As I threw my bag (gently this time) onto the x-ray machine conveyor belt, I saw that there were four security personnel mulling about, looking bored. Only one person was necessary to watch the screen of the baggage scanner. No one was attempting to herd the migrants out to the street, where they belong.

In a booming voice, I said to the group, "Hey, I see there's a lot of security guards here: one security guard, two security guards, three security guards. Wow! Four security guards! Look at all those street peddlers over there, spreading their stuff all over the ground. Are you going to deal with them or what?"

No response, as usual. Complete silence and disinterest.

It goes to show, if you're a socialist employer, you should consider yourself lucky if you have even one employee that thinks outside the box. More than likely, all of them will do nothing more than the bare minimum for him or her to not be fired.

Nov 7, 2009

"It's civilized to get close to urinate"

When visiting a private home in China, it's customary to remove your shoes at the door and change into slippers. This is because restroom floors here are covered in a glistening sheet of stale urine.

Some men here, but of course not all, like to stand three feet away from the urinal, and try to do a rainbow arc in. Most of them end up missing the three-point shot. Those that do make it in end up dribbling a little bit anyway. The end result is a big puddle under each and every urinal. Of course, it also makes for shoes that you don't want to wear in your friend's home.

To combat the puddle problem, many lavatories put cute signs in front of the urinals. Here's a little sample, with cute English subtitles, seen at Emei Shan:

Nov 5, 2009

Tigers hat dude

While we were hiking around the scenery of Jiuzhaigou National Park in northern Sichuan province, I made sure to wear my Detroit Tigers cap wherever I went. Not only is it a great way to protect yourself a little from the elements, but it's a great way to potentially meet any other metro-Detroiters that are traveling about.

Imagine my excitement when I saw a man wearing a Tigers away cap, like this one:
I generally wear the home cap, which is a white "D" on solid blue. But when I saw this guy, I was like, woah, that's a great idea for when I'm in China. A Tigers away cap makes more sense, since we're pretty damn far from Detroit. I've always liked the colors of the home uniform more than the away one, but I'm considering changing switching hats.

Back to Jiuzhaigou, the Tigers away cap guy started walking towards me down a hiking path. As he came closer, I shouted out in a booming voice that made all the locals stare at me, "Yo! Tigers fan, huh? You from Detroit?". By the end of the sentence I was about three feet from the guy.

After an awkward silence, the guy turns towards me, and...

Absolutely nothing. Blank stare. I could have been speaking Albanian to him for all he knew.

Apparently this was yet another Chinese man that saw a pretty blue and orange hat at the local market and decide to wear it, with no regard to the significance.

Bummer. It makes me think, you know, in Detroit we don't go around with random hats that have Chinese characters we don't know, like "屄" or "肏" or something else. If you're going to wear a hat, you've got to know what it means.

Nov 3, 2009

Emei Shan graffiti wall

The Teddy Bear Hotel, where we stayed while visiting Emei Shan, has some walls in the cafe/computer area, where anyone is welcome to scribble some travel advice or other comments. Many backpacker-oriented hostels have walls like this, but I got a few laughs out of some of the comments at this place.

Emei Shan is famous for its wild monkeys, which aggressively confront tourists climbing the mountain and steal their food. One guest wrote some good advice on how to deal with the monkeys:

Emei Shan is a huge place. You really need at least two days to see everything. Another guest has provided a time-saving tip, and recommends avoiding the Elephant Bathing Pool. In his words, "ELEPHANT BATHING POOL IS ASS!".

This hostel must have been popular with Polish folks, because there were more than a few scribblings in Polish. Greetings from a couple on their honeymoon trip:

Some other Polish guy's scribbling about how much his room and his roll of toilet paper cost:

Nov 1, 2009

Mosque in Songpan, Sichuan

Songpan has a mixed population of Huis, Tibetans, and of course Hans. There are a couple nice, quiet mosques in town to check out. As long as you keep your infidel hooves out of the main prayer halls, no one seems to mind tourists looking around during the off-hours.

Here's the main prayer hall of one of the mosques, with the mihrab in the center. (My hooves were outside the entrace to the hall when I took this picture.)

One of the walls outside the mosque had a bunch of little red papers pasted to it. Each paper lists a name and an amount in yuan, I'm guessing it's to show who donated how much money to the mosque.

Makes me think, geez, Catholics got it easy! You just crumple your donation money in the palm of your hand during mass and then plop it into the donation basket, and no one ever knows how much you gave. You could have given a Benjamin, a Hamilton, or could maybe even just one dollar. No one knows.

If you look closely at the names, you'll notice a disproportionate number of people with the surname Ma, the Chinese equivalent for Muhammad.