Jul 30, 2010

CPC happy birthday banner

I felt a wave of Nineteen Eighty-Four rush through me when I spotted this gigantic banner hanging across the road during a recent trip to Zhengzhou:

Translation: "Congratulations to the Communist Party of China on their 89th anniversary"

You don't tend to see such large, ominous banners like this in Beijing. That huge hammer and sickle on the left side of it makes me think of Big Brother.

Check out the Peace Doves in the upper right of the banner:

Doves are so appropriate for the CPC — the fun, inclusive club which has organized such past peaceful events like this, this, and this.

Jul 28, 2010

The Chinese mafia

Organized crime in China is out of control. Gang bosses extort protection money from shop owners. Attacks go unreported out of fear.

Just look at what happened to these poor mannequins:

...suffocated and put on display as a warning to the other mannequins to pay their protection money on time!

Jul 26, 2010

When you're having a bad day...

...look at these photos, and say to yourself, "At least I don't have to sleep on the floor of the Beijing West Train Station tonight." I took these photos recently after a late night train back to Beijing.

These are, for the most part, homeless folks in Beijing that have to resort to camping out on the floor of the train station each night. They could very well return to their home cities and get looked after by the government, but they're in Beijing trying to scrape together more cash than they would otherwise be able to.

And no, they're not tourists hoping for an early start on the morning train. Take a close look.

Jul 18, 2010

Those Shunyi expats got it rough!

I thought I had a rough life. Every day I'm in the office, eight to six, sitting in front of a computer terminal. And damn, pushin' those buttons on the keyboard is hard! I've got the beginnings of lower back pain, carpal tunnel and the myriad other hazards of being a white collar worker. Not to mention, I'm always talking on the phone and getting a hoarse voice. Man, it's rough a rough life being a white collar office worker in Beijing.

Some white folks in Beijing have got it real bad. Check out this Irish lady's rant in City Weekend magazine. I had to scan the whole article since I couldn't find it on line. I've interjected my condescending comments in line.

Comment: Yes, let's talk more about drivers, since all of us working here in Beijing are well-to-do Fat Cats with our own personal chauffeurs, gardeners, cooks, and masseuses. Please continue! We're all very interested in this topic.

Comment: It sounds like your family has had a very hard life here in Beijing. It must be such an ordeal to have a personal chauffeur. I can't imagine the pain and challenges their family must be going through.

Comment: I feel the author's pain. She's had to make so many hard decisions: will the chauffeur take the dog outside for shit? Will the chauffeur carry our groceries into the luxury villa? Having a personal driver sounds like such a pain. The grief she she must be going through.

Those other families sound so horrible. They're so looking down on The Locals, totally unlike you.

Chauffeurs planting flowers for their European colonial overlords! What is Beijing coming to? It's horrible. I can' t imagine the moral dilemma this author is having, keeping quiet while her friends engage in such horrible behavior.

Next Sunday mass, we ought to take up a special collection for this poor family from the Old Country. I'm already saving up my spare change. My heart goes out to the author, and all the other families going through the same pain while in Beijing.

Now back to me: I've been paying a cleaning lady from Henan to come over to my rat-infested Apartment of Filth once per week for two hours to mop the disgusting floor and wipe the yellow dribbles off the exterior of my toilet bowl. And I thought I was an upper class, imperialist fat cat shit for hiring a cleaning lady. I feel so much better after reading about this Irish woman's difficult life. I had even though that I was doing well compared to the other kids on the block because I could afford to pound Heinekens at 7 kuai instead of local Yanjing beer at 1 kuai a pop.

This City Weekend article is a reminder to all of us normal folks: the actual rich people stay rich by making the rest of us common mutts think we're doing well for ourselves. But really, the Shunyi expatriates of the world still keep most of the pie for themselves, and leave just a few crumbs for the rest of us workers to fight over.

It doesn't matter if you're in Beijing or in Boston, we regular peons just get the crumbs, while the upper crust worry about whether or not their chauffeurs and butlers need to scoop the poop.

Jul 16, 2010

The seeping flood of diarrhea

We had Korean barbecue one night. Two-thirds of the way through the meal I excused myself to use the lavatory. Chinese beer is like 3% alcohol by volume, so you need to drink a lot, and quickly, to get the smallest of any buzz. (Does anyplace have San Miguel Red Horse around here?)

To the right side of the urinal I was using were a couple squat toilets, on a platform about 6 inches higher than the floor I stood on. The doors to the stalls were shut, and inside they were empty. I couldn't help but notice a seeping flood of nasty red-brown diarrhea seeping out of the front of one of the closed stalls. This is how it looked from where I stood:

The toilet stall door is shut, but you can kind of glimpse part of the squat toilet underneath the crack of the door. On the side of the squat toilet nearest the door, there's all this nasty diarrhea spread all over the floor.

I should have waited until I was all the way done with my dinner instead of just two-thirds done. I had a really time getting over this nasty men's room.

I can't figure out how someone could leak that much filth over the wrong side of the squat toilet. As you may know, when you use a squat toilet, your butt faces the far wall, and you squat down facing the door of the stall. So if someone came up and opened up the door to your stall, they'd see your face, and not your butt.

Any floods of defecation and filth would presumably end up at the back of the stall. There's no possible way it could leak out the front of the stall like that, unless someone intentionally used the toilet in the wrong direction, and intentionally sprayed all over the floor. There must have been some really sick individual in the restaurant that night.

Jul 14, 2010

The 7-Eleven coupon

The other week we went out to eat at a branch of the fashionable Bellagio restaurant chain in Beijing. The Taiwan-themed restaurant quite appropriately had some newspapers from Taiwan in the waiting area. I paged through one of them as I waited for the hostess to get to our number.

On the front page of the China Times was a 7-Eleven coupon for buy one get one free:

I wasn't quite sure what products the coupon was for, or if I could even use it outside of the ROC, but I decided what the heck. I semi-discretely used my pocket knife to cut out the coupon and stuff it in my pocket for another day. The other waiting patrons stared as I appeared to be destroying the newspaper for no good reason.

Fast forward to several days later. On a trip to my local Beijing 7-Eleven, I asked one of the stock boys about the coupon. The stock boy had no idea if I could use it, so he went to the back room to consult with his manager.

Short story, I couldn't use the coupon. As I suspected it was only valid in Taiwan. So much for that whole one country, two systems malarkey. As far as 7-Eleven is concerned, it's definitely a two country, two system deal.

It was kind of funny though, when the stock boy came out, he said to me, "Even if we did accept this coupon, ain't you seen here, it's already done expired. Look here, the valid dates are 99/7/2 - 7/11. Fool, you done brought an eleven year-old coupon."

Check it out:

I didn't argue with the stock boy, but I'll point out here that it says "99" because in Taiwan, they start counting years from 1912, the birth year of Chiang Kai-shek, the supreme leader and founder of the nation. Or something like that.

I can't help but wonder what all that great loot is on the coupon. They had none of the wonderful products pictured on the coupon at my local Beijing 7-Eleven.

Here's the selection on the

From left to right, I think this is what everything is:
  1. a milky Japanese liquid called "Dakara"
  2. another milky drink called "多多"
  3. probably very similar to 1 and 2
  4. "可口" brand dog biscuits / people cookies
  5. half and half, maybe?
  6. A drink called "EP". EP, of course, stands for "ectopic pregnancy", an abnormal pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus. That's creative birth control for ya!

Jul 12, 2010

Change hoarders

Here's an anecdote that anyone living in China longer than a week will relate to.

We were browsing around at the upscale Shin Kong Place mall in Beijing over the weekend. We noticed a small coffee bar (I think it was called "Red Cuppa"), which had about six tables for customers in its seating area. In addition espresso, they were selling some pastries and gelato. We picked out two flavors for a medium cup to go, and the bill came to 23 yuan ($3.40).

The coffee shop had two employees helping us: one young man behind the counter, scooping the ice cream and tallying the bill, as well as a young girl — a trainee — who was on our side of the counter next to us. The trainee mostly hovered around and stared at us. She looked excited and bored at the same time. I'm sure everyone can relate to the frustration of being a new employee and trying hard to contribute.

After we ordered, I pulled out my fat money clip to pay the bill, and started flipping through my money to find some change. (My money clip is fat because I stuff the middle with lots of 1 yuan notes.) I always try to keep some 10s and 20s in my money wad for the cabbies, for those quick trips around town. I once saw a Beijing cabbie pull a tire iron out of his trunk and chase down another guy, and for all I know, that could have been because the customer tried to pay for a 10 kuai ride with a 100 kuai note.

My money clip had some 1s, some 20s, a 50, and lots of 100s. I pulled out a 50 and three 1s, so that the cashier could give me a 20 and a 10 for change.

It turns out that while I had been rifling through my money, the hovering salesgirl had been watching my every move like a hawk. As discreet as I tried to be when looking through my cash, she had inventoried the full contents of my money clip. As soon as I pulled out the 50 yuan note, she exclaimed loudly, "Hey, I seen a 20 in there. Just give us that 20."

I turned to face the male cashier, gave him a polite smile, and continued to pay with my 50 yuan note. I think he was embarrassed by his trainee. Clearly, she had spent previous time working at a local market bartering with customers over 1 and 2 kuai trinkets, where asking for exact change is the norm. The cashier gave me my expected change, and we were on our way.

I think that when you're paying triple-price for Chinese gelato, customers are allowed to pay for their purchases with whatever bills they want. If you run a cash-based, retail business, it's part of your job to visit the bank every day, or however often it takes, to make sure you've got plenty of change on hand. I've noticed this change-hoarding mentality more and more lately, even at places like KFC, where you know they have tons and tons of cash.

If you're in China, make a point of paying for all retail and food purchases with 100 kuai bills, and see how often they give you guff about not having proper ling qian.

Jul 9, 2010

Un-toilet trained kids

We've all seen the babies with open-crotch underwear and pants (开裆裤). You know, where the baby needs to do a number one or number two, and mom scoops the kid up, opens their legs like the Thanksgiving turkey, and they spray the contents of their bladders into whatever gutter or tree is nearby? It's a great thing for the environment, and surely cuts down on landfill waste a lot. Definitely old news about the open-crotch pants. I'm very used to seeing the Thanksgiving turkeys, and babies walking around half-naked. It's very natural and normal after a while.

One day this week, however, I saw two instances of waidi (transplant) parents letting their very old kids urinate and defecate in public areas as if they were still two years old. Two in one day.

Instance one: the giant crap into a Ralph's bag

(Probably not really a Ralph's bag, but wouldn't that be odd if it were.) I was walking through a crowded, well-maintained area of Beijing. Many people were going about their lunch break, hustling about in their office attire to get to their next meeting. To the left of the sidewalk, I saw a six year-old girl squatting over a plastic shopping bag. The non-Beijinger mom was squatting beside the six year-old with one hand on the side of the bag so it didn't blow away in the wind. The six year-old proceeded to take a crap so huge that an NFL linebacker would be proud of it. It plopped out right into the center of the plastic bag. This happened literally twenty yards away from a public toilet inside of an office building. On the steps of the office building were a gaggle of office workers, witnessing the giant crap, like the audience at an amphitheater.

How can someone let their older child, who should be toilet trained by that age, do something so inappropriate in a public space, in full view of tons of office workers? You can't blame a six year-old for anything, of course. This is one hundred percent bad parenting, and a case of a transplant acting like a countryside yokel in a place where you should act like a civilized person.

Instance one: pee-pee in the garbage can

Beijing, as of the 2008 Olympics, has a bunch of new subway lines and trains that would be the envy of any big city. I was waiting for the train in one of these fancy new subway stops, when I observed another mom, a non-Beijinger, who had picked up her five year-old daughter and was balancing her over the top of a three foot tall trash can. The kid was taking a nice, long pee into the trash can, right there in the subway station, with at least two hundred commuters mulling about. Don't kids know that Oscar the Grouch lives in a trashcan? Aren't they worried about that?

Again, there was a public restroom in this fancy new subway station, right on the platform, not fifty yards away. Amazing, stupid parenting again.


Idiot parents: here's how you solve the problem of having to let your six year old crap and pee in public like a misbehaved dog:

Read this article on potty training. Here are the two key points:
  1. "Most children have a bowel movement once a day, usually within an hour after eating."
  2. "Most children urinate within an hour after having a large drink."
Let me translate that back into Mandarin just in case:
  1. 你的崽子每日会拉一次个巨大屎。 它一般会吃饭后一个小时拉。
  2. 你的崽子喝饮料后一个小时之内会撒个大尿。
[Note: Please leave a comment with a better translation if you have one, thanks!]

From what I can see in that article, kids are supposed to be basically potty trained by 2-3 years old.

I think with some rough math calculations and very basic advanced planning, our idiot parents can start to integrate themselves more into mainstream society.

Jul 7, 2010

Street crabs

I encountered a waidi street peddler sitting on a curb near the vegetable sellers outside my apartment complex. This particular peddler had a large, plastic wash basin at his feet containing several huge crabs. They looked kind of like Dungeness crabs.

I was very interested because crabs in China tend to be of the river variety. River crabs and lake crabs are a lot smaller than ocean crabs. The local crabs have good flavor, but not much meat. I need Dungeness or king crab, something with lots of chunky meat. I can't be bothered to do lots and lots of picking for an ounce of crab meat.

I walked over to the peddler, and said to him, "So you got some crabs, huh?".

"Sure do," he says to me.

I looked down for a close-up look at the basin full of crabs. Immediately, one thought came to mind: "F no."

These were not spunky, creepy crawly crabs, trying their hardest to escape from their enclosure. No, this peddler had a plastic bin full of dead crabs, sitting unrefrigerated in the mid-afternoon heat, which happened to be in the low 90s that day.

If there's one thing to avoid, it's rotten shellfish and crabs. Crabs go bad like crazy once they've died. Ever watch Deadliest Catch, and notice how when they get to the crab processor plant, they end up having to throw away lots of crab carcasses from the holding tanks of the ships? That's because there's too much that can go wrong from steaming and eating dead crabs. You don't know how long they've been dead, and how much bacterial growth there is. Sure, you can give it the old smell test, but that's not a sure thing.

If you want to save a few cents, be my guest and sort through the dead crab bin at your local Korean grocery store, or buy dead crabs from the waidi ren on the street. I'm holding out for fresh, live crab myself.

Jul 5, 2010

No summer berries in Beijing

No matter what the season in Beijing, I rarely can find several types of fruits and berries. I would say that the things I'm looking for are pretty common in the US, but not apparently not in China. In particular:
  • raspberries
  • blueberries
  • grapefruit
In Beijing, I can find bayberries and mulberries from street peddlers occasionally. Try getting that at your neighborhood Safeway.

Despite those exotic offerings, there are never any blueberries or raspberries.

The only place I've found to get fresh blueberries and raspberries is at Jenny Lou's, an expensive imported goods store. The berries at Jenny Lou's are usually frozen. Last time I bought about 8 ounces of raspberries for around $2.50, and when I thawed them out, I discovered at least half of them were mushed and squished together. The only thing I could think to make is raspberry pancake topping.