Friday, November 02, 2012


I'm trying to get a new blog off the ground using Wordpress, which I find easier to work with. Actually, it's been a while since I logged into Blogger, so it's nice to see they've cleaned up the interface. It used to be so sluggish.

I'll be doing my personal writing over at (and you can find my professional writing over at The Next Web or the Beijinger).

Oh, and I have some news, but you've probably figured it out already. M and I are expecting a baby. ZOMG. You can read a bit more about it in my first post over at the new site.

You can keep tabs on me over there to watch me freak out about as I get ready to be a father. And there's always the possibility that I'll end up back here with my tail between my legs.

Also, now that M has adopted the dou/豆/bean branding as well, we're toying with the idea of building it out more. It just probably won't be here. We'll keep you posted though.

Much toodles,

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Here Kitty, Kitty

I hesitated writing this post because I didn't want the site to be indexed for all sorts of weird Hello Kitty SEO high jinks. But the way I see it, not much of anything is being indexed here these days, so might as well choose the Kitty over nothing.

Marilyn found it odd that I was so eager to try the official Hello Kitty restaurant when it opened a few months ago. I played it off as an ironic visit to appease the three or four Twitter followers who've inquired about it. Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that my family dressed me in all sorts of Sanrio outfits (mostly Keroppi and Ahiru no Pekkle) when I was a kid.

I used to wear this lime-green Keroppi jumpsuit on the dodgeball court that earned me the nickname "Green Snot," which actually wasn't that bad as far as elementary school playground monikers go. You should have heard the names the other kids got.

I'm going to move on.

A few weeks ago, I published a blog post for work asking for people's thoughts on the worst meal they'd had in Beijing, promising readers that I'd try the places they named. A reader mentioned Hello Kitty, so I seized the opportunity to finally try it out.

The Hello Kitty Dreams Restaurant is the first officially licensed H/K restaurant in China. It's decorated as a sea of pink and white with waitresses in pink maid outfits and servers in oversized blue overalls. I was originally planning on eating alone, but Marilyn managed to get off work in time to join me for dinner.

I arrived alone, however, and found the manager talking on the phone (in a drab pink dress shirt). I snapped some pictures while I waited for him to hang up, but he kept talking and at one point was leaning on the counter. A couple minutes later, a lady walked up and he immediately hung up the phone and took her to a table.

I'm still not exactly sure what happened here, but I think he assumed I wasn't a customer. Frankly, I felt a bit creepy skulking into the restaurant on my own. Anyway, when he came back from seating the other customer, he realized that I was actually there to eat and apologized profusely. Other than that awkward incident, the service was extremely helpful.

Eventually Marilyn arrived and we got down to the business of ordering. We decided to try a curry (RMB 42, because someone had mentioned it as being gross) and the fish and chips (RMB 88).

Without getting too psycho-babbly on you, the thing about the Dreams Restaurant is that it creates an atmosphere that encourages pretending (dreaming, if you will) that you are Hello Kitty (or Dear Daniel). It goes beyond the kind of spectating you get when you see an actress in a Disney princess suit at Disneyland. So that's why I ordered the fish -- to stay in character.

I'd even tried to dress up in my very best Dear Daniel impression, which in my mind meant putting on a cardigan and a pink tie.

I ordered the Hello Kitty cocktail (RMB 56) because I was curious to find out what kind of drinks Miss Kitty turns to after a hard day of work at the Sanrio Ranch. Her signature drink tastes like dish soap.

The curry arrived with the rice in the shape of a Kitty head. Right about now is when the dream breaks down. Are we meant to imagine ourselves as participating in a fantastical act of symbolic cannibalism? Some questions are better left unanswered.

Depending on which side of the feline you fall, the cat-head rice is either the cutest or the creepiest thing you've seen today. Discuss.

Meanwhile, the fish and chips arrived as a solitary piece of fish, a handful of fries, and a few slices of raw onion. In all fairness, the food wasn't actually as bad (or expensive) as we'd heard it was. The curry was okay. It was slightly worse than if you just made one yourself from one of those Golden Curry boxes, but still edible. The fish was good, but not RMB 88 good.

If I were to arbitrarily calculate the Kitty Tax on our food, I'd say the curry had a 22 RMB markup just for being Kitty-themed. The fish, on the other hand, was about half the portion of Fish Nation's version for twice the price. I've had my share of terrible cocktails in this town, but normally I'd expect to pay around RMB 30-40 for a syrupy mess.

At one point, Marilyn wandered off in hopes of finding a Hello Kitty toilet, but all she found was a cat-shaped sink and mirror. Seems to me like that's a missed opportunity there.

I was surprised at how full the restaurant was when we visited. The few other times I'd walked by the place, it had seemed empty. I'm guessing that no matter what I say, some of you are still going to head down there to check it out. And frankly, I don't want to be the one to crush your dreams. If you're wondering what to expect, I'd recommend that you imagine that you're heading to a miniature theme park. That way you're not surprised by the over-priced, mediocre food.

One of my friend's kids was showing off her Hello Kitty jumpsuit (basically a pink version of my Keroppi one) the other day and it got me thinking. H/K has achieved an incredible mass appeal in today's society: four-year-olds, college kids and creepy twenty-something bloggers can all fall for her charms.

For as long as it lasts, Dreams Restaurant is going to make some people very happy. It's just unfortunate that the place is also going to make some hungry people very unhappy in the process.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Moving (aka How to Procrastinate Moving by Blogging)

I've got 3 or 4 BeijingDou posts in the works, but they'll be (even more) on hold for a few weeks while we finalize a move from the west side of the city to the east side.

In fact, the only reason why I'm posting right now is because I'm procrastinating my systematic breakdown of each room in our old apartment. Here's a shot of the one room I've finished (via Instagram):

Moving always calls for a bit of introspection. Marilyn and I have spent 2 1/2 years at this apartment, the majority of our time here in Beijing. It's been a great place for us, though, to be quite honest, it always felt kind of like a college dorm. A fact that was not helped by our proximity to most of Beijing's major universities, which meant we were surrounded by (mostly drunken) foreign students.

We're heading to the east side of town (Sanlitun for those of you keeping score at home) in order to be closer to M's work. We'll end up coming back to the Wudaokou/Zhongguancun area a few times a week to see friends, attend the international fellowship and for some random work projects that I'll have on that side of town, but when we did the math, we realized that we would save time, money and energy if we were based in Chaoyang. We're trying out the whole "commute to your friends, not your job" thing. Check back in with me in a few months and I'll let you know how it's going.

As troublesome as it is, moving's been good for us since it made us purge a lot of the extraneous junk we've accumulated over the past few years. Our new place is smaller so we couldn't just cart it over and dump it in a drawer again.

And it's helped us mark the time of our lives, bringing an era to a close for us. Gone are the days when M was "writing" her thesis and I was working 10-20 hours a week. Good times for sure, but our current lives somehow managed to be even better, even if we are working more (and harder) than we ever have before.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bespoke Mustache Cardigan

On days like this, when snow and smog commingle as sludge, adding insult to sub-zero injury, we expats get to wondering just why exactly we continue to live in Beijing. But, it's also days like this, when the call finally comes to pick up my custom hand-knit cardigan, that remind me of some of the advantages to living here.

After Marilyn had her Totoro Cardigan made for a work assignment over at The Beijinger, I got jealous and decided to have my own sweater made, something with a more manly pattern...something a little more "me."

Eventually I narrowed it down to either ninjas or mustaches, or both. I even looked around for mustachioed ninja knitting patterns, but alas, Taft-ian Shinobi was nowhere to be found on Etsy.

Both of them hold special places in my heart, but I eventually went with the mustache. Needless to say, the ladies at the wool store were befuddled by the pattern, but hey, an order's an order, and they agreed to knit it up for me.

I ordered this back in September hoping it'd arrive in time for Movember and the onset of the cold, but apparently some German model had booked up all of the kindly knitting lady's time, so she didn't finish my piece until today.

All told, this woolly tribute to hirsute upper lips set me back 452RMB ($71, or maybe more since the yuan just hit a record high against the dollar). I'm sure some of you would never pay $70-something dollars for an ironic sweater, but I'm comforted by the fact that this dastardly cardigan is lusciously soft and perfectly fitted to my figure.

Unfortunately, I got to the Wool City too late today to order the crowning glory for this sweater: suede elbow pads, so I'll have to head back there for the finishing touch. I might also add a lining to keep it from snagging and make it even more warm. Once I'm done, I'll finally be able to put my feet up by the fireplace with a leather-bound book, a briar wood pipe, and a monocle. Dastardly indeed.


To have your own knit-tacular wearables made, visit (via The Beijinger):

Wool City. Daily 9.30am-4:30pm. Anningzhuang Donglu (west of Qinghe Xiaoying Qiao), Haidian District 清河毛纺城, 海淀区清河镇安宁庄东路(近清河小营桥). Shop 321 (6291 0284)

Monday, October 10, 2011


Hello from Taipei.

I have this random tradition of writing a post whenever I step outside the Great Firewall. I've been thinking about why that is, and I've mostly decided that it's to maintain the illusion that the reason I don't blog on here as much as I'd like is because I have to go through the trouble of posting from our VPN.

I spend about 90% of my online time on VPN while in Beijing, though, so that's not a real excuse, even if the Blogger dashboard is crazy slow when accessing from Beijing. Btw, I've been considering a jump to Tumblr or Wordpress if anyone has any thoughts on that.

Anyway, Marilyn and I zipped over to Taiwan for a week to spend some time with her parents. Oddly enough, it's Taiwan's "National Day" today (not sure how to word that without getting in trouble). We had several large tour groups from the mainland on our flight (one feisty tour member tried to cut in front of us at the check-in counter before being regulated on by her tour guide), and M's dad remarked that they were commemorating back-to-back national days, since China's is on Oct. 1.

Looking forward to a restorative week here. Us Beijingers have to get out of the city every once in a while to take a breath (of fresh air) and return, if only temporarily, to sanity.

The truckloads of ultra-fresh seafood that we'll be consuming this week should help with that...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

48 Hours in Shanghai - Part I

So, my brother spent a couple months with us in Beijing this summer, and it made for some crazy times and TONS of nonstop eating. We have lots of pictures and adventures to share, including some from an epic midnight showing of Harry Potter, but as it's taken me weeks to get to posting this one about Shanghai (and it's just part one of three), we'll have to save the HP7.2 for another time.

Against our better judgment, J, me, the little bro and our friend BChew (the noodle master) bought tickets for the bullet train to Shanghai amidst a string of high speed rail issues and typhoon warnings. Brilliant, huh?

Luckily, we arrived at the train station and got on with no problems. Our train ran smoothly, I threw back some Kangshifu ramen noodles (my train ride tradition :P) and we were there in no time. Oh yeah, and Bchew was also kind enough to lend me his iPod so I could begin my task of rereading all the Harry Potter books in an uninterrupted row. That might have helped pass the time, seeing as how I was just a few pages shy of finishing the book by the time we pulled in to Shanghai's Hongqiao station.

The next morning, after a nice sleep-in and padding about in pajamas, we were ready to leave the house, but our decisions were legion: xiaolongbao (XLB), shengjianbao (SJB) or both, and in what order/combination?

After Jenny Gao (China foodblogger and J's Twitter buddy) gave us some recommendations, we decided to head to one convenient location that had a good XLB place (Jia Jia Tangbao) right across the street from the city's most highly recommended SJB locale (Xiao Yang Shengjian).

By the time we got to Jia Jia Tangbao, it was already close to 3pm, so they were (of course) sold out of their basic XLB. "Guess that leaves us with the hairy crab roe rendition then!" These were tasty, but most of us admitted we were more excited about the SJB across the street. Also, not to reveal our lowbrow tastes, but J and I for one (for two?) actually prefer the non-crabby version of XLB, so spending thrice the amount for a product we actually enjoy less doesn't really tickle our pickle so to speak. So, off we went.

The thing about SJB is you really gotta time it right. When those suckers are fresh, they are quite possibly the world's most perfect food (meat, dough, crunch: your basic food groups in one handy bite). The hawker lifts the cap off the giant pot, steam billows out and you spy a honeycomb arrangement of perfect little white buns that are soon scattered with sesame seeds and diced scallion. Gah!

We ordered 16 of the little guys to start with, and trudged upstairs with our plates. After dreaming about good shengjianbao ever since the last time we were in Shanghai with Flo and Preston (2.5 years ago), biting into one was like that 6th grade make-out session after being apart from your prepubescent boyfriend due to summer science camp: hot and messy (not that I would ever know, I never had a bf in 6th grade...). The other thing about SJB is managing to get through the meal without burning your tongue. I failed. Definitely worth the pain, though.

J and the bro were done after theirs, but Bchew and I went for one more order of 4. By the time we stumbled out of that shop, I was pretty sure my blood had been replaced by the fragrant pork juice that burst out of each bun. As you can imagine, this slowed my (already slow-ish) movements a great deal. I probably could've used a walker right then.

Just thinking about that meal has made me lethargic again, so we will continue our Shanghai exploits - including a Pixar exhibit, food, and... more food - in coming posts. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Review: (Ultimate) Noodle Bar

I'll level with you. This restaurant isn't actually called Ultimate Noodle Bar. I just made that up because it sounds cool. Usually we just call it the Sanlitun Noodle Bar, but there are several of those around. Sometimes we call it the Hidden Noodle Bar, but then we get confused between that and the 1949 Hidden City Noodle Bar (which is also excellent and deserves its own write-up).

So as of right now, I've decided to call the place Ultimate Noodle Bar.

I've been selfishly hesitant to write this post. This place is already way too busy for my own liking. But after our last visit, I couldn't not write about it.

Besides, I actually found out about this place from The Beijinger's interview with SALT chef Ana Esteves, so to whom much is given, much is required, or with great power comes great responsibility or something like that.

M owes me several big fat "I told you so"s on this restaurant too. For years, we've wandered past it in that alley behind Tongli Studios and M, being the sucker that she is for all things noodles, would always point out the large "麵" (Noodle) signs on UNB's 2nd floor window. Given that Sanlitun has a wealth of excellent non-noodle foods, I would shake my head and walk on by.

So, a few months ago, when we were perusing an issue of the magazine and saw that Ms. Esteves' favorite bowl of noodles was at a hard to find noodle bar behind Tongli Studios, M shrieked and ran directly there. I know what you're thinking: "Ah, interesting use of hyperbole--obvious exaggeration used to emphasize a point or add excitement and humor to a story." Nay, my friend, nay. I'm reasonably sure that she actually ran straight there.

And when we arrived, the good people at UNB were sorry to inform us that they had in fact run out of noodles. They were as surprised as we were, noting a sudden seemingly random spike in foreigner clientele asking for their Eggplant Noodles.

M was crushed, but we ate something else (Eggplant Rice if I recall correctly) and vowed to return for the noodles. We've been back several times and have been impressed each time.

How to get there

Ok, so if you're standing in that alley (stroll north through the Village past the Apple Store and into the a sea of sidecars, cigar vendors and body odor) and then turn left into a small courtyard. There's a sign for 家常菜 No.42 Chinese Restaurant. Turn in there. By the way, you might want to hold your breath on your way through this mini-tunnel, as there are trash cans on your right that any sane person would not want to smell.

Once you emerge, turn right and walk down to the end of the so-called lane. If you're keeping score, you'll want to head to 七单元 (Unit 7). The Noodle Bar sign should help you find it. Enter the building and head up the stairs.

At the second floor, you'll notice a styrofoam sign with their hours. M and I discovered a trick last week. This illustrious family rests (and preps) from 2-6, you'll want to arrive right at 5:55 to avoid having to wait. Basically, we wandered in right as they were turning the sign, said hi to the chef on our way to the kitchen (yes, it's one of those places) into the small dining room. By 6:00, the place was packed and angry noodle-fiends were harrumphing outside.

We tried to go for a late dinner a few months ago and the place was packed with a 45 minute wait. Unfazed, we went for a bit of shopping while we waited for them to call.

You should be warned. This restaurant isn't perfectly suited for everyone. This is homestyle cooking done well and they charge a bit of a premium for it. And I do think they're actually cooking in their home. As far as cleanliness, the place is quite clean when compared with Xiaochi's and other homestyle restaurants, but less clean than the full service luxury Chinese restaurants. Noodle dishes are in the 30s, as are several rice dishes and plates. The Pork Belly (more on that later) runs 45.

Now, in our minds, that's a friggin' steal. But we have friends who would way rather spend that kind of cash on budget foreign food (say at Biteapitta which is directly across the way).

Ok, on to the food.

Om nom nom

Cherry Pork (Xiao Yintao Rou)

Don't let the name fool you. This ain't no Pick-up Stix deep-fried cardboard in a sweet sauce.

This is a serious slab of pork belly. One of the amazing things about this dish is the layering. On top you've got classic gelatinous belly goodness. I'll be honest with you, everytime one of these lardkins slides down my esophagus, I can hear my slowing heartbeat pounding in my ears. But I'm usually too raptured by awesomeness to care.

Beneath the collagen bombs, you've a nice pulled-style pork. This reminds me of the Carnitas we make at home, rendered in its own fat and caramelized with orange juice.

And beneath the strings of meat, you've got little cubed chunks of sauciness. Not really sure how they do this, it comes out as one slab, but this is a miracle on your plate. They used to have a noodle version of this dish but they've crossed it off their menu. What a pity.

I recommend this for sharing. I got this with a bowl of rice last week, while M and her brother each got noodles and I could only get about halfway through it.

Here's a shot of their noodles. I forget what exactly they have, but they've got several varieties of fried noodle dishes and you can choose from eggplant, eggplant and egg, saucy noodles, strips of meat, mushrooms, etc.

I'd venture to say this is the best bowl of noodles I've had in Beijing (and so much easier than pulling them yourself). But after being married to M for 4 years, the noodles start to run together...

Lastly, we ordered up some veggies. Somehow the veggies here are abnormally verdant, which I assume is a good thing.

These are Jielanmiao, which I guess you could call Chinese Broccoli (Kale) shoots. I'd also highly recommend their Ganbian Doujiao (this is a must for me. This dish is so dang good when done right. Like crack-dusted french fries in vegetable form) and their Kongxincai.

I'm blanking on the story behind this family, but from what I can remember, the floor manager and the chef are brothers. The chef is trained in Sichuan style cooking, but he's not actually from there. So as you can expect, there's a whole lot of Sichuan peppercorn action going on, so if you're not into that, you might want to ask them to tone it down.

When I eat this food, it's clear to me there's a lot of love and self-respect that goes into it. And having had several really pleasant (albeit efficient) interactions with this family, I hope they do well for themselves. Judging by the looks of the line outside their door, I think they're doing fine.