Friday, September 26, 2008

On Drainage (Only in China)

Don't ever take drainage for granted, my friends. Not ever. Otherwise your plumbing karma will have you banished to some far-off land where drainage is at best an afterthought, if thought of at all.

For example, you know that saying "It never rains but it pours"? It's never really made all that much sense to me, but sense or nonsense, the Chinese version is "It never rains, but it floods." Drainage is so poorly thought out that often what seems like a light rain will collect on the ground and in the streets.

We've tolerated this for a few months now, but this morning, the drainage problem struck a little closer to home. Our bathroom is what one lady at BICF affectionately called a showlet. It's really quite common, a shower head installed next to a toilet, with only a shower curtain separating the two. Two drains on either side of the toilet let the water slowly drain (which runs all over the bathroom since there's no standalone shower). The drains have been working decently, but they're nothing to write home about (ironic, since that's exactly what I'm doing write now). Every once in a while we notice the odd smell coming up from them, usually garlic or smoke from our neighbors next door. And of course the usual foul smells associated with bathroom duties. But for China, not so bad. Liveable at least.

However, the past few days they'd been burping a little. I'd noticed they were draining really slowly and would hiccup if the toilet was flushed. I guess I should have seen it coming...

This morning Marilyn left bright and early for the arts festival that's hosted by the studio she's been interning at. I took my time getting up, groggily checked my email, then hopped in the shower. On my way out, I shot an icy glare at our semifunctional hiccupy drains.

A couple hours later, I walked past the bathroom on the way to the kitchen and beheld a most terrifying sight. (At this point, I would usually post a picture. I took pictures...but the image is so scarring, so terrible, that I'm actually going to spare you. Which, as most of you should know, is saying a lot.) The drains had finally had it. In what I can only describe as an explosion of sorts, the drain by the shower had uncapped and spewed forth all manner of sewage onto our bathroom floor. I shrieked. I called Marilyn, who was in the middle of the screening, and told her what had happened. Since she was busy, I would have to call our housing association myself. So, in broken Chinese, I tried to explain to them what happened. At one point I picked up a dictionary to try and look words up. It was then that I learned that my dictionary does not have the word "poo" or "poop" in it. Utterly useless! Unable to explain what happened, I just kept repeating in Chinese "There's a problem in the bathroom." To which they finally agreed to come have a look. When they got here, they told Marilyn that the drains probably hadn't been cleared for some time and it would cost 30RMB to have it cleared. One of the workers left to go get some machine, and the other poked around the drains a bit. We cleaned some of the crap off the floor, and then the inquisitive worker designed to to try flushing the toilet. *Whoosh!* *Blurp!* Even more sewage came bubbling up from the now uncapped drains. I was able to restrain myself from having a pseudo-OCD/germophobic panic attack, but it was a close one. The other worker returned with some kind of soviet-era drain snake of a device and commenced clearing the drains. As the understatement of the month, it was messy. Finally the drains cleared, and the workers left, leaving me with a floor full of poop and sewage to mop up.

You know what the irony of all this is? One of the common toilet brands I've seen in China, of which ours is one, is "American Standard." American standard, my (literal) butt! I've even seen American Standard branded squattie potties. That's just blatant false advertising (almost as bad as California Beef Noodle King)! Trust me, choice few American standards would put up with some of the "crap that goes down" here.

So there it is: a cautionary tale for those of you who take this stuff for granted. Enjoy your spotless bathrooms, your freedom from unknown mal-odors and semi-functional drainage.

I'm still a bit shaken up. But we both know it could have been A LOT worse. So, for now, I'll count my blessings and cut my losses.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas?

In the past few days, the temperature has dropped significantly. Suddenly, Beijing is gloomy, cold, and drizzly. It rained a bunch this summer, but up until now it has always been a nice warm rain.

M and I have both only ever lived in China during the summer. This whole cold weather thing is new.

And as a San Diego kid, wet mid-50s weather means only one thing: Christmas! And to top it off, everyone around is preparing for a big holiday. Except in this case it's National Day/Week. Even after a white Christmas in Michigan, I still get my hopes up when the weather is like this, especially if people have started using their fireplaces, or in China's case, just randomly burning things.

But it certainly makes me long for these days:

Saturday, September 20, 2008


J: Monday night I got a call from our friend Lee who had a couple extra tickets to the Gold Medal Wheelchair Rugby match. M and I had nothing to do, so we jumped at the chance. We'd been excited about going to the Paralympics and hadn't decided on an event yet. This sounded perfect.

You may know the sport by its more affectionate name: Murderball, which was popularized by the documentary that came out a few years ago. You can watch it online here. I have to confess, I'd heard about the movie when it came out, but never got around to seeing it. So M and I had some catching up to do after the match.

M: We were talking to our friend Matt a couple days before and he was telling us that in wheelchair rugby, the players ram into each other, toppling over and everything. What fun!

J: On our way to the venue, a crazy lightning storm descended upon us. After scurrying across the Beijing University of Science & Technology, we arrived soaked through. As we passed security, the rain let up enough for Marilyn to snap a picture of the Gymnasium:
The night started off with the Bronze medal match between Canada and Great Britain. Canada dominated the match with a much more physical and aggressive team.
This guy, who was seated near us, really came out in full force to support the Maple Leaf:
My favorite part? The fact that he has his Canada t-shirt tucked into his Canada boxers. Second favorite? During the US vs Australia match he started yelling, "Fifty-first state! Fifty-first state!"

M: When the US and Australian teams came out, the crowd was pretty energized. I think it's safe to say that all the non-Americans there were decidedly rooting for the Australians. I had this sad realization: I strongly dislike almost everything about USC, especially the way it presents itself as a sports franchise, but in the world of international sports, America is the global version of USC. Oh the pain.

There were these guys running around half naked with their chests painted, pounding little plastic cups of beer like their kidneys were going out of style. Not to mention the obnoxious rounds of "Meiguo jiayou!" (Chinese for "Go USA!") with their tones all off. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and all. I can just see why we are the nation the world loves to hate.
Of course, the real highlights of the match were the dancing Paralympics Cow balloons. (What?!) Yes, you heard me. The Paralympics mascot was a cute, multicolored cow that the committee chose to embody through human actors encased in giant cow-shaped balloons. Brilliant. Here they are working up the crowd:

They even did fancy breakdancing tricks, like spinning around on one "arm":
The best part was when one of the balloons sprang a leak, in the head (Josh: "Saw that one coming..."):
Here, a rapidly deflating Paralympics cow makes a hasty retreat, aided by his more able-bodied friends:

J: In all seriousness, though, it was a really inspiring night. I have tons of respect for all of these athletes--even more so having seen the movie and heard some of their stories. As jaded as we might have been by some of the fans, we were still proud of Team USA taking back the gold.

Thanks, Lee, for hooking it up!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Oh China (Guest post by Justin Yi)

So while Justin was here, we offered to let him 'spill the beans' with a tell-all guest post about the Beans in Beijing. Here it is.

Oh China

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And for every crazy moment in China, there is an equal and opposite utterance in reaction. Everyone seems to have their own special way of coping with the craziness, and while in the past I have succumbed to more colorful verbal protests against the way things are here, I have decided to adopt the exclamation employed most frequently by Marilyn. Whenever something strange or nutty happens, she wistfully exclaims, “oh China,” as if China were some errant, but loveable child, that has yet again gone astray. You know you can’t really blame it; it’s just the way it is…

So this is my second/third time in “China.” I lived in Taipei during the summer of ’05, and that was a crazy trip that included, amongst other things, scaling dorm walls at 11pm after the gates were locked but not being to get into the building so sleeping in the garden but getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so hanging out at the 7Eleven until 6am the next morning. That’s Oh “China” for you. Then, last summer I traveled to Suzhou for 3 weeks as part of a summer study abroad program. That too was a crazy experience. Going to an Australian bar to play foosball and eat lamb skewers after finishing finals but witnessing a Chinese guy getting jumped by 20 or so Chinese gang-bangers who knocked over the lamb cart so we didn’t get any lamb and then a Chinese stalker girl kept following my friend around so we had to escape in a cab back to the Hotel. Oh China.

After these experiences, I vowed to never come to China again. Not necessarily because I didn’t like it here, but more because I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to handle the full-on China experience for at least another 15 to 20 years. But here I am again. Like many people who end up here, I suppose there are some things that are certain, and other things that are definitely uncertain. I remember when I was on my DTS in 2003, I felt like God was giving me a heart for China. The idea of that scares me a bit now. But the other day Josh said something that was very poignant – “just because you have a heart for a place doesn’t mean you have to live there.” While that provides some comfort for me as to the future, I am here now and must therefore struggle with divining the purpose of this particular visit. But in the meanwhile, I am left with a sense of awe and respect for those (like Josh and Marilyn) who are willing to live here for a prolonged period of time. It is no easy task, being transplanted to a place like this, with no family or community to fall back on. Thank God M&J are here to help ease my transition to Oh China.

Married Life
(Ah the married life . . . Josh stares longingly in Marilyn’s direction – because they only have one bowl that they must share to eat cereal in the mornings! Marilyn stares longingly at the computer, because that’s her portal to life in America. And Totoro? Totoro stares longingly at Josh, because … well, we all know why.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I think not!

Have you ever heard that quote, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous" (apparently Einstein said it)? Well, we just had a coincidence that was actually signed by him. Let me explain.

Sunday was 中秋节, Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival in English, so I had the day off (or rather, all my Sunday classes were moved to Monday since my students had Monday off at their regular schools). This year marks the first year that the Government has made it a national holiday. Anyway, so since I normally work on Sunday morning, Marilyn and I haven't been able to go to church as usual, so we've been getting creative. A few weeks ago we visited Haidian Christian Church, which is a famous Chinese national church that is now a 3 Self patriotic church. The week after that we watched a vodcast of Marc Driscoll over at Mar's Hill in Seattle.

So Sunday morning, Marilyn, Justin, a classmate of his, and I all trotted off to Beijing International Christian Fellowship (BICF). As we were sitting in our seats, Marilyn saw someone sit in front of us who reminded her of one of our friends from California. But, Marilyn thinks that all the time; besides, what are the chances? But when the greeting time came and she introduced herself to someone, we realized it really was our friend Nina! She was just in Beijing for a few days and happened to sit in front of us at the service.

It's a small world; being a Christian makes it even smaller. And it does mean that there's no such thing as a coincidence. I'll leave it to you math whizzes to crunch the numbers, but the odds of bumping into our friend must be crazy :). The reason I say that this coincidence is signed is rather than just bumping into her on the street (we later found out that we almost went to the cafe where she was before church), we met in the Lord's house! She's back in Tianjin now, but you can follow her adventures here.

So, we had a wonderful Mid-Autumn Festival together, we all had lunch together after church, and then she joined us for dinner at the studio where Marilyn's interning:

The dinner table. So tasty!

Here's Nina, on the left, and our friend Tang Zhi.

The full moon:

After dinner, the director of the studio filmed me and Nina's bellies as part of one of his pieces. Nina got a phrase that meant "Alluring" I got "Humanity"

A most delightful Moon festival!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The post about how lucky we are

Our friend Justin arrived in Beijing today. We knew Justin from back home in Berkeley, and he's here studying abroad for a semester as part of his Cornell law degree. We were excited for him to arrive, so we spent some time yesterday "homifying" our apartment. Having guests is good for us, because it encourages us to keep our space nice and tidy(ish), and we love having a chance to use all the lessons we've learned so far about Beijing life (like how to set up a cell phone and other itty issues). Plus, it's just nice to have a familiar face around. :)

Now I know I've been a little bit of a mope about missing home (and all credit to Josh for putting up with my incessant whining), so imagine my absolute delight when Justin came bearing a veritable cornucopia of warm fuzzies from the Bay! Some of our lovely lovely friends took the time to piece together a lot of small but awesome things into a small but awesome care package that would fit nicely into Justin's luggage (which, by the way, got lost in Hong Kong on his way here, but luckily was delivered to our place as of 10pm tonight. Same day service!).

For one, Josh had mentioned that we were in need of a couple D batteries. (Our stove's starter runs on battery power, and every battery we've bought in China has lasted nary a few days before putzing out on us.) So, true to form, our friends delivered:
BAAYAMM! Looks like we'll be cooking (for the entire Chinese National Ping Pong League) to our heart's content without ever worrying that our stove won't start on us!

Then of course there's CHOCOLATE...mmm...

...and another kind of sweet: all manner of heartwarming notes and mini-memoirs that made us laugh and punch each other in the face with delight. (OK, so I fibbed about the punching part.) Plus, two CDs providing hours of listening pleasure!

...not to mention similar swag from another dear couple :)

...and a new friend for Totoro! Whom, of course, Totoro surveys with equal parts suspicion and fascination. (Man, our family is growing faster than you can say "Ortho Tri-cyclen!")

Finally, Josh and me enjoying our spoils. (We were just discussing our love for sour chewy candies with Justin over dinner!) Thanks for everything, loves!

All this transatlantic lovin' just serves as a huge reminder to me to stop being such a baby and suck it up already. Well, first it's a reminder that we are incredibly lucky to have some really amazing friends, but that other one is a good side effect, too. Lately, I've been feeling more and more alive here. It may have something to do with the temperatures and humidity dropping below "you-are-now-living-inside-a-very-wet-volcano" level as Fall kicks in, but I'm trying to make a point here. Point is, we really are blessed to be here in Beijing at such a fascinating moment, and at such a carefree point in our lives. Seriously, how many people get to travel the world and see things they've never seen before, plus have such supportive and loving friends and family to go home and tell all our stories to? Not very many, my friend. Not very many.

So to all our friends back home who think of us, pray for us, chat with us, skype with us, play mariokart with us, and all in all find every way to let us know that we are loved and missed, thanks. We couldn't do this without you. So come visit already so we can treat you to some good Beijing fun!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Only in China (at home)

Last week sometime, Marilyn and I were walking into the elevator of our apartment complex when we noticed a new sign posted on the wall. Marilyn stopped to try and read it. "What's it say? Stop pooping in the hallways?" I asked half-seriously. Surprised, Marilyn replied, "Actually, yeah. Something like that. How'd you know?" I shrugged and walked into the elevator.

Wow. I tell you what. Wow.

To their credit, I will say that people in our building have a lot of babies and dogs, neither of which have the best record for not pooping in hallways. So I'm hoping that it's not the adults that are willfully defecating in our public areas. Those of you who have been to China know that the babies here usually have open pants so they can just poo and pee whenever and wherever they see fit. Think of it as an eco-friendly diaper.

This little guy is a particularly heinous example of Chinese baby dress. Basically a glorified bib...I guess it really ups the stakes for potty training. I'd like to point out that this shot was taken on the subway.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Nice guys can finish first

So I spend so much time thinking about what's going on in China, and in China-U.S. relations, that I don't pay nearly as much attention to the Asian American scene in the states. I guess it's a different kind of struggle that the so-called Model Minority faces, and just because we're a heck of a lot more comfortable than our counterparts trying to make ends meet in Asia and Southeast Asia, it doesn't mean there isn't still progress to be made.

On that note, there's this little video outfit called Wong Fu Productions that many of you have probably seen before. They started out making spoof music videos and developed a pretty big following over the years, especially after their breakout short "Yellow Fever" hit YouTube. Now, they're setting up to make some pretty big splashes in the Asian American culture scene, and hopefully in more mainstream culture as well. (That's part of my frustration with the whole issue...the glass ceiling is never more apparent than in the entertainment industry. And maybe the NBA.)

Anyway, my little brother entered a contest that Wong Fu is running. The competition's theme is based on a recent Wong Fu short about a "Nice Guy", and encourages participants to riff on the concept that "Nice is never out of style." Check out the video below, and pass it on if you feel like being nice. (Btw, my brother is the one who looks like me, but a man.)

A New Addition to the Family

I've been telling Josh that I feel homesick and in need of comfort, and have been regretting not bringing any of our beloved stuffed friends from the states. He mentioned that maybe we could invest in a Jingjing (the panda fuwa) doll soon, or something else that might catch our fancy.

Well, we had just finished a pretty decent Indian buffet on Sunday afternoon before we walked out into this strange mall and noticed this guy sitting on a shelf:


Behold, Totoro. I've been wanting one of these guys for awhile now, but in the states he's always so expensive. This scruffy yet soft Studio Ghibli version (none of that fake crap that makes Totoro look like some sickly gray second cousin of Garfield) retailed for 120RMB, about $17.50 USD. That's a wonderful deal! I guess "made in China" doesn't always have to be a bad thing. :P

So now our furry friend gets in our way when we sleep at night (if you couldn't tell, he's quite rotund), but we don't mind much. It's a small price to pay for some good childlike comfort. I'm such a baby.

The funny thing is, I'm pretty sure Josh is even more fond of him than I am.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Oh snap...

It has recently come to my attention that I can only snap my fingers with my right hand. I've always thought of myself as having a decent snap. Only to find out, decades later, that I only have a half decent snap. My left hand is more of a light thud. I guess I've mostly just been snapping both hands at once, rather than alternating. I find it odd, too, since I'm left handed in everything else, except apparently, snapping.

I've been working on my left hand technique, with only minor improvement. It's really quite sad. *snap* *thud* *snap* *thud* As far as I can tell, it's all about the placement of the ring finger along the edge of the thumb to maximize contact with the middle finger. Hmm...I'll work on it and keep you posted.

Anyone else had a random / sad realization like this? You might want to check your snaps...maybe you too only have one fully-functional snap.