Saturday, December 19, 2009

Visa Trouble = Non-Vacation

Greetings from Korea!

I went to type in a title, and when I typed "Visa", the auto-complete pulled up a previous title from last year: "Visa Trouble = Vacation". This time, however, there's no fun or games. I'm sitting in the Seoul airport waiting for the check-in to re-open so I can get back through security (the whole hurry up and wait deal).

A lot of our friends have to do this little excursion: 8am flight to Seoul, 6pm flight back. One of our friends has done it so many times that she's got it down to a science. The only real consolation prize is that the Seoul airport has a couple Dunkin' Donuts, which we don't have in Beijing (although Shanghai has some).

This past year we've been lucky enough to have year long visas without max-stay requirements, but now our year's up and it's time to renew. Our renewal starts from the most recent date of entry, so that's what I'm here in Seoul. It's kind of painful to be stuck at an airport in a city/country I've never been to, but M and I were remarking that the fact that we're okay with me doing this visa run rather than some crazy whirlwind trip/vacation is actually a good sign that we've settled into our life in Beijing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Earlier this week, M and I were running late, only to discover that the elevators in out building were broken. Mind you, we live on the 25th floor and were planning to scoot to our appointment. So we had to put the scooter away and run down the stairs (we're so out of shape that our legs were sore for days after).

When we got back that night, one of the elevators had been restored to working order. But the other had some strange pump sucking a brownish liquid out of the shaft.

The next night, the elevator was still broken, and they had this contraption going on.

We had a good laugh. But now that I think about it, I'll be entrusting my life to the efficacy of a hair-dryer on a fuse box the next time I step in that elevaor (which, of course, runs under the faulty assumption that the elevator will eventually be fixed).

Posted via email from Beijing Dou

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Daily Cry

Back when I was in high school, I had a girlfriend who used to have a daily cry with her mom.  When she told me about it, I remember being dumbfounded; at the time, I hadn't cried since I'd lost my pet turtle in elementary school.  On days when there wasn't anything particularly frustrating or sad to cry about, she and her mom would sit down together and think of something really sad until the tears started flowing.  The idea of it all--crying on command as cathartic relief, was beyond foreign to me.

But lately, I've started having a daily cry, and I've gotta tell you, it's fun.  I get my daily cry in every morning on the way to work, sometimes on the way back too.  Basically, it's been so cold and so windy, that riding into the wind on the scooter, my eyes have been watering profusely.  And even though it's not technically crying, there's a certain amount of relief that I get from climbing off the scooter with my eyes glistening, wind-dried tear streaks running down my face.

Maybe the Ex- wasn't so crazy after all.

Posted via email from Beijing Dou

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Backlogged: Halloween

The distant future.  The year 2009.

I know, I know.  This is super late, but since I'm playing around with this email posting service over at Posterous, I thought I'd attach a picture.  And what better way to implement social media innovation than through robots.

Definitely took some inspiration from:

and my late 80s, early 90s childhood.

Posted via email from Beijing Dou

Desperate times...

call for desperate measures.  Trying out this new blogging service over at Posterous since we can't get on Blogger without our VPN on.

Posted via email from Beijing Dou

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just what am I teaching these kids anyway?

So I teach an Intercultural Communications class and as part of the course, we try and make the students aware of stereotypes and prejudices that they may have or may face when going overseas.

I gave them a quiz and as review, I tested them on some key terms that they learned at the beginning of the course.

When asked to define the term stereotype and give an example, one of my students (a gal from Guangdong) came up with this gem:

2. stereotype refers to a selection process that is used to organize and symplify the perception of others. For example, many people think middle east people are terrorism Black always stealing


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

It's weird, normally the fourth Wednesday afternoon in November is a really exciting time. Oh the schoolday buzz of rushing out of school and hopping in the car to drive (through bumper to bumper traffic) to either Phoenix or Moraga to see the grandparents. But I finished work, dodged a couple complaining students and headed home to an empty house (M's on her way home from the airport).

But there is some anticipation too, since we were able to get our hands on a good ol' American turkey. Our small group is crazy enough to attempt all the fixin's too. Cooking a 14 pound turkey, who we've named Kanye (since he's the biggest turkey I know), in an oversized toaster oven should be exciting. We'll let you know how it turns out.

On a random note, I discovered a street vendor outside our house who makes chow mein and chow fun to order. For less than $1. So awesome.

And by way of plug, we're not sure how many of our readers are Beijingers like us, but we wanted to spread the word about the coolest thing in Beijing:

On Demand Pie Delivery Service from the Pie House

Basically, one of our friends is starting a pie baking business. If you live near enough, you can call and have a pie within like 5 hours. That's just freaking awesome. These pies are tasty too, head on over to their site and take a look at those bad boys. So anyway, if you're in town and need a pie in a few hours, who you gonna call?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


So, I've decided that this is as good a time as any to break my blogging hiatus. Why? Because I'm in Taipei (to see my parents), and I don't even have to use the VPN to post on our blog! Whoohoo!

I am also extremely full right now. I stepped off the bus from the airport, dropped off my luggage, and was quickly ushered into a hot pot restaurant that was deeelicious.

Then, four hours later, I found myself having some of the best Thai food I've had in AGES (since, you know, I have lived in Ann Arbor and then Beijing for the past 2+ years...not exactly Thai food meccas).

In those between hours, we walked around the area we're staying in and passed by dozens of places I would want to try... and my dad and I were plotting to not eat too much at dinner so we could come out late at night for noodles at a streetside shop that had us salivating. But that plan failed as soon as the platter of fried shrimp cakes was lowered before my unsuspecting, slightly rotund face at Sukho Thai. Foiled again! Oh well. We'll have to fit the noodles in somewhere. Like in the third stomach I feel my body developing in that lame, unnecessary space between my spleen and pancreas.

Too bad I didn't think to bring my camera cable, so I can't show you pictures of my day here so far. Maybe next time.

Right now, the woman we're staying with is watching that creepy and horrible (15% on Rotten Tomatoes?) Halle Berry flick, Gothika, which appears to be missing its dialogue track, which makes it extra horrible and creepy. That is another reason I've decided to post on this distract myself from otherwise setting off an unfortunate chain of events wherein I end up wetting the bed.

Oh also, part of the reason I titled this post thusly is because just before I left for Taiwan, I sent off the COMPLETED draft of my Thesis ('Are you STILL working on that?') and the forms for my readers to fill out. Now all I have to do is cram and try to get a 5 on the HSK... Do you think I can pull that off if I try to ace the listening and fill-in-the-blank stuff, do mediocre on the reading, and just bomb the writing? Your opinion matters to us. Please wait until the next available associate can take your call.

Sorry this was so random. Too much pressure. And not enough sleep.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thank Goodness It's Fryday

M and I have this not-so-secret dream to start food and/or travel blogs. Which we know sounds kind of lame, since just about everyone else I know dreams of making money from eating and traveling. And the blogosphere is inundated with people who think they are some combination of the following: foodie, good writer, good photographer, good cook. I'm actually only so arrogant as to believe two of those. Nevertheless, we have a bunch of food posts we've been saving up from all the rando stuff we've been making lately. So sit back and enjoy.

The first off is a tradition that goes all the way back to Creston House in Berkeley. Eddy and I made some deep fried sesame balls for Chinese New Year a couple years back, and we didn't want to waste the oil, so we decided to have a Thank Goodness It's Fryday party and fry up some chicken in our extra oil. I love me a good fried chicken. The awesomeness of the idea was further confirmed the following day by a full write-up in the SF Chronicle on how to fry up the tastiest fried chicken. Eddy won the hero award for carving up a total of something like 8 whole chickens. TGIF's breakout success led me to register for a deep fryer when M and I were getting married. And we are very grateful to M's second-cousin-once-removed for gifting it to us. Suffice it to say that the first year we were married, M and I gained a lot of weight.

So when we moved here to Beijing, I was very sad to leave my trusty fryer and the multitude of accessories and gadgets that made it possible. I'm realizing now that part of the reason M and I had such a rough year last year was because we didn't really have an outlet to cook at our tiny studio apartment (which mostly meant we just weren't willing to purchase the stuff we needed because we thought we were staying less than a year). We'd actually end up going over to a friend's house to cook and make a mess; the poor things must have wondered why we were such over-achievers.

So I'm sure you can imagine the abounding joy I experienced when our friends here pooled together for my birthday and bought me a frying kit:

Rather than the cheater electronic fryer I had home, I'd have to get back to my roots and fry up the goods with an aluminum fry pot, basket, and thermometer. Our friends were super generous and rather than buying a rusty wok and a camping stove, like most of the street vendors use to fry up their endless stinky tofu), they went to Pantry Magic. For Beijing prices, Pantry Magic is a little pricey, but these are seriously high quality goods here. M and I can't resist wandering in there whenever we're in the area; it's actually a pretty painful experience because we walk through the store and point out all the stuff that was on our wedding registry and is now in storage back in the States. Oh the pain.

But I digress. After a couple test runs with the fry pot, I was ready to kick off my first International TGIF Party. I wasn't really up to finding a whole chicken to fry (especially since M and I got used to frying up Amish chickens while we were in Ann Arbor. I doubted I could find them here), so I diddled around on the net for some recipes, and finally settled on Wings, Rings, and the requisite fries, for which I usually combine recipes from Alton Brown and America's Test Kitchen. M thought I was crazy because I invited way more people than this little pot should be able to cook for, and she had to go out to her internship studio for a film festival during the day, so I'd be sous-chef-less for the day. Thankfully a few friends were able to come over early to help out, otherwise I would have bitten off way more than I could chew!

I told some people to bring salads so we didn't die that night.

Here are the onion rings, pre-gloriousness:

Brian Chew had the freaking brilliant idea of making a blooming onion. Hellooo! Why didn't I think of that earlier? So he ran downstairs to find the biggest onions he could find:

And subsequently proved that if you want to attract the ladies, all you need is to batter and deep fry a gigantic onion. Notice the creepy dude skulking in the background? He's jealous of the magnetic power of the blooming onion and is plotting to steal it and take over the world.

At this point, I'd like to point out that sometimes there are moments in our lives where we accomplish something so great, so revolutionary, that we realize we've finally 'made it'. Making this blooming onion was one such moment. Of course, Marissa's homemade roasted red pepper aioli definitely helped with the euphoria.

I don't have any sweet pictures of the wings; mostly because they kept disappearing the moment we set them down anywhere. That and whenever we thought of it, our hands always had sauce on them from nibbling on the wings. Thankfully CC had the presence of mind to wash her hands and snap a few shots. Here's an action one for you:

We went with a garlic tabasco buffalo sauce and a tequila barbecue sauce. I believe (the aptly named) Mr. Chew has here the garlic tabasco kind.

Things were getting late, but we had one more trick up our sleeve:

Good donuts are so hard to come by in Beijing. So we finally got fed up and decided to make our own, courtesy of Allrecipes.

We ended up with chocolate glazed, cinnamon-sugar, and powdered donuts. These were tasty little guys and a fantastic end to a wild high-calorie night. The next time I make them, I'll have to be careful with the flour ratios, though, because they were pretty dense. I've seen some recipes for Krispy Kreme textures, so I might just have to try those next time.

All told, we spent over 8 hours frying together: the wings of 50 chickens, several potatoes, three large onions, two humongous onions, and 4 dozen donuts. Another smashingly successful TGIF.

Anyway, I'm sorry I wrote such an epic-poem of a write-up. I promise not every food post will be this involved.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Manty Update

Thought we'd update you guys on our efforts to feed the little guy. A few days after I caught him, I spied a pincer-bug on the ground outside our apartment so I scooped it into a paper cup. The pincer bug started crawling out, and I got squeamish, so I dropped the cup on the ground and stepped on the lid to close it. Unfortunately, I stepped on the bug too, so he died. I threw him in the tupperware anyway to see if I could trick Manty into eating it if I shook the cage, but to no avail.

A few days later, M and I went on a bug hunt outside and found a roly-poly/pillbug. We were pretty excited about this matchup, since the roly-poly is engineered for protection. The mantis circled him a few times, then struck and the roly-poly rolled into a ball. The mantis chewed at the shell a few times and then let him go. We were pretty impressed that the roly-poly's protective measures were so effective, but he promptly crawled into a puddle of water and drowned, so that didn't last long.

Yesterday, I saw something on the ground near my pile of clothes and realized it was a spider (!). M and I quickly caught it, and tried to put it in the tupperware. At some point, we accidentally opened the cage and Manty got out and the spider was crawling around on our table. I ran away screaming, and M had to flip the tupperware over to recapture Manty. Eventually, after much ado, we got the spider into Manty's makeshift home. Manty mostly ignored the spider, which was actually so brave as to crawl around on Manty's legs, which really freaked us out. Eventually, Manty decided to strike, and he struck out at the spider, but the spider got away. When we looked more closely, I noticed that he was munching on something. So I counted the legs on the spider: 7. Aaaaah!

We had to head out to flag football for DC's birthday, so we brought him along. Manty snacked on a couple more of Spidey's legs before the spider just died out of shock. What a cruel cruel bug. While we were out, DC caught and threw a mosquito in there, but Manty ignored him.

So anyway, we haven't had much success feeding him. I think he's really just looking for his freedom, so we may just let him go soon. Just not sure where to let him go, and it's getting cold so I'd hate for him to just die because we left him out in the cold.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Man vs. Wild

M's out of town, which is always exciting. The day she left, I was bumming around on the couch. I tilted my head back to take a drink from my translucent green water bottle, and when I put the bottle down, something was off. The blurry greenness had stayed in my field of vision. I focused on it and realized it was a praying mantis perched atop our bookshelf. I spazzed out and ran out of the room to grab a can of raid, but then I felt bad for the thing and didn't want to kill it. I called up DC over at bbqgrapies and asked him what he would do if, hypothetically, he found a praying mantis on his bookshelf. "Dude, I'd document that for sure. Get your camera." I poked my head out from the kitchen to check, "Uhmm, what would you do if your camera was on the bookshelf too?" We had a good laugh, but DC was really helpful in helping me to not freak out (M makes fun of me because I'm kind of squeamish about bugs and spiders). So I leaned in to take some pictures with my phone. Eventually, I gathered up the courage and decided to capture him, so I went back into the kitchen to get some tupperware and a colander. While in the kitchen, I heard a weird slapping thud noise, and came back out to see him sprawled out on the floor. I guess he'd jumped. He rolled over and started crawling around on the floor. I didn't catch him right away because I didn't want to miss and have him to fly in my face and poke my eyes out, so I let him crawl onto our coffee table and crawl around. Which gave me the chance to retrieve the camera and take some pictures (sorry for the crappy photography):

Eventually he fell off the coffee table and I threw the colander on him. I laughed at myself for feeling so victorious after sneaking around this little harmless bug (although I did measure him, his body's almost 2.5 inches!). I wasn't sure what to do with him, whether to keep him or set him free, so I just left him in there for the day. When I woke up in the morning, he was hanging motionless from the top of his plastic cage, so I shook the colander a little, but he didn't move. I assumed he was dead. But then when I got back later that day, he was moving again, so I transferred him to a tupperware container and poked some holes in the lid.

Later that night, some friends came over and we went on a hunt for some some other insects in my apartment. We found and trapped a mosquito and managed to get him into Manty's tupperware. We watched for several minutes as the mosquito just buzzed around and Manty just sat praying. Then he started licking/washing his hands (hmm those aren't hands, not sure what to call them...knives?), which we thought was very anthropomorphic. Then he washed his legs, which wasn't very anthropomorphic. Out of nowhere, he perked up, and struck out with his knife-arms, seizing the poor mosquito and shoving it into his mouth. He chewed for a second, and then spit out a wing or some kind of mosquito carcass. So awesome.

Later, I told M, and sad that she missed the cage match, she remarked, "For the first time in my life, I can't wait to find a cockroach in our apartment." Hmmm...

If you leave a comment, suggest a good matchup for the mantis. Animal Planet says that a large mantis will take on and eat rodents, birds, and turtles...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Google Voice?

Finally got my Google Voice invite. Trying to route it through a Skypein number, you can test help us test it by giving us a call:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We're back!

A few weeks ago, our trusty (free) Hotspot Shield vpn lost out to the Great Firewall, so that's the reason for the radio silence. M's been wanting to buy a real vpn since we got here; I'd slowly been preparing myself to take the plunge and spend the money, up until today when I just decided to do it.

We've got a bunch of posts rattling in our brains from the past month or so; here's hoping get around to actually posting them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Making of a Bob

So I wanted to post this earlier, but I got into a give a mouse a cookie feedback loop of making pizza dough and then pizza sauce from scratch. Which I'm definitely not complaining about. Basically we had some mozarella brought in from the US and I wanted to make pizza before we finished it, but then we made so much dough that we had to make a bunch of tomato sauce...

I know some of you are wondering, "How did he end up with that haircut when there weren't any votes for it?" So I want to clear the air and dispel those Iranian/Afghanistani-style whisperings of election fraud.

Basically, I put off cutting my hair on Thursday because I realized that a few of us were going to arguably Beijing's best restaurant for their lunch special on Friday. So I had decided to cut it Friday afternoon. After a few last calls for votes, rockstar Chairman Mao was in the lead with three votes. M had been slowly developing a plan for what to do with her vote and the sway that she held over the votes of our friends. One of our friends here had told us this story about the Korean dude she saw with a killer bob, and M's curiosity was piqued. So she last-minute rallied our Beijing friends to vote for the pageboy bob. It bears mentioning that one of the garnered votes was with the understanding that M cutting the bob for me would be good practice for if she wants to cut bobs for her girlie friends. Hmmm...

M had the camera on a long exposure so I tried that shot where you whip your face back and forth.

I call this shot: Crying Shame

In action


Before she cut the bangs.


It only lasted a couple days, but oh what a few days. In those two days, I had to go into my old job, let them know I was quitting and still teach a full day, then Sunday I went to church and then back to work. We cut it Sunday night because I had my new job on Monday morning. Now it's just some kind of normal haircut while we wait until the National holiday (Oct 1) to do something outrageous again.

Most of my students, and some of the Chinese teachers were just in shock. Bear in mind, the majority of these students had never seen me get a haircut and I come in with that. "What does this haircut mean to you?" I asked some of them. "Office-lady" came the response. Most of the younger students just blurted out that I looked even more like a girl (which they already called me anyway), and some of them just laughed and called it ugly. I like to think they were part of my little social experiment. But really that's just what I told myself so I wouldn't go running to the bathroom in tears with the trauma of it all. Good times.

Friday, September 11, 2009

And the winner is...

Here comes the cut

Last chance to get your vote in. I know some of you have been paralyzed by the possibilities. But break out of it and just vote already.

I've got stuff going on tomorrow in the afternoon, but afterward, I'm going to take the plunge. So you've got about 12 hours to 11th-hour vote.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Democracy is here.

Those of you who've known me for a while must have figured out by now that I have a strong inclination toward weird and terrible hairstyles. It started when I was younger, but really bloomed in college, when my parents were living on the other side of the world. I would shave my head at the beginning of the summer, forget to cut it for six or seven months, then do something crazy with it in the spring. Then I'd shave my head again and start over. Basically: rinse, lather, repeat. One year I had a mullet, which digressed into a rat-tail, and the next year I got a perm and went from jheri curl to clown hair.

And as you've probably guessed, it's that time again. It's been a year since I last cut my hair, and I can safely say that this is the longest my hair has ever been. I've been fighting an uphill battle, too, because I've had to endure all my students laughing at me or calling me "a girl". Which I find strange, since I see plenty of guys with long-hair, but, admittedly, they're all mostly the same type of guy. Which would explain why most Chinese adults automatically assume I'm some kind of artist or musician because of my long hair. Because my original haircut last September had been some kind of funky layer, when my hair grew out, I started to take on a strong resemblance to one late entertainer's later years. Some of my friends convinced their kids to call me "Jacko Shu shu," or Uncle Jacko. Ha ha...

M has really been a trooper throughout all of this. She gives me a hard time about it by saying that she's shown her true love by enduring the mullet and the clown hair, and that she should only have to take so much of this madness. A few weeks ago, M was trying to convince me to cut my hair, and I confessed that I was kind of sick of it and wanted to cut it, but that there was just too much pressure. "What do you mean?" she asked, to which I blurted out, "Well, I'm just such a...block of marble!" M had a good laugh at that, but she knew exactly what I meant. Since this is the longest I've ever had my hair, the possibilities are virtually endless. I've been thinking for week and I just can't make up my mind. Should I go for the Asian pop star look? Or the crazy crimped style that's all the rage here in Beijing right now? I could revisit the fro or the mullet, or go for the (just checked the length) 22cm mohawk.

And then I realized, I don't have to decide. I can do this democratically. Unfortunately, I've put this off for too long, so I don't have much time. I'm starting a new job with a department at Tsinghua, and I kind of have to look professional for class. Basically, Wednesday and Thursday I have some introductory classes, and then I start next week, so I've only got a few days to rock a really terrible hairstyle. My weekend classes will be in for a treat though.

So here are the rules. I will accept one vote per person in the comment field of this post. Voting will close right before I get my haircut, which will probably be Thursday afternoon. Anonymous comments will not be counted unless you specifically state who you are. You are welcome to look up sample pictures and link to them in your comments. And feel free to comment more to try and convince others. M will probably try and sway all of you to vote for some very professional clean-cut hairstyle, but don't listen to her. She has to live with it. And if you just randomly stumbled upon this, or were sent a link by a friend, feel free to vote even if you don't know me. In the event of a tie, I reserve the right to make the final decision.

My commitment to you: I will document the process and post the post-haircut pictures. I will try and keep the style for as long as I can before I have some kind of function where it would be inappropriate.

Here's what you have to work with:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Literacy Motivators

Well, last post is a tough post to follow. So I haven't been too sure what to write next.

By way of news, I've finished up Summer Camp, which means all the things I've been putting off until work was done are now catching up to me. I've got some cleaning to do, emails to send, but more importantly, I'm starting my career as an author today.

Which isn't entirely true. Mostly I've just decided to try and be an author, and I'm starting to write this week. So it's not really a career yet, since nobody's given me any money.

I may actually put up a second blog for stuff I'm working on, so stay tuned on that one.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the things that inspire me toward literacy:

Salty Soda and Lime Green Tea Mentos Gum.

Random, I know.

But, as most of you know, I'm mostly illiterate when it comes to reading Chinese, so when I'm out and am buying some kind of new product, I'm very in the dark as to what it actually is. Most of the time it's not that big of a deal, but I had a couple jarring accidental purchases.

Salty Soda: 7-11 got in this new soda from a brand that I recognized, with the picture of a refreshing lemon on the front. It looked decent, so I bought it, but discovered upon drinking it that it was actually salty. Hmm. It wouldn't be so bad if M and I hadn't done that Lemonade Cleanse a few years ago, complete with the salt-water flush in the mornings. It's a long and exciting story involving some very urgent trips to the toilet. So the combination of lemon and salt-water made me feel like I was back on the cleanse, which was unpleasant to say the least. When I took the bottle home to show M, she pointed out that right on the front of the bottle it says "Salty Soda!" in Chinese. Ah. Good to know.

Lime Green Tea Gum: And then a few days later, I'd had too much garlic and onion for lunch, so I went looking for some gum to buy. Mentos seemed safe enough, so I bought the green stuff, which looked like spearmint to me. But alas, not so. I had M try it and we couldn't quite pin down the flavor(s) until she read the label for me. Lime and Green Tea. Hmm. Actually this gum wasn't really that bad, just weird. The salty soda on the other hand...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(On) A More Sober Note

Living in Beijing for the past year has, for the most part, been a very safe experience. There are, of course, the ever-present fears of pickpockets or becoming a victim of vehicular maiming and dismemberment, but overall, it's a safe city. One of our Chinese friends once quoted a Chinese proverb to the effect of "No one tries anything at the foot of the emperor," as her explanation that Beijing was indeed quite safe.

On Sunday evening, some of the guys in my small group and I were heading out to grab some food when we noticed a crowd gathering outside the gate of an apartment complex. As we approached, it looked like a man was beating a three-wheel cart with a wrench. The four of us slowly realized the horror of the situation, and ran up to see what was really going on. We were pretty sure that there was a guy in the cart; we couldn't see him from our angle, but he must have been beat up pretty bad. As we ran closer, the guy with the wrench and his two friends threw a few parting kicks at the guy in the cart, and took off running. The injured man stood up, covered in blood, and stumbled his way toward some of the bystanders, who tried to convince him to sit down and wait for the police to come. Meanwhile, dozens of Chinese onlookers just stood around gaping in shock. A police vehicle and ambulance drove past, but the police took several minutes to actually arrive on scene. My friends and I left the scene, unsure whether we could actually help by getting involved.

The experience was surreal. Maybe it's that I've seen so many Chinese movies with this exact situation that when it actually does happen in real life, it's hard to believe it's real. Or that I never expected to be a witness to something like this and feel so helpless about it. I don't know how the system works and I can barely blurt out a full Chinese sentence. I wasn't even sure which of the four emergency numbers to call.

It's been a few days since the incident, and I've noticed that my experience of the city has changed. Maybe it's overly dramatic to say it, but it was traumatic. Is the city still (generally) safe? Yes. But for months I've had the impression that most Beijing residents live with latent anger management issues, simmering until some final straw brings the rage to a boil. A shouting match on the side of the road as two angry drivers argue about who is at fault. Vendors arguing over prime street positions to sell their wares.

My entries are usually pretty light-hearted. For me, humor can contribute to just about any situation. But this experience has left me sobered. I wasn't really sure how to write this up without having it be a jarring transition from most of my (not so) recent entries, but I'm coming to realize that as we keep this blog about our experiences here in Beijing, these awkward incongruities will happen. If only because urban life (especially life in a city which is at once so very prosperous and desperate, hilarious and horrific, pragmatic and absurd) is itself so full of these switchbacks and surprises.

So there you have it: a more sober note. And a commitment to be honest with you about life in this city, be it comic or tragic.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


I was scootering to work the other day and something fell out of a tree into my lap, landing with an ominous thud. Then it rolled out of my lap and fluttered away. I was going pretty fast, so I didn't get a clear look at it. But, I'm pretty sure it was a bird.

Scooters are awesome!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Beans in the Plastic Bubble

I've been saving this post for a few weeks, slowly figuring out in my head what to write. It's that awesome, so I hope I can do it justice.

Basically, about a month ago, M and I were dorking around on Facebook when she spotted some strange video on one of our Chinese friend's wall. She had filmed someone inside of a large plastic bubble rolling around on top of a large kiddie pool. Using her razor-sharp detective skills, M realized where the pool was: the U Center mall right in Wudaokou. We both looked at each other and yelled out, "We have to try this!" For us, it was just another one of those China experiences that you accumulate.

I was really worried that the event would close up shop, so I kept going by the U Center to find out when I could seal myself into one of these floating hamster balls. The security guards and cleaning ladies told me that it was only open from 4-7. Why someone would take the time to blow up a giant kiddie pool but only have it open three hours a day is beyond me...

So a couple Fridays ago, I had the day off, and I told myself: "The one thing I have to do today in order to call my day a success is get in that plastic bubble." I waited around all morning and afternoon, until around four, my friend Jeremy and I biked over to the U Center (stopping by Mcdonalds on the way to have a couple chicken wings and a coke). We could see the event organizers getting set-up, but they hadn't gotten started yet. We ran up to get in line, but they told us they were still waiting for some power and wouldn't start until 4:30. At which point, I made one of the more stupid decisions of my adult life. Right in front of the U Center, there was a little shack and patio with beer on tap, so Jeremy and I decided to have a beer while we waited for the bubbles to open. It ended up being a really crappy beer that didn't sit well, especially since I chugged it in anticipation of climbing in that crazy ball. Finally, a little after 5, they had all the extension cords they needed to pump up these balls and get started. By this time, I was experiencing a weird mixture of hype and disappointment. Weird, I know, I'm not really sure how it happens.

I climbed in first, and sat roasting in this plastic ball while 5 Chinese men tried to figure out how to pump it and then zip it really quickly before it deflated some. I'm pretty sure it took a good 10-15 minutes for them to figure it out. Right around then, M ran up and snapped a picture of me pretending to be an American (err Chinese?) Gladiator.

Finally, the ball was pumped and zipped, and they pushed me on my merry way. I wandered away to get my bearings while Jeremy was zipped into his ball. A crowd of Chinese people had gathered to watch and document the craziness. A number of them began picking up the floating plastic fruit that was bobbing in the pool and flinging them at my bubble, so as I walked around the pool, I kept hearing these echoing Zinging noises as lemons and pears ricocheted off my plastic force-field.

The water wasn't actually that deep, so my feet would kind of touch the ground, which struck me as a little dangerous, since if I fell on my head, it would pretty much just smack the concrete, slightly protected by a couple layers of plastic. But it wouldn't be a Chinese Bubble Party without a little bit of head-trauma risk, now would it? I got up the courage to try some acrobatics, and promptly ate it:

Once Jeremy was ready, I attacked him. Apparently, bubble dueling is a really interesting sport. I floated my way over to his bubble, put my hands against the wall of mine and then pushed them down really hard, making both our bubbles spin. I knocked him over a few times since he hadn't quite figured out how to keep his balance, but then he quickly learned and knocked me over quite a bit.

Eventually, M got suited up in her bubble, and the three of us spent a few minutes attacking each other.

After a particularly strenuous burst of energy, I was knocked over and found myself lying at the bottom of the bubble gasping for air. Whether it was the heat, the exertion, or the fact that I'd probably converted most of the available oxygen in my bubble into carbon-dioxide, I could only gasp little shallow breaths of air. Dizzy and disoriented, I fumbled my way over to the corner and the security guards unzipped the bubble and let me out. I stumbled around on dry land for a couple minutes while M and Jeremy finished up. The whole time, that stupid line from the Matrix kept running through my head: "He's gonna pop!" (Freakin' Cypher).

Here's what I've been trying to figure out how to write. How can I describe to you how utterly foreign and disorienting being in that ball was? I was simultaenously experiencing vertigo, seasickness, asphyxiation, dizziness, heat stroke, over-exertion, dehydration, and mild tipsiness. It was a pretty warm summer day, so the inside of the ball was really hot (and echo-y), and since the ball was always moving, we were basically constantly running in order to stay up. So I came out of the ball really really nauseous. I walked around for a bit, but was too dizzy to walk straight, so I ended up sitting down to try and cool off. M and J were out of their bubbles and came over to see how I was doing. I think because I'd been in their the longest, I was the most oxygen deprived out of the three of us. I started to feel better, so we headed over to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for dinner, but every few minutes I'd get hit with another wave of nausea and have to sit down for a bit. M ended up doing all the shopping while I waited for her outside. On the way out, I felt really sick again, so I decided I'd just go to the bathroom and vomit so I didn't have to worry about it. I went into the bathroom and puked a little bit, while the cleaning dude watched in dismay. It wasn't that much, but I felt tons better.

Anyway, later when I had to tell my friends the story, they asked me if I'd do it again. And the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Although next time without the beer, or chicken wings, or coke.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rabbit's Revenge

A few months ago, M and I dropped in on a dinner with some of her Michigan classmates, but we didn't get a chance to eat, since we were eating with other friends after. But the food they ordered looked really delicious, so when our friend Steven came through town on his way back to the states, we thought we'd take him back to this Sichuan restaurant for his Last Supper in China.

And, since it was his last supper, we decided to try something crazy. We flipped through the menu looking for crazy things, finally deciding on Goat tripe. But alas, they were sold out (?!). So we settled on Spicy Fried Rabbit's Legs. I know rabbit isn't a China-only food, since most of us grew up reading about people eating rabbit on a spit in old-time England and America, but it was the weirdest thing on the menu that we actually wanted to eat (or wasn't prohibitively expensive).

When the dish came, I had us all pick a piece, name it after a famous rabbit, and then all take a bite together. After which, we all promptly coughed from the painfully spicy peppers, since, as most of you know, Sichuan food is some of the spiciest food in China. Over the course of the meal, we ate Roger, Peter, Buster, Bugs, Babs, and the rabbits from Watership Down whose names I couldn't remember.

Unfortunately, I have a suspicion that naming the rabbit legs probably put is in the negative with the karma department because the next day, the three of us were all feeling the effects of "Rabbit's Revenge". Spicy in, spicy out. Oh well, I still don't regret it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

From the Outside

Well, I'll just go ahead and say it: Happy Fourth of July. Ours is already over, but yours should just be beginning (not that I expect our American readers to just instantly read this once I post it).

M and I were reflecting on how different our last July 4th was. Last year, the rain seeding reached a peak on the Fourth, resulting in one of the worst rains we've ever been caught out in. After retreating back to our dorms, we decided to brave the rain with our friend to meet up with some of her friends, eventually ending up in a small Spanish-style bar in a hipsterized hutong, watching newfound acquaintances pound a couple racks of home-brewed tequila shots.

We weren't planning on doing anything too special this year, as I had to work and M and I both had some volunteering to do. However, somehow by accident, I bought mostly American today: 7-11 and Mcdonald's for breakfast and lunch.

So after I got off work, I kind of kept the streak going by heading to Lush (24 hour pancakes, burgers, beer, hookahs, you name it. It's like an always open ex-pat homesick remedy) for their discounted burgers. Plus, I'd heard through the grapevine that a couple of our friends were going to be playing some music, so we decided to stick around and check it out. Although the patriotism in the bar was often drunkenly over the top (three guys, arms linked, free hands raising beers toward the American flag, slurring the words to American Pie), it was surprisingly cheering. Despite all the crap She gets, America's a great place to have been born and raised. These days it just isn't that cool to be American, China not being an exception, so taking a day out for Freedom was refreshing. Especially when it involves rowdy singalongs of heartland favorites: the Star Spangled Banner, Sweet Home Alabama, American Pie, etc. Jason and Kanene are freaking rockstars.

But my ultimate favorite part? Marissa's awe-inspiring dramatic performance of the Presidential speech from Independence Day. Epictacular. Really makes me want to kick some alien butt.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Evolution of Transport

One of the major status symbols in Beijing is your mode of transportation. It starts with a bike or taking the bus, then goes to subway, cabs, scooters/motorcycles, all the way up to the really nice cars (the black audi being one of the more popular ones).
We've been climbing the ladder, slowly coming up in the world. We started out with some pretty junky second hand bikes (given to us by some very kind friends who were leaving the city), then one of our friends went back to the US and hooked us up with a Giant. These are like the expat-workhorse bikes, although a lot of Chinese people ride them too. Every once in a while I see some Chinese guy in all the competitive spandex wearing one of those futuristic helmets on a Giant roadbike. So awesome.
Anyway, so M had been riding her Giant bike and we'd been living the high life, but it wasn't enough for me. A few of my friends back in the states are Vespa enthusiasts, and I was always way jealous of them. When my Ford Taurus was dying, I almost bought an old restored Vespa off Craigslist. I even went to their place, cash in hand, to buy it, but they changed their mind at the last minute. The anticipation from that failed transaction has left me with a scooter complex. So everytime we'd go to Wudaokou and see all the Korean students cruising around on their electric scooters, I'd long for one of those glorious vehicles.
Fortunately for me, M is a sucker for all things vehicular. She loves train-rides, planes (originally had this as plains...sad that I'm an English teacher), cars, and even scooters. So it didn't take too much convincing for her to go along with it. We paid around $300US for the standard 2 seater "Korean Student" model. I haven't gotten any real pics, but here's my haphazard/artsy shot from our maiden voyage:

It's great being able to scoot around, but it's also a little freaky. Whizzing through Beijing traffic at 35km/h can be nerve-wracking at times. We're living life on the edge here :p. Full freaking throttle.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Nation of Rubberneckers

One of the biggest culture shocks for us and our friends here is the amazingly robust curiosity of people here. Everywhere you go there are pockets of people with their hands carefully tucked behind their backs, waists slightly bent, peering at something or other. Could be an open manhole, or a woman having a seizure (biked past this the other week), or an old woman taking her pet razorback hog for an evening stroll (also an actual event). Often when M and I get on the subway and speak in English, people sitting around will just sit and stare. I guess they have nothing better to do. So I've started staring back. Usually I lose.

Also, last week, M and I were playing Lumines on my PSP and this man was fully leaning over her shoulder watching us play. A spot on the wall opened up, so we moved over there. I could see him craning his neck trying to keep watching, but we were too far away, so I made a comment to M, "That guy's bummed he can't watch you play anymore." A few seconds later, he popped up over M's shoulder to watch for the rest of the ride.

So when I casually mentioned to M, "Hey, I think my next post will be A Nation of Rubberneckers," she threw me a sidelong glance and said, "Subway last night?":

A few weeks ago, we noticed that they had razed our nearby morning vegetable market and started digging an enormous hole. Like one square block big and like 50 feet deep. There all sorts of crazy cranes, drills, earth-movers all digging furiously. When I got back from work that day, I noticed about a dozen people just standing at the subway entrance, which is perched right on the edge of the hole, idly watching the work. Apparently, when M got home an hour later, there were still about a dozen people peering into the hole.

So when a couple days ago I saw these guys standing around, I decided to snap a shot.

Because we live in a nation of rubberneckers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Blogger went down over here a few weeks ago, and then in the past few days, Twitter has been blocked...I guess June 4th is coming up, a too little emotionally charged for the big guys.

Hopefully this won't hurt our blogging frequency too much more can it take?

For now, I have to use Hotspot Shield to post. Kind of a pain; Hotspot Shield is extremely and unpleasantly spammy.

Oh, China.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Frog Legs

We had an exciting dinner last night with M's cousin Allen, and our friends Liz and Will. The five of us were feeling adventurous, so we thought we'd try some bull-frog legs in our hotpot. When they came out, though, we got more than just the legs. We've had frog before, but seeing this beauts really took me back to biology class, which was uncomfortable at first. But, we all got past it and enjoyed the amphibian taste: half chicken, half fish. Yumm.

Friday, May 22, 2009

2 Years is a Long Time

Tuesday was our 2 year wedding anniversary. It's been a wild ride these past couple years, mostly because of our living situations, not so much because our marriage is troubled. 3 months in Berkeley, 9 months in Ann Arbor, a month back in California, and now almost a year here in Beijing. Suffice (it) to say, we are not big fans of moving right now. We celebrated our first anniversary at Niagara on the Lake, a sleepy tourist town in Canadian wine country just outside of the Falls. This anniversary was a little bit of a contrast.

Originally, we had wanted to plan a trip, but we decided to just use the money to eat nice food instead. M was craving steak; thereby confirming the wisdom of my decision to marry her. So, after some deliberation about which steakhouse to go to, we headed off to the fairly new Grange, inside the Westin.

M gazes pensively off into space, unsure of whether to order the tenderloin or the ribeye.

My hair is extremely long.

We went with the 200 day aged Australian stockyard ribeye with a half lobster, and some delicious sides.

After a couple months without steak, this one was glorious. The flavors of age meat are really complex and surprising. Honestly, my favorite part was their mustard bar; this place has over fifteen mustards, most of them house-made. I went with four different kinds: Guinness, horseradish, honey and champagne, and wasabi. For whatever reason, I used to hate mustard as a kid, but now I love it.

M and I were curious whether Grange's steak would hold up against the awesome steak we had at the fabled SALT a couple months ago.

You can't really see the chunk of meat in this picture, but it's there. And trust me, it was a tasty steak (hiding behind basil mashed potatoes, by the way. Deliciousness). Much juicier than grange, a softer texture and Grange's medium rare was a little closer to medium.

Sorry, I got sidetracked. Anyway, so Grange was an incredible meal, no doubt, but it was pricier than SALT. There's something to be said for SALT winning Editor's pick for best value from The Beijinger. Sure, the 198rmb for three courses seems a bit steep, but the food is spot-on and I do love dessert. (For their record, their scallop app had the best scallops I've had in years)

There you have it, two restaurant reviews in one.

May God grant us many more anniversaries to come, and lots of yummy meals to celebrate them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy Mather's Day

It's hard being away from our family, especially on holidays like this one. We're on a one way ticket, so who knows when we'll see them next! We did get to see M's family in March, which was great, but it's been a while since I've seen my family. So sad.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mind in the Gutter

China has an interesting solution to things it doesn't want you to see: walls. During the Olympics, often they would be oversize Olympic mottos and pictures of the Fuwa. However, near my work, across the street from some crazy mall, there's a section that's just blocked off by some corrugated tin. Usually when I walk by this area, it stinks, but the other week, it was particularly bad. As I walked past, I noticed people coming the other way with their hands over their mouths, which meant it was either really bad or nothing to worry about. I got worried. Especially when I looked ahead and saw some weird dribbling coming down from the wall and onto the sidewalk. I gave the dribblies a wide berth, especially as the pieces started coming together. Color seemed to be a mix between brown and yellow, consistency appeared to be both liquid and solid, seemed to be coming from a shack on the other side of the wall.


All I know is: that guy in the back, strolling leisurely with his hands tucked behind his back, is in for an unpleasant surprise if he keeps looking off to his left like that (and doesn't utilize his sense of smell).

I just had to share it with you all.

(PS: I like how M took the time to put together a really attractive fun post, even editing and cropping pictures, etc. All I can do is take some poopie pictures with my iphone and tack on a couple snarky remarks.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Beans Play Host (or, Florence Tries All Manner of Street Food)

So, we got back from Shanghai last Friday and had a couple more days with Flo & Preston before they headed back to the states. The apartment feels so empty now without two extra bodies.

J and I passed out after dropping the kids off at the airport...almost a month straight of marathon hosting can really wear you out. But hey, that's how we roll. And between the fun of seeing family and good friends, and all the amazing food we've been eating, we really can't complain. :)

I thought I'd post some pics of our time with our guests here, but I should point out how funny it is that every group of people we host has very different ideas about what they "have to see." For my parents, it was random cultural or historical stuff (they'd been before, so no Wall or Forbidden City for them), and for Flo it was all about re-creating moments she saw on travel shows with Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain. Preston's non-negotiable was Shanghai. Hehe. Anyway, here are some pics from our adventures:

Part I: The Mais

We squeezed into three-wheelers.
From Beijing Dou

Then let my dad pretend to wheel my mom around.
From Beijing Dou

Took them to Houhai,
From Beijing Dou

where we fed them candied Haw on a stick (you know those little round flakes we used to eat as kids? These are the fruit they come from!).
From Beijing Dou

We ate lots of yummy food.
From Beijing Dou

Visited the Bird's Nest, of course.
From Beijing Dou

We took them to the zoo...
From Beijing Dou

Where they all saw pandas for the first time!
From Beijing Dou

Andrew, the budding filmmaker, captured colonial architecture in Tianjin.
From Beijing Dou

And of course, we took them to get foot massages...
From Beijing Dou

which I'm pretty sure was their favorite part. I mean, look at 'em.
From Beijing Dou

Part II: Floston

Preston had been to Beijing before, but this was Flo's first time on the mainland. So, we did some of the usual things.

Like take goofy pics
From Beijing Dou the Forbidden City.
From Beijing Dou

No pictures of the Great Wall, because I sent Floston on the Boot Camp Great Wall Tour From Hell. I'll save that story for another post. In fact, maybe I'll let Florence tell it as a guest post. ;)

In Shanghai, we walked the underground tunnels...
From Beijing Dou

to the Bund.
From Beijing Dou

And had dinner in an old train station.
From Beijing Dou

(Sorry, this is me playing with my crappy iPhoto effects, because the color of this photo was all out of whack.)

It was all good and fun, but we all know the real focus of their trip (besides the shopping) was...

Street Food!!!
From Beijing Dou

Flo was OBSESSED! So, we ate meatballs filled with more meat, and soup.
From Beijing Dou

Preston tried Josh's fried potato-egg thing.
From Beijing Dou

And Flo fell in love with these candied strawberries on a stick (same stuff we fed my parents, but with strawberries, which for some reason are especially sweet and juicy here).
From Beijing Dou

In Shanghai, we had little soup buns,
From Beijing Dou

and big soup buns,
From Beijing Dou

and everybody's favorite, STINKY TOFU!!
From Beijing Dou

We also had these amazing shengjian bao (fried meat-filled buns topped with fresh scallion and sesame seeds) that I'm now kicking myself for not capturing on camera. They were so YUM.


Anyway, so that's how we've been spending our time.

Now, who wants to visit?? :)