Tuesday, December 26, 2006


First up here's a great blog post about christmas in China, from the 'far better China blog than mine' Adventures of the Humanaught

And now, on with our irregularly scheduled programming:

My first christmas in China was a cocktail of:
  • Beer and Fried Chicken with Anshan's American/Cameroonian community
  • Lasagne
  • Haggis
  • A wet bed
Yep, courtesy of Lucas, I am now the proud owner of a can of Scotland's finest tinned haggis:


Apparently Lucas swore to his mother that it would come in handy here in China, and couldn't face the thought of her seeing him unpack it when he returns to the US next week. We decided it should be passed on to some other lucky English Language Teacher when I leave. We have started a Chinese Canned Haggis gifting tradition.

Returning to my apartment later in the evening, I discovered a less welcome gift, courtesy of Chinese plumbing. A pipe in the ceiling of my apartment had burst, a pipe that just so happened to be directly above my bed. After stripping back my sodden sheets, I discovered that my lower most mattress, that sits on the plywood bed base, was reasonably dry.

Upon this mattress is writ: "Extra firm steel springs for strong and firm body support" Basically its a quilted slab of granite (it also says "Fashion Peality and Fashion Beauty" and, for no discernible reason, "email" and "www.com"). So my bed last night was that, a sleeping bag, and my living room floor (or as I like to call it now "the room that isn't full of water of unknown cleanliness and origin").

This tale has a happy epilogue: This morning I was awoken by workmen coming to inspect my pipes for imminent explosion (which was well timed because the entire left side of my torso had gone numb, half an hours more sleep on that mattress and I might've lost a limb). They insisted that I leave my keys with them so they could lock up afterwards, promising to leave them in the security office. When I returned from class that morning, under-dressed for the barrage of snow that had showed up a day late, the security office was locked and my keys nowhere to be found, so instead of lunch I got to stand around in the snow cursing under my breath and fighting to keep starvation, exhaustion and hypothermia at bay (not to mention a severe outbreak of melodrama).

So there you go folks, my christmas gift to you is a happy heaping helping of schadenfreude.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I wish you all a

merry christmas

Observation: Getting up at 7am to work on Christmas day sucks. I much prefer the traditional gluttony and getting stuff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Scenes from a Shenyang Shop

Taken with my PDA, so apologies for the poor quality



PS: Not a pet store.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Santa, Me, and the Qing Dynasty

Today I went to Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province. Lonely Planet's write-up on the city begins "At first glance, Shenyang may be a hard city to love."

Sounds about right. 3.5 million people, none of whom seem to be in the traffic policing or town planning trades.

Anyway, Shenyang does have a pretty good Jiaozi (dumpling) restaurant, and a supermarket/wholesalers called 'Metro' that stocks western treats these eyes have not seen in many moons. Here is my swag:


Yes that is the original Transformers series in its entirety on DVD. Well spotted. Only $2 US as well.

And here's me, Santa, and a 400 year old Qing Dynasty Palace.


It was -16 degrees celsius today. Pretty nippy. I still haven't broken out my 'last resort' duck-down jacket yet. I'm saving that for when it gets cold.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


When I signed on for this job, I was promised that I would have access to a kitchen, with microwave, stove etc. While these things were provided, the fact that they were all covered in about an inch of filth and dust meant that I haven't really taken advantage of them (except for one time I tried to make popcorn and the kernels BURST INTO FLAME. Those of you that know me well will have seen me make popcorn under the most extreme circumstances of intoxication and lack of sleep, and that has never ever happened before).

Anyway, 3 months in, I'm starting to get pretty sick of eating at the cafeteria and the same three restaurants day after day. Not to mention mishaps like accidentally ordering stomach, or pig liver like I did today (the perils of buying food from small blurry photographs). So yesterday I decided to roll up my sleeves and, arming myself thusly:


I made an attack on this:




Three hours later, I arrived at this:


(I have no idea what that cabinet thing on the right is for. The only english on it is a button saying 'ozone'. My current theory is that its a Doomsday Device of some sort)


He cleans! But will he cook? time will tell. A few more brushes with surprise organ meals and I'll be in there every damn day.

PS: If you don't get the title reference, you need to watch this

Sunday, December 10, 2006

My favourite mistranslation so far

On the vertical row machine at the gym:



I sure hope I selected the proper station.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Further musical and culinary adventures

So yesterday I was informed that there was to be an English speaking competition at the school that evening, and that I was invited to attend (andohyeahcanyousingasongforustoo?that'dbegreatthanks). The topics the students had to choose from were "Success through Brain Power" (which all of about 3 students opted for) and "what happiness means to me". A lot of the kids seemed to have copied from the same book/website/whatever so most of them were pretty boring, a notable exception being when one girl ended her speech (“what happiness means to me”) with "If god calls on me to die for the motherland I will do so without hesitation".


Anyway, I was asked to do a song, and managed to belt out my trusty version of 'Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town' despite the school band's well meaning but woeful attempts to play along and to mic my acoustic guitar (resulting in some ear bleeding feedback, but not deterring the mic holder in the least, until I pretty much swatted him away).

All that out of the way (one of my students won), I was invited to dinner with the rest of the English Faculty, where I was asked "what kind of food do you like?" I gave my standard "whatever, I like to try new things" reply. A phrase to be used with caution in China.

Amongst the more standard delights of pig skin jelly and sheep's blood cubes, there was a plate of these guys:


Silkworm Pupae. Not bad. Pretty much just confirmed my theory that anything deep fried and appropriately spiced is edible. The taste was kind of peanuty, but not very distinctive. The shells were crunchy. I find it helps not to think about the words 'worm' or 'pupae' too much whilst eating.

The highlight of the dinner (deep fried insects aside) was the presence of the English Department's Party Secretary (I didn't realise we had one, but, you know, Communism) who was chastising everyone for not properly draining their beer glasses when toasts were made. Some rules need to be enforced. I of course didn't need reminding of this particular protocol.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Journey to Peter Burger

You know sometimes, when you're sitting in your warm, comfortable apartment, talking to westerners via the internet, listening to western music (the latest Mint Chicks album. It's great. Buy it), you can almost forget that you're in China.

Then you decide that you need some lunch so you venture outside forgetting that its ten degrees below zero and that the three high schools across the road are getting out for lunch so there's a million kids on the street all shouting 'hello!' at you and a taxi driving on the footpath tries to kill you and some store down the road is letting off dynamite to celebrate something or other and when you get to the burger place for an ultimately unsatisfying but occasionally necessary fix of western stomach-filler some old lady tries to elbow in front of you in line (and you let her) and they're playing that one Richard Marx song at full volume on a loop so by the time you get your order you're praying that whoever it is he is right here waiting for would just show the hell up already and then on your way back to your apartment you almost slip on the cruddy black stuff that used to be snow that's built up on all the footpaths.

China - every day's a carnival.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What's in a Name? (Round Two)

Have you ever thought about how funny it would be if you went to some far-flung country and found out that your name meant something rude/offensive/funny in the local lingo?

Well, today I discovered this:

ben stupid

You'd think that in three months, somebody might have told me. Till now, I've been using this one:

ben root

But I think I'm going to switch. Also my surname 'Shaw' sounds a bit like 'xiao' which means 'Young'. (Respect and status in China are mostly predicated on how old you are.)

So everytime I introduce myself, I'm basically saying I'm young and stupid.

If the shoe fits...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

To Everybody in the Southern Hemisphere

Enjoy your impending summer.



Also, in case any of you lie awake at night wondering "Why does Ben keep his hair so short?", here's your answer:


I'm embracing the crazy right now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The drinking party. And the consequences thereof.

Copious quantities of seafood (including these)


Many many glasses of baiju


A massage from a burly Chinese Man


I doubt I'll be welcome in that particular bathhouse again.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The not-so-great wall of Liaohua

Well folks, I've managed to find a way back into blogger that runs at a reasonably usable speed (using about four different proxy type things in unison – I have no idea what any of it does, but seems to work.) So anyway, Internet police kicking in my front door and dragging me off to Internet jail notwithstanding, I should be able to post a bit more regularly now. Hopefully I can post the back-log of comments that I wasn't able to put up either.

And now, onto today's scheduled entertainment:

So I bought a bike a couple of weeks ago, as a handy means of getting round in Liaoyang, which is pretty flat and sprawling. Once you forget about such quaint western notions as 'helmet' 'lights' and 'road rules' its a nice way to see the city. For a change of scene, Paul, Andrew and I decided last weekend to head to Liao Hoa, which is a sort of village about 40 minutes (by bike) south of Liaoyang proper. So we set out, on a gentle incline into a slight, but persistent headwind. Me on my fancy schmancy mountain bike with such trimmings as gears and things, Paul and Andrew on the more traditional, fixed gear Chinese style workhorse. Suffice to say several kilometers and a bunch of gear changes later, I was glad I spent the extra 100 or so RMB.

We passed a small war cemetery on the way (not sure which war) which was fairly interesting, and the skeleton of a pretty huge stadium that they're building out in the fields. For what? I have no idea, there was a suggestion that some of the Football games in the Olympics might be played down the road in Shenyang, so maybe they'll be using it for training or some such. If so, Liaoyang's got some cleaning up to do.

Anyway, Liao Hoa.

There's a saying in China that you aren't truly a man until you have walked on the great wall. By this reckoning, I figure I'm now about 1/100th of man. Liao Hoa, in a typically Chinese attempt at getting the punters in, decided to build a sort of mini-Great Wall a couple of years back. Also in typical Chinese fashion, it seems that they sunk a whole lot of money into building the wall, furnishing it with a lovely asphalt car park, hedge maze, and crazy "Animals of the Zodiac Statuary Petting Zoo", then totally lost interest and/or ran out of cash. What this means is that you spend about half an hour wandering around the grounds of some Liao Hoa chemical concern, wondering just how much damage that smell is doing to your brain, and looking for one of about 5 nondescript and completely unsignposted roads that heads up the hill to the 'great' wall. Its kind of like stumbling upon an abandoned theme-park in the middle of a bunch of factories. In fact that's exactly what its like.

Enough chit-chat. Onto some images.

Residents of Liaoyang will tell you that Liao Hoa is very beautiful. It is a lot newer than most other places I've seen, but row upon row of identical apartment buildings, against a backdrop of smoke spewing chimneys, isn't exactly my idea of beautiful (those buildings in the foreground are under construction).


So here's the xiǎo cháng chéng (small great wall, if I may be allowed to invent Chinese names) in all its glory:

The Not-so-great Wall at Laohua

And speaking of things that are in all their glory:

Take that Imperialist dogs!

Take that everybody who's never straddled a tank before.

There were some cool old A-frame houses up by the wall, but they were unoccupied and full to the rafters with rubbish. I'm assuming the owners moved out when the local government (or whoever built the wall) came to them and said “We're going to place these huge concrete dragons on your roofs. I hope you built sturdy”.

Dragon Houses

And, proving that I was not just being alarmist before, even large stone structures are not immune to the inexorable onslaught of the ladybug menace:

The Ladybug invasion continues...

On the way out of town, we spotted this building, and its identical counter-part directly across the intersection. Impressive no? Oddly (and yet, increasingly unsurprisingly) both buildings are completely empty. I mean completely, bare concrete shells with a few supporting beams inside. Like so many things in this country, their origin and purpose is beyond the ken of a simple-minded Laowai like me.


Looks like wikipedia is down again in China too. The party giveth...

Tomorrow night: The great Chinese/American/New Zealander drinking party, at the best damn dumpling restaurant in town. The language barrier will add an interesting flavour to what promises to be a night of brain and liver damaging macho-posturing. There may be tales to tell.

Stay tuned Decadentwesterndogkateers.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Steak Burns Ben's Stomach Lining

This week I had my first ever case of violent food poisoning! hurrah!

Ironically, it was not Chinese, but Western (okay, a Chinese version thereof) that caused me to spend Tuesday night/Wednesday morning curled up in a ball wanting to die.

Having trounced Fred with my awesome bowling skills, I decided to order a victory steak at the  'European-style' restaurant, attached to the Bowling Alley. Though I was taken in by the kitschy decor and hot pink mood lighting,  the first sign that all was not well, was the inclusion on the menu of these delicacies, under the heading "Gold Medal Arder Snack":

- Rice Lante Type Chicken Cartilage
- Fragrant Spicy Squid Fingernail
- The Spiced Salt Burns the Ducks Tongue
- The Bamboo Slip Lives Burns the Shrimp

Though I was curious to see exactly what a Squid's Fingernail looked like, I went for a traditional Rib-eye, with chips and salad. A safe option one would think, in a menu detailing various ways to torture ducks. But no, oooooohhhhh no.

What arrived on my plate resembled steak somewhat, and even had a fried egg on the side to act as a corroborating witness. One bite however made it clear that all was not well. The consistency was best described as 'squishy' and the taste was not particularly steakesque. I'm pretty sure it was deep fried too. I had two bites. Two bites too many.

I was home, in bed, about an hour later. I managed about half an hour of sweaty stomach grabbing 'sleep' before spending the next few hours in the bathroom, acquainting myself with some of the finer details of the tile grouting, while my digestive tract turned itself inside out.

Gee Ben! What a great story!

On a non-gastrointestinal note, the other day in class I was doing an exercise around designing a Tourist Brochure for China. One of the questions was "What are five things that every foreigner should remember to bring to China?"

One student (maybe 18 years old) gave me this answer:


they grow up so quick...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Access woes and mileystones

Well, these past few days have seen my 'access issues' become significantly worse, so my only way of getting into this blog at the moment is via a thing called Tor which seems to take like an hour to load and when it does it's all ugly and HTMLy but I can't be bothered waiting another hour for it to refresh so here you go. EDIT: well, that didn't work either, after trying about 5 times to post (taking about 5 minutes each time) I had to cut and paste this into an email, and post it that way. Which means no links or images. I need to sort out a better way of getting through/around the (apparently non-existent) Chinese Firewall. OR they could just lighten up a little - how bout it guys?

Anyway, as suggested by the title, here are some things that happened in the last few days:

- First time I've ever sat in a Chinese bar, drinking New Zealand Beer (Steinlager. I use the term 'beer' loosely), listening to Korean pop music while a bunch of American guys spoke to some Austrians in German.

- First day when the temperature never got above 0 degrees celsius (today, and I don't know what that is in farenheit, but its COLD okay?).

- First brief flutter of snow (yesterday).

- and I've been invited to my first ever Chinese drinking party, by the owner of a great little Dumpling restaurant that Lucas and Paul took me to. I'm not sure of the specifics, but as I understand it, there's a party, during which we sit around a table and drink (with a fair chance of cuban cigars). The chinese put a lot of stock in how much alcohol you can down, so hopefully my years of training will have me in good stead. My only worry is that the drinking party will involve Baiju, chinese rice wine, which you could strip paint with.

Finally, if you're a Steve Coogan fan (and you should be) you should track down 'Saxondale' and view it. Good laughs.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Apologies are in order...

Wow, looks like I might have been wrong, wrong, wrong! About China blocking access to certain internet sites. There is no Chinese Firewall, its just that sometimes we have 'problems accessing [sites]'.

I'd hate to be involved in the dissemination of untruths, so I thought it best that I immediately fire up my browser, navigate to my favourite proxy site, wait the 5 minutes or so that it always seems to take to load a page, and write this blog entry, using blogger, which seems to be having some 'access problems' right now. (Though I would like to make it absolutely clear that these problems are not, in any way shape or form, due to the actions of the Chinese government.)

Hope that clears that up.

For more information on the completely non-existent 'Great Firewall of China' you may read this slanderous article in the 'always accessible' Wikipedia and this one from those imperialist scoundrels at the BBC.

Actually I can only assume that last one is about the Great Firewall, as the BBC website seems to be suffering from some 'Access Problems'.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A picture is worth blah blah blah

And this one pretty much sums up living in a Chinese city:

Don't. Walk.

Here's some other fun bits around Dalian (whence I returned last weekend, laden down with DVDs of dubious origin, including, THIS ONE).

This, I was always told, was exactly what a gentleman does NOT do:

Take the love, go home.
Yes, its an advertisement for Coca-Cola, in a place called Victory Square. Capitalism, Commmunism, Irony, LOL, etc.

And this store, I'm sorry to point out, did not in fact sell the hides of giant bears (nor was it a gay man's fetish-wear store).

Huge Bear!

Did I mention that in China you can buy a grapefruit the size of your head? Well you can.


Cool huh?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Anshan. Man.

Well the Chinese in their infinite whatsit have seen fit to block Blogger again for the moment. So if you're in China, you're not reading this. And if you are - YOU'RE BREAKING THE LAW. Naughty.

Anyways, here's some stuff from when I went to Anshan last week (this'll be another photoriffic post).

Anshan, as indicated earlier, is the next town down the line, just south of Liaoyang. Half an hour on the number 17 bus (I think) and then another 20 on a mini-bus and, chance encounters with other vehicles at high velocity notwithstanding, you're there.

First impression: Another grubby Chinese city really. Bigger than Liaoyang, lots more tall buildings, smog, all that good stuff.

These happy characters were my guides for the day, Raphael (left) and Frank (not left)

Da Boyz

So we did a bit of shopping in downtown Anshan, I bought my winter coat, for which many ducks gave their lives (as I understand the down collection process anyway. Unless they're shorn and released, but I've never seen a naked duck. Have you?) Their sacrifice will be appreciated come winter I'm sure.

Then it was off to the park, to see such wonders as the bendy trees:

Bendy trees

Where Raphael channeled his namesake

Crouching Raphael

There was also a derelict factory that I thought was pretty cool

Forest factory

And a temple. I think most Chinese are pretty jaded on the temple thing so we didn't go inside (admission was pretty pricey too) but I peeked in the gates:

Temple courtyard and monks

I wasn't aware that Buddhism involved cape wearing. Disturbingly, I was also told that day that Buddhists don't eat chilli or garlic either, as these 'arouse the senses'. Weirdos.

I also managed to uncover details of a shadowy and frightening plot to overthrow the prevailing world order with a race of cloned dinosaurs. Like in that movie - 'Cocoon'.


I suspect the Pepsi corporation is somehow involved (aren't they always?) due to the presence of a Pepsi-cola-chapel on site.

Church of Pepsi-cola

Crappy gags aside, upon returning to the city proper, I happened to spy this guy. Apparently these types are increasingly common as the weather gets colder, coming into town to sell their wares on the street. I don't know what animals these skins came off, but yellow spotted hide being sold by dodgy guy on the street says 'endangered' to me.

Street fur peddler

So that was Anshan. Me and Frank give it one thumbs up each.


Monday, October 23, 2006

You can't spell Harmonia axyridis without 'Harm'

Music: Defiance, Ohio - I Don't Want Solidarity if it Means Holding Hands With You

Well, I figured I've got enough random images floating around at the moment to justify a post. So here goes:

In continuing my coverage of the ongoing ladybug menace, it appears that they have found a way into my home, no-doubt by chewing through the concrete walls.

ladybug infestation

Observe the damage the they inflicted upon a nearby incinerator (one of the ladybug's natural enemies), tearing a hole in the brick wall to get at their metallic foe within:

Furnace Removal

Okay. Enough of that.

Here's some monks shopping:

Shopping Monks

Here's something that's funny if you're nine, or me:


And this, my Chinese Room (apologies to John Searle):

Apologies to Searle

For anyone that actually knows Chinese, you'll notice that what's up there is a mish-mash of pinyin and "Ben's way of spelling Chinese words kind of phonetically"

Here's some guys looking at spring onions in the local apartment complex:


and, to round out this most magnificent of blog entries, a chicken, taunting some other chickens with its freedom:

Chicken escapee

Off to Anshan tomorrow. Should be something interesting to tell of/look at there.

53 years ago today, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the smurfs had their debut in Belgium. Happy Birthday guys!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Life is a highway...

If anybody thought I was exaggerating about how absolutely insane the traffic conditions are here in China, I encourage you to take a look at this site. It captures the essence of the local extreme sport (the Chinese call it 'driving') pretty well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

So it turns out...

This is a true story.

This morning I was in the park, practising Tai Chi and enjoying the last of the sunshine before I'm plunged into the bitter winter that I'm told Liaoyang has in store for me.

So anyway, there I was, doing my best imitation of a spastic monkey attempting Tai Chi, listening to a woman playing a traditional flute in a nearby pagoda and watching autumn leaves swirling around a square full of retirees playing chess and arguing. It was a beautiful, serene moment.

Then suddenly, it struck me:

Holy Shit.
I'm in China.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bits and Pieces

Music: Louis Jordan - (I'll be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You
Desperate Optimism: Unwavering

Note that this post contains a photograph of a dead animal. (Not one that I ate.) Also, if you are colour-blind, you may not get the joke at the end, but don't worry, it's not particularly funny anyway.

Ni Hao

Nothing in particular to talk about tonight, but a few ramblings just to keep me in the blogging mood.

First off, my pal Lucas (a Kansian/Kansasite/Kansasian?)went to the bustling metropolis of Shenyang on Sunday, and returned with this little block of gold for me:


He didn't even realise that it was New Zealand Cheese. Though he did point out that a brand called 'Mainland' doesn't really call to mind a small island nation.

The air in Liaoyang at the moment is absolutely teeming with that most endearing of flying six legged things - the ladybug. Now you might think that sounds wonderful, Ladybugs everywhere?!? What a beautiful sight! Sure beats those foot long dragon flies we had last month!

But you would be wrong. It turns out that any insect, from blowfly to locust to the humble ladybug is kind of annoying when you're pulling them out of your hair, clothes and teeth every thirty seconds. Also, despite their cute and notoriously effiminate appearance, those little buggers are merciless in swarms, as illustrated by this absolutely unaltered image:

dead cow

Scary Stuff.

Last of all in this wonderfully enlightening post - the single craziest thing about China that I have discovered so far. I can deal with the skateboarding secret agent chimp, their complete lack of road rules no longer surprises me, and I'm even coming to terms with the fact that apparently there will be no Spring next year. But this is going to far. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a ripe (and rather tasty) ORANGE.


Through the freaking looking glass.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Good News and Significantly Worse News in the PRC

Music: Lifetime - Irony is for Suckers
Blood Cheese levels: Satisfactory (I had pizza for dinner)

After spending hours reading a whole-buttload of stuff about Proxys and Tor networks and other really really uninteresting internet clap-trap, the Chinese government went ahead and unblocked access to wikipedia. I feel like a part of my brain has been restored to me. Sure its massively inaccurate and prone to crippling attacks, (wikipedia, not my brain. Really.) but I'm stoked to have finally regained the ability to find out what happened on March 1st 1974 at a moments notice.

So, good on ya Wikipedia for not caving to Chinese demands to censor the content (about that pesky thing that didn't happen in that square that one time, and that charming little country in the south-west that totally joined and remains part of the people's republic completely of its own accord and in total harmony.)

And good on ya China for unclenching the sphincter of one-party bureaucracy for long enough to let loose a small toot of freedom.

Of course, nothing says "Don't think we're going soft and becoming freedom of expression loving pansies" better than some good old fashioned repression. And there's nobody they like oppressing more than Tibet.

Way to go China.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Administrative Stuff


I've decided that, since this blog is available openly on the dirty ol' internet, and apparently is being read from as far afield as Venezuela (hola!) I'm going to change the access to my flickr stuff somewhat.

All of the China stuff is still available to one an all, but the stuff including family, friends and other innocent/guilty parties, will now only be accessible to those marked as 'friends' on my flickr account.

So if you're not on my friends list, and you want to see the photos (remember that one time you got all drunk and passed out on the couch and drooled all over yourself?) then you'll need to sign up to flickr (free and easy)and then send me a friend request. If it comes with a promise of free snacks or a witty limerick, I will accept. Shouldn't be too much hassle.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Big Fat Chinese Wedding

This time of year in China is known as 'golden month'. It's a fortuitous time to get married, have a baby, register your car etc. Combined with the fact that, according to the lunar calender, there will be NO SPRING THIS YEAR (???!???), lot's of people are getting married in Liaoyang at the moment (this partially explains the twice daily barrage of fireworks). Anyway, a friend of my boss got married yesterday, and my boss (Betty) asked her if it'd be okay if I came along, to see what a Chinese wedding was like. I wasn't exactly stoked about having to get up at 7am on a Saturday morning (who gets married before noon?) but if your boss has promised a foreigner for a wedding, I guess you better provide the foreigner.

So there I am, 9.30 in the freakin morning, beer coming at me left and right, with the cast of The Little Mermaid sitting on a plate in front of me (crab, prawns, oysters, scallops, whole fish, the works). To make matters worse, in a moment of bleary semi-clarity, I realised we are at least three hours from the sea here, and I've yet to see a single truck with anything that looked like refridgeration. I'm not by nature a big breakfaster (unless I have a hangover to service), and despite my love of the stuff, I don't tend to drink beer before the clock strikes noon.

Well, you're in China now.

The amount of food (as with any Chinese gathering) was staggering, and I was expected to try everything. Also, as the sole whitey in the room, I was the prime target for toasts with a bunch of people I've never met, including (but by no means limited to): the bride, the groom, the bride's father, the president of the college, the MC/Celebrant guy, and a whole host of others.

The ceremony itself was pretty informal, in western terms they pretty much just cut to the reception. Everyone was seated at tables, the bride and groom came in, a celebrant guy who was wearing a vegas-style red shirt and white suit, said a bunch of stuff, made some jokes (or so I gather) and led the assembly in a rousing chorus of 'If you're happy and you know it' (I'm not kidding). Then that was it, bingo, they're married. Without a peep out of either of them. You couldn't hear what was going on anyway most of the time, due to the accompanying explosions on the street outside.

So I ate a whole lot of food (I declined on the chicken heads, another thing I won't touch till after 12 o'clock/beers), drank a fair bit, shook a lot of hands, then because there was 3 more weddings in the same restaurant that day, they kicked us all out, maybe 90 minutes after we arrived.

So we all went and played Ping-Pong.

True story.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Mid-Autum Mooncake Madness

Music: Against Me! - You look like I need a drink
Drinking: 2002 Great Wall Cabernet. From the bottle: The Great Wall Golden Packing high-grade dry red wine is made from the international famous Cabernat which cultivated by the famous producing Huaizhuo basin in China,adopting the modem machines, expuisite technology of oak brewing. It's a kind of fresh wine. The product shows purple,red clear body, harmonize and cheerful fruit and oak fragrance, has a sens of soft. Typical.

Yesterday was mid-autumn day, its basically a holiday where everyone gets together with family etc, eats mooncake, and girds their loins for the oncoming winter I suppose. This is mooncake by the way, they retail for anywhere from 1 yuan each, to about 500 RMB for a box of six (half a months wages for most people). I got these cheap cause it was the last day. They had a kind of nutty filling, others have fruit, jelly, whatever.


Perky (one of the Chinese English teachers) invited me to take a boat ride down the moat/canal thing, to the White tower and surrounds. I envisioned a sedate plod down river in a traditional chinese barge thing. Oh ho ho ho no. That's for chumps, like these guys we almost capsized in our wake:

More Traditional River boat, that we almost capsized.

We did the journey in a roar of engines, a blast of gasoline smoke, and a spray of dubious canal water (dear god don't get it in your mouth)

Liaoyang Canal, by speed boat

I mentioned this white tower earlier, mostly in reference to the tacky tourist temple built next to it. In fact, I was wrong, the temple was pretty cool. Sure its brand new, but its a replacement for the original one that burned down a century or so ago, and its a functional buddhist hang-out as well as a tourist trap.

Here's the main hall (sky palace or somesuch):

Main Temple

Inside of which, is this jovial fella, the largest wooden buddha in the world (for the time being, they're building a bigger one somewhere else in China). There's a monk down the bottom for reference, but he's about 17m tall (not including the base). The swastika is the buddhist symbol for fortune I think, I don't recall any western buddhists (or the dalai lhama for that matter) sporting them though.

Giant Buddha

Anyway, the place had more buddha's, saints, kings, temples and statues than you could shake an incense stick at (providing you were prepared to fork out 10 yuan per stick).

Here's some highlights:

Dude's totally throwin up the goats:

Not sure what the deal with these guys is

"88 two fat buddha's"

I have the golden pea thing! It's mine!

Wacky diorama thing


Here be Devils!

Buddhist devil things

As per usual, there's plenty more here

So, after being suitably impressed with how non-commercial and actually quite stunning the temple complex was, we went over to the White tower itself, I was looking forward to seeing this most, being over 700 years old an all, the only bit of the China I've seen so far wasn't built in the last 50 years. And here it is:

Pagoda from the base

Very impressive. Should you feel the urge to turn yourself 180 degrees though, you will see:

Digimon is apparently relevant to buddhism

DIGIMON. Obviously the buddhistist thing ever in the whole world. Just to drive the point home, in the background of this photo, is a twelfth century wonder of architecture and devotion, in the foreground, well:


And of course:

Castle and Temple

I didn't take any pictures of the dusty, run down amusement park that was behind the temple, but suffice to say, there was a stand where you could have your toddler photographed holding a replica pistol.

The mantra around these parts is definitely 'out with the old, in with the new', even if the new happens to be a bunch of poorly made Disney knock-offs and the old happens to be a world heritage site. It's kind of sad really, but I suppose the kitschy glittery stuff gets the Chinese punters in, and that provides the funds to keep the old stuff from falling down.

Anyway, definitely worth a look if you ever find yourself up Liaoyang ways.

Heading home, the moon was huge, red and perfectly full. It was almost as though they'd decided that boring old white crater face wasn't up to the task of celebrating mid-autumn day, so they had him replaced with a newer, better model.