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'.