Saturday, May 26, 2007

Emergency Rations

Due to some budgeting mishaps (ie spending 3/4 of my months salary in one week in Beijing earlier this month) and some bank issues (ie me forgetting the PIN number for my Australian bank card, then spending half an hour at an ATM swearing under my breath and punching random groups of digits), I am left with approximately 20 RMB to last me until Monday. This works out to a little more than $3. Faced with this, I was forced to restrict myself to 8 RMB for dinner tonight. With this measly sum, I was only able to afford:

- 1 huge bowl of delicious Korean Mixed Fried Rice (an egg, some chicken, some bean sprouts, some green beans, various other vegetables and uh, rice)
- 1 side of pickled but otherwise unidentifiable brown vegetables (carcinogenalicious)
- 1 600ml Liaoyang Dry Beer.

I have a feeling I'm going to be sorely disappointed when I return to the real world and discover what kind of meal I can get for a dollar.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Chairman Gates

Scenes from my classes over the last 9 months:

Which famous person would you most like to meet? "Bill Gates"

Who do you think best embodies your idea of 'success'? "Bill Gates"

If you could have dinner with a famous celebrity, who would it be? "Bill Gates"

If you could be a famous person for one day, who would you be? "Bill Gates".

Turns out that this phenomenon is not restricted to my classroom.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

MIDI Music Fest

So I missed out on the Big Day Out this year, and Meredith, and Hippie Plains or whatever it was called, but I still managed to get just a taste of that music festival fix, at the 8th Annual MIDI festival. Overall I was pretty impressed, though that may have had more to do with the cheap beer and cheap (but, uh, rather facilitating) yang rou chuan'r (sheep on a stick).

The festival started out in the local music school, and has grown every year, with more international (though basically unknown) acts every time. So in 10 years time when all the hipsters are like 'screw Glastonbury and Coachella, I'm going to MIDI man' I'll be able to smirk in a self satisfied manner and say 'Oh yeah, I was there before it got all commercial' Such is the stuff of dreams.

Anyway, after drinking too much Tsingtao in the queue (but still managing to smuggle a few in) and the compulsory throwing of the goats, we got down to business:

The Rock. Bringing it.

And if you ignore the prevalence of Chinese flags, you can see that standing in a large group of people and screaming your head off while a group of people systematically destroy your hearing, is a universal delight.


One thing I thought was cool were the festival tshirts. They were basically just white (prominent LEE logo notwithstanding) and paints and stencils and whatnot were provided to make your own memento. It was a little dispiriting how many kids went for the large LEE stencil (or made their own 'nike' or 'adidas' branded masterpieces) but this guy had the right idea:


And because everyone loves a sunset, and a shoulder ride:



Afterwards we ate here:


Which, if you are a fan of GIGANTIC pizza (and who isn't?) is the place to go in Beijing.

They also have the cheapest Guinness in town (40RMB). Nuff said.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wan Fu Jin 'food' street.

So you're a tourist in the mysterious Orient. After a busy day buying cut price Diesel Jeans, experiencing the exotic eastern charms of Starbucks, and buying a whole container load of 'authentic' Mao portraits and 100% totally not fake Ming Dynasty Porcelain, you start to feel a little peckish.

Well, if you happen to be in the vicinity of the WanFuJin pedestrian mall in Beijing, you can hang a louie into WanFuJin XiaoJie, and experience the heady delights of 'real' Chinese street cuisine. (In my experience this equated to sub-par fried noodles and watery beer).

Basically, like the aforementioned communist paraphernalia and whatnot, the whole street is based around what foreign people expect to see in craaaaazy China. On a stick. While I couldn't find a restaurant serving live monkey brains, I did eat these:

Fried Cicadas
(pretty oily. crunchy)

But not these:

Lizard on a stick

Or these (skewered but still alive. Though presumably the deep fryer takes care of that):

Live Scorpions on a stick

Or anything from here (which to be fair wasn't actually in WanFuJin):

Meat Street

In the background of the scorpion picture is 'stinky tofu' which I did try. As the name suggests it tastes slightly worse than old socks.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Gōngfu Masters

A park.

Early Evening.

Late Spring.

North East China.

The sun is setting, and the square is filled with running, screaming children; with young lovers holding hands and laughing nervously; with scores of the elderly, slowly going through the motions of their Tai Ji, their steps keeping time to a scratchy boombox that is turned loud to drown out the voices of those practicing opera in a nearby pavilion.

Yet amidst all this chaos and hubbub and life, two men stand, stoic and unaffected like weathered stones in a fast flowing river, motionless as the stream of youth and modernity unconsciously parts to flow around them.

It is difficult to gauge the years in their weathered faces, but they are old, in their late 70s perhaps. One is dressed all in White Silk , the other in Black.

They stand, toe to toe, with their left forearms braced against each other, their poses showing their familiarity with a discipline in which their bodies and minds have been schooled for decades, a martial tradition perfected untold generations before their birth.

They begin to sway, in a circular motion, each taking turns at first pushing, and then yielding to the others calm, indomitable strength. In the long shadows of willow trees, their eyes lock onto each other, their concentration absolute, their focus unbreakable. As the mournful strains of an Erhu cut through the air, the two men move back and forth, back and forth, a dance of both force and passivity, black and white, calm and strength, Ying and Yang made flesh.

Then, just when it seems that they have ceased to be separate people, transcending flesh and person to become a manifestation of pure qi, the guy in black kicks the guy in white up the bum and runs away giggling, pursued by his laughing, white pajama'd friend.

I notice he's wearing bright red chuck tailors.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Four Eyes

Yep. I finally bit the bullet and took advantage of China's rock-bottom prices to get myself a pair of glasses.


I don't really need them, but its nice to see everything just that more clearly (wow! Trees have leaves!) I hope I don't get beat up at school on Monday.

By the way, I paid 218 RMB all up for glasses, lenses, and consultation. You can go here if you want to compare prices and find out how badly your local optometrist is fleecing you.

Hangin in Tianjin

Welcome along everybody, help yourself to the tea and scones. Now, before we get started on today's agenda, two pieces of housekeeping:

1. Blogger is blocked again for those of you keeping score

2. I decided to do away with the obnoxiously large images. Unfortunately, the next step down for Flickr is kind of small. You can click on them to embiggen.

So, as fun as it was last time, I vowed that I was not going to spend the entirety of the May Holiday in Beijing drinking and gorging myself on non-Chinese food. The tricky part however, is that when I get time off, so do a billion odd Chinese. This makes travel difficult, crowded and expensive. What I did manage to wrangle though, was a day in sunny Tianjin, about 2 hours (by rickety bus) East of Beijing, on the Bohai Gulf.

Its a nice town, sitting on the Hai He river, and famous for its boazi, which we ate at one of the more famous restaurants, Goubuli (狗不理). The locally brewed beer was crap and the food took forever to arrive (despite constant hectoring by my Chinese speaking friend) but was pretty good. The '100 year old beef' was particularly tasty.

Various foreign interests barged in after the Chinese were 'convinced' to open Tianjin to international trade during the opium wars, so there's a bunch of very non-Chinesey architecture around:


Church and statue

Though of course that's rapidly being overshadowed by that most Chinese of constructions, large clumps of high rise apartments:



And yeah, that's a tank. Not sure why its there, just a subtle reminder I guess.

We were mostly in Tianjin to check out the markets, which come in two flavours - The hutongs, where you can buy all manner of bric a brac, rusty old communist paraphernalia, and 20 year old Motorola cellphones. (We were lucky enough to walk through just after a very leaky bitumen truck had passed.)

Tianjin Hutong

and the ironically(?) named 'Old China Street' where you can buy all manner of bric a brac, shiny new communist paraphernalia, and 20 minute old Motorola cellphones (probably).

Paul and Meg, Market Street

(Can you guess which of the people in that photo I was traveling with?). In both places you need to haggle hard (which I have zero talent for) but at least in the hutongs they seem to have more of a sense of humour about it. If you offer the old toothless guy 10% of what he wants for the rusty tin 'Victory over Japan' pin, he'll laugh at you (and maybe agree); the stern lady selling the fancy 'Ethnic Minority Crafts' will throw you out of the store.

To round up, here's Paul, Sarah and Me, I think Paul was explaining how they wouldn't let him use the public toilet.

Paul, Sarah, and Me.

and here's a lady with a one legged frog on her shoulder

One legged frog thing

Exciting announcement tomorrow, with pictures! Stay tuned.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Weather Report

Today: Sand.

So I went out this evening to buy some bananas, and thought to myself "that's weird, why is there nobody around on this sunny, pleasantly breezy evening?". Ten minutes later, with eyes, hair, and mouth full of grit, I had my answer.

Yesterday: Bees.

I was on a bus back from Beijing yesterday, and at about halfway, somewhere around the edge of Liaoning Province, we ran into a cloud of bees, there must've been thousands. This was also where we chose to take our rest stop. I've never seen anything like it, glad I'm not allergic. Maybe it has something to do with this.

Anyway, spent the May holiday in Beijing, with a couple of days at the Midi Music Festival, which was fun, and a day in Tianjin. I was supposed to go to Qingdao for a couple of days too, but, you know:

Beijing Train Station

More stuff soon.