Getting Screwed in Beijing

After spending a day getting burned in the forbidden city and the summer palace, where of course we were the subject of much interest and photography from children and adults alike, we headed back to the hostel and gave Jeff Trinh, a recent transplant to Beijing, a call to see if he wanted some dinner. We found a restaurant that had duck, a task that requires very little of us as throwing a rock down the street will likely hit some form of duck restaurant, and had a traditional chinese meal whose dishes were based around duck, the waitresses recommendations and a group effort of pointing at pictures and saying, “that looks good!” We were not disappointed.

After dinner, we struggled to find a cab, something that is much harder than finding a duck eatery, and eventually walked several blocks before having some sanlunche guys say 30 kuai for a ride. We hopped on, got taken a couple of blocks and then let off nowhere near where we wanted to be, at which point the guys insisted that they meant 30 american dollars which, via some mathmagic, comes to 300 kuai. They appealed to our deal that american money is the gold standard (it is not), the guy had pedaled very hard and was sweating (he had not and was not), that americans are rich (we are not…not really) and that etc etc. I pointed out that they were trying to rip us off, gave them a hundred kuai and tried to be done with. They then asked for a tip so I offered the rest of my beer, which they denied, and took a few single kuai notes from Jeff, who had very long been trying to unload them from his wallet.

We then ventured into Beijing bar territory, which is ground that is untrodden by all of us. The first stop was a bar that had been recommended by the head of Jeff’s cycling group, where it turned out they were having a grand re-opening with a beatles cover band. It took 15 minutes to get any service and everyone there looked like they were trying to get their photos into City Weekend. We left and searched for a place called The Stumble Inn, which happened to be a clean, untraveled place on the third floor of a mall. Evan stole a coaster. From there, our evening wound its way into and out of bars, declaring them unfit or boring, until we found ourselves at the end of the bar street, at which point it became known that it was after midnight and we would be waking up in less than six hours to climb the Great Wall. Finding a cab was much easier on the way back.

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infodump

This took ten minutes to write and is awful
notes about: Suzhou
Hot. Nice. Walked a lot, climbed a pagoda, suzhou museum is fairly cool and also has air conditioning, people keep asking evan about his weight, guy selling mangosteens says evan rules and yao ming is lame because yao ming is skinny and also america is pretty awesome, i get very confused on a bus when an old guy takes my money and gives me a five instead and the bus driver gets mad at me but then some chinese kids have a very similar problem so I dont feel as stupid, I introduce evan to the wonders of the outdoor “exercise” parks and all the stupid crap that those things entail, we hoof it all the way across town to see a restaurant called Mr. Stupid Ox and then we walk all the way back and we’re soaked and it is awful but the people with whom we are sharing a room are very nice and one is from syria and the other is from dalian so we go find some food in a really cheap tiny hole in the wall place and the beer is warm but hte second bottle is colder and we eat some meats and then the syrian guy gets a haircut and we have some beers and they meet up with us and we have an uncomfortable extended conversation/discussion/debate about the sex of the person at the table next to us and the chinese girl can’t tell citing the “all look same” landmark case but then after hearing the mystery person speak she declares that we are, in fact, discussing a woman. we go back to the room and there are more people there and we bust in loud but then we quiet down because they are sleeping. The next day we hop in a cab after great difficulty finding one and it turns out that the lady has decided that the gaotie train station is too far away and we should take the regular train instead because that goes to nanjing as well but in the end she takes us to where we want to go but on the way she takes a phone call from some company and i couldn’t quite hear what the person on the other end was saying but our cab driver demanded to know where she was, no i know you are in suzhou where in suzhou are you and then said she didn’t have any money and hung up on them and declared them thieves. when she finally dropped us off at the station she asked the cop where the bathroom was

Nanjing

we showed up and it was actually pretty temperate but the metro ended up being packed and evan got on and freaked out and i tried to signal to him that he should get off at the three mountains alley station but then i remembered he can’t read chinese so that doesn’t make any sense so then I switched over to telling him that he needs to go six stops but then some old guy started slapping the doors of the train and getting really heated so they opened up the door and I managed to slip in and everything ended up ok and we rode the metro to the stop and got off and started walking and walked down a walking street that had multiples of every store and especially a lot of 361 degree stores and a couple of li nings and we kept walking and i asked someone where the hostel was and she told us so we went in and got our rooms and they were kind of dingy but we’re just sleeping in them for one night so no big deal and then we decided that we should start drinking so we do and we end up meeting a guy from jersey by way of DC so we went out to get some dinner with him and we again ate at a small dingy hole in the wall and we got duck part soup and some noodles and it was pretty good but i’m certain i was eating duck livers and kidneys which is kind of gross to think about but it wasn’t bad. We decide we want to keep drinking so we ask at the hostel where a bar is and she points at a sign because that is a common question apparently and we grab some beers and hop in a cab and celebrate the fact that in China I can stick half my body out the passenger window while holding an open beer and waving at children but we get to the bar and they make you get a table which is lame because I wanted to go around and get free drinks from everyone but we had to be located at one spot so we got bottle service which is a way of saying cheap whiskey and green tea which would be blasphemous with good whiskey but with bad whiskey it makes things very easy to drink and we were celebrities because we were taller than everyone and also more foreign and it spiraled in the direction that one would expect and we got back to the hostel and ate some food on the street but then it started to rain so we went to bed but not before i peed on a tree in the middle of the road. we woke up the next morning and talked to our rommate who was tibetan and then we got on the train

beijing
it is hot and clear and the ticket line at the beijing train station crawls and of course you would expect it to be better here but in fact it isn’t it’s the same stuff adn why can’t these people just use the automatic kiosks there must be some specific reason but it took a long time and then i took us to the wrong metro stop so we walked across tiananmen square and got to the hostel where I’m writing this but it turns out everything closes at five so we’re sort of out of luck at the moment and we’re just figuring out what to do now.

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Hangzhou

Buying a train ticket in China is a bit of an ordeal. Thanks to the new high speed trains, it is no longer possible for a non-chinese to buy tickets at the automatic kiosks. This means that non-chinese have to wait in lines to buy their tickets; these lines are also full of chinese who are either too dumb or too complicated to buy tickets at the kiosks, necessarily extending the wait times that, were one able to use said kiosks, would require all of a minute. The new high speed trains are also to blame for the fact that Valid Identification is now mandatory for purchase of tickets on D and G trains; as a person who does not carry his passport with him when not staying overnight somewhere (although, as of today, this has changed), I was lucky that they US driver’s licenses are acceptable.

Hangzhou, today, was hot. Very hot. The train said 38 degrees, which was exacerbated by the oppressive humidity and blazing sun. After again waiting in line to get our train tickets for the way back (since, in China, one cannot purchase a train ticket if one is not at the point of origin), we dodged people asking if Evan was taller than Yao Ming and hopped a bus to the Lei Feng Pavilion. The Lei Feng Pavilion is a replica pagoda, whose original was knocked down because of greedy people pulling bricks out of it, whose claims to fame include a nice view of the West Lake and an elevator in the middle of it. It also has air conditioning in some parts, which was welcome, and by visiting it you can mark off one AAAAA tourism site off of your bucket list.

We moved along to the Hangzhou Botanical Garden, a curious little place where branches had been strategically placed between two fences, but not much else was going on. At one point, there was a pond, in the middle of which was a giant statue of three people swinging golf clubs. We also came across a very, very appealing pool that actually had white people in it. Surprising.

The botanical garden was adjacent to a mountain that we climbed. And climbed. And got lost on. And walked down stairs and up stairs and hit dead ends and huffed and puffed and sweated and cursed and finally reached the top and were treated to a beautiful, if hazy, view of the west lake. On the rare occasionscalde we weren’t oppressed by jungle on all sides, there was a light breeze that did little to dry our sweat-drenched clothing. The better cooling off option was to climb off the mountain and sit on a bench on the edge of the lake, where many chinese took surreptitious pictures of us. When we caught them, they would get embarrassed and we would make them sit between us for photographs, so they ended up on top. Then, without warning, a kid walked up next to Evan and started to pee. On the grass.

We moved.

To a restaurant, where we ate traditional Hangzhou food like Dongpo rou and Beggar’s chicken, a dish that really, truly uses the whole chicken. This is a nice way of saying I put a chicken’s head in my mouth. Evan and I also used the chicken feet to fist bump. We moved on to walk down the tourist street and head back to the train station, getting there with about 30 minutes to spare before our 7:53 departure time. It was at this time that we discovered that 7:53 was, in fact, the arrival time in Shanghai and we had missed our 7:00 train by a good 20 minutes. Luckily, all you have to do is go to a ticket window and say, “Hey, we didn’t get on our train” and they say “ok” and print you a new ticket. Which is nice, but considering the fact that we both looked like we had jumped in a pool and were very, very tired, it would’ve been nice to get home an hour earlier.

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High Class

After a fruitless search across the plains of the internet to find flights and information about Mongolia or Kunming, I bitterly retread the land of shengjianbao to see if I could find a better price than the 3 kuai for four that I had previously been subjected to. I didn’t, but I did get some jiaozi as well, one of which I immediately dropped on the ground. Evan, more dexterous than I, managed to eat all of his. Smugly.

The dumplings were just a stop along the way to the Yu Yuan, or Yu Gardens, a semi-famous Shanghai tourist trap that boasts several multi-floor quasi dollar stores and a nine turns bridge, which consists of, as one might imagine, nine ninety degree turns. This is due to one of my favorite pieces of Chinese trivia: ghosts cannot turn corners. Evan noted the high door stoop on the tea house in the middle of the bridge, also a preventative measure for ghost incursion. It is, perhaps, the least haunted building in all of China.

After browsing past the myriad Starbucks and Dairy Queens and wondering at the reasons for having at least two of each in the same complex, we stopped by Din Tai Fung, a dim sum place whose claim to fame rests on the fact that it is a Taiwanese chain that does Shanghainese Xialongbao extremely well and also charges extremely high prices. In small servings, however, the check is palatable, and the xialongbao (or XLB, as internet nerds like to type it) are an excellent metric for comparison when you invariably move on to the tiny hole-in-the-wall places that dot the Shanghai landscape.

The end of the meal marked the beginning of wading through dingy, urine-soaked alleys (for a taste of culture) and stores hawking truly awful wares. The tour then took us to the ferry, which costs an astounding 8 cents to get across the river, at which point we trekked over to the World Financial Center to have a drink at 100 Century Avenue, the highest (in terms of building height) bar in the world. The view was nice but the experience was a little sullied by the guy smoking filthy chinese cigarettes next to us and the shocking 90 kuai price tag on a bottle of water – at least the water we needed. The AC dried us off just in time for us to head back out into the heat, where we decided to walk down Nanjing Lu, a walking street whose purpose seems to be a place to put McDonald’s and street salesmen who, when you turn down their offers for watches or bags, instead move on to massages, sex massages, or “fucKK with lady” (with a very hard K) for the low, low price of a bottle of water at 100 Century Avenue.

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Anniversaries! (US and CCP!)

Having again woken up very early in the morning, I spent a little bit of time staring at the ceiling disappointed that I was not making any amount of headway with regards to my jet lag. When I finally did get out of bed, I was pleased to discover that visibility was more than 20 feet. In fact, as far as Shanghai is concerned it was actually pretty good; I could see all the way to the Huangpu. Well, the important buildings that line it on the Puxi side, at least.

Seeing as how it was early, Evan and I decided to take a walk around the French concession, a method of seeing the sites, getting one’s bearings (good luck) and possibly finding food. The last goal was, as is common in China, the easiest to accomplish. It turns out there’s a guy less than a block away who makes shengjianbao; at 3 kuai for four, I felt a little ripped off but I didn’t really want to argue enough to get the chinese people price. I then felt a little more ripped off because, by my standards, I didn’t think they were all that great. The ones I used to get in Hongqiao seemed better in my memory, which made me bitter. That and the scalding hot interior exploding onto the street (not my shirt, this time!) and melting my tongue.

The walk took us down to Huai hai lu, right around the BA BA BA area, where we turned around and walked back. After taking a detour by the consulate, we stopped into the library to watch the robots retrieve and return books. Really. The tour ended up with us getting a little lost south of fuxing lu, but, the French Concession being fairly easy to navigate despite some of its off-axis streets, finding our way home was not difficult. It was barely 10 AM.

At 2, we headed off to the AMCHAM fourth of july ceremony, which was situated in a nice park on the bank of the Suzhou creek. There was lots of green space and plenty of shade, which turned out to be very important because it was very hot. Luckily, there were free budweisers and scads of different food offerings, so it was easy to keep entertained while people gave speeches and my parents lost in a three-legged race. Evan got a massage, and the poor chinese guy had to pull out a stool to get the leverage necessary to dig into his lower back.

After having sweated out and eaten our fill, we headed back home and watched the news about the 90th anniversary of the communist party. The national news consisted of reports that various ranking members of the CCP agreed with Hu Jintao’s speech and recommended that chinese citizens study said speech carefully. At the very end, about 15 seconds of airtime were devoted to discussing a very long bridge in Shandong.

Evan and I , in the interests of defeating jetlag by not crashing at 7:30, hopped on bikes and rode down to the Bund. The visibility was much better this time around, and as an added bonus, in honor of the 90th anniversary, all the lights on all the buildings were on. This gave the impression of some kind of tropical chinese christmas, and all the people clogging up the Bund walkway buttressed that impression. I, naturally, jumped into several people’s pictures. I jumped into one with a baby and ended up being snared into taking several more, as more and more children flooded into the tableau for the opportunity to get into a picture with the smaller white dude and the giant white dude. We barely escaped with our lives.

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Day 2?

I woke up a little before 5 AM and was greeted by a sheet of white. Waking up from jetlag lacks any of the grogginess that is usually present in a normal sleep cycle, and, fully alert, I climbed up into the window alcove to discover that I could not even see the street 30 floors below. The neighboring building was only barely visible, the northern corner being the only thing at all visible through the window. I did my best to fall back asleep.

I ended up actually getting up at about nine o’clock, which is pretty good for a 12 hour difference. The household staff was already there and was happy to see me; they always get dibs on brushing the rust off of my chinese, and they do their very best to scrub vigorously. It is a shaming experience, but I always end up learning, or re-learning, a phrase. This particular one was “bai yun, lan tian” or “white clouds, blue skies.” This was in reference to the weather in DC and we were all in agreement that it was a fairly poor descriptor for Shanghai.

I then did what I do best and most often in Shanghai, which is take my bicycle out for a spin. I rode over to the Bund, which was almost not worth it because the haze and fog – hog. When I headed back home, it started to rain and my clothes slowly began to suffocate me. By the time I got home it looked like I had jumped in a swimming pool, even though the rain never got beyond a light drizzle.

I later headed out to the airport to pick up Evan, the giant amongst giants who will be my companion for the next several weeks. It took a little over an hour door-to-door, but i was forced to ride the maglev. The man sitting across from me spent the entire 350 km/h ride vigorously rubbing is belly and sighing softly to himself. When I did get to the airport, I sat and waited for Evan to pop out of the arrivals door, only to discover that he had been sitting, waiting for me for about ten minutes. Which was about how long I had been waiting for him. I had just missed him. I took him back through the sweaty weather and he got his first taste of what it would be like to be the object of attention everywhere he goes.

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Back to the Orient

Despite having been to and having spent much time in China, I still get that dull excitement before heading off. It’s not the jump-on-your-bed, can’t-get-to-sleep until 4 AM adrenaline rush, just a constant hollowing out in the back of your school, the annexation of other thoughts until the only thing going on in your brain is the word CHINA in big, cartoon lettering and you become a drooling idiot.

I was lucky to get a flight so cheap with as little prep time as I had done – 1300 for round trip? How can I afford NOT to go? And so, off I went to the airport. One of the funny things about flying to China on a multi-stop flight is that chinese culture makes its denizens very recognizable even as they’ve just begun to funnel back to the country. As I was checking in, the language and the confusion with regards to exactly the line began and ended gave me my first taste of what I was going back to spend time with.

The flight from Detroit was, though swift, altogether uncomfortable. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve been on a plane that had one giant projector screen rather than individual screens on each seat; the flipside to this is that I could fall asleep on the seat in front of mine and drool on my pants instead of my shirt. I sat between a chinese pair, I assume mother-son, who both smelled kind of bad but were otherwise very nice. The mother spoke barely a word of english (despite being on lesson 120 in her english-chinese study book) and relied on her son to translate whenever she was asked something by the stewardesses, who eventually learned that “owaj” meant “orange juice.”

The movies were pretty bad, but that’s no surprise.

When we started our descent into Shanghai, I pulled up the window shade to reveal the familiar, impenetrable gray haze and nothing else. It wasn’t until we had almost touched down that the ground or airport even became visible, at which point we sat in a ground-based holding pattern for a good fifteen minutes. When we finally got off the plane, it took relatively little time to pass through the unattended artifacts of the swine flu scare and customs to get to the bags.

Rather than take the maglev, metro, or myriad other methods of escaping pudong, I decided to go with my old favorite – the airport bus. As I waited at the stop for the #2, which confusingly refers to Jing An Temple as the Airport Center, taxis showed up on the other side of the barrier to try and convince people to make the leap over and get a ride straight to where they were going. The slow agglomoration of cabs, and the people interested in them, was rudely broken up by a slow moving police car who knew his job was more to get them to stop blocking traffic rather than actually keep them from picking people up.

One of the reasons I like riding into Shanghai on the bus is the impression I get from the elevated highway. There’s a sense of separation that makes everything seem unreal – all the giant buildings look like glittering models, waiting for a man in a monster suit to come stomping through them. I guess the chinese don’t have those same cultural fears about radiation that the Japanese do; they just make movies about women not getting married by the time they’re 35. But I like the way the buildings float past. It seems better in a bus, too; the cabs don’t have the same effect, and the metro lacks, well, any view at all. Either way, though, it’s nice to see the color-changing neon crosses on tops of churches.

When I got out, I walked the now-familiar mile and a half route to the domicile, getting ever sweatier in the humidity. At one point, an older woman was pestering people for work. When one man, who was taking advantage of the chinese form of air conditioning that is lifting one’s shirt up to one’s chest, demurred, she responded by saying he had a very nice belly. Nearby, a guy was shilling his pirated CDs by blasting Katy Perry’s teenage dream. There really is no escape from America.

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mad about starburst

me: FIRST FOUR FUCKING STARBURSTS OUT OF THE BAG ARE YELLOW
FTGE
Charles: lol
me: FIRST FIVE
finally a red
me: OH MY GOD ANOTHER YELLOW
FOR SCIENCE’S SAKE I PULLED OUT ANOTHER ONE GUESS WHAT COLOR IT WAS
finally, the horror has ended
orange

I assume there will be a lot of pinks at the bottom

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Open Water

Seriously tempted to do an open water swimming event, despite thoroughly disliking both the concept and practice of open water swims. There’s one available in June that is apparently really easy and, at only half a mile, should take maybe 15 minutes. Unfortunately, this means contending with people who enjoy open water swimming, which in and of itself is a character trait indicative of mental instability. Also it’s at National Harbor. So, uh, this is a thing, I guess. http://www.alexandriaseaport.org/SeaportSwim.htm

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Hello world 2

A test post to fuck with categories and see what the result is.  Consider this space to be roiling with the passions of self-important thought, the kind of narcissistic elaborations of an entity whose persona exists more fully on the internet than in real life. Actually, just pretend that there’s a cute story about goldfish.

Ok, here’s an actual story about goldfish. One day there was a goldfish. He lived in a little bowl with a tiny castle and was very happy. One day, on a dare, a frat boy ate him. The goldfish died but was too dumb to realize he had ever been alive, much less recognize that he was now dead. The frat boy slammed a natty.

 

How does the

text wrap look?

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