Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Seeking Adventure

Later today Jia and I are heading to Macau to meet my parents. From there we'll travel through Malaysia and Thailand. I'll try to find time to get to an Internet cafe for some updates, but I won't be back in Shenzhen for two weeks. This will be a nice break from China and all the Olympic hype--and it's a chance for me to get lost in another language (or a few as the case may be in Malaysia).

I'll leave you with a sight from Bangkok that I probably won't visit this time around because it's just too hot. Wat Arun is a beautiful Khmer-style temple across the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keao.


I'm amazed at the reactions I've read about Internet access as it relates to journalists during the Olympics. Everyone is shocked that China will not provide complete, unfiltered access. Of course the government doesn't want reporters doing research for politically sensitive topics during August. And I'm sure that all the volunteers in the Olympic Media Village will be monitoring every computer for poxy servers and other undesirable material (careful, don't surf for porn on Chinese government computers).

The bigger story is that the harmonized access to the Internet will be expensive. According to Andrew Lih and Slashdot, Beijing is charging US$1131.20 for Internet access in the Olympic Media Village. That fee is for one month of Internet access. To put this in perspective, I pay about 700 RMB for six months of harmonized access to the Web. At this time the exchange rate is approximately 6.8 RMB to $1; you do the math.

And then there is US Senator Sam Brownback, who is berating China over its alleged attempts at spying on foreign guests in hotels. Does Sen. Brownback think that tourists are carrying state secrets to China during the Olympics? How does the Senator feel about my own government listening in on my weekly phone calls with my parents? I bet Homeland Security is bored every time they listen in.

Sen. Brownback, have you met Mr. Kettle?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fake Fuwa

Over the past couple years I've been collecting fake Olympic merchandise. The only authentic Beijing Olympic merchandise I own is a pen that was given as a gift. I've also purchased a few genuine articles for others.
fake_fuwaThis set of rather ugly Fuwa toys for 30 kuai comes from Children World--a huge market near Haiya Baihuo that's logo has a knock-off of Woody Woodpecker. This set looks like a rather good fake--there are no hugely obvious mistakes. In the top right corner, however, it says "Chinese Olymepic Cmmittee."

It's not as amusing as the Beijinag 2008 pen I bought a while back.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obama's China Connection

Why are two British newspapers printing stories about Barack Obama's brothers while US media is ignoring them? Better yet, why does anyone care?

The Sun ran a story about one of the Democratic presidential hopeful's younger brothers who happens to live in England. The Times ran another one about an older brother.

The second story was of more interest to me because the Obama brother happens to live in the same district of Shenzhen as I do. There's very little information in the story other than a few details pertaining to his business. It is a rather long article consisting of almost nothing substantial.

What interested me more than anything was the way in which the reporter described Shenzhen. "[T]he most cosmopolitan city in China." Has this reporter ever been to Shenzhen or any other city in China? Did he forget about Shanghai? Cosmopolitan would imply that this city has culture. Go ahead and ask any Chinese person if Shenzhen has culture and they will all respond in the negative. Maybe The Times should consider hiring a writer who knows what goes on in this city.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Of Paperwork and Foreign Food

Jia and I returned to Shenzhen yesterday from our short trip to Guangzhou and the US Consulate. I have no idea if everything we submitted was in order--and we probably won't know anything for about six months or so.

I also had to register to vote via absentee ballot for November's Presidential election--a more difficult process than I anticipated. Chinese addresses tend to be much longer than US addresses, and don't fit too well on the lines provided on the form. The form also has US postage paid, which doesn't do me much good since I still have to pay full Chinese postage. Why can't the consulate submit these forms for expats?

As for better news, we spent some extra time in Guangzhou to eat. After the consulate visit, we went out with some new friends to 1001 Nights next to China Hotel (special thanks to my former co-worker for recommending it). For 58 Yuan, they have a great lunch buffett with plenty of hummus, pita, and Middle Eastern barbecue. Unfortunately, while the food is a decent deal, the drinks are not--an extra 15 Yuan for a can of Coke.

No trip to Guangzhou would be complete without another stop to Danny's Bagel--still my favorite restaurant in the city. We had a meatball parm and Greek pita (smoked chicken, cherry tomatoes, and other vegetables), which were great. Danny mentioned that he sold the bagel business because it wasn't profitable, but assured me that he was looking into making smaller batches of bagels for the future to keep customers happy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Business Plan

Or maybe it's just another ploy to avoid talking to some people.

My wife had a custom shirt made for me as a one-year anniversary gift. The idea of this evolved out of many conversations with J. Some of my co-workers thought it was funny and suggested that I have more made so I can wear it every day. Who knows, maybe it'll be profitable.

The front says: Say hello to me 5 yuan, shake hands with me 10 yuan, take my picture 25 yuan, and have a conversation with me for a lot of Tsingtao.
I especially like the back--it has some poor grammar. Jia claims she wrote it properly and blames the whoever made the shirt for the error. It would be better if it was also in Chinese.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Olympic Fighting Words

From the official Olympic Security English handbook comes a lesson on "Frighting." That is not a typo, they actually have two lessons for frighting. Oddly enough, the scenario appears to involve a fight and not a fright. In lesson 13 (pages 143-48), the scene is set up as an interrogation into the cause of a bar fight (there is no lesson on breaking up a fight or calming a situation that could lead to one). This is the lesson of "Frighting (1)" which I had to teach to the class of police. I had to alter it significantly so it would be useful for future reference.

Police: You've hit and injured another person, you know.
Foreigner: He's also hit and injured me.
Police: He's been injured very seriously and taken to the hospital.
Foreigner: It's unfair! Why are you only questioning me?
Police: We'll question him when he comes to.... How did you come to fight with him?
Foreigner: I couldn't bear his insult!
Police: Why did you fight with him this time?
Foreigner: Because he took too many liberties with my girl friend.
Police: Did you try to keep away from him?
Foreigner: Yes. At first, we kept away from him, but not very far.
Police: Why didn't you leave the bar?
Foreigner: Who could tell that he was so impudent? Not long afterwards, he came close to my girl friend and held her in his arms!
Police: Did your girl friend resist him?
Foreigner: Of course she did. She tried hard to push him away. But he was very rude to her. He even kissed her by force. What a rascal!
Police: Did you try to stop him?
Foreigner: Yes, I did. I tried to push him aside.
Police: Did you succeed?
Foreigner: No. On the contrary, he hit me in the face with his fist.
Police: Why didn't you call the police at once?
Foreigner: I was very angry. How could I stand such an insult? I hit him on the head with a bottle.
Police: As a result, you wounded his head.

The conversation continues with some boring details after this point. What I'd like to know is, who actually speaks like this? I told the class that no one would ever use the word rascal, but if they did find someone who said this they were to contact me immediately so I could meet this person.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Really Overreacting?

Over the past few weeks, everyone has commented on the seemingly paranoid response by the Chinese government to ensuring a safe Olympics. The Financial Times published an article titled "Threat of 'no-fun' Olympics" with former Olympic marketer Michael Payne stressing that China needs to have a festival atmosphere and "smile" more.

There is ample evidence of over-planning in Beijing. The enforcement of old and new rules for obtain visas, as well as the difficulty for some to even stay in the country for the summer, has certainly cut down on some of the fun around the country. This goes with Beijing's decision to close entertainment venues by 2 am (and I thought the bars never closed), and putting restrictions on outdoor seating for restaurants, bars, and barbecues. Some of the biggest stories of paranoia deal with the threat of terrorism during the games. Beijing has sent out the comically-equipped Segway paramilitary and deployed anti-aircraft missiles outside the Bird's Nest.

Is this really just paranoia on the part of Beijing? I'd say, in some ways it is--the government is afraid of losing face in the event that anything doesn't go as planned. However, much of the preparation is more a sign of the times. As disturbing as it sounds, there are quite a few people in the world who don't care about the Olympic tradition of peace and ceasefire. Unfortunately, this is how some people act.

The Olympics is the world's greatest stage. One can make a huge political statement, even if the outcome isn't entirely successful. Personally, I have no problem with people using this time to make a peaceful political statement on the world stage. But, there is a line that too many are willing to cross for their message. The hope is that Beijing will be able to tell the difference between these groups and act accordingly.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday's Alphabet

A new candy store opened a few weeks ago near Haiya Baihuo here in Nanshan. It seems they took it upon themselves to change the alphabet. When I first saw this sign, I thought it said "SWTET," but a friend pointed out that it looks like the letter is a cross between a T and an E (and possibly an F).
Recently, I've come across a few articles that discuss the changes of English language due to the rise of foreign learners. Most of the mangling of English (as if it were truly possible to mangle a bastardized language) comes from China, Singapore, Japan, and Korea. It seems some believe that English will continue to evolve into some language that we native speakers won't recognize or, possibly, comprehend.

As I've read such articles about language, and witnessed the Chinglish translations, I've started thinking about a former teacher's book. Back in grad school, I had class with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, author of "My Own Alphabet." While not a mangling of language, it is an amusing read that makes a lot more sense than "You and I altogether do afforest the bodyguard."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

加油 Olympic Preparations

With fewer than 30 days before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, China notifying the world of ever more preparations.

Yesterday, China Daily published an article about rules for spectators at events. Beijing wants to have a fair games for all athletes. It sounds like the BOCOG wants to avoid its home field advantage. Spectators are banned from having banners (so, no "加油中国! Go China!") or flags of non-participating "countries." I wonder who that last regulation was pointed at (here's a hint: they're not in South America or Africa). It is also not advised to bring babies to events. If you're unsure of the rules when you get here, you can call 12308 and supposedly someone will inform you in English. If you're really confused, I suggest sitting quietly with your hands folded.

In another story, Reuters reports that the government will crack down heavily on pirated goods. There is no word on how widespread this crackdown will be, but the rumor is that it will only affect the host cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Qingdao. If they brought this to Shenzhen, almost the entire Luohu shopping mall would be closed, as would a large portion of Huaqiang Bei. Maybe Shenzhen will consider this when it hosts the Universiade in 2011.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Taste of OCT

Jia and I went to 92 Degrees Coffee Club at the Huaxia Arts Center in Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Friday for a late dinner. We arrived well after 8, and were seated in the back where it was empty and quiet (something we appreciated). After a normal dinner time, 92 Degrees was far from crowded--there were only a few tables with customers.

The restaurant is decorated in a style befitting a New England bed & breakfast. There's even a selection of books and magazines in English and Chinese for customers to enjoy while having coffee. There's even seating outside for the days when it's not too hot and humid in Shenzhen. It's a relaxing atmosphere for a meal. However, we could hear the movie theater through the wall.

The menu has a nice selection of Western dishes. The majority of the dishes are steak and fish. Jia settled on a Spanish steak and cream of chicken soup. I ordered grilled chicken and a mushroom and chicken pizza. Obviously, I didn't eat it all. Dishes like the steak and chicken come with a variety of sauce choices served on the side.

The steak was tender and didn't need any sauce on the side. However, the chicken tasted much better with the mushroom sauce, though I was tempted by the red wine sauce. Jia says the soup was very good, but I'm not a fan of too many cream soups. The pizza reminded me of some Italian restaurants back in Jersey--plenty of toppings and cheese, and almost no sauce. It also tasted good cold the next morning.

There's also a nice selection of reasonably priced imported beers at 92 Degrees (most of them are 28 or 38 RMB). Unfortunately, the beer menu is only in Chinese (unlike the rest of the menu, which is translated). I chose Tucher Doppelbock--a beer I've never heard of that tasted quite good.

92 Degrees Coffee Club is a great place for a quiet celebration or just a pleasant night out. Maybe next time we'll sample the coffee and dessert.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer Planning

Originally uploaded by chinacensored
It's almost time for my vacation. Plans aren't entirely set. So far, we're planning 10 days in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and somewhere else). The other seven days my parents are here, we're considering spending in Bangkok or Hong Kong and Macau.

If we do go to Thailand, I wouldn't mind going back to some of the temples and other sites. There was quite a bit that I know I missed during the first trip. I'll probably take my parents along the Phra Arthit to Sumen Fort--there were some very nice little restaurants nearby and it wasn't crowded or noisy. Quite a pleasant area near the chaos of Khao San Road.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back to the PSB

Today I went to the other Public Security Bureau office--the one for "immigration" as they say. My co-worker had all the documents in order to get my new residence permit. We were prepared for the worst after hearing all the horror stories.

After waiting 45 minutes for our number to be called (rather quick, I thought), we went up to window 6. I was definitely worried after watching this visa officer have what looked like a harsh argument with a Korean family. He certainly was not happy when we arrived at his post--I heard him complain to a colleague about the Hanguoren (Koreans). I guess that encounter left him without any desire to talk because he didn't ask any questions and barely looked at the documents. He didn't even look at me. We were finished with the process in five minutes. I should have a new visa in my passport next Thursday.

I guess I lucked out this time.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Indy's Back!

I was excited months ago when I heard there would be a new Indiana Jones movie. I was hesitant about getting too enthusiastic, though. I've been disappointed with George Lucas' story-telling abilities in recent years. I also wasn't so sure an aging Harrison Ford could really pull off the performance. My hopes were high, but my expectations were not.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull certainly did not exceed my hopes for a good sequel. It was an entertaining movie, but it was not nearly as good as the previous three. The biggest problem is that Lucas incorporated too much from the previous movies without explaining it, thereby alienating anyone who is not familiar with them. The other problems stem from too much action, not enough story. And, of course, a cheesy, schmaltzy ending.

In this newest installment of the Indiana Jones series, Dr. Jones is no longer fighting the Nazis, who have been replaced with Cold War Russian Commies. From the opening scenes, it began to look more like an episode of The X-Files, with strange magnetic pieces of a lifeform in a warehouse at Area 51. From there, it looks like Indiana Jones and the Soviets are chasing Martians into the jungles of South America.

Ignoring the deficiencies of the plot, the acting from Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LeBeouf, and the rest of the cast was good. I shouldn't have doubted Ford's ability to still get into character.

I just hope that Steven Speilberg and George Lucas don't decide to make any more sequels. Lucas should really think about lifting his ideas from samurai movies again.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Freedom in Shenzhen

As my brother so graciously reminded me, I should've done something for July 4th. Oh wait, I did, I just didn't post it on the 4th.

Yesterday was the last day of classes for the year (great timing for independence). I also signed my new contract for a second year at the university--I should have a new visa in a week or two.

For the evening, J. had a party. There were only three Americans there to celebrate Independence Day...and none of us had any fireworks. However, we did have some good burgers, potato salad, pasta salad, and plenty of beer--it almost felt like home.

My plan was to splurge a little on good beer. I began the night with a bottle of Old Speckled Hen (British ale) to get a feeling of why our forefathers revolted. I have to say, I really like this beer. And at 10.5 kuai a bottle, it's a decent bargain. I followed that up with a bottle of Rogue American Amber Ale. I haven't had this in at least five years, and couldn't remember it that well. It was definitely better than its British predecessor. It was, however, 6 kuai more expensive. Nonetheless, that bottle of freedom tasted much better than the Tsingtao I drank the rest of the night.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Review: The Onion Movie

I was surprised that this movie actually existed. I'm a big fan of The Onion and couldn't resist watching the movie. I did have my doubts going in--I kept thinking about Mad TV and how bad that turned out. Could a sketch-comedy movie based on a fake newspaper be worthwhile? I was prepared for disappointment.

The Onion Movie is a pleasant surprise. It has quite a bit of low-brow humor juxtaposed with social commentary. It reminded me of Amazon Women on the Moon, another sketch comedy movie without much of a plot. This had much more timely humor than its predecessor, and slightly more of a plot. But, The Onion Movie does not have B.B. King.

The Onion Movie revolves around The Onion News Channel and its anchor Norm Archer (Len Cariou). Archer gets upset about journalistic integrity due to the advertising for a Steven Seagal movie called Cock Puncher that interrupts the newscast. This storyline takes up about 15 minutes of the total movie time.

It is an amusing movie with a lot of low-brow comedy gimmicks. It does, however, have some of the amusing news stories you'd expect from The Onion--mostly read by Archer. It's amusing, but certainly not worth paying much to see. I suggest Amazon Women on the Moon for your entertainment dollar.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Olympic Communication Part 2

Direct from the Olympic Security English textbook comes lesson 10: Interrogating People (pages 107-109). In this lesson, the police officer encounters a minor out at midnight. The youth is stereotypically rude to authority figures and rather unwilling to provide information when asked. They provide no reason to interrogate the juvenile other than it being so late. The beginning is quite dull, so we'll jump right into the middle of the conversation:

Police: You seem to have a bad temper. Is it because you quarreled with your parents and left home?
Minor: Leave me alone. I don't want to go home.
Police: Then come along with us to the police station.
Minor: No, I won't.
Police: We can't leave you alone here. Tell us your name, your home phone number.
Minor: How annoying! All right. My name is Helen. I live in Jian Guo Men Apartments for Aliens.
Police: Good! Now we'll take you home and leave you under your parents' care.

I really like the name of the apartment building. Apparently, the translator decided that 外交(wai jiao) is aliens rather than foreign affairs. I suppose this is what they think of the apartments that foreigners rent--they're really meant for extra-terrestrials. Or, it could just be another reason why so many people stare at the foreigners around here.

The other lessons on "How to Stop Illegal News Coverage" and "Frighting" are posted here and here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Trip to the PSB

No, I didn't get in any trouble. I'm starting the process of renewing my visa, which required a short trip to the local Public Security Bureau. Before I sign my new contract tomorrow so that the university can get a new Foreign Experts Certificate (FEC) and Residence Permit, I needed to register as a temporary resident (this will be my fourth year and I'm still temporary).

This year part of the process has changed in Guangdong province. In previous years, I needed a few small photos for documents. I still need those, but I also need a photo printed on a paper with a bar code. This paper is simply a receipt for the photo. It now costs an additional 35 RMB for this new piece of paper at the local Kodak shop.

At the PSB, Jia helped me fill out some forms. It's all translated in English, but most of the information needs to be written in Chinese. I do wonder why they need a section for skin color (choices are: white, yellow, brown, and black) when the document also requires a photo. There was also a section for which I needed to call the office to confirm--they wanted to know if my FEC was for a normal expert or a senior expert. Apparently, I'm an senior expert. I don't know what the difference is between the two, but I do think it sounds nice.