Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brewing Reacquaintances

One of my biggest complaints about living in China was the lack of beer variety. Sure, there were imported beers for sale at Jusco and Carrefour, but I didn't want to spend that much on a single bottle (and don't even get me started on the bar prices--the bars in New Jersey are cheaper). For lack of a foreign income, I resorted to drinking Tsingtao at restaurants for 5 or 6 Yuan. Tsingtao is not a bad beer; I just happen to like more variety.

Coming home I got reacquainted with some old favorites. The first bottles I picked up were Yuengling Lager--a wonderful amber lager from the oldest brewery in America in Pottstown, PA. It's even better when considering that it's less than $6 for a six-pack.

Over the last two months, I've had some Saranac, Guinness (on tap), Bass, and Magic Hat--all very fine brews. I also came across an old favorite: Victory Hopdevil. This is probably the strongest tasting beer I've ever had--Victory Brewery uses an incredible amount of hops in that beer. Unfortunately, Hopdevil is not to everyone's taste (I only know a handful of people who enjoy it). Now that I've entertained the old tastebuds, I'm venturing into new territory of brews.

My latest purchase is Fisherman's IPA from Cape Ann Brewing Co. It's a solid IPA--a nice strong taste of hops that's not overpowering like some IPAs. And it has just a subtle aftertaste. I've had smoother IPAs, but those usually don't go over well when craving the bitterness of a quality beer. I will certainly put this on a list of recommended beers, but only for those who truly enjoy the taste of hops.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Turkish Time

Saturday we met my cousin and her boyfriend for lunch in New York. We didn't realize that there was a Turkish parade through Manhattan that we had to cross in order to meet them at the restaurant.

Along the parade route, we saw what appeared to be a float of Xinjiang Uyghurs under the heading of Turkestan (which includes Xinjiang and part of Russian and Afghanistan). Jia was surprised to see Uyghurs in New York, but was a little confused about the lack of a Chinese flag (or about their relation to Turkey).

By coincidence we had lunch at Kanaat Turkish Cuisine on Lexington and 55th. Probably because of the parade the restaurant was quiet. The atmosphere was pleasant, and it probably would be with more patrons. We began our meal with fairly large plates of humus and patician salad (which resembles a non-spicy version of 老虎菜 lǎohǔcài). Everyone was happy with the entrees that included adana kebab, chicken sarma, and istim kebab. Every dish was good and the portions were decent for the price in Manhattan ($14-17 each).

The only disappointment was the Turkish coffee. My brother and I agreed that it was too sweet. And for my brother to say that means that it was excessively sweet (he likes a lot of sugar in his coffee).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Colors on a Templed Street

After visiting so many temples in China and Thailand, it's difficult for me to be impressed. There are rare moments when something catches my eye and I'm enticed to take a picture.

We passed by numerous Buddhist temples while in Penang, Malaysia, but entered very few. Most of the temples were Chinese-Buddhist and very small, with little to attract non-Buddhist interest. Because we were in Penang during the Hungry Ghost Festival (supposedly a Chinese festival and Jia had never previous heard about), there were plenty of people entering temples and lighting incense.

This large incense caught my eye. I'm accustomed to seeing simple sticks (occassionally very large). This was also lit on the side of the street, outside the gate of the temple.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's Everyone Else's Fault

Once again, China is playing the blame game. This time it's all about the environment.

Rather than practicing what it preaches, the Chinese government is demanding "rich nations" to cut greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2020. Not included in the list of nations: China. This is because China is still a "developing country." (Independent space program, nuclear power, technologically advanced mass transportation network, most Internet users in world, but not a developed country.) China also says "rich nations" must also invest more money in green technology (which will probably be produced in China).

Meanwhile, China has missed its 4% annual cuts in emissions that it promised since 2006.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Today's Confusion

Please don't think too long after reading the following links--your head may explode or you will have fits of rage.

1. Where are your tax dollars going now? To China, of course. No, the US government is not paying off its debt to the Middle Kingdom. (article)

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is handing out a $2.6 million grant to Dr. Li of Wayne State University School of Medicine to study alcohol abuse among prostitutes in China (specifically, Guangxi province). Dr. Li will attempt the rampant alcohol abuse, which he claims will bring about more conscious decisions of sex, such as condom use.

The theory of the intervention is that reduced alcohol consumption by prostitutes will lead to lower STD rates. There is no mention in the article about the fact that prostitution is illegal in China and the Chinese government claims that it doesn't exist.

The question taxpayers should be asking is who profits from this "research"? Will Dr. Li be promoting American-made condoms? Will his paid assistants be American citizens who are in desperate need of jobs? Will they choose Tsingtao or Budweiser?

2. China is upset about foreign countries' claims that the Chinese are hacking into computer systems that contain sensitive information, such as military secrets. (article)

A Chinese scientist refuted the outrageous claims by saying that it's impossible for someone to hack into those computers (has he tried?). "Networks containing sensitive intelligence are impenetrable," Fang Binxing claims.

Considering there are documented instances of hackers breaking into government computer networks over the years, Fang's statement is rather naive. If we read deeper into Fang's comments, it appears Chinese hackers are inept.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

There Is No Sex in China

Looks like China's planned sex theme park celebration was premature. It seems the Chongqing government had performance anxiety and pulled the plug on the project after a good portion of it was erected.

According to The New York Times (always known for truth in news), government officials blushed at the idea of having a "vulgar, ill-minded, and misleading" theme park in their backyard. This from the same government that merely fined one of its own for sex with a minor because he didn't know how old she really was. I guess this means everyone will have to go the usual massage parlors and KTVs for sex education.

Note: This is the Waiguoren's 500th post!

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Bridge Too Far

It's a double photo Friday. We came across this bridge on our way through Sichuan during the first May holiday. It was an extra long bus ride from Chengdu to Songpan with half the bus chain-smoking the entire 12 hours (even the driver was smoking). We arrived late in the afternoon and took a walk through the old part of town--a beautifully maintained walled town with traditional architecture. We picked up spicy dried yak to eat as wandered.
The bridge was an accident--we were walking aimlessly. The bridge led us to a quiet area of town, into the mountains toward a temple at the summit. We made our way to a small temple set into the side of the mountain, but were unable to continue to the larger one that loomed over Songpan because it was getting late and we had no flashlights to find our way back to town.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Northern Exposure

Josh at Far West China reminded me of part of my journey through Xinjiang in 2006. On my first summer holiday in China, my parents visited. I planned to take them to Xinjiang for the sole purpose of meeting Jia--I had no idea what there was to see and do at that time.

After our trips through the bazaar, provincial museum (still one of the best museums I saw in China), and Heavenly Lake, Jia took us to walk up Hongshan (红山) or Red Mountain. She told us that anyone who visits Urumqi has climb the mountain, which was more of a hill.
Like most parks in China, there was a bit of a cheesy carnival atmosphere by the entrance. Visitors could rent boats to go around the man-made lake, pay to have their photos taken in front of fake rocks that are next to real rocks, and even play carnival like games (but not whack-a-mole).
We first hiked up the steps to the tower at the top of Hongshan to take in the beautiful views of Urumqi on a bright August day with the much larger mountains in the background.

Wandering around other parts of the park, we came to temple. Unlike any other Buddhist temple I've been to, this one was surrounded by small, noisey carnival rides. It was hard to imagine finding inner piece with all that racket outside the temple walls, but I suppose it was good practice for the monks. When we entered, a woman tried to sell us incense, telling Jia that if she got her "tour group" to buy it at an inflated price she would kick back a few kuai (this was a common theme on our trip through Xinjiang).

We followed up our little hike with dinner on the street near our hotel--there was a line of restaurants to sit in or to pick up some barbecue and walk along. It was a great way to spend our last day in Xinjiang before heading to Chengdu and the hottest weather I have ever encountered.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Worst Alibi Ever

A government official in Yibin county, Sichuan, gave the worst alibi for charges of underage prostitution. And the worst part is that the courts let him off with a 5000 Yuan fine! (article)

Lu Yumin paid two men 6000 Yuan so that he could have sex with a 13-year-old girl (by comparison a typical prostitute in the region costs 100 Yuan, according to China Daily). His defense at trial was that he didn't know the girl was underage. Apparently the threshold for child rape in China is 14, and that's what Mr. Lu thought he was getting.

I'm not sure where to begin to describe how unbelievably disgusting this whole situation is. It's bad enough that a government official is caught paying for sex; it's worse that he was actually looking for a 14-year-old, who turned out to be a year younger. And that he was let off with a slap on the wrist because it is a reasonable defense to claim he didn't know her real age.

This case is saying that it's OK for government officials to pay for sex with minors as long as they "believe" the minors are older than 14.

Fortunately, there is quite a bit of outrage from the citizens. From the message board: "This excuse is insulting to the intelligence of Chinese people and the world."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Zodiac Balloons

A unique sight (at least I've never seen it anywhere else) on Jingli, the main tourist street in Chengdu, was the balloon animals--a small, inexpensive treat for the children.
The vendor inflated the sugary substance with a straw and molded it into on of the twelve Chinese zodiac. He probably would take requests for other animals for the right price, and I wouldn't be surprised if he made the Fuwa during the Olympics.

I believe the animals are edible, but I have no idea if they taste good.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fun in Chinese

I'll admit that I've been slacking off a bit when it comes to studying Chinese. I desperately need a class to motivate me (I've needed a class for the last three years).

Studying Chinese is much more difficult now that I'm in the US. At least while living in China I could've just walked out the door and started up a conversation with the locals. It was even possible to try to talk with my mother-in-law. But that's all gone now. It's even difficult to talk with my wife in Chinese because she's become more motivated in studying English and trying to neutralize her accent (which I didn't really think was a problem).

Yesterday I had my chance. Jia told me to go to the Asian market off Route 10 to pick up some food for dinner(and it's a really nice Asian market--but they don't have a great selection of rice). I walked up to the prepared food section, and the man behind the counter greeted me in English. I responded with, "请给我一直烤鸭"(Please give me a roast duck). Without even a comment as to my non-Chinese appearance, the guy asked in Chinese if I wanted him to cut the duck. Back in Shenzhen my requests were usually responded to with, "You speak Chinese very well" (a common compliment for speaking even the most simplistic of Chinese phrases).

Having this friendly Asian market and the amazing Sichuan restaurant has at least provided me with some motivation to kick myself in the ass and start studying more seriously. I have plenty of Chinesepod lessons on my hard drive that I should listen to more often.

Also, the roast duck was really good. Jia just had to make some dipping sauce. All it was missing was the little pancakes to wrap the duck in.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Review: The Mao Case

I should begin with a disclaimer: I have not read a mystery in a very long time, and I've never been an avid reader of the genre. I have also never read the other novels in this series.

Qiu Xiaolong's The Mao Case is an overtly political story with hints of poetics and history that fall flat. There is a mystery in the story, but it arrives too late in the novel to maintain interest.

The mystery begins with Chief Inspector Chen of Shanghai investigating a case from China's Internal Security about a woman who could possibly release information that could humiliate the memory of Mao and the communist party. As flimsy as a premise as that may sound, the story continues with tales of a movie star, Shang, who was one of Mao's secret lovers, and the tragedy of her family. The history provides Shang's granddaughter Jiao with a motive and possible material for the plot. Chen's role is to infiltrate an intellectual group that meets at an old mansion in Shanghai and parties like it's 1930. There are also some subplots--mostly about Chen's lost love who gets married in Beijing. 

There are many times that lines of translated poetry is quoted by Chen and others. These lines should provide the reader with insight into the mystery that is unfolding, but they often do not. The politics is so overwhelming in the first few chapters that it feels like Qiu is hitting the reader over the head with his views. There are many conversations about the Cultural Revolution, and its impact on how people live today.

The real action of the story doesn't arrive in the novel until almost 200 pages into the 289 pages of the book. Even when the mystery finally comes close to its end, it sounds rather half-baked--almost an afterthought thrown into the mix. 

While the story itself isn't engaging, Qiu does show some glimmers of hope in his prose. There are passages that sound poetic and descriptions that grab the reader. 
Again, Chen was lost in a recurring dream scene--of an ancient gray gargoyle murmuring in the twilight-covered Forbidden City, in the midst of black bats flapping around the somber grottos--when he was awakened.
Unfortunately, those moments of literary beauty are not consistent and get lost in The Mao Case.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Walking On

In between the rain showers that have plagued the area (and will supposedly continue until next week), we took part in the Revlon Run/Walk to fight cancer. (You can visit their Web site to donate to the cause.) My family has been part of it since I left for China, and this was my first year to take part in it. The event holds importance in my family as my aunt is a cancer survivor and we lost my uncle shortly after I left for China. The others on our walking team were all friends of my aunt, some of whom have also lost loved ones to cancer.

The walk itself wasn't long--only two and a half miles--but the pace was very slow with the huge crowd. We also had to walk a while to get to the start of the official walk, and then quite a bit more to get to the brunch afterward. And, of course, we also walked more after brunch before heading back to Jersey City and our Sichuanese dinner.

Now I'm looking forward to the rain stopping long enough so I can take a day out hiking at the Delaware Water Gap.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Reasons I Need a Job

This post is sponsored by Alaska Denali Tours

As anyone who reads this blog can tell, I love to travel. I particularly enjoy adventures centered around culture and nature. Vacations are more enjoyable when the two are combined.

A few years ago, my family took a cruise to Alaska for my grandfather's birthday. It was definitely cool going fishing in Juneau, canoeing near Skagway, and hiking through Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan. Unfortunately, the cruise only included the Inside Passage, but it whetted my appetite for more Alaska travel.

Now that Jia is a permanent resident and can travel anywhere in the US, I've been thinking of where I'd like to take her. I know she'd enjoy seeing Alaska, and I'd like to see more of it. One of the places I'd like to travel to next time is Denali National Park.

Searching through, I can plan a great trip to Alaska (not just Denali). They have a lot of options that sound really nice. There are so many options on the site that I may have to reconsider convincing Jia to move to Alaska (not an easy task--I've already tried). It's either that or we better start making a lot of money because those trips up north aren't cheap. But at least I now know there are options for us when we decide to travel Alaska.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sichuan in Jersey

I have finally found authentic Chinese food in the US--tonight was 100% better than last year's encounter with a Chinese restaurant that promised us authentic food because we were living in China.

Grand Sichuan (大四川) on Grove St. and Newark Ave. in Jersey City is a great meal. They also have a few locations in New York City. With six of us in the small restaurant, we ordered a small and spicy feast.

We started with spicy sliced beef (麻辣牛肉) and some cold noodles. The 麻辣牛肉 was great--not as neatly sliced as it usually was in China, but the beef was tender and the spices were just right. I'm not a big fan of cold noodles, but Jia enjoyed them.

For the main course, we ordered sweet & sour fish (糖醋鱼片), dried string beans (干煸四季豆), spicy beef (水煮牛肉), spicy frog and vegetables, and smoked tea duck (樟茶鸭). Everything was great, but the fish wasn't quite what I was used to in China (still enjoyed it though). I don't recall trying smoked tea duck in China and now I think I should have because I really enjoyed it at Grand Sichuan. Everything that was supposed to be spicy was about as spicy as I remember them being when Jia and I visited Sichuan.

In Jersey City, Grand Sichuan does not have a liquor license, but you can bring your own Tsingtao (or baijiu if you really want it). They also have an "American Chinese" menu page for those who don't want anything really spicy or tasty.