Monday, February 21, 2011

An Idiot Abroad

I'm so happy to have On Demand (only the free service part, I don't pay for anything extra). Last week I came across episodes of "An Idiot Abroad," Ricky Gervais' new show. The show is a bit of a practical joke--sending Ricky's friend Karl to exotic locales to experience other cultures. Of course, the entertainment comes from the fact that Karl is not adventurous in any sense of the word--he even packs his own snacks.

I was drawn into the show because the first episode sent Karl to Beijing and some nearby locations. As a first trip outside of England, China is a shock. My greatest source of amusement was watching Karl's reaction to the local food--especially as he watches a girl enjoy a scorpion on a stick and a man chow down on chicken embryos. Unlike Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, Karl doesn't encounter stinky tofu. On his trip along the Great Wall, he gets to watch his host kill and cook frogs. He tries to politely decline the delicacy, but is force-fed by his host. I must admit I do enjoy the taste of frog, especially the Sichuan/Chongqing-style dishes, but I also find the small bones annoying.

It isn't all torture for Karl; he seems to enjoy some of the travel. He gets some amusement out of his Shaolin kung fu training. Of course, that is followed by some traditional Chinese therapy involving fire on his body (I'm convinced that anything that is supposedly good for you in China is painful).

In other episodes, Karl travels through Israel, Jordan, Mexico, India, and Egypt. Surprisingly, the most unusual foods he encounters are in Mexico and Egypt. In Mexico, he eats some wasp larva with some chili at a Mayan village. And in Egypt, he eats some animal testicles and other organs before his host tells him what's in the dish.

After going through the first five episodes, I'm waiting for the new ones. I don't know where they'll send Karl next or how Ricky Gervais will try to torture him.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Practice

Now that the new semester is in full swing, it's difficult for me to get out for Mandarin Monday events in the city--working 9-6 with only a 15 minute break is a bit tiring (good thing I only do that once a week). Fortunately, I have found another way to practice my Mandarin.

While working at the campus writing center I found three Chinese students who plan to attend regular tutoring sessions. I'm  now getting in the habit of greeting these students in Mandarin and having brief conversations with them before they begin their sessions.

Yesterday, I found that I hadn't properly introduced myself to two of the students. After asking one about what she did for Spring Festival, she inquired where I was from and how I came to learn Chinese. I hadn't had to answer those questions in over two years.

Having these students around regularly should help motivate me to study more.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Without a Bang

It's difficult keeping track of lunar holidays in the US. In China, the fireworks would've started days ago, but I don't have those cracks and bangs to remind me that Spring Festival is here. It just doesn't feel like Chinese New Year without fireworks being set off haphazardly after drinking Tsingtao and baijiu.

Reading this morning's Twitter feed while sitting around because the college has a delayed opening due to icy conditions, I was reminded of the tradition of watching the CCTV Spring Festival Spectacular. The commentary can be quite amusing--especially when it comes time for the singing and dancing minorities portion of the show. Instead of watching the show, I attended a party with the Mandarin Monday group in New York. Part of the festivities was a Kung Fu demonstration that included very few Chinese--there was one large, older white guy who was surprisingly agile.

Since the weather is terrible and we have to work, Jia and I will have more of a celebration this weekend with a dinner out at Grand Sichuan.

I still miss the fireworks (at least one night of them, not the two weeks that follow).

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Strange Crimes

The run up to Spring Festival is always filled with minor crimes. Every year the Chinese government warns people to be careful with their valuables when traveling. This year, there are some unusual crimes around Shenzhen.

Shenzhen Daily reports that two teenagers stole valuables from travelers' luggage on a Bao'an airport shuttle bus. One of the teenagers was small enough to fit into a suitcase that was stored in the luggage compartment of the bus. He then crawled out and rummaged through the other luggage on board.

In another case, customs officials seized 2300 kilograms of smuggled seafood. There were no details as to what type of seafood--it could have been endangered animals, but that would be more likely reported. Why would anyone smuggle seafood into a region known for its seafood?