August 29, 2009
Hm, I didn't think even the Chinese gov't would want kids playing with nuclear beach balls. (Seen at the Beijing airport.)
I saw this awesome poster up at a cool bar/restaurant near our house. One of the cool things in China is that many restaurants have a kids' playroom. This one is just cooler than most. Everyone wins: parents, kids, and restaurant. Seems like a good idea for an XBox marketing campaign...
(taken with crappy camera phone)
I saw this poster up around the shops near our house in Beijing and felt it really spoke to me. I too "am crazy for drink tonight" and of course, who doesn't want "continuous excitements" and "non-stop gifts"?
August 27, 2009
Wahoo! The wind has been blowing all day, so the air is getting clearer pretty quickly. Look at the difference between this morning (182), early this afternoon (129), and late this afternoon (74). You can really see how these different AQI scores look.
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
Things are much more clear than this morning. At 129, looking out my window, it doesn't feel heavily polluted (although it's still worse than most cities in the US on a bad day.)
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
Today is pretty good relative to my last update on air quality: 182.
Here's what 182 looks like. If you compare it to the 213 from the other day, you can see a little further, but not much.
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
August 25, 2009
During our recent trip to Xian we mostly focused on seeing the Terracotta Warriors. However, we did get to see a little of the city. It has a very different vibe from Beijing. In many ways it's more of what I expected from China. Xian has some obvious historical artifacts still standing, most notably the city wall encircling the inner city. The streets are really full of people (Beijing is sprawling and hardly ever feels as packed as Tokyo or Hong Kong.) Perhaps scarier, the driving is even more chaotic than Beijing. It's definitely a little more raw than the more staid Beijing.
A few brief facts about Xian: It was the capital of China several times including during the Qin Dynasty that unified China (and produced the Terracotta Warriors). It was the end of the Silk Road, and for a few hundred years from about the 7th to 10th centuries, it was the largest city in the world. While Han Chinese represent most of the population, there is a sizable Muslim population and a famous mosque, The Great Mosque of Xian. The night market between the Drum Tower and the Great Mosque was absolutely packed with people enjoying a warm Saturday night.
The Bell Tower in the middle of the city
The Drum Tower near the Bell Tower
The busy night market near the Great Mosque and Drum Tower. (I wish I had better photos, but I had to hold onto the kids to make sure we didn't lose them in the massive crowd.)
August 24, 2009
I’ve Twittered and Facebooked the air quality indicator (AQI) measure a few times, but I don't think the numbers mean much without visuals. So, every so often, I'll post a photo from my office with the AQI score. I'm getting my data from the US Embassy's Twitter feed. (Note, the US Embassy is on the other side of Beijing from my office, but I trust the data more than the official Chinese gov't info.)
Here's what 213 looks like. (Average for the day is 199). The AQI in Bellevue, WA is 24 currently.
We were in Ritan Park this weekend and saw this ripped dude doing a hardcore high bar routine. He had strapped his hands to the bar, probably both to protect himself from the friction and to keep from flying off the bar onto the concrete and hard dirt below. He then started doing full-on giant swings. And, like I observed in Ditan Park, he wasn't wearing any particular workout clothing. He had taken his shirt off, but he was wearing grey wool-looking dress slacks and sneakers. I love seeing all the cool stuff people do in the parks. Apparently Michelle and our friend Stacy didn't mind watching him either; they seemed to linger over our buff friend for a bit...
(Unfortunately, I only had my camera phone with me, so the shots are crappy.)
Behind my office building in Beijing, I saw the sign for this company AdSage. They're a search engine marketing company who apparently doesn't want to offend Google, MSN, or Yahoo so they incorporated bits of all our logos into theirs. Or, like many things in China, they just lifted bits of IP from different places. Anyway, I thought it was funny.
August 23, 2009
This photo of the cherry pit/stem discard bowls pretty much sums up the difference between Andrew (12) and Michael (9). Andrew's bowl is the top one; Michael's is on the bottom. Hm, which kid is random and disorganized and which kid is a little obsessive?
As many of you know, my lovely wife Michelle is Caucasian, and I am not. Interracial marriages (esp. Asian/Caucasian) are not at all uncommon on the West Coast of the US, although ones where the husband is non-white are less common. In Seattle, we occasionally bump into surprises where people don't think Michelle looks like a "Chor" or don't guess we're together, but by and large it's not a big deal. In other parts of the US, we draw stares occasionally but it's not a big deal these days (twenty years ago it was a little different with open staring when we were outside the West Coast.)
Here in China, however, while the white dude/Chinese wife combo is not odd, our particular combination is very rare. This has lead to a surprisingly common phenomenon: everyone thinks I'm Michelle's driver. I guess this isn't surprising since it's not an uncommon sight to see a Caucasian expat woman out shopping with her Chinese driver (who translates, carries bags, etc. – much the same as my responsibilities when we go shopping).
Still, it caught us by surprise the first time a shopkeeper asked if I was her driver. People often think Michelle is kidding when she replies (in Chinese) that I'm her husband. Even kids think this; at the kids' international school, one of their classmates asked if I was their driver. ("Only in the US" was the right reply.)
Most recently, however, I was invited into the Chinese driver club. When we were in Xian last weekend (to see the Terracotta Warriors), our family and two friends took a pair of cabs from the airport. Just outside the airport they pulled over, and the other driver came over to our car. He leaned in and said, "Shifu, let's make a deal…" ("Shifu" means master; it's the title used for drivers.) He went on to say (in Chinese of course), "Hey, we're all drivers here. We want to turn off the meter so our boss doesn’t see this fare. We'll give you a good deal, and we get to keep some money." It took me a second to realize what was going on. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough on my feet. As Michelle suggested later, I should have asked for a cut.
Of course, I shouldn't complain. Until 1967, anti-miscegeny laws (laws prohibiting interracial marriage and/or sexual relations) were still in effect in sixteen US states; worse, it took until 1998 and 2000 before the last two states (South Carolina and Alabama, respectively) removed the last such provisions from their state constitutions (and then barely in Alabama). I guess these cases of mistaken identity beat not being married to Michelle or having the police barge into our bedroom (like they did with the Lovings, whose case resulted in the US Supreme Court ended all anti-miscegeny laws in the US. It seems like there are parallel lessons that should be applied today to other cases. We're so dumb sometimes.
Anyway, Michelle and the kids think this whole thing is hysterical and have started calling me "Shifu". I'll have to start smoking by the car to complete the picture, I suppose.
August 17, 2009
The family and I plus my colleagues Steve and John took the 1.5 hour flight to Xian this weekend to see the sights. On the top of the list, of course, was the famous Terracotta Army, so we headed out on a muggy, hot day to check it out.
After fending off the numerous offers in the parking lot for a tour guide, we walked through a long shopping plaza to get to the entrance. (Tip: it’s probably worth the 5 RMB to take the electric tram to the entrance. Bonus tip: hang on to your tickets – you’ll have show them to various guards several times.)
It might have been worth getting a tour guide for 100 RMB (about USD$15). As they warned me in English and Chinese, the site is not well marked. We figured out where pit #1 was and headed over to the building to see Qin Shi Huang’s army.
The building housing pit #1:
Inside this building was the largest of the excavated pits. It was really breathtaking. It’s huge. If you look in this photo, you can see the tourists gathered around the edges of the pit. The soldiers were arranged in “rooms” divided by rammed earth walls that are apparently as hard as concrete. The rooms were covered with logs, grass mats, and dirt, forming a roof.
Note the original entrance used to populate the rooms; the doors were later sealed.
There’s still a lot of work to be done at the sites. Here is a platoon in various states of re-assembly.
In fact, there are many parts of the site that archaeologists have yet to unearth. They’re going slowly, apparently to limit the environmental damage from pollution, moisture (including that from the breath and sweat of the all the tourists), and mold that are beginning to take a toll on the ones already exposed.
The detail of each of the soldiers was really amazing. While the faces are all unique, the soldiers were apparently mass produced. The faces came from a set of base patterns and then were “personalized” to add expressions and different features. The different body parts were fired separately and then assembled. The pieces were all originally painted, but the color has faded over the years. This was a bit of a surprise to me since I’ve always seen the in the familiar brown color. They all originally had bronze weapons, but these were looted. However, the ones they recovered were still sharp due to the advanced chrome plating process used – thousands of years ahead of similar plating technology in the west.
In addition to the terracotta figures, they had two bronze chariots on display. These were smaller than real life (I think half sized), but still amazingly detailed and beautiful.
There was one weird thing. Ahead of the Olympics last year, they (not sure who “they” really is) built a huge terracotta solider marionette that held hands and danced with a Western-doll marionette. The two were just creepy.
Overall, the artifacts were really amazing as was the scale of the display. I just had no idea it was so huge (also, only about 1000 of the estimated 8000 soldiers has been excavated so far). Perhaps even more tantalizing are the reports of huge, 22 square mile (56 sq. km) necropolis nearby with a map of all of China. The old records say the ceiling is studded with pearls, simulating the night sky, and mercury was pumped to simulate river flows. To unearth the entire site, twelve villages and several factories would have to be moved. Almost none of the site has been uncovered and the entrance to the tomb has not been found yet. However, the soil apparently has high concentrations of mercury. It’s staggering to think of this level of accomplishment in 210 BC.
The only real downsides were the mobs of pushy tourists and the heat. It was difficult to really look at the statues and take in everything with so many people around (often thoughtlessly shoving, talking loudly, and bumping into us); in particular, it took some effort to stay connected with the kids. We were also just hot the whole time, even though the buildings were somewhat air conditioned. Michelle also wound up with a bottle of faux Perrier at a coffee shop outside the complex (this kind of real-looking packaging with fake contents is unfortunately too common in China.)
Still, the site was incredible to see, and we’re glad we went. Definitely worth a visit.
August 16, 2009
I saw this sign at the Terracotta Warrior museum. I guess with all of the tourists there, stampeding is a real risk...
August 9, 2009
As I mentioned before, I love TEDTalks. I’ve been watching them a lot lately in the car and on flights via my Zune. I found this one especially entertaining. Sarah Jones delivers an amazing performance, acting out a pile of characters on stage. She really is even physically believable. Amazing.