Monday, May 31, 2010

I should probably explain my absence of late...

Among the best explanations I've heard regarding why it's great for expats to live in Beijing is one I'll attribute to Associated Press reporter Anita Chang, who said that this city, unlike, say, New York, is full of people with diverse interests. Whereas in some places seem to breed cliques, the environment here, for whatever reason, engenders a type of well-rounded individual. Or you can say well-rounded individuals tend to thrive here. Opportunities abound.

Part of the reason I've been so busy as late is because I, along with my friend Jim, have been hosting trivia night at Souk Lounge on Tuesdays. I know, I can't believe it either. This would have happened in absolutely no other city, but here I am, one of a dozen or so hosts of trivia in Beijing. It's a fascinating subculture that I'd love to explore in greater detail in the future, but for now, many of my free hours (those that don't go to Ultimate Frisbee, etc.) are devoted to coming up with questions in the categories of Images, Current Events and Beijing Life, Music, Geography, History, Literature, Potpourri and Sports. Jim and I are about to embark on our third week as hosts, and it's going to be better than ever.

Anyway, please come check out trivia on Tuesday at Souk Lounge if you get a chance. Starts at 8 pm, but Jim and I will be there eating dinner and hanging out beforehand, so say hi if you can.

We've branded our quiz EVERYBODY GETS LAID* -- Tuesdays are the new Friday at Souk Lounge. Yeah, there's a reason for that...

Music Round, of course, is a staple in every trivia night. Here are our song choices for May 18 and May 25.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One heck of an expensive toilet

From The Economic Times (HT: Laura), a story about a $43,900 toilet:

Many citizens have blasted the expense as a waste of taxpayers' money, saying only cleanliness and tidiness are necessary for a toilet.

I play backgammon on the loo, myself.

And the last time we did toilet humor...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jingshan Park

Entry backdated on June 1, 2:57 am; pictures taken on May 25, around noon

If you ever needed proof that Beijing has lovely parks, look no further than the local gems that foreigners and tourists tend to overlook: Jingshan Park, for instance, located across from the better-known Beihai Park (entrance prices: 5 kuai for the former, 20 for the latter). If one only had three or five days in Beijing, it's a no-brainer that you'd see the Forbidden City, Great Wall, maybe Temple of Heaven or Summer Palace, maybe Sanlitun or Nanluoguxiang if you were young, maybe one of the art districts... Jingshan Park, for many reasons, would not make it on the docket. But look at what you'd miss:


No wonder the people above take so many pictures amid the flowers...

And more pictures:

And finally... this kid:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Something's wrong with this ad - the wonderful world of expat magazines

First, City Weekend redesigned its website. It was a long time coming, but it still looks like a cheap travel/tour website as opposed to a place for locals to get meaningful information. Not surprisingly, most of the listings under "events" are just glorified ads for travel companies advertising for "Tibet Travel Discount" and "Miao Lusheng Festival Tour."

Second, this ad on the Beijinger caught my eye:

Upon closer inspection...

Yes, that says Whether the images on that site are actually SFW -- safe for work -- depends entirely on where you work.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A great night at the 21st Century Theater

Backdated on June 1

The Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Eivind Aadland, performed three really solid pieces last night at the Century Theater near Liangmaqiao. (You can read my interview with Aadland on the Beijinger here.) When it was all done, the audience gave the TSO a stirring ovation, so Aadland came back and had the orchestra play an encore of the famous Chinese folk song Mo Li Hua, which got the crowd to clap again.

They came out for a second encore, a song that I didn't recognize. All told, a great night.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Introducing: The Otherside

While reading the Otherside's blog post titled "How to Survive in China as a Foreigner," it struck me that I've been in China long enough to be considered a "long-time resident." The phrase seems innocuous, but its deeper implications are none too pleasant: traffic jams are no loner novel, worthy of a picture from a pedestrian overpass; unholy hordes of humanity cease to become amusing, instead becoming annoying; a clear sky is just another day; and trashcans stranded amid an island of flowers and shrubs... eh.

Here's to hoping -- with a big thanks to Otherside's Christopher (read his letter to Mom and Dad) -- that China continues to impress and amaze me as it has for these past two years.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kro's Nest roundup

Piecing together the story from the top...

Beijing Boyce, 5/8 (since updated twice):

Partner problems in the Beijing food and beverage scene are no rarity and the newest case involves The Kro’s Nest where it looks like the pie has hit the fan. The person most associated with this pizza chain, Kro, says that he is being pushed out of the business but that he does not plan on taking it sitting down. Instead, he’ll be standing and flipping pizzas at the Workers Stadium North branch today and tonight and asks diners to pay him directly. That’s all the info I have on this situation at the moment but hope to have more soon.

Global Times, 5/10:

A Kro's Nest manager said staff were told Bauer is no longer part of the company, and that the police were called because he was collecting money from customers. "Nobody wanted to see this happen," she added. She said it was unclear who owned the restaurant chain, calling it a "business secret." Another manager said the owner "saw no need" to talk to the media. Attempts to reach Yuan on his mobile phone failed.

Damjan DeNoble, china/divide, 5/11, in a long post that you should read if you want the final word on the situation as it currently stands:

Indeed, Kro, for longer than a short while, was above a lot of things. Above the ordi­nary, above expec­ta­tion, and above the law, or below it if you hap­pen to under­stand that legal pro­tec­tions in China extend up the social hier­ar­chy, not down. He graced the cover of mul­ti­ple inter­na­tional mag­a­zines, starred in CCTV cook­ing shows, and appeared in a FHM celebrity photo shoot, all before his twenty-fourth birth­day. He was pro­claimed a restau­rant prodigy by Beijing’s Eng­lish lan­guage press, and treated like a celebrity by Chi­nese gos­sip mag­a­zines. Hated and loved, respected more often than reviled.

Whether The Truth be des­tiny, free will, or chaos, I believed he could defy the holy sub­lime just like he had defied the expec­ta­tions of young South­ern gen­try by refus­ing to be any­thing but blue col­lar while a stu­dent at Atlanta’s West­min­ster acad­emy; just like he had defied his pious, lawyer father, first by going to col­lege in Hawaii, instead of Ivy, and then get­ting a full body, seven dragon tattoo.

Dan Harris, China Law Blog, 5/11:

I don't know Kro and I don't have a clue what went on with him and his Chinese "partner," beyond what I have read in this article. But I (like just about every other lawyer who represents businesses) have a ton of experience with partnership disputes (broadly defined) and I am guessing that if I had gathered up the facts and written the article, it would have been very different. My article would have focused on one thing and one thing only --and it would have admittedly been way less interesting than Damjan's article for having done so.

My article (like this post) would have focused on how what appears to have happened here has happened so many other times that lawyers do not even like talking about it. What happened here was a bunch of oral agreements by two people who never got around to legally formalizing their relationship. And then things changed (as they always do) and the partner with greater power took the business from the "partner" with less power. In this case, the Chinese national is ending up with the business because the business is on his "turf."

Again, this sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME ALL OVER THE WORLD. Ask any lawyer who does business law about this sort of thing and then watch them roll their eyes. If they have been practicing a few years, they will almost certainly have their own emotional story to tell. If they have been practicing longer, they will probably just walk away. Too many stories to tell, none all that different. None all that surprising. And too commonplace even to get all emotional about.

The Beijinger's interview with Kro, 5/12:

When we asked Kro whether he could confirm that his partnership with Yuan was based on oral agreements, he replied, “I have been pushing for a legal agreement for two years.” Yuan, he claims, has delayed formalizing their relationship.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

still LOVE U...

Graffiti found near Weigongcun yesterday.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Caochangdi update

Wrote this for City Weekend, reposting here in full:

The Beijinger blog announced this morning that “everyone in the area” of Caochangdi was “issued notices that they will be evicted and the suburb demolished.” While this is technically true, the one-page notice was actually received three weeks ago, on April 16, and, like previous notices last summer, was typically vague and noncommittal.

Government-stamped and originating from a village office, the April 16 notice read, in part, “Following the progression of urbanization, our village has been listed in the area of demolition and eviction, but the time has not been specified.” Three Shadows Photograph Art Gallery founders Rong Rong and Inri, along with artist Huang Rui, responded by quickly drawing up a petition to save Caochangdi. It was circulated electronically and via hard copies, in English and Chinese. You can sign it here.

So where does that leave us now? Same as before - uncertain. Many people, villagers and artists alike, believe demolition is inevitable, or are at least resigned to that fate. “There are rumors and everything, and it would be a great shame (if they tore this down), but Beijing is expanding and there’s a price to pay for that,” says Fabien Fryns, owner of F2 Gallery. But Caochangdi’s future is far from sealed. According to a Beijing News article on April 23, a town government official denied reports of any impending demolition.

Last month we put Caochangdi on the cover of this magazine hoping to draw wider attention to a bustling urban village that’s home to some of the better – though understated – art galleries in the city. We timed the publication with the opening of PhotoSpring, a photography festival spearheaded by Three Shadows and modeled after the world-famous Arles festival in France. And while it was impossible to ignore the sense of uncertainty and dread that permeated – Caochangdi faces the same fate as many art districts, the specter of being leveled by developers who believe the space is living down its economic potential – the area has proven remarkably resilient.

Residents have been conducting business as usual while PhotoSpring, which closes on June 30, is chugging along just fine. The festival attracted more than 5,000 visitors on the opening weekend, April 17-18, leading Jillian Schultz, a Three Shadows international affairs officer, to say, “I was certain there was no way (developers) could proceed.”

“But then again,” she adds, “it’s developing China, and you never know.”

“Right now, there’s no solid news,” says Rose Jiang Wei, owner of Art Channel Gallery. “We do hope we can stay, so people are working hard at it, but we’re not clear what stance the government is taking. We really don’t know."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Beijing's Underground City

If you live inside Second Ring Road -- particularly near Chang'an Jie -- it's likely you walk atop an extensive underground city that at one time could house nearly half the city's population (so, about 5 million in those days) and had basketball courts, recreation centers, storerooms, etc. (all built with bricks, concrete and plaster, so not all that homely, but it's the idea that counts).

Last Friday and Sunday, I descended into one of these underground cities -- "bomb shelter," if you will -- as part of a documentary shoot with Beach House Pictures. Thanks to producer Lillian Chen, I was able to experience one of these much-ballyhooed but rarely seen tunnels, and ended up writing this for the Beijinger. Excerpt:

It was damp, chilly (18 degrees Celsius, as all the tunnels are) and, at some points, very wet. A warren of narrow hallways fed into rooms with mossy furniture, or dead ends with piles of trash, or bunkers that have never housed a soul. We found a washroom with urinals and troughs that aren't unlike what you'd find nowadays in a public bathroom on the outskirts of the city; we stumbled upon a staircase that led to a locked metal door, on the other side of which was probably a person's home.

People built all this with their hands. That was what kept going through my mind. And they had thought of everything: ventilation, trap-door escape routes, showers and wells for fresh water. It made you realize that China really does have a long history of engineering miracles, from the Great Wall to the Bird's Nest and everything in between.

Many of my relatives helped dig these tunnels. They were middle-school students back then. After the morning period of Daily Reading (of Mao's Red Book, of course), the rest of their classes would often take the form of excavating dirt, or digging out the shelter walls, or making bricks by gathering yellow dirt and molding them using wooden shoeboxes. It was tedious, labor intensive and at times painful -- my uncle described popping blood blisters until his hands could no longer get calluses; my mom said her feet bled through her socks -- but no one complained. There was no alternative. The zeitgeist of the time demanded absolute devotion to the cause, and the cause was building tunnels because Mao decreed it would be so.

Each underground segment took two to three years (or more) to complete. When it was done, kids would crawl inside to play hide-and-seek, or -- as a family friend put it -- "take a dump." To locals, it was never the relic that we might consider it today. Maybe that's why the government is so blasé about sealing it all up, content to let it disappear.

But to me, especially after learning about the human toil that went into this massive undertaking, the Underground City is a bit of living history that's as unique as Xian's terracotta warriors, as worthy of preservation as this city's hutongs and the Old Beijing gates of Deshengmen and Zhengyangmen. Hopefully I'm not guilty of wishful thinking.

Then again, as long as the Chinese live, they will build and demolish and rebuild, and rebuild again without thinking twice about what was lost. Perhaps that's the enduring lesson here -- anything is possible, even the construction of an underground world wonder that everyone seems content to never let see the light of day.

There are lots of images on the site, so go over there and check it out if you're interested. Here are some bonus pics:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Picture of the Day: Obamao

The Tea Party may get a chuckle out of this:

Available at Nanluoguxiang

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Springing into summer

There wasn't much of a spring this year in Beijing. We were teased on several occasions by springlike weather, but temperatures always dipped and the icy chills were made worse by three months of winter air trapped inside our apartments (as you know, central heating has long since been turned off).

But today, I knew for sure that the warm months are here for good. And how? Behold, cottonwood:

The Beijing government went through a period of unreserved tree-planting several years ago, but unfortunately for all us residents, their tree of choice was one that sheds more than a longhair cat around this time of year. It gets so bad that people have been known to choke (to death?) on the snowflake-like pollen. Asthmatics, take note: Beijing's not the time to be for the next month or two.

No complaints here, though.

More pictures of this newly arrived season (i.e. summer):