faces of china, part 2

woman with grandson, Lijiang, China

Photographic spring cleaning.

I’ve been sitting on quite a few photos from various trips, etc. that I never got around to posting because it was just too painful to process them with an ancient Mac mini G4 with a mere 1GB of RAM.

Old Lijiang city in China was one of the best days of our tour because it truly felt like wandering around an ancient pocket of antiquity.

A delightful practice is still carried over from days of yore: using the stream flowing through the city as a natural refrigerator.

[As always, photos are clickable for larger resolutions.]

this bud's for you


my future?
old man with a cane, Lijiang, China

This is what I feel like after this particular week of employment. On the other hand, if my facial hair looks that amazing some day, sign me up. I may have to stop shaving for the rest of my life beginning… now.

The WSJ quotes Bernanke as saying:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke referred to mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as a “platypus,” saying they were “neither fish nor fowl.” He suggested strongly that the companies should be privatized during his appearance before the Senate Banking Committee.

Yes, I too, agree that platypus Friday is becoming quite a stretch.

[As always photo is clickable for large resolution.]

happy mother’s day, china edition

My mom is one of the funniest people I know. Here is a typical conversation between her and my dad:

[Scene: walking in a park, not really looking at anything in particular when they come across a seemingly normal looking vine]

Mom: Three leaves! Poison!
Dad: That’s not poisonous.
Mom: Don’t touch! Poison!
Dad: It’s not poisonous. Look, it has a flower.
Mom: A poison flower.

Ok, maybe only I found that to be hilarious, but it is definitely the essence of my mom. So, in honor of her on mother’s day, here is a photo collage of her in China.

i love the amphitheatre!
At the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain amphitheatre. When we sat down, she excitedly asked me, “Alex, what type of place is this?” “Um, an amphitheatre?” “Ok great!” It was the first time she’d seen a show in an amphitheatre and was extremely excited about it.

forbidden city mom
Outside the Forbidden City. She was very concerned that I was making her face look big and round.

double v's!
At the Temple of Heaven. Mom was wandering around lost for a while until I found her, so double Vs for victory!

so tired
Extremely tired after walking up 300 steps or so at the Jiuxiang Cave.


Mom: Stop shaking the lift!

double hats
Rocking some double hats outside the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

michael jackson?
Tribute to Michael Jackson in Shangri-La.

om mani be me om
Building a mani in Shangri-La while the boys went out exploring.

nom nom nom
nom nom nom. Eating a sweet treat in Nanjing.

rain gnome
“Why do you keep taking pictures of me?” “Oh, no reason”

i'm bigger than this horse
She’s bigger than a Mongolian horse.

Trying to get me to stop taking pictures of her….

Unsuccessfully, since I was able to capture… this:

Goofing around outside the Olympic Stadium.

I ♥ mom. Happy mother’s day!

china-size me, please

Get ready for a gigantic post about food! One of my favourite subjects!

The rough menu here is, savory items, sweet desserts, drinks, and “oddities”.

congee with thousand year old eggs
Congee is watery rice, that you then doctor to your liking. In this photo, you can see some of my favourite flavours: spicy hot sauce, scallions, and thousand year old eggs.

mashers and sweet red bean gravy
Mashed potatoes with sweet red bean gravy. Very interesting combination of sweet and savory, but not really my style.

get your peking ducks in a row
Naked Peking ducks. Peking duck (or Beijing baked duck, translated literally) is fatty and delicious. The skin is crispy like rice paper, and you eat it with sweet plum sauce on a little bun. If you can find a good rendition of it, pay whatever they’re asking, it’s that good.

bill cosby burger
All non-Asian food is generically called “Western” food. This delight came from a place called Grandma’s Kitchen, and was surprisingly good. My cardiologist hates me.

street meat
Although I love street food, I didn’t get a chance to try too much of it. The first part of the trip, we were constantly stuffing our faces at restaurants so I was never hungry when we found street meat, and by the time I was on my own, the vendors were scarce, and I was still getting stuffed at every meal. Oh well.

bbq baked oysters
Delicious bbq baked oysters with garlic sauce. Got these at the skewer place on “Ghost” street. These were so good that we got two orders. Yum.

coffee bean chicken!

Coffee bean chicken. This dish was delicious. The coffee was just the right amount to add some interest, but not so much as to be overpowering. Lovely.

garlic clam!
A delicious clam that came as part of our “21 dish meal” with Uncle Mike in Nanjing.

spicy szechuan
Coly recommended we eat this dish, which was a pickled spicy vegetable dish, to balance out the delicious savory meat pastries we’d eaten just beforehand.

baked fish
Spicy baked fish that I ate with Jack. When we were in the restaurant, they brought the flipping flopping fish out in a net for our approval before taking it back and turning it into food for us. Instead of sterno heaters, they use actual charcoal in that deep pan to keep the fish blistering hot for the entire meal.

kfc.cn == mediocre
When I travel, I normally seek out a McDonald’s to see what America is exporting, and see what the local interpretation is. I didn’t have time in China for a McD’s, but I did manage to get to a KFC, which are everywhere. The Chinese regard KFC the same way that Americans regard Wendy’s. Not really that good, but passable in a pinch. I was hoping for an exotic local variation, but the Colonel’s secret recipe has been dutifully replicated in the Middle Kingdom.

victor, the glutton
Victor goes to town on a monster breakfast at the 5-star Shanghai Crowne Plaza. This hotel deserved every star. The breakfast spread was hands down one of the best spreads I’ve ever seen.

pineapples... on sticks!
Making these pineapple treats is a pain in the butt. It takes quite a while to carve out all the little holes.

Mochi balls are Japanese, but who’s counting? In this image, from left to right, the flavours are green tea, coffee, and sweet red bean paste.

mochi madness!
Sorry for the duplicate, but I loved that mochi ball display.

sweet sesame ball
Our “21 dish meal” was weird, in that we had 7 courses of 3 dishes each. And in each course, you might get any combination of savory and sweet which was an odd feeling, to be switching into dessert mode, and then back to main meal mode. Sesame forms the basis of many sweets in the Chinese culinary landscape.

Street jello. I didn’t have any, but they sure were pretty.

sweet tofu
Some sweet tofu, again with sweet red bean paste. Sweet flavours in Chinese cuisine are much more subtle than the 2×4 across the face approach that tends to dominate American desserts.

beer bowl
This restaurant used soup bowls instead of beer glasses. However, it wasn’t like you would totally lose track of all consumption, since they also gave you bottled beer. It was an interesting novelty, but all in all, not earth shattering.

man and woman drinks
These were awful tasting herbal medicine liquors. The red string was for women only, and the white string was for men only. I think they were supposed to be some sort of aphrodisiac, but the adults at our table didn’t really give us the full explanation.

chi-merica, better together
We are America. We will give you our culture.

the power of a brand
Due to the power of branding and marketing, no explanation is necessary for this image.

this bud's for you
In old Lijiang, they use the river that runs through it as a refrigerator.

Yak yogurt! Sadly, I didn’t try any. I will say that yak tastes just like beef. Also, the Chinese word for yak is “hair cow”. I got in a conversation with a waitress that went something like, “what kind of meat is this? cow? or hair cow?” “hair cow”.

crickets for consumption
Street crickets. The locals don’t eat these, they’re just for tourists who’ve something to prove.

fermented awfulness

Awful fermented tofu that is apparently a very traditional Chinese breakfast food. As Coly said, “I don’t think this is delicious, but it is interesting.”

who wants to eat a seahorse?
Seahorses. Also not eaten by tourists. I think they just set this collection out every day and put it away at night without anyone ever buying any.

People do eat octopus, and actually, this image isn’t all that weird. I didn’t get a chance to eat any of the seafood sold in markets like this though, since we never really had an opportunity.

Another not-so-weird food, crayfish. Again, I didn’t get a chance to try them.

fish heads, fish heads... oh wait, no.
Bloody, but not weird. I didn’t write down what kind of fish this is other than “dead”.

take that, eel!
Man killing eels. The board has a nail sticking out that he spikes the eel’s head onto, but not to kill it, only to hold it still while skinning it alive. I’ve had eel before, but we didn’t get any at this market.

I’d eat frog, but bullfrog? Ew. Also, the literal translation for bullfrog is… “cow frog” which I find infinitely delightful.

And there you have it. A survey of the Chinese culinary landscape, ta daaaa!

back to work

pretty in pink

sanitation workers in Shangri-La

Hitting the homestretch now.

Back in Beijing, and spending time with my Chinese colleagues.
I’ll write more about this later, but for now, I’ll just say that
it’s been a very productive few days, and as a nice bonus, as far
as social settings go, I’m actually hanging in there, which is
surprising, considering 95% of our conversations are in Mandarin.

I end up having a lot of things explained to me, but the
explanations are in Chinese, and it’s rare that they have to
search for the English word. w00t me.

A few more days of this and then I’m back home.

Gotta find time to eat at KFC and McDonald’s before I leave…

exuent, chased by a panda

forsooth! a cloud!
rare image of clouds in Nanjing

Nanjing is what I had in mind when I imagined urban China. Lots
of bikes and Buicks, well-worn buildings interspersed amongst a
few new ones, hustle without bustle. She’s the old capital of
China, and moves at an appropriately stately pace. Her robes are
beginning to threadbare, but the nobility remains. She’ll be here
til the longafter.

architectural detail

The Chiang clan ancestral roots are here in this province and in
this city. My grandfather attended war college here, fought for
the Nationalists (making colonel), and escaped literally on the
last boat to Taiwan when it was obvious the Communists were going
to win in 1949.

Nanjing is the spiritual home to many Taiwanese who were in the
same literal and figurative boat as William Chiang. Dr. Sun Yat
Sen is often thought of as the father of modern China, and the
Taiwanese leadership like to think that they are the true heirs
of his legacy.

There are many memorials to the good Doctor here, including his

We saw them all.

air raid shelter
air raid shelter

A sobering afternoon was spent wandering around the Nanjing
Massacre Memorial Hall. The Rape of Nanjing occupies the same
dubious spot in the Chinese psyche that the Holocaust does in the
Jewish psyche.

At least the Germans admitted their errors. To this date, the
Japanese government has not formally apologized for their war

All the exhibition signage in the memorial is prominently
displayed in Chinese, English, and Japanese. As far as typical
Asian subtlety goes, it’s somewhere on the scale of running
someone over with a bus to ask if they would please pass the

My conclusion is that all war is hell.

nj reunion
nj reunion in nanjing

Uncle Mike is wacky as ever, and has been more than gracious in
schlepping us around everywhere, which is to say, using his bus
pass x6 every time our group heads out.

“bus” in Chinese translates literally as “work car”, which is a
lovely way to think about it.

Tomorrow, mom, dad, and Victor head back to the States, and I’m
in Beijing for another weekish or so. I’m feeling ill-prepared
and mush-brained but that’s the way things go.

Act II concludes.

bullet the gray sky

no child left behind
good role models, old Lijiang

Shanghai is a hustling bustling frenetic locus of human activity.
As you blast through the city in a screaming taxi with the angel
of death sitting shotgun, dodging lumbering whale buses and zippy
bike and scooter minnows, the future winks back.

Shiny-ancient construction projects sprout wildly, straining up
to the haze-ridden sky; concrete is the new organic; motley
cranes rear their urban brood, standing tall like terrible kings
of our present times, although they’re all arms and no legs,
quite opposite the lizards of millenia past.

Joss Whedon predicated his Firefly universe on a world where east
and west were fired in a cracked crucible heated unevenly, the
resulting admixture a mishmosh of component parts with clear
lineage like Uncle Mort’s lumpy gravy, both gibbetty and floury.
It would be unsurprising if he drew inspiration from Shanghai.

Beijing is stiff and stodgy, weighed down by 5000 years of
tradition — starched collars and Brooks Brothers. Shanghai
dances and prances and embraces shabby-chic. Oversized overpriced
Dolce and Gabbana eyewear with $5 Target flip-flops are a-ok.

I’m writing-riding on the train to Nanjing. We’ve kissed 207
km/h, and I’m mainlining Portishead into my brain to drown out
the 40somthing dumpy looking dude making out with his 20something
girlfriend or wife or whatever.

A few headlines and quotes from the Shanghai Daily:

Hidden dangers of home decorating

More than 91 percent of Shanghai homes tested were found to have
high levels of formaldehyde in the air… “It is too late to
offer advice after decorating so we want to give help
beforehand,” said Li Wei, the [Shanghai Association of
Environmental Protection Industry] vice secretary-general.

Strange case of the eggs that bounced

The man, surnamed Chen, found the yolks of the boiled eggs had
become hard and elastic. They could “even be bounced high like
pingpong balls,” he said. Chen, 67, said the eggs looked exactly
the same as normal ones.

Paying homage to all things pink and Barbie

There is also a gelato bar with special flavors: Barbie, Ken, and
Barbie’s new friend in Shanghai Lynn. Diners can also take on the
Barbie burger complete with beetroot red sauce or the meaty Ken
burger with bacon and cheese.

Mourinho rules out racism in Juve chants

The Portuguese said that if Juventus fans were really racist,
they would also abuse their own black players, such as Mohamed
Sissoko. “If it’s racism, it’s racism for all, not just
opposition players,” he said.

And in yesterday’s edition, we got a story about a counterfeit
store. No, it’s not a store that sells counterfeit items although
there are many of them here. Instead, an enterprising
counterfeiter set up an entire building to resemble a Tesco (the
Euro equivalent of Wal-Mart) with fake signage, price tags,
promotional material — the works — and got people to shop there
for several months thinking that they were really shopping at a

Victor and I walked through the Shanghai shopping district this
morning and it was moderately depressing. It seemed like every
store wanted to sell you a cheap Louis Vuitton or Gucci or Paul
Frank or whatever namebrand knockoff. All I wanted was a plain
leather belt, but apparently the urge to slap on a crap fake logo
on everything is irresistable. It will be a good day when the
Chinese get some brands of their own that they can be proud of,
rather than settling for el cheapo fakery.

Our bargaining attempts were thwarted due to the flashing neon
“FOREIGNER!!!” signs floating above our heads. Apparently we
confused the hell out of them with our Chinese physical
characteristics but horrible Mandarin. Everyone thought we were
Malaysian or Singaporean (two other countries that speak
Mandarin). Our “we’re Americans” reply was something that no
one expected.

The people here are taller than I expected. I was thinking that I
was going to somewhat above-average height, but the nutrition
here must have improved by an amazing amount in the past few
years, and it turns out that like always, I have to rely on my

sterling personality and razor sharp wit to stand out from the

I’ve no clue what Nanjing has in store for us. We’re meeting up
with my uncle for a few days. I’m hoping to get more than 6 hours
of sleep per night over the next few days.

This android does dream of electric sheep.

mom, uncle mike, dad
daily Chinese life, Nanjing

that’s a wrap

tibetan script
Tibetan script inscribed on a brick, Shangri-La

drying laundry
drying laundry, Hangzou

riding the “bullet” train from Shanghai to Hangzou

The official part of the tour ended today.

[Praise the deity of choice here.]

It’s been a fun two weeks, but I’m looking forward both to
unstructured time and me time. I must be getting cranky in my old

Tomorrow, we’re taking the “bullet” train from Shanghai to
Nanjing to visit my uncle, who has decided to relocate there from
the Garden State. We’ll be staying with him for a few days; then
the family returns to the States while I stay in Beijing and

begin the work part of my trip.

ps, If you can afford to stay in the Shanghai Crowne Plaza, I
highly recommend it. It’s the first 5-star hotel we’ve stayed in
that actually merits all of its stars.

This post has been brought to you by my new favorite bathrobe I

sxsw china, cliffs notes edition

stone forest
krazy karst

Holy smokes, time flies.

Apologies in advance for the terseness of this entry; I’m more
taking notes for myself to maybe expand upon later, but the
activity to time density has been extremely high that I’m already
starting to forget some of the things we did.

Tip o’ the hat to…

Stone Forest Scenic Area in Kunming. It’s a magical place
absolutely littered with alien karst formations up to 100 feet
tall. A climber’s wet dream (although sadly it’s not permitted).
I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

jade dragon
enter the dragon

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang. We started the day off
watching a show at the base of the mountain, which I’d normally
be pretty skeptical about, but this show was produced by the same
guy who did the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. The
production quality was amazingly high, and the show was really
nice. Afterwards, we took a gondola up to a saddle on the
mountain at 4506m. Mom and dad stayed in the lower area, with mom
sucking down O’s, and I managed to get to the high view point of
4680m, bum foot and all.

shangri-la canyon
average age: 55

Shannon Grand Canyon in Shangri-La. We stayed in the bottom of a

deep river canyon, very reminiscent of the Black Canyon of the
Gunnison. I think the walls were 600 or 700m in height, and a mix
of crumbly choss and decent granite. No climbing signs littered
the place, but I’m not sure if that was simply to deter stupid

good job, mom and dad!

Shangri-La. We’re staying in a hotel at 3360m, the old town is
pretty cool, and people here wear the native dress for reals.
This is an autonomous region of China with a heavy Tibetan
influence, and it feels way more exotic than any other city we’ve
been in so far.

Wag o’ the finger to…

Tourist trap shopping mazes. Apparently it’s common to set up a
giant shopping center with one entrance that forces you to walk
in a giant maze, one direction of travel only. Along the way,
shop employees bark at you the whole time to buy stuff. The only
exit is approximately 2k away and you have to walk through the
entire thing to get out. Sucksville.

Spirulina factory in Lijiang. Another tourist trap that we got
bused to and forced to listen to marketing spiel in a closed
room, similar to a time share pitch. This time, it was for the
miracle and wonder of spirulina. The sales pitches work though,
because our group bought heaps upon heaps of the stuff.

Fake tourist trap villages. The Chinese love to build
re-enactment villages, similar to colonial Williamsburg. Let’s
face it, these things suck regardless of the country or culture.

Shangri-La. The name of this city was renamed from Zhongdian a
few years ago simply for marketing’s sake. The amount of new
fake-old construction is staggering and obvious, but it must be

That’s it for now. Tomorrow, Shanghai!

talking to god
Tibetan prayer flags