I've been ill.
(pic courtesy of Ariel)

Not sure what's wrong with me, but I have a feeling it's a salad I ate at IKEA a few days ago. I stayed home yesterday. Although, now I feel 90% better and today I'm busy at work avoiding work.

There is a small organic market called Lohao that just opened near my house. The prices are extremely fair on certain items, especially locally produced stuff. I bought a cheap bottle of wine, this coffee we love from Yunnan province, and some rather pretty ginger. Right next door to this market is an excellent Italian restaurant with great pizza, very authentic. Pizzas are around 45RMB (like $5.20) for a large that will feed two (or one Ariel) and it's like a nice little pizzeria in Milan. (No, seriously.)

This is from an e-mail I sent to my father. I sometimes feel like I'm sending e-mails that have more political content than what I have on my blog. I'd like to change that. Since my blog is already blocked in China (as are all blogs) I don't see the difference. What follows is a disorganized rant on Chinese politics:

"About six months ago I bought a DVD containing the complete BBC series on contemporary China on the street. (The BBC has the best Chinese news, period, and even has a decent Chinese language learning section.) The seller was a artsy Chinese guy in a mandarin silk jacket and long beard. All his movies were either art films or documentaries, some that I'd never seen, and he also had lots of bootleg music. His selection was excellent and he seemed to be doing it all himself. I bought a couple things from him, but didn't have a lot of cash, but he said he'd be back at the same time tomorrow. I came back, but he wasn't there and I never saw him in my neighborhood again. I hope he's alright, but I'm worried that since he was selling some high risk stuff he got in trouble.

It's hard to criticize or even recognize big problems here. I think an even bigger issue than central government nonsense is highly corrupt local government corruption. The Communist party actually has a very weak hold in people's minds and has been trying to win people back, so they usually only punish high-up party members if they absolutely must. Power is maintained by the fist, really, and few Chinese truly trust or care about the central government.

However, the government is not totally useless. Polices and changes enacted by Deng Xiaoping and furthered by current leadership (not Hu Jintao, who is more like a puppet) helped create this new China. The changes that have taken place, notably in the big cities, are astounding and on a scale that is barely imaginable. People are much, much wealthier and even have more rights to complain about superficial things like not enough subway lines or a backwards personal banking system. Things are being done for the "haves," that is certain. There is even a government approved gay health clinic in Beijing along with organic produce markets, solar power, "no car days," fuel efficient buses and spas. That being said, the countryside villages (even the poorer "hutong" neighborhoods in Beijing) are a stagnant mess and migrant workers flee in droves to work in sub-par conditions in the city. Local government is shockingly corrupt, even with child slave labor being discovered in a village months ago with local government in on the kidnapping. Fair education in China is a lie since a lot of them can't read characters or speak proper Chinese, spit inside of buildings, have never brushed their teeth, have their children crap on the sidewalk, do unsafe construction work, etc. City dwellers, on the whole, are disgusted with and ignore the "turen" (a rude term for farmers, literally "dirt people") English teachers who studied in small towns cannot speak English (trust me, I know about this especially!) since they haven't received a proper education beyond reading and writing. China is two countries: the villages and the cities. It's a matter of the have and have-nots, as is everything in the universe, I guess.

To end this rant I'd like to say that the quality of Chinese is improving. Chinese are gaining a sensitivity and more worldly, modern outlook EXTREMELY quickly. Chinese still remain, for the most part, apathetic towards their own culture, history and lack of rights. They've been beaten down, have recent memories of the crushing Cultural Revolution, and are just trying to eek out basic survival under a police state. This has, understandably, lead to cowardice, denial and disinterest. Communism will eventually change, this is obvious, and people will have more personal freedom. China will probably never be an America or Europe, but doesn't need to be. China's government will gradually expand more freedom onto its citizens while still maintaining strong, fairer control. Most outsiders have no idea how fast and impressively Chinese are changing their country, but it's a still a mess here and so much needs to be fixed."


好运水果 (luck fruit)
12"x12", oil on canvas

There are a number of lucky fruits for the Chinese, including the peaches, oranges and pomegranate above. Most of these are lucky since their names are homophones for something else like "wealth" or "long life." (Chinese is full of homophones.) Others, like pomegranate, mean the continuation of the family line because all the many little seeds represent people. For this reason, it is a popular offering fruit in Chinese ancestor worship.

I painted the actual still life in a couple hours, but spend a day or two after it dried thinking about the background. The look of it as a whole is similar to a lot of cheap, plastic tablecloth or "food posters" here that convey the idea of plenty using cut and paste food images, kitschy/tacky bright colors and patterns. This goes along with some others I'm working on, all the same size with similar themes, which are really exciting and should be finished by the end of the weekend. (When I actually have some time to paint.)


oil on wood, around 16" x 24"

Altogether, I've made three paintings like this one that have some kind of slightly dramatic/funny "culture confrontation" in them. (The other two, made months ago, are portraits of Masa and Silvia.) I really don't think this one is finished since the lower right hand corner is distractingly empty and Ariel's face needs more work. I'm losing interest in this particular painting or series, regardless.


My work is teaching company management my language and culture so that a Chinese video game company can understand how to sell their product to hyper-violent, hyper-sexualized Americans. My company, called 完美时空, or "Perfect World," makes an online role-playing game of the same name that is possibly the most popular online game in China, the 2nd most popular in Japan (the first being an American game, maybe signaling the end of Japanese video game dominance) and the most popular in Korea. "Perfect World" is an RPG based completely in traditional Chinese myth, language and culture, possibly the first of it's kind. The game has also been translated into Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog and, most recently, Portuguese for a new Brazilian market. The English version is nearly done, and three foreigners (2 Americans and 1 Brit) with excellent Chinese had been hired to assist translation. Two years ago, this was a small company with a tight staff, but now it's exploded to a tremendous operation with a staff of over one thousand and a listing on NASDAQ. Besides teaching the management I also hold night classes for regular staff that wish to attend. I'm also the CEO's personal tutor.

Getting to work is easy. I take the crowded line 13 metro everyday from right outside my apartment complex at Dongzhimen. There is a little security guard, probably 16 years old, that helps wedge the morning and then wedge the evening commuters into subway cars. It's all a little funny if you don't get uptight about it. People are usually good natured, laughing nervously and trying not to crush anyone, but occasionally there are some people that must force their way on at all costs, for some reason. I got elbowed in the eye getting out of my seat this morning.

Beijing is not so dusty or tired anymore. The leaves are turning red. It's very cool now, windy and misty and the air is nicer than it's ever been. It's times like these that Beijing doesn't seem to have a pollution problem. That is, until winter rolls around and all the old neighborhood homes will rely on coal stoves, blackening the sky.
(fried rice)

No picture for this recipe, but it's a really basic, very typical Chinese dish that everyone in the world is familar with. This is simple, unpretentious, homey and yummy comfort food.

you'll need...

cooked, leftover rice, around 4-5 cups
a mess o' green onions, around 10
About 1/2 cup Chinese dried sausage, diced (Use any dry, sweet cured sausage as a substitute)
tb dried chilli, crushed
a bit of finely shredded ginger
tb dried shrimp
cooking oil
light (regular) soy sauce
3 eggs, beaten

Add oil to wok, enough to coat. Cook sausage with green onion (white part only) dried chilli, ginger, pinch of salt and shrimp until fragrant on medium flame. (a minute) Add rice and some soy sauce and keep it moving. Cook for two minutes or so then add eggs and keep the mixture moving. Add more soy sauce to taste, but don't overdo it. You're done when the rice and eggs are "dry" and a few grains are browning. Turn off heat, add green part of the green onion and mix well. Serve with a side of cucumbers in dark vinegar and garlic and cheap beer for a very Chinese lunch.


Sichuan "dry fried" green beans

This is an easy dish with a distinctive, delicious taste. It's a 酸菜, or sour dish, so it pairs well with something a little spicy and sweet. It's common in restaurants in Beijing, although it can be too oily or soggy if made poorly. Everything to make this can be easily found outside of China, so happy cooking!

you'll need

about 1 1/2 lb or so green beans, untrimmed
half medium daikon or "oriental" radish, finely shredded
green onion, about 10 springs
Japanese rice vinegar or white vinegar
dried red chili
1/4 cup fatty pork or bacon, sliced thin
couple drops mustard oil
good Chinese cooking wine
peanut/veggie oil or animal oil (for frying)

Add about 1/2 cup vinegar to radish. Toss and set aside.

In a wok heat some peanut oil, about a cup, and a 1/2 tb salt. Add washed, then well toweled, green beans in batches and toss gently. Cook for about 4 minutes until beans are "dried" looking and brown in spots. Once all are cooked, towel off very well and top with a few ice cubes to maintain crispness.

Empty oil from wok. Cook pork (coat very lightly in salt) or bacon, chili and green onion (only bottom white parts, no roots). Cook until pork is done through, then re-add beans and radish. Cook just until heated through. Serve topped with green onion.
new jars
Top row from left: dried mint, red chili, star anise, green Sichuan peppercorn, dried et ceteras used for stewing meat. Bottom row from left: dried rosemary, dried shrimp, roasted sesame seed, bay leaves, red Sichuan peppercorn.

in unrelated news...

Last week was the National Congress meeting, something that occurs every 5 years and helps elect new officials and enact new delegation. Internet banning has been tightened, there have been more police on the street, immigration issues with Africans has been stepped up, visa restrictions for foreigners imposed and all sorts of new nonsense that will probably never be enforced has been created. I've seen a number of blank faced, frowning, ancient men sitting behind placards with their printed names on CCTV as well as a fairly surprising number of pictures of sleeping officials or completely ridiculous pictures of president Hu shaking hands with a Xinjiang man or Yunnan woman is exotic, costumey garb. It's all a joke and, surprisingly, most Chinese seem to know this. The average villager knows it's something "big," but doesn't think it'll effect their hometown or do anything useful in the countryside.


Recent developments: I cook nearly everyday, the weather's been lovely, leaves are turning red, I'm addicted to LOST on tvlinks, NPR and Savage Love podcasts. I've been painting still life, I'm trying to save money, I'm drinking too much barley tea and diet coke, I offically love Chinese food again, I'm working constantly.

Irritating things I've noticed about the locals: Chinese slurp when they eat noodles and chew with their mouth open. Lots of them don't brush their teeth in the morning, or possibly ever. They shove in the subway and cannot form lines. People from villages stare and talk about me in indecipherable dialects. I guess it all barely bothers me anymore.

Oh, and to answer Marie's question, fan dancing is an ancient ritual dance commonly performed at Mid-Autumn festivals and on national day that either pays homage to emperors or is like a prayer for harvest. It's moved to Korea and developed strongly there. In contemporary China, it's mostly a form of exercise or just something for older people to do in the morning with their friends.


(Chuar restaurant, Gu Lou street)

Chuar, Chuan'er, or 串, is Chinese style skewered meat, like kebab. Chuar is from Xinjiang, a northwest mostly Muslim province. Squid, pork, chicken, (meat, heart feet, embryo, wings, cartilage) mantou, (a kind of rice bread) tofu, bell peppers, mushroom, etc. can be chuar-ed, but most ubiquitous is lamb coated in cumin seed and red pepper. Pictured is a particularly popular Chuar dian in a old hutong home by the Gu Lou area. (The Gu Lou are the old drum and bell towers of Beijing.)


~Other pictures~
also from this weekend

The grandiose Wangfujing Oriental Plaza mall near Tian'anmen. This is a sprawling complex of brand new buildings with Gucci, Tiffany's, Burberry, etc. all for the pleasure of gawking farmers and well heeled Chinese/foreigners.

The newly opened and impressive Line 5 subway. Fancy glass doors and a tremendous number of stops.

Silvy at 奶粉, an adorable cafe with really good dessert at 鼓楼 (gulou).

Guapo Ariel on top of 碧云寺 , a temple in the mountains outside of Beijing. This tree was planted in honor of Sun Yat San and his clothing is buried in a marble box at the temple top.

mountain air.


One day. Friday.

The view from the hallway of my apartment complex, around 8am. It's a shockingly bright and blue day. I'm going to work.

The entrance to my complex.

Construction work outside of my complex. Workers live in this prefab construction.

Breakfast seller. This is my street, Dongzhimen nei jie, a major street that has a number of office buildings, malls and restaurants nearby.

Bicycle ramp.

Construction in the distance crossing over to Dongzhimen da jie.

A new office complex that isn't quite done. It's massive.

Drink seller.

Morning fan dancers in a small park outside the subway.

Down to the subway.

View of Yunnan province. The main entrance of Line 13 is covered with tourist ads to promote the province.

Leaving Dongzhimen station. This is the first stop of the train, so it's always empty.

This quickly changes.


Fried eggs and something like a pancake.

饼。 This is a traditional kind of crepe that is both sweet and spicy. They are made on oil drums heated with coals.

The strangeness of Xi'erqi, the district where I work. I work a few buildings behind the metal wheel/circle.

After work.

What happens when you lower the price of the subway from 3 & 5 yuan to 2 yuan for all lines. This is just to enter the platform.

Heading to Dongzhimen. If I was heading in the opposite direction, I'd be in for a long wait.


Over his shoulder.



From Silvia's blog. Just a completely wonderful Microsoft paint gem. The Chinese on the side (他的肚子) translates as "His stomach" and the lines point to (太少饭) "too little food" and (太多醋) "too much acidity/vinegar"

From Ariel's blog. A rather pretty picture of the two of us in a park in Lang Fang.


Some problems with Chinese speaking English and visa versa...

Chinese speakers who speak Mandarin do not have the "r" to "l" confusion, so popularly stereotyped with phrases like "flied lice." (This confusion is common to Cantonese.) True Mandarin, that is Hebei provence, Beijing dialect Mandarin, is very rich in "r" sounds and have strong vowel and "sh," "th" pronounciation. Still, in English they still have issues in these and other areas including a difficultly with "ch," distinguishing minor differences in sounds, "mush mouthness" and with sounds like the "s" in "pleasure"

Students from the Southern province of Sichuan are most difficult to teach. Sichuan people speak Mandarin with a heavy accent, and are totally unable to make the "shi" sound in Mandarian, which is an all too common sound, and instead make the "si" sound, which has multiple different meanings. Also, their tones are not as precise as Northern speakers. In English, the problems they make include making the "l" sound like "n," an inability to lisp to make the "th" sound or "sh" sound, weak "r" sounds and sloppy, broken-jawed pronounciation.

Sloppy pronounciation is actually common to all Chinese learners of English as well as almost total inmobility of their tongues. They also have an issue with distingushing gender, pronouncing the sounds "e" and "a" too similar to one another, distinguishing questions and understanding how to pronounce plural words (they all sound singular because they have a difficulty with certain "s" sounds)

In Chinese, native English speakers have a hard time with speaking with an soft tongue and from a lower part of the throat, resulting in Chinese that sounds unclear and too soft. We also cannot pronouce the "r" sounds, (which sound sort of like an r mixed with a j) cannot say, or say with difficulty, the stressed "u" sound. (which is like an umlad over a u) We have trouble distingushing between "ci"(like "tse") and "si" (like "sssuh" with more of an "s" sound) and, most of all, we can't say tones correctly. (Tones, there are four altogther, are an essential part of the language and must be said correctly for the word to make sense, but are very hard to say correctly.) Overall, we probably have the same level of problems learning Chinese.

ALSO: If you'd like to send something use the 100007 zip code.


I've been painting.

Oil on canvas, 12"x12"

Year of the Pig
Oil & stickers on canvas, 12"x12"

colored pencil on canvas, 12"x12"



(mapo doufu, say "Mah Pu-oh doh foo")

You'll need the ingredients above.

This is a classic Sichuan dish with a colorful story, like most Chinese dishes. In a small town hundreds of years ago, there was an old woman with leprosy who lived on the outskirts. She was shunned by everyone but, in spite of this, decided to open an inn. One day, some travelers got caught in the rain and decided to stay with the old woman. They were horrified by her appearance, but loved her cooking, especially her tofu dish. It soon became so popular that locals and travelers visited the inn just for her tofu. The Chinese name is literally "Grandmother's spicy tofu," but is also translated as "Pock-marked Grandmother Chen's tofu."

You need
1 tub soft tofu about one lb finely minced beef
4 cloves garlic
couple teaspoons finely minced ginger
4 stalks green onion
2 tbs (or so) fermented black bean, or broad bean, paste
1 tbs chili oil
4-5 dried chillis
a couple jiggers light soy sauce
a couple jiggers dark (preferably mushroom) soy sauce
a jigger rice wine, light (unsalted and drinking quality)
a teaspoon or so sesame oil
1/2 ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbs sichuan peppercorns, crushed
5 or so fresh water chestnuts, peeled and finely sliced (optional)
1/2 cup finely minced oyster mushrooms (optional)
peanut oil

First, fined mince beef. Add about 1 teaspoon salt, sugar, peanut oil, chili oil and cornstarch, mix and place in fridge for 15 minutes.

Heat enough peanut oil to coat a pan on medium. Add garlic , dried chili, ginger, bean paste and fry until fragrant (under 1 m) Add beef. Cook for a minute, then add rice wine, 4 tbs water, mushrooms and water chestnuts. Add beancurd then a bit of soy sauce, pinch of sugar, Sichuan peppercorns, black pepper and cook for two minutes, turning the tofu carefully. Mix 1 tbs cornstarch with 2 tbs water and add. Cook for two more minutes then remove from heat. Serve with a vegetable side dish and rice.

(Veggie option: Use TVP instead of beef, but when marinating this add another tablespoon of peanut oil to make up for the oil that the beef would have released.)

So yesterday Ariel, Silvia and I got back from 廊坊 (Lang2 Fang2) a medium sized city about an hour south of Beijing. This is our friend Anna's hometown, so she showed us around this rather friendly, although very chaotic, extremely Chinese city. It was a particularly bright and happy couple of days as we walked around The People's Park, ate great food, got stared at, shopped in small markets and taxied around.

Chinese cities, apart from the giants like Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Beijing or Shanghai, feel like an extention of Communist village life, both in outlook and design. There is a central square, or "People's Park" which is, in turn, surrounded by block housing and various designated shopping streets. There are a lot of government owned restaurants and department stores jumbled together in these areas and something like a "women's street," "worker's hall" or "children's monument" with villagers selling vegetables, old women fan dancing, old men playing Chinese chess and kids running around through water fountains or designated green areas. It's extremely controlled design with key uniformity, but if offers a very well utilized public space for families. There is a lot to say about the overwhelming sense of community you get from smaller, more Chinese cities here.

Oh, and it's OCTOBER HOLIDAY, so I have the whole week off. October 1st is when the People's Republic was founded, so most people get at least a few days off, and white collars get the whole week.

Lots of marriages in Lang Fang. Anna explained that since it's October Holiday, a lot of couples will get married since they have the time available.

Toy Seller.

A topiary of one of the "Friendlies," the Olympic mascot for China.

These bubble things looked both dangerous and fun, as most fun things are.

One of the many couples in 廊坊人民公园 (The People's Park of Lang Fang)

This pained look was actually encouraged by the photographer.

Courtesy of Silvia. Wonderful and fairly common ad for a kind of North Chinese liquor.

Besides the obvious strangeness of the Roman columns, the Chinese above calls this area "Beijing Women's Street," which is an actual place, although it's located in Beijing, naturally. Don't get it.

Anna's home. See lives in a very, very traditional village outside of town.

Ariel and I tired and returning home.

Silvy and I.
A tourist bus. This style of travel is common, especially for lower middle class since costs can be kept very low. Many of this buses come to Beijing and unload dozens of bewildered, mostly village types.