The blissful happiness of the People's Daily.

Alright, so when I get my news I don't necessarily look to the People's Daily, but it's important to see what kind of news China is projecting to its' countrymen and the rest of the world. It isn't pretty, especially the opinion section. Most of these articles, like one on global warming, are tame but seemingly well-meaning, and feature some scattered, unattributed statistics. (however the point is summed up well in the second to last paragraph as to who is really to blame.) Expect droll, numbing writing with state mandated "positive outlooks", pointing the blame, or, occassionally, ridiculous stuff like this.

Of course this is a state owned paper in the most censor heavy country on earth, so making my case is like shooting fish in a barrel. What is more interesting is state media getting hip to new, more Western or 1st world concerns like gay marriage, lessening the death penalty, even democracy. Still, China needs to deal with the hundreds of millions that live on pennies a day first and foremost rather than building the largest opera house on earth. A rich slum is still a slum.

An excellent article on the Sanlitun bar street bust. (certainly not from China Daily.) This bust specifically targeted black guys in an area filled with African drug dealers and happened nearly two months ago. I was unaware of this event before today.

* Background on Sanlitun: Sanlitun (三里屯) is an incredibly grim bar district and old expat favorite filled with Chinese girls belly dancing with snakes on KTV bar tables while 50-something American men in Hawaiian shirts drink 50RMB mojitos with massage parlor girls. (Or something like this.) Lots of drugs, prostitution and sleeze out in the open, so it's a bit like the touristy or Club-y parts of South Beach. Regardless, they have a lot of good restaurants and great DVD shops.
Some pictures Ariel took that I found on his computer...

Taken some weeks ago. I'm missing most of that hair now.


Living room.

Making Cuban toast.

*~> Late Thanksgiving <~*

This weekend (Saturday night) we celebrated a very expat Thanksgiving with friends. No turkey, but we had chicken and duck, cornbread, dressing, baked sweet potatoes with apples, salad, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, wine and arroz con tofu. It was a potluck kinda deal. Great fun.

These will soon be nicely browned and ready for mashin' and mixin'. (The results were great!)

Me with company, good wine and cornbread.

朋友们 (that's Anna on the right)

Silvy in her awesome apron.


12x12, oil and acrylic on canvas

Learning a language from scratch is like being a child looking in picture books at monkeys and elephants. Especially with learning nouns in Chinese, you start a whole new way of matching actual images with the character representation of the image. It's hardcore memorization all over again.
So on our weekly Sunday outing we went to the brand new, sparklin' Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. The center was founded by the fabulously wealthy Ullens art collectin' couple powerhouse and was actually built by selling a number of Turner watercolors. The Ullens are now focusing on contemporary Chinese art exclusively, which is well timed considering rising prices on 20th century Chinese painting. However, saying that Chinese painting is now "it" is a few years off, since this has been an ongoing phenomenon. The only thing that is surprising about this center is that someone hadn't thought of a permanent, actual space for major contemporary Chinese art in China before the Ullens. (That is to say, I'm not counting places such as 中国美术馆, or the China National Gallery, because the quality of the new work is commie, crappy and of questionable value and taste.)

The show on display, "'84 新湖" or the "'84 New Wave," is an ambitious effort to categorize some of the more "new concept" artists that were working with this contemporary model while still remaining in China. It's a given that it would be hard to put this all together given the scale and scope of work produced during this period. The '84 wave, which "marked the end of a monolithic artistic model," according to Fei Dawei at UCCA, is perhaps the most sought after by art historians and collectors. Naturally there is a lot of painting on display, but also some sculpture and less transient, more physical (thereby collectible) performance pieces.

People in the west like to collect Chinese contemporary art because it shows a worldly understanding of China's past in relation to China's future and current (since they're now sort of lending the US a lot of money) leadership roles. This is because we in the West seek this self-gratifying, free spirited, democratic, anti-communist, digestible, consumer critique out of Chinese artists. This has, in turn, created a slew of new artists dealing with these subject in earnest, but also as a way to dip deep into the 老外 (foreigner's) pocketbook. The refreshing thing about the Ullen's Center show was the lack of a lot of this "easy art," what I've dubbed "Mickey Mouse Mao," and an abundance of subtler work. There were quite a lot of cultural references, language, etc. that was lost on me. Sometimes a few white people in New York and Paris are NOT the intended audience for a work of art. (Or at least I'd like to hope so!) Good show and I'll be returning for the next opening.

Ariel in the 798 cafe. This is attached to the fairly famous, but usually empty, 798 gallery (housed in an abandoned 1950s munitions or steel factory complete with slogans still painted on the walls.)

Silvy and I in the cafe.

One of the pieces in the show. The red paper cut figures are typical from 贵州 (Guizhou) province and absolutely litter the room, which is a recreation of the artist's apartment. The piece itself is mystical and particularly Chinese, being that paper cutting is a long standing art form here. The display is highly "contemporary art-ized." There were two other recreated living spaces on display that I think worked extremely well.



If you see a busy restaurant in Beijing with crowded tables, 串(Chinese meat on a stick called "chuan") grilling outside and bamboo steamers filled with 饺子 (thinly wrapped steamed pork dumplings) being quickly rushed in from the coal-filled steel drum outside, chances are the place is a good choice. These are 小吃店,or "little eat" restaurants that make simple, homey dishes and are common in both traditional neighborhoods and apartment blocks. They are usually open late and serve predicatable Chinese comfort food. Like anything, some are great and some suck horribly. Below are some examples of what you can order:

  • 宫保鸡丁 (or "Kung Pao" chicken as we call it) This is a dish I outlined in the last entry, a sweet and spicy mixture of cucumbers, chicken, peanuts and chili.
  • 回锅肉 (or "Twice cooked pork") A wonderful dish using the pork belly drenched in chili oil and fried with fermented black beans and lots of green onion.
  • 麻婆都府 (or "Grandma's tofu") A mix of soft tofu and beef served casserole style. Has a strong 麻辣, or "spicy numbing" taste due to the Sichuan peppercorns.
  • 鱼香肉丝 (or "fish fragrant shredded pork") A sour/sweet pork mixture cooked with dried shrimp to give a slightly fishy taste.
  • 東坡肉 (or "Dong Po pork") If done well, this is the best pork you'll ever eat in your life. It's mostly the fat right below the skin with a small piece of meat hanging off. It's cooked in anise and cinnamon until it's extremely soft.
  • 山西刀前面 (or "Shanxi style knife-cut noodles") This is like Chinese chicken n' dumplings with large cut dough pieces, dried soybeans, bok choy, bits of pork and vinegar in a salty broth. The noodle place near where I work makes this excellently.
  • 包子(or "bao zi") These are big, puffy dumplings that are a little yeasty. The local ones are huge, like a sandwich, and usually contain diced Chinese spinach. Dip the doughy goodness in vinegar and chili flakes. Yum!
  • 粥 (or "rice porridge") A typical breakfast dish, or late night snack, zhou is a healthy soup make with leftover rice or beans and many, many kinds of additions. There are lots of restaurants that only serve zhou and have literally 100 variaties.
  • 串(or "meat on a stick") Ubiquitous snack that shows the ancient influence of the middle east over north China. Usually lamb, but sometimes chicken, pork of veggies are available.
  • 红烤牛肉面 (or "red cooked beef noodles") These are awesome when made well. Homemade noodles with bits of beef bone and meat cooked in a number of Chinese spices.
  • 炒饭(or "fried rice") Wonderful and usually made with a number of additions. Common choices include pickled vegetables, beef, sausage or egg n' tomato. Very different from our Western Chinese restaurant counterpart.
The word around here is that it might snow within the next couple of days, maybe even tonight. It's getting very cold very quickly, leaves are falling and I'm seeing my very first non-Florida autumn.

Right now I'm at work doing Chinese flashcards and checking out blogs waiting for my 7:00 class tonight. I'm teaching a business English course (funny) but lately my students have been horrendously busy with giant staff meetings, an audit, lots of foreign visitors, a server hack and general Chinese economic-bubble style expansion, so there have been a lot of no-shows. In three years this place has tripled in size.

I made 宫保鸡丁, otherwise known as "Kung Pao chicken," last night for Silvy and Ariel. The dish is from Sichuan, where all good Chinese food comes from, and is a combination of chicken, peanuts, green onion and cucumber in a sweet and spicy rice wine sauce. I've made this dish and posted a recipe for it ages ago, but this is a lighter and much better version of the previous dish. A recipe will be posted soon.

This is the title of my blog, but I probably never actually explained it's meaning. Translation: "Okay. Wait a second."


Empty places.

the front, and utilized, part of the dormitory.

dog walking

vegetables and 'mums


The "letters" on this building are comprised of Chinese and English, but the symbols are nonsensical.


Cats own this place, like all haunted places.

Ping pong.

Someone other than a fluorescent bar used to hang here.


ginkos and maples.

this used to be a couch.

Beijing is full of anomalies. On Sunday, the gang and I went to the ghostly old dormitories of 人民大学 (People's University) This is a beautiful and strange place, quiet except for the first and largest building which still holds meetings and classes even though the new university is far from this spot. The dorms were (I believe) built in the early 20th century in a European style with Chinese elements. The grounds are beautiful with abandoned fountains, rock gardens and vegetables growing in weedy lawns. A few people, mostly older and, I'm told, retired faculty, live here. The buildings are in great disrepair with piles of furniture and interesting looking junk on porches and besides steps. We saw mostly elderly looking people walking their dogs or gossiping and the "neighborhood" had that same homey feel of the traditional hutong. Beautiful.

We've been looking for info on these buildings, but not much exists. (At least not in English.) I'll post updates as I find them. I'm worried about the future of these buildings, which are in really poor shape and look almost gutted inside. It doesn't help that they're on rather expensive land being developed near Dongshi subway.

Modern advertising in China still feels like it's in a primordial stage. It's ubiquitous, uncreative, homogeneous, and features a kind of language that promotes quality and price in exactly the same way as a competitor. (Literally: 最便宜的北京烤鸭-68元一只, or "The cheapest Beijing roast duck, 68RMB a bird" on a giant neon sign.) This sense of sameness continues with traditional ad methods which use characters with strong meanings like 红 (red), 龙 (dragon),鑫 ("three bars of gold"), 宫 (palace, temple), 王 (king), 老 (old, honorable), 家 (home, family) or 新 (new) for everything. It doesn't create a product image in any way. Also, if anything is successful there will be four copies of it nearby, whether it's a restaurant, brand of clothing, soft drink or anything else. This, in turn, makes everything appear exactly the same.

America, which I'm guessing is the reigning king of advertising, abandoned this "our knives are slightly sharper than these other guys and are of a slightly fairer price" kind of product endorsement in the 19th century in favor of selling the "idea." In China, this means rainbows, sunsets, cute animals, stolen images of celebrities, pretty girls, Western businessmen and labels from other brands are used without a shred of sarcasm to advertise a dentist's office. That or maybe a heavy flash picture of an unsmiling nurse and another heavy flash picture of bloody gums. This kind of advertising is understandable when you are selling to a very conservative population.

Jet Li "supporting" the Seven Brand line of suits, which is exactly the same the the 12 suit stores on the same block.

Actually, a rather great ad.


  • An excellent blog post about the unfair expectations placed on Chinese manufacturing. This is especially topical as this date rape "Aqua Dots" toy is just another example of scary products in China. (The toy was made in Hong Kong, I've heard, so it's a shoddy product from a place known for better quality than the mainland.

  • Here's a story of role reversal: my company produces an online game ("Perfect World") that is slated for US release soon. This game is already popular in Brazil, but this week an illegal American group called GameHaze hacked the Brazilian server and stole the code, created a new server and is hosting "Perfect World" on an unofficial server. (Or something like this.) They are making money off of this game illegally and want to make their own English translations and additions. This should be sorted out, but still... Americans ignored a Chinese copyright. Irony.

  • Also, a great blog that hasn't, strangely, been updated in a while. The writer also wrote this tremendous account of what it feels like to be the product of a culture that conceals.



Pudong Special Economic Zone
12"x12", oil on canvas

Another quick painting of a woman enjoying a glorified cityscape. This time it's Pudong, the SEZ district in Shanghai. This was done mostly as a finger painting, especially the background, so it's got a lot of blobby, gooey paint.

Also, be on the lookout for my soon-to-be published painting only blog.
(or a mysterious amusement park in north Beijing.)
I have the same commute everyday from work. I walk from my apartment to the line 13 subway, which is around 2 blocks away. It's a quiet commute most of the way and I get to see the rolling hills, autumn colors, smoky factories, towering Soviet-style apartment blocks and traditional villages of the far, uncharted north through the subway car window. Right outside of 北苑 (Beiyuan) station is a delapidated children's amusement park that I've been wanting to snoop around in. This weekend, Silvia, Ariel and I finally checked it out.

The park, like much of north Beijing, is tremedously spread out and filled with open space, which is rare in the city center. It's abandoned and completely dead. There are goats and sheep feeding on the grass inbetween the shooting games and matted hair on a broken monkey king ferris wheel car. The feeling is one of delicate, eerie, sadly funny isolation, which is probably what you'd expect from an abandoned amusement park.
There is more to the park than just what you see. In the back is a "pet park" that aparently closed down but is still used. Check out Silvia's investigative report. Also, Ariel posted about the same park with a much funnier tone.
Ariel and I beiing nerdy photographers
The greatest ride.



cornhusk. There are local farmers and migrant workers who squat in the park. They grow corn on the outskirts.

The name of the park, 国都公园, is etched in all the tiles.

19th century Danish painting


Goats and sheep near the tracks.


Shenzhen Sky
12"x12", oil on canvas

Shenzhen is a city near Hong Kong known as one of the first and most successful SEZ (Special Economic Zone) in China. They are powerhouses, smogy and work driven, with "European-style" parks and monuments, unrestrained growth, less taxation and filled with trophy buildings designed by Dutch architects that don't actually contain much. They are symbols of the developments first made by Deng Xiaoping's "To be rich is glorious" mentality and continue to endure, creating a hugely seperate sense of the importance of the city and the countryside. Shenzhen is the land of Oz.