Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kuala Lumpur

Wow. Quite a city and a wild country. I'll write more soon. we are leaving today and going to the beach in Langkawi. malaysia is incredibly diverse.. malays, Indians, chinese, a whole range of brown skinned people. qite a difference from everyone-is-Chinese China. it is also at once more Western -- Pizza Hut, Mcdonald's, A&w, dunkin donuts, huge malls, and more wild. It is a Muslim country and a good number of Malay women wear headscarves. i have seen a few but not tons of burkas as well.

More soon.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chinese New Years in China

Eli at his school CNY performance. He was a flower. They were the gardeners.

Friday was Chinese dress-up day in Anna's school. This is her with Allegra Swanston.

With Tiffany

Mock emperors and empresses at the Ditan Park Temple Fair

We couldn't figure out how this worked. The kids couldn't have been holding up the others.

These are happy new years fruit boxes... stuff like this is for sale everywhere.

Bus stop ad in South Beijing.. even the Col. is trying to get in on CNY.

These signs were all over the hutong I visited in South Beijing.

A FEW months ago I did all that reporting for the WSJ Christmas-abroad story. I went around and interviewed Chinese people who celebrated the holiday and tried to get a grip on how widely it was celebrated. The answer was not all that much but a lot more than before.

But now that I have really experienced Chinese New Years for the first time (we were away last year), I can safely say that Xmas is bullshit here.. It's just a trend that people do because they read about it or saw it on TV. Chinese New Years s the real deal. It is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Fourth of July wrapped up into one holiday. It is quite wild and fascinating and truly exciting to be here for it.

Two days ago, I went with my Chinese teacher Dong to two temples, Bei Yingguan Taoist temple and a Buddhist temple. He is a practicing Buddhist and it was really interesting to visit there wit him, watch him pray, etc. He also has a good friend who is a monk at Bei Ying guan and we went into his little dorm and had a tea ceremony. It was very busy because people are starting to come to pray for a good year basically.

The Buddhist temple was down an old hutong is South Beijing and I took some of these pictures there. There were signs posted all over to not light fireworks in the hutong. They are necessary to post wherever it is illegal, because Chinese love, love, love fireworks. It’s been pretty wild all week, with them going off pretty often, and tonight it’s just nuts. It is New year’s Eve and I am writing this at about 11 pm, with everyone else asleep. The skies are exploding. I am looking out my window and watching big fireworks of all colors in the sky and hearing gunshot-like explosions from every direction.

At midnight, I am told, it just goes wild, wild, wild. We went out earlier with some friends and drove down a road nearby and let off a bunch of fireworks. We had about 10 kids there and Eli was the oldest (Jacob was with a friend). We were suitably careful. We were with three other families, all of whom receive large boxes of fireworks as New Years presents form their drivers.

While we were out there setting them off, the amount of sound, the volume of fireworks being set off from every direction was truly impressive. I was feeling too tired to stay up to midnight to see what happens, but now that I’ve made it this late, I just might ride my bike out to the street behind our compound and see what’s happening out there.

It is traditional to give presents on New Years.. two things are appropriate.. something sweet (fruit or candy) and money, in decorative red envelopes. We decided to give presents to the guards in our compound. There many, many of them so it was impossible to get them all, but we put 10 RMB into envelopes (that’s about $1.25, but not nothing to these guys) and I rode around with the kids and we gave them out, with oranges, to as many as could, before running out of envelopes. We went into the store and bought all they had left and ended up giving them to almost 20 guards, who range in age from about 19-25.

It was nice. Jacob did most of the handing out and the guards were really surprised and touched. I don’t think many people do this. It felt nice just to acknowledge these guys as people and let them know we see them. I am particularly aware of that after our experience at the legal Aid Society that I wrote about the other day. Jacob enjoyed it as well. He handed them all over and wished them all happy new year. We also gave the ‘street ayi,” the woman who basically walks around our loop and a few others cleaning all day every day, an envelope with 16 RMB (8 is a lucky number any multiple of 8 is good). She was so happy, gave us a big toothless smile and thank you.

I don’t really want to pat myself on the back too much because it adds up to not much (and was B’s idea to boot) but it did feel good.

Then we drove downtown and went to the Temple Fair in Ditan Park. It was quite stunning how empty the roads were. It made me realize how little distance there actually is from our house to the center of town.

Many temples throughout town (and all over China, I guess) have these fairs, which run all week. Today was pretty mellow, because most people are home cooking jaozi (dumplings) and preparing a big family feast. They begin in earnest tomorrow. It’s a nice park we hadn’t been to before and we enjoyed watching some performances, including the mock emperors and empresses pictured here and a dragon dance, which I videoed and will post when I can. I also learned that carnival games look just as easy but are just as hard here as they are at home. Jacob managed to win twice and gave a stuffed animal to anna. W then spent a good deal of money trying to win Eli an animal. Becky finally succeeded.

This could be my last post for a while. We are leaving Monday for 8 days, going Malaysia, Kuala Lampur and then Langkawi beach, with some friends from here. I am really happy we ended up staying for the weekend to experience this.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chinese New Years

Photos from ceremony presenting donations to migrant workers.. read below for the full story.

Chinese New Years day is on Sunday. Saturday night is New Year’s Eve, when people will stay up all night and light off fireworks. The holiday has really been underway unofficially for a week or two now. We are already hearing and seeing fireworks with regularity. There are temporary stand selling mounds and mounds of them on the side of the road.

The tradition for Chinese New Years is to go home, back to the village or whatever, to see your parents and extended families. A migration is under way. You see people running for buses, pulling huge suitcases and toting giant bags. There are more coach buses on the road and you can see them stacked with luggage, bursting at the seams.

The most moving thing I have seen so far by far was last week when we to the Beijing Legal Aid Society for an interesting ceremony with a group of migrant workers, mostly from the Northern Jilin Province (which is more or less next to Harbin). It’s a long story but the bottom line is the big cities here are filled with migrant workers from outer provinces who have few rights and work often in really bad conditions.

They are fairly faceless, despite there being many millions -- many, many millions. The prejudice against them by Beijing people is really quite breathtaking. It’s impossible to imagine a parallel contemporary situation at home. Imagine the most racist anti-migrant comments you’ve ever heard and remember they are aimed at fellow Chinese. Anyhow, these particular guys worked on a building then didn’t get paid. Legal Aid took their case and has won but not collected any $ from the Hong Kong developer. This week supposedly the government was shutting down the completed building, now an art gallery.

Becky’s reporter Mei Fong wanted to profile a migrant worker and got Wei Zhongwen’s name from Legal Aid. The article came out a few weeks ago and it was really fantastic. Again, it gave a face and story to these faceless, anonymous workers. Several people donated somewhat over $1000 US to assist these guys. The money was given to Legal Aid to distribute and they had this ceremony to do so.

It was really moving. Wei, the spokesman, was quite eloquent. He said, in short, “Thank you very much to the Legal Aid Society for all their help and for the Wall Street Journal for giving us a voice. I know it is not a lot of money, but it means everything to us that the world knows about our lives.”

The money was particularly welcome because that night 10 of the 11 were boarding a train home. It was a special migrant worker’s train, which they have run for the past few years, leaving at 2:30 am for an 18-hour stop-everywhere train that costs 80 RMB ($10) instead of 180. I need to double-check those numbers, but I think that’s what they said.

After a ceremony and tea for everyone, the money was placed into envelopes and they asked Becky to assist in handing it out. She and the Legal Aid director each took half, the men lined up and took them, with handshakes, bows, and great thanks. Very moving.

Wei was the only worker not returning home, but he just returned from an early visit. He stayed because he now has two jobs, including one as a security guard and he gets paid extra for working next week.

Here is the top of Mei's story.. another reason you should subscribe to the WSJ.

So Much Work,
So Little Time

As Beijing explodes in an Olympic building boom, Wei Zhongwen struggles with injuries and loneliness.
A hero in his home village

December 23, 2006; Page A1

BEIJING -- About a mile from Tiananmen Square lies a pit from which a 28-story hotel will rise in a little more than a year. An army of construction workers lives and works at the open site, enduring plunging temperatures and freezing winds.

Some work the midnight hours, while the rest of the city sleeps.

Others rise at dawn. They work 15-hour days or longer, seven days a week. When they topple onto their bunk beds, it is 12 to a room. There is no heat.

One of them is Wei Zhongwen. He has more than two decades as a construction worker, and the injuries to prove it: a missing pinkie and a palm-size dent on his head under his neatly cropped hair. In the past decade, the 41-year-old has helped build skyscrapers, shopping malls and much else in Beijing and nearby provinces. He hasn't seen his wife or daughter in two years, and because of the press of work ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, he may not see them this year either.

"For me, one of the biggest problems of this job is loneliness," says Mr. Wei, puffing on a cigarette.

And on it goes.. a great story, which is right in front of all of our faces here but rarely told...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pictures improved

David Kann answered the call and photoshopped these. Thanks DK.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Harbin video

I skipped the music in favor of natural sound effects.

Photos of Derek and Doyle in Shanghai market

Some cool shots, taken by Doyle Bramhall II.. even the one with him in it, at the restaurant.. I took it but he set it up. Obviously, the bottom two are a little dark. They look better on my computer but I don't have time to lighten them in Photo Shop. MY GW Story should be in the May issue, with lots of these type of photos.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Alan deZon writes in to remind me of the good old Engrish website.

If pleasure you received from story of bad sign English I require you to
click here

Harbin Ice Festival 2

China has rockets, too!

One of Anna's admirers takes her for a slide.

One of the group of festival workers following us around to watch our kids.

Arctic ping pong in the park.

What kind of fur is that? Don't ask, don't tell.

On the way into our abridged night time visit.
It’s been a pretty mild winter in Beijing, which alternately is enjoyable and scary. Last week, however, we decided to leap into some real cold weather with aj ourney to Harbin for the 8th annual snow and Ice Festival. It was a good trip, sort o a trippy trip. Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, and it’s about a 1.5 hour flight North of here. It is famous for its Russian influence and its extreme temperatures. The potential is there for some really serious cold.. 20 below type stuff.

Some of the folks in B’s office thought we were nuts to go. “Are you trying to make kidsicles?” one asked.

But it’s not some completely insane venture. Lots of people from here have been going this year. We had a group of friends there last weekend and when we were there, we ran into a bunch of people that we know and heard tell of many more floating around.

We went with our friends the Carberrys (Ellen and kids Luke and Chloe.. Matt unfortunately had to travel for work and couldn’t come). We stayed in the Shangri la, a really nice hotel. We figured that it would be welcome to return to a place we knew was warm and clean, and it was.

We got in at about 8:30 Friday night and had arranged for a van to drive us to the hotel. We walked across a frigid parking lot and climbed into a big ol Chinese van. It was a long drive, close to an hour, down a dark, dark highway with snowdrifts on the side of the road and snow blowing across us and us thinking ,”Hmmm.. whose idea was this again?”

But there was a full moon lighting our way and a great sense of adventure. It was one of those moments where I feel like we are on the other side of the world and then realize, “I really am on the other side of the world.”

We had an uneventful night, piled into our single room, with Anna in our bed, Jacob on a rollaway and Eli curled up on a little loveseat/couch with his “family” – his blankie and about five stuffed animals, all of whom have names and accompany him everywhere now.

In the morning, we went to the back of the hotel and played on the ice statues the kids had admired before. They have a huge igloo in the back that is actually a restaurant.. unheated but quite nice.. I went in to have a look a round.. they sell only hotpot and advertise it as “a real arctic adventure.” There was also a chinese restaurant in the lobby, along with a Western “coffee shop” where we hung out. There were signs in all of the elevators advertising the specialty dishes of the Chinese restaurant, including “fried squid balls stuffed with goose liver.” We kept threatening Jacob with that meal.

We asked the concierge where to go.. we had heard there some nice parks on the huge river which runs right through town. There is an old synagogue in town that’s supposed to b quite interesting, as well as a Russian Orthodox church and several other beautiful Russian-style buildings. We didn’t even try to see any of them, but now we have a reason to return next year.

The hotel gave us a map and circled a park where they said we should start. We got in a couple of cabs and showed them. They drove us around the corner and dropped us off in a God forsaken windblown, really cold parking lot overlooking a large and frozen river… surprisingly large and really, really forzen.

We had no idea if we should walk left or right but saw some signs of life to the left and headed that way. Below on the river there was a dock with a bunch of ferries frozen in place for the winter.They w ere old and rickety but looked to be still in use. We saw a pretty big ice slide and the kids beelined for it.

We paid some big bunch of rmb and they handed us all burlap slides. We all started sliding down, towards the river. At the bottom of the track there was a big pile of snow covered, sort of, with red burlap sacks. We flew into the wall.. the person coming next flew into your back. It felt a little nutty. The kids loved it and ran up and down. We had no clear vision if we were paying per ride, how much we would owe or anything else.

It was all good fun, but Anna was scared, didn’t do it. She stood at the bottom with Becky nd watched. There were guys running dog sled rides just next to us. Anna wanted to do one. As soon as we were about ready, Anna and 9-year-old Chloe jumped on and took off on a dog sled ride. Then two by two we all followed. We had not negotiated a price. Big mistake. Over and over we learn the same lessons and this is a big one in China. Do not do anything without having a price set beforehand. Everything is extremely negotiable on the front end and extremely non negotiable on the back end.

So we all go on our little dog sled rides, around a circles, with the poor dogs slipping and sliding on the ice on the turns. No huskies.. St. Bernard’s, German Shepherds… W get off and the kids are already off and chair skating on the little patch next to us and the guy tells me we owe him 320 RMB (about 40 bucks).. an outrageous sum.. He insists its 40 Rmb per person. I say no I’ll give you 40 per dog. He keeps up.. I’m surrounded by a whole posse of raggedy guys hassling me for the money, while the dogs howl, already tied up for the lunch break about to come.

It was an absurd sum, but the kids were al ready engaged in chair skating right there and there was no real way to walk away so I paid the guy the money and then told everyone they couldn’t do anything else until we had negotiated a price. We’ve been to other places before where they seep the kids away then post fact tell us some ridiculously inflated price.

It was getting cold and we were a little hungry so we made our way up to the top of the hill, and into a little teahouse there, where we had some tead and ate the granola bars and apricots we were toting around. Unfortunately, we just missed the river swimmers. They keep a section of the river free of ice and roped off for swimming year round. There was a little teahouse inside, then a hallway with a bathroom (for which we had to pay .5 yuan to use) and then a little room.. In there, there were a bunch of old menp laying mahjong and cards. On the wall was a huge photo of a bunch osf swimmers posing in their bathing suits with Zheng Zheman, the former premier, who was wearing a thick overcoat and big fur hat.

In the corner there was a table selling allikinds of stuff.. hats, gloves, Russian nesting dolls – it was really cool how much of a Russian influence there is in Harbin. I looked at some stuff.. Eli was obsessed with the dolls and Jacob needed a new pair of gloves, since his counterfeit Spyders had become soaked through. An old man rushed over, blowing cigarette smoke in my face and smiling with crooked teeth,. His face looked Russian. He grabbed a fur coat and tried to show it to me. I said bu yao, bu yao. He picked up a fox stoll, with head intact and put it on my shoulders. No thanks. He picked up a baseball-hunting cap type thing with fur lining and put it on my head. Hmm, this is more like it. It felt good and very warm.

The guy ran over, “haokan haokan!:” (Looks good!) He said it was fox, which he indicated by picking up the fox stoll and shaking it around pointing at the head then at the hat. Becky walked in to see what I was doing, eyed the hat on my head, rolled her eyes and left. The guy wanted 850 yuan (over $100). I laughed and said no. We were getting ready to leave. I walked away. He kept dropping his price “600!” “no” “500” “no” and so on.. until he got to 150 and then I said yes if he would throw in nesting doll. He agreed. I gave eli the doll and took the hat.

WE walked off down the river, past the parking lot where we had come in and entered a park. We passed people playing ping pong in a little p ublic area. I loved that. 20 degrees max and these guys were pinging away. Kids were also playing on the playground and ours joined them.

There was large gondola going over the river to an island and we decided to ride it. We haggled over price with them – it’s never ending in China. We all climbed in and took off. We got halfway over the river. We were very, very high up.. hundreds of feet. We looked over and saw the large park further down the other side of the river – that was the place we were supposed to go. Not the dinky rundown joints we had spetnt the morning… We got halfway and the wind was blowing hard and we were rocking and I had a panic attack. What the fuck were we doing? How could we be up here? Were we insane? Retarded? Lunatic?

I didn’t want the kids to see my fear but told Becky I thought we should get off on the other side. She said, ‘we bought roundtrip tickets.” I said it doesn’t matter.. Ellen and Becky wanted to ride back. I was too freaked to argue but I should have. We got to the other side, doors opened, we showed the lady our return tickets and continued around.. The doors closed, then we stopped. Well, that happens sometimes. Maybe they had to let someone on. I looked around. No sign of anyone or anything, but we weren’t moving.

Suddenly, the ticket lady and another lady came out.. and pushed us! We were going hundreds of feet over a frozen rive rin harbin China, near Russia and we needed a push start. My heart was thumping in my throat. I got very zen because I didn’t know what else to do. I barely spoke. All the kids tried on my hat and laughed wearing it. I looked at them and it strulk me – there was now ay that fur was anything but dog. Damn! I can’t even look at it now. Maybe I’ll give it to one of the guards or workers around here.

Anyhow, we kicked around for a while more and eventually went back to the Shangri la. That evening, we met up with 18 other people form Beijing for ad inner that was a lot of fun despite being 100% fiasco. We went to a Russian restaurant, which seemed like a good idea and they did give us a private room which was swell. But someone decided that we should order separately as families, -- one of the Britfamilies, I do believe, which would be rather in character. That was underway when ewe got there so we could not stop that train.

It overpowered the senses of the Chinese wait staff.. who would take one set of orders, come back with the food, take another, come back with the food, etc.. But the kids were happy, the company was good and the beer was sort of cold when it finally arrived after about 8 requests.

But the whole thing took a long, long time an really sapped our energy. By the time we stumbled out into the cold night and boarded the bus(!) That the other guys had rented, the kids were all verging on wipeout. We trucked on out to the big snow and ice festival, which seemed to be really far away, we trekked across town, through some traffic, into a packed parking lot, which we then had to traverse.. It took forever for everyone to come together and it was scary in the parking lot with the kids. I thought to myself.. this is why we don’t do big group trips. I had Anna on my shoulders. She felt heavy. It was cold. She felt like she was falling asleep.

W made it over to the ticket window. Their guide was there, and they always get discounts here. She talked to the sellers and said we didn’t have to pay for any kids.. the signs said it as 75 rmb for any kids over 1.2 m (Jacob) and 150 for adults. She wanted to wait for everyone to do ito at once but they were all moving so slow, ome were buying trinkets or food. We were frustrated so I said, thanks but I’ll just get the tickets.. I bought two adult tickets and we slogged back to the entrance.. it was quite far and it was hard to keep the kids together. We made our way through the line.. we gave them the two tickets and walked in. We turned to wait.. Jacob was last. The big Russian looking guy in a big fur hat stopped him, said (in Chinese, “No. He needs a ticket.” I said they told us kids no need tickets.. a lady appeared with a measuring stick, showing Jacob exceeded 1.2 meters and needed a ticket. He burst into tears, afraid he would be left behind. I got so mad.. I just lost it. I took a wd of money out of my pocket and threw it at the guy and said “Let him in!” or something close to that.

He didn’t budge. Becky was horrified, walked back out and said she would get another ticket. they let Jacob in.. so it ended up costing us a full adult ticket and my humiliation. Jacob came in and crawled around on the ground collecting crumpled yuan notes. I’m not proud of this, but I’m just being honest. Sometimes we all crack. We do a lot with the kids and it’s usually all great fun but sometimes we push it all a little too far. No denying that. In this case, it only lasted a minute. I purged myself with that immature act and then it was all fine. Surprisingly, pleasantly, the kids did not panic.

Becky came in and it was clear that I was not the only one losing it. Kids were exhausted. We decided to take a single horse sleigh ride around to take it all in.. W e negotitated ftom 500 to 150, the all nine of us climbed in, Eli and I sitting in the front. The scale of the place was immense. Huge field filled with these giant ice castles and Great Walls anda snow Buddha bigger than our house and drums and bells and slides and swing s and chutes and chair skating and ATV tracks.. all of it lit up like crazy.

We circled through and then called it a night.. the cabs didn’t want to take us to our hotel, which was just across the bridge.. would have been 8-9 RMB ride. They demanded flat fees.. we agreed to pay 50 as Anna was falling asleep and took off. I had the distinct impression that city of Harbin has a big vacuum cleaner that connects to your pocket the second you walk off the plane and sucks all your money into their municipal coffers.

The next day we blew off some other ideas we had and returned to the sculpture Fest in daylight because we really had not experienced it in full. It was so empty, the parking lot such a contrast to the night before that we thought at first it was closed. But it was open and empty. We went in and there probably were neve more than 100 people in the whole giant place there for the next two hours while we roamed the whole grounds.. the light obviously are beautiful but in a way the scale was easier tot take in in daylight. It was such a huge, sparse, barren landscape. And there were, of course, no lines. The kids went up and down slides over and over. A few times the only others sliding with them were workers, who used scrap lumber and metal as sleds.

We could also get a sense of how the stuff was all constructed.. there big teams of guys on scaffolding, and cranes lifting massive ice blocks into place on the replica Russian orthodox church. There were a few groups of workers, all young men, who became fascinated with us and followed us around. We went to a tubing hill and some guys volunteered to carry Anna up and down the hill. Then they took her on their laps for slides. It was sweet. As I’ve written many times, Anna gets treated like a rock star but it is usually form women.. I don't recall a time where a group of young men were so interested in her. It was sweet.

Good grief.. I am pushing towards 3,000 words an I haven’t written about Anna locking herself in our hotel room and the comedy that followed. It will have to wait for another time. Feel free to bug me.. it's a good one.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why Becky doesn't post, "Slippery Are Very Crafty"

Ever since I started writing this blog when we moved to Beijing in August 2005, people have piped up asking about Becky... wWy doesn’t she write here? Why don’t I talk about her more? Why am I so full of myself? (In so many words, anyhow)

The answer is pretty simple – to the first queries anyhow, you’re on your own for the latter. Becky doesn’t want to be up here. This is a public forum. People can Google something or another and show up here. I forget that myself sometimes and then I am getting hostile posts about a six-year-old Spencer Haywood story from a U-Kentucky hoops fanatic because Spencer bashed Adolph Rupp. Or suddenly a host of German Clapton fanatics are emailing about my write-up of the Shanghai show.

Becky is the China Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal. Her opinions, thoughts, experiences don’t need to be posted in a public forum. Now, having said all that, there is a very easy to keep up with what she is doing.. subscribe to the Wall Street Journal Online! It costs $99 a year and that seems like a lot. I think they absolutely need to vary their pricing structure and introduce daily, weekly, monthly passes, which will lead to a very high sell through rate. But think of it as what it is – for 99 bucks you are getting the Journal, everything in the paper, plus archives plus some incredibly fantastic online-only content (cough, cough).

You will not find Becky’s name on a lot of stories.. er, I mean, Rebecca’s name. She does not have many bylines these days, but she is all over every single story coming out of China, from beginning to end. Put them all together and you will start to get a pretty good idea of where she’s coming from, I think.

Now I would obviously never claim to be anything but biased, but I think the WSJ has the best China coverage of anyone. It is a fact that they have the most people and the most volume of material. It’s all really, really fascinating and it goes way deeper than day-to-day business coverage. I would hope you all know this by no, but I still run into many, many people who call the Journal a business paper.. which it is, obviously, but it is much, much more.

Becky doesn’t know I’m writing this and there’s a 40-percent chance she’ll make me take it down, but come on now. Support the home team. Gregg Allman once told me that he walked into a John Lee Hooker concert and was in line to buy a ticket. Hook’s manager saw him, ran over and said, “Mr. Allman, why are you in line? You should have just called us if you wanted a ticket?” And he shrugged and said, “I can afford a ticket. I’m supporting the home team.”

He said he learned that from his mother. When the Allmans would play Florida, tons of relatives would call her asking for tickets and she would say, ”If you won’t pay to see them, who will?” I think she was a wise woman.

Here’s a little taste of a story from last Saturday, which has remained one of the most popular stories on for days. I actually wanted to do a column on this but I got scooped by my wife.

This is just the top of the story.


Beijing Gets Rid
Of Bad Translations

Many Expats Regret Loss
Of Wacky English in Signs;
'Slippery Are Very Crafty'

February 5, 2007; Page A1

For years, foreigners in China have delighted in the loopy English translations that appear on the nation's signs. They range from the offensive ("Deformed Man," outside toilets for the handicapped) to the sublime (on park lawns, "Show Mercy to the Slender Grass").
[go to slide show]

Last week, Beijing city officials unveiled a plan to stop the laughter. With hordes of foreign visitors expected in town for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing wants to cleanse its signs of translation nonsense. For the next eight months, 10 teams of linguistic monitors will patrol the city's parks, museums, subway stations and other public places searching for gaffes to fix.

Already, fans of the genre are mourning the end of an era, and some Web sites dedicated to it have seen traffic spike. The bewildering signs were "one of the great things we want to show people visiting us," says financial-services consultant Josh Kurtzig, a Washington native who lives in Beijing. Correcting them is "really taking away one of the joys of China."

Stuck in Beijing traffic recently, Mr. Kurtzig noticed workers replacing one of the classics: "Dongda Hospital for Anus and Intestine Disease Beijing." The new sign: "Hospital of Proctology." He grabbed his BlackBerry and emailed the news to friends around the globe. Their reactions, he says, were swift, and mostly unfavorable. "Nooooooooooo," read an email from one friend.

Not many locals share this sense of loss. "We cannot leave [these signs] up just for the amusement of foreigners," says Olive Wang, marketing manager for a major sportswear company.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Harbin pictures

I'm wrapped up trying to finish my GW story about Derek Trucks and doyle Bramhall and touring with Clapton, so I haven't been able to finish up the thing I started writing about our trip to Harbin and the ice festival. It will pop up sooner or later. IN the meantime, here's some pictures. The other folks are the Carberry family.

Check out all the crazy ice structures. the coat I'm wearing is Dixie's 40-year-old Alaska Eddie Bauer bought in Seattle "when Eddie Bauer was Eddie Bauer." It is awesome.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Winter Fun

Some pictures of chair skating on Houhai Lake last Sunday. It's hard to describe how nutty this scene was but I will try soon. There were so many people out there. No time to say more now, but I also have some great video. We went there with a large group of folks from Sunday School (several of whom are pictured here). If that ice had cracked the whole Jewish population of Beijing would have been lost.

Today, we are off to Harbin with our friends the carberrys. That is in Manchuria on border of Russia and known for being freezing and also for tis supposedly beautiful ice sculpture festival. Stay tuned for info on that next week. I do respect how the Chinese have a lot of wintertime activities that embrace the cold.

My new column is dropping Saturday.. they held it a day to promo it on the front page I'm told. So have a look at the Saturday Journal and let me know.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ode to Chinese Market Shopping

It's hard to describe market shopping to anyone who hasn't experienced it, but this poem by a visiting friend of a friend does a pretty darn good job capturing the vibe.

These are large indoor multi-floor markets filled with stalls manned mostly by young women selling eveything from sunglasses to shoes to tea to DVDs, jackets, hats, and on and on.. Anything that can be pirated is.

Sunny Gold is a market not too far from our house, on the way into town. It is realtively small and local compared to the big downtown markets like the Silk Market. Those places are filled with tourists and it's really agressive. You try to pay like 20 percent of the asking price because they start so absurdly high. Sunny Gold is a little more mellow -- you generally go for about 50 percent -- but still rather intense, as captured here.

Sunny Gold
By Marge Leece

Sunny Gold, Sunny Gold,

Oh the stories I have told.

Show me the money, you buy, you buy

Coats and gloves, give them a try.

Bags, shoes, t-shirts and hats,

Lady, lady, you look good in that.

Jewellery so cheap it is a sin,

You don't even know where to begin.

Sunny Gold, Sunny Gold,

Oh the stories I have told

Tell me your price, why so low,

You're killing me don't you know.

I've got a headache, give me water,

Did that woman just try to sell her daughter?

I have to leave, get me out of this place

My money is spent, get out of my face!

Catch a cab, exhausted to the brink,

Back to Beijing Riviera for a nice stiff drink!!

Anna Sleepover

Anna had a sleepover with her friend Lauren. The two of them cooked it all up at school, then asked for permission. They had a blast and in the hour we were there droping her off, they changed outfits/costumes about four times. Being Anna's parents is going to be a wild ride.

R.I.P. Molly Ivins, WTC anger

R.I.P. Molly Ivins

It was always a pleasure to read someone who could make indignation and fury so funny and good natured. It’s a big loss. She was really one of the best. This is a really nice tribute.

This is from the Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram obit:

Ms. Ivins told readers about her first bout with cancer in a matter-of-fact afterword in an otherwise ordinary column.

"I have contracted an outstanding case of breast cancer, from which I fully intend to recover," she wrote on Dec. 14, 1999. "I don’t need get-well cards, but I would like the beloved women readers to do something for me: Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Done."

Ms. Ivins authored three books and co-authored a fourth. She was a three-time finalist for a Pulitzer Prize... but the iconoclastic writer often said that her two highest honors were being banned from the conservative campus of Texas A&M University and having the Minneapolis police name their mascot pig after her when she covered the department as a reporter during one of her first jobs in the newspaper business.

How is it that Molly Ivins never won a Pulitzer and that Tom Friedman, who urged the Iraq war on, has won 3? As someone very close to me noted she had guts, while none of those other guys do.

Think about it.. Friedman was beating the drums for this mess and what is his comeuppance? Flying around the world on a private jet getting 50k to give speeches about the flat world that anyone could look out their window and see. He's probably drinking Moet out of athuman-skull champagne flute right htis minute. Why should we listen to anything this guy has to say when he was so completely off base about something so important? Are we supposed to just forget that? Apparently so. What exactly does it take for someone to lose thier credibility?

And Bill Kristol, who is always such a nice, calming presence on TV -- what is his penance for being so flagrantly wrong and not just writing about it but serving as a cheerleader and lead tsk-tsker that anyone who agrees with him is not noly wrong but limp wrested, short sighted and unpatriotic? Well, he gets more TV gigs and now a spot with Time magazine. Andrew Sullivan was another tomtom pounder. He gets rewarded by being wooed from Time to the Atlantic. It’s really amazing.

Don’t these guys have to suck any wind for being so horribly wrong? It’s like rewarding the surgeon who killed your son by making him chairman of the department. That probably happens, too, come to think of it.

At least, McCain is going to go down in flames in punishment for selling out and groveling down to kiss Shrub’s ass. Looks like he picked the wrong time to abandon his “maverick” principles. Nothing like hitching your wagon to a falling star to run for president. Hagel is the new McCain. And really the time is so right for someone of any political leaning who will actually give us some “straight talk.” That’s why mushy mouthed Hillary is gonna be toast, too.

I know some people don't like when I rant, but sometimes I can't hold it in,and this was one those days, prompted by this sad news and also this story:

This story really disturbed me.

I really find it profoundly wrong that they are building at the WTC site. It is a mass gravesite and should forever be a park and memorial.