ah, just because…

February 17th, 2008

Just because I’m using Chinesepera-kun for the first time and enjoying the added ease of access to written Chinese its giving me (it’s soooo much quicker than a dictionary), here’s another story, also from The Beijing News/新京报:

女子坠楼亡 居民绕路走

Woman falls to her death; residents make a detour

[yeah, shitty translation of the headline, good start]


Incident happened at No. 4 Xinming Hutong,  identity of the deceased is still under investigation

本报讯 (记者展明辉)前晚近8时,西城区新明胡同4号楼,一名年轻女子坠楼,当场身亡,吓得附近居民纷纷绕路而行。居民们表示,事发后,未有家属前去认领遗体,警方也未找到死者坠楼位置,其身份尚不清楚。

 Dispatch from this paper (reporter Zhan Minghui) Towards 8 the night before last, at No. 4 Xinming Hutong, Xicheng District, a young woman fell from a building to her death, dying at the scene. The frightened residents one after another detoured around her body. The residents stated that since the incident, no family member has come to claim the remains. The Police have also not found the location she fell from, and her identity is still not clear.


The incident happened in front of the door of Unit 2, on the west side of Building Number 4, Xinming Hutong. According to eyewitness accounts, towards 8 the evening before last, residents crossing the street discovered the body of a female lying on the steps. She was wearing a red down coat, her head was splattered with blood, a horrifying situation. They immediately notified the police and went home via the gates of other units. Then the Police hurried to and sealed off the scene to conduct an investigation, leading to crowds of upper-floor residents looking on.


A resident introduced the woman as about 20 years old, “She looked very petite, you’d think she’s only a wee girl from the first look.” Half an hour after the incident, still no family member had arrived and they hadn’t found from where she fell, “You could only see that the 15th floor window was open.” Then the Police took the body away.


At about 12 o’clock yesterday [am or pm? Not clear to me], the traces at the scene had already been covered with sand, but a large bloodstain was still exposed, and the surrounding area covered in drops of blood, as well as four or five bloody footprints. The community duty officer said nobody knew the deceased, and the Police also hadn’t found her Identity Card, so the case is still under investigation.

Damn, that’s just awful.  

a circuit of Pandaomiao

January 31st, 2008

Considering that roughly half my time in China has been spent in Beijing, and roughly half the time I’ve spent in Beijing has been spent in this southeastern corner, around BeiGongDa, it should be kinda surprising that I’d never really explored that small quarter northeast of BeiGongDa, between Xidawang Lu, Pingleyuan, BeiGongDa, and the Fourth Ring Road.

Not that there’s anything to see there, but as I’ve said before, it’s the boring parts of town that are the most interesting.

Anyway, I decided that I needed out of the apartment for lunch and at least part of the afternoon. I was starting to get a bit beyond cabin feverish. So for lunch I went across the road to the campus Muslim restaurant, which is the second closest restaurant to home, but the easiest to get to. It was closed, and will be until February 21. Yeah, welcome to your average Chinese university campus. Anyway, I decided to head northwards, up to a restaurant on the edge of the Pingleyuan market, a Northeastern place specialising in hotpot of some kind or another. Open, good, so I settled in for lunch, ate, and spent a good couple of hours watching the world go by. Then it was time to leave, and, on seeing how this lane followed what used to be the stinkiest canal in Beijing, but which is now dry, to the east, thought, well, I’ve never been down that way before, might as well go for a wander, have a look-see.

So I did.

Past the market was a very regular housing estate that looked like it was built in the 50s, but probably wasn’t quite that old. After that, there was what looked like a park to the left, on the northern side of the lane, and what looked like was a park-by-default, because the slum opposite the northeast gate to BeiGongDa hadn’t quite extended that far north. So I crossed the former stinky canal/current dry ditch and followed one of the attempted paths along the canal/ditch until I confirmed it was only going to take me to the fourth ring road, then turned back. But there were three almost-paths leading the other ways through the slum to the northeast corner of BeiGongDa, and none of them looked like the went all the way, so I asked a passer-by, then followed her directions. Of course, it was no more than 50 metres from where I was standing to the road I was looking for, once I’d been shown which path to take.

And so I took that path, then I headed to the local Jingkelong supermarket to get those infernal lightbulbs, then came home, and that was it. There you go, nothing to report.

Actually, I did manage to make good use of today’s continuing good, clean air and get something approaching exercise, which is what I desperately needed.

And I discovered that there’s a McDonald’s much closer to here than the previous closest one I knew of, but that ain’t good. But right next to that is a Papa John’s, which I believe specialises in pizza, and which may be worth checking out, but we’ll see. lzh and I will be heading in that direction this evening. Oh, yeah, I got to see the back end of our local Outlets (which was the first in Beijing, from what I remember) on my little ramble.

And I’ve all but confirmed that the temple for which that small corner of town is named, 潘道庙, no longer exists. As the title of this post suggests, I walked around that area, but I didn’t go through it. Difference of about 20 metres. Still, didn’t see a temple.

So, in other words, nothing to report.


January 31st, 2008

I never would’ve thought changing two lightbulbs would turn into such a mission.

First one light in the bathroom went out. No big deal, we still had the other light, which was more than adequate. But as much for form’s sake as anything else, I pulled the cover off the light to see if the bulb could be replace with one of the multitude of utterly redundant bulbs in the loungeroom.


All the lights in our apartment are filled with compact flourescent bulbs, the only exception being my desk lamp and the two bathroom lights. My desk lamp has an old incandescent filament-style bulb, because that’s all it has always had (and I can’t figure out how that bulb has lasted so many years), and the two bathroom lights have something in between old fashioned flourescent tubes and modern CFLs. The two bathroom lights require flourescent tubes that have been twisted into a squareish shape, not spiralled like CFLs, and which have an odd plug consisting of four pins in a square, unlike CFLs which plug into any regular lightbulb socket. Anyway, when the first one went and I saw what kind of a weirdarse flourescent tube it was, I thought, bugger it, we’ve still got adequate light in the bathroom.

But then the second bulb blew, and it turned out to be identical to the first. And here’s where it got really irritating:

See, these particular square flourescents are really hard to pull out of the socket. I mean, really hard. It took me two days to get the first one out, and it was only then that I could see enough of the specifications to buy a replacement with any kind of confidence. I bought two replacement bulbs and plugged the first (actually, the second to blow, but the first one I succeeded in pulling out and therefore replacing) one in, then set about replacing the other bulb.

I mean, really: In what kind of parallel universe do you wind up pulling half the ceiling down in the process of replacing a blown lightbulb? Did I somehow fall through a warp in the space-time continuum and find myself on the planet Hanna-Barbara? And it wasn’t  just that I pulled half the ceiling down trying to pull the blown bulb out, I just about pulled the bulb itself apart in the process.

Ah, well, eventually I managed to replace the old bulb with the new one without damaging the socket itself, then I repaired the ceiling (it’s made of aluminium (I guess, judging by the lack of weight) slats resting precariously on ridges fastened to the walls), and we now have full light in the bathroom again.

But the whole process was utterly ridiculous. I mean, it has never taken me so long to replace a lightbulb ever before. Nor has it taken so much energy. Nor have I ever broken anything in the process of replacing a lightbulb. And yet it has taken a total of three days to replace two lightbulbs, and half the bathroom ceiling wound up on the floor in the process.

But that’s all just fine and dandy, because it’s all repaired and we now have full light in the bathroom again.

Now, if only I could find the brilliant architect who designed our apartment so that the first thing you see on opening the door is the bathroom and the even more spectacularly intelligent fellow who decided to light our bathroom with the most absurdly difficult to replace bulbs, I’d soon be a happy man… just as soon as I had finished picking the bones I have with them, that is….

cheats, but good cooks, still

January 9th, 2008

Well, something I have come to consider desperately lacking in the English-language China blogosphere is foodie blogs. It’s not that such blogs don’t exist, it’s that they should, and I have only recently begun discovering them. There should be far more.

Anyway, wandering through one of these recently discovered foodie blogs I come across still more proof that Sichuan cuisine is only second rate:

Fans of Sichuan cuisine know that even spice fiends need something to ward off all the heat in your mouth between bites.

No. Sichuanren need huajiao to numb their mouths so they can eat spicy food without feeling the spice. Xiangcai (湘菜/Hunan cuisine) is still vastly superior, and that is both because fans of Xiangcai don’t need to stoop to numbing their palates to enjoy good food and because xiangcai manages a far greater and more subtle range of flavours. And, I can’t see how replacing “Sichuan peppercorns” (isn’t that 花椒, i.e. cheating spice prickly ash?) with red pepper flakes or hot chilli sauce could possibly help, since the whole point of 花椒 is to numb the palate, and not to add to the spiciness of the dish. But still, I’m a big fan of Sichuan cuisine, and I may well try this cucumber salad at home one day. I mean, reading that recipe just makes me feel hungry…

the aftermath

December 19th, 2007

Early in the afternoon of Friday, 30 November, 2007, lzh and I and all those involved in the planning and running of our wedding sat down, utterly exhausted, at a few empty tables and finally got some lunch.

Looking back, I can’t see what it was that I had to do that left me so shattered. All I did was follow orders- go here, get in this car, go that way, do this, do that, say this, say that… pretty easy, really. But I was utterly exhausted. I don’t think I want to imagine how those who had real jobs to do were feeling. Lunch eaten, everything was packed up and we all went our separate ways.

There’s something very sad, almost tragic, about the sight of a restaurant after a wedding. It looks something like a battlefield the day after, silent, deserted. Yeah, anyway, we left. lzh and I, my parents and Roubaozi walked back across the square to our hotel.

There’s something slightly awkward about using a hotel room as the wedding chamber (新房), but our only other option was heading straight back to Beijing, and considering how exhausted we both were, I’m glad we didn’t. And of course, my parents, being tourists, needed looking after. And we wanted my parents to go out to the village and spend some proper time with lzh’s family.

That was perhaps the scariest part of the whole trip. I mean, rural Beijing is still mostly poor and underdeveloped. I mean, Yanqing county town is quite nice and really very well appointed, but the villages, even the fringes of the county town, are, well, basic. And cold, in the winter. But then I got to thinking of the stories of growing up in small town New Zealand in the 50s and 60s that my parents had told me, and I thought, well, they’ll probably cope just fine. Apart from the temperature, they’ve dealt with all of this kind of thing before. Well, apart from the temperature and squat toilets. And talking to my parents, they seemed pretty keen to go out and spend a night in the village. And lzh’s parents, her mum in particular, seemed very keen to have my parents come out and visit.

So, late on Friday afternoon, having gotten ourselves rested and as recuperated as possible, we wandered off to the supermarket. We didn’t want to repeat the breakfast disaster of that morning, so we made sure we had edible food.

And then on that Saturday morning, 1 December, 2007, we got up and gathered in Mum and Dad’s room for breakfast, then got our stuff together, moved it down to the lobby, and checked out while lzh went off looking for a miandi to take us out to the village.

The drivers waiting by the hotel quoted the utterly absurd price of fifty kuai, so lzh told them precisely where they could put their fifty kuai and their crappy little miandi and went off to where the village drivers normally gather up by the old Central Market (since torn down to make way for some commercial development that is currently under construction)- I guess one thing should be made clear: The miandi and other not-strictly-legal but tolerated taxi drivers working different parts of Yanqing gather in different parts of the county town. It’s always possible to get a miandi going your direction, but if, for example, you ask one of the Kangzhuang drivers who gather on the north side of the Dongguan square, outside the KFC, to go out to Xiangying, he’s going to quote you a higher price than a regular Xiangying driver waiting whereever it is the Xiangying drivers wait. So having mentioned the Central Market, those who know Yanqing can probably guess which township lzh’s village is in…. But anyway, she went up there and found a driver willing to come back to the hotel, pick us up, and take us to the village for the regular fare.

So we piled in and off we went, taking the back roads along the river bank to avoid the trucks on the highway. And we arrived. And we piled out of the miandi and into the house. And then lzh and I got a day and a night and a morning of hard core, intense, non-stop translation practice. Actually, that wasn’t as tiring as I expected. And both sets of parents seemed to like each other and would probably have gotten along much better if they weren’t so totally reliant on translators. And Mum and Dad seemed to actually enjoy their brief stay in the Chinese countryside. Well, I think they would’ve preferred warmer weather, but otherwise they seemed to enjoy it.

So Saturday was spent around the house. On Sunday morning we had to put Roubaozi on a miandi for the county bus station fairly early- he had a plane to catch to get back to his job in the wilds of Jiangsu. Then we took Mum and Dad on a walk through the fields and up to the new carpark and lookout at the base of the mountains, from where they got a reasonable view out across the village.

But, like Roubaozi, we, too, had to get back to Beijing that Sunday. Well, we didn’t have to rush, having no plane to catch, but I needed to be in class at eight the next morning. So lzh arranged for a classmate of hers who earns a bit of extra income as a “taxi” driver to pick us up at midday. And Mum and Dad wanted to be able to say that they had not merely  seen ad they drove through and under the Great Wall. They wanted to be able to say they’d climbed it, too, gotten up close and personal with the wall. Well, there we were in Yanqing, heading back to Beijing, and so we did the obvious….

So yes, I finally succumbed. I had to. Force of circumstance. It’s not so easy to stop at Shuiguan or Juyongguan when you’re heading south from Yanqing, not unless you want to take the back roads or too huge backtracks, and that just didn’t make any sense. Fortunately, a Sunday afternoon outside peak season isn’t too bad a time to visit the tourist hell that is Badaling.

And then we got back to Beijing, and for the next three days I worked while my wife and my parents went shopping.

And so ended the long weekend of the wedding. Intense, and awesome, and a huge amount of fun.

A tale of two markets

December 15th, 2007

My parents’ last three days in China were spent shopping. Day one at Zhongguancun buying electronic goodies, day two at the Silk Market/Xiushui buying clothes and similar bits and pieces, day three at Hong Qiao buying the clothes and things that they hadn’t got on day two.

Now, all of us living in Beijing know what to expect at these markets. Of course, we did our best to warn and prepare my parents for the experience, but you can’t really prepare people for the intense, pushy, hard-sell insanity of such places.

When they got home from the Xiu Shui experience, my parents looked like they’d had  more than enough of such markets for one lifetime. They told stories of being subjected to racist abuse because they wouldn’t be cheated, and of my wife being subjected to more racist abuse for daring to marry a foreigner and help her parents in law.

lzh’s Chinese version of the story did not contain any overtly racist language, but still, it is clear that my parents and my wife were the recipients of some very unpleasant language, and for the reasons stated above.

Still, the shopping trip seemed to be successful, and they seemed like they’d mostly enjoyed it, at least in a “one of those experiences” kind of a way. They had an impressive haul of loot to show for their day shopping, anyway, and there was talk of all the things they still needed to buy, and talk of what they’d do tomorrow, and…

But still… Well, I’ve been to Xiu Shui enough times to know what to expect there, and I’m well aware that the people working there, as a gross generalisation, are not the best, friendliest, most honest people China has to offer. Quite the contrary. I hate that part of Beijing, loathe it with something more than a mere vengeance, and avoid it as much as possible. Still, I remember when, many years ago, Xiu Shui was a relatively pleasant, easy place to go shopping. You always had to be on your guard against rip-offs and bargain hard, of course, and the old market was a pretty good dictionary definition of fire trap, but  still, it was once relatively pleasant to shop there. The new Xiu Shui seems to have taken pushy sales to new heights of absurdity, and far too many of the vendors seem to think it appropriate to abuse people who don’t bow to their demands or to abuse Chinese people who dare to help foreigners. Somebody needs to clean that place up before Beijing loses serious face during the Olympic tourist rush.

Hong Qiao, on the other hand, was quite a different experience. I have come to dislike Hong Qiao, but nowhere near as much as I loathe Xiu Shui. But still, my parents got back from Hong Qiao with all the things they hadn’t bought at Xiu Shui and a far more relaxed look on their faces. Apparently Hong Qiao was a far more relaxed, less pushy, more pleasant experience.

My conclusion, and I will state this clearly to anybody who asks about shopping at any of Beijing’s foreigner/tourist markets: Boycott Xiu Shui. Nobody should be abused by vendors for any reason, and certainly not because they refuse to be cheated or because they dare to help foreigners.

Alright, there’s still a lot I have to write about. Like the wedding, for example. I’ll get there.

excellent news

November 25th, 2007

Excellent news. And could Kevin Rudd about to be the first Chinese-speaking prime minister of a Western country? Anyway, that’s not so important. The good news is that a certain lapdog of a certain would-be emperor is gone.


November 8th, 2007

Right from the first reports, I suspected this would happen, but still it comes as a shock- a pleasant shock, but still a shock:

Police drop all terror-related charges

The police are not charging any of the so-called Urewera 16 under the Terrorism Suppression Act, despite using the legislation to search homes last month.

Police took 12 of the 16 cases to the Solicitor General last month who assessed the police’s evidence.

Solicitor General David Collins QC announced this afternoon that the cases did not warrant prosecution under the act but could go ahead under the Arms Act.

Although Mr Collins does slip in this ominous little comment:

Regrettably not all the evidence I have been able to see will be made public

There may well be very good reasons for this. On the other hand, the reasons may be just as good as those that kept Ahmed Zaoui in jail with the threat of deportation to almost certain torture and death hanging over his head.

Well, they’re not free, there are still the charges under the Arms Act to be dealt with, and if the Police do have the evidence to prosecute, then they should be prosecuted.

Anyway, there’s still this interesting little comment from Mr Collins:

Mr Collins criticised the legislation and said it should be reviewed by the Law Commission. He said it was complex and incoherent and was almost impossible to apply to domestic terrorists.

Complex and incoherent law can only be bad law, surely?

Live Writer test

November 6th, 2007

用live writer写中文没事吗?


November 6th, 2007

I think I’ve fixed up all the Chinese on the sidebar that got corrupted recently. I’m not sure if the comments field has been sorted out yet. Chinese should be working in posts- I’ll check once more: 这些字应该是标准的中文字。I’ll post this then see if Chinese is showing up properly in comments, then I think I should check with live writer, too, just to make sure.