December 29, 2009

Giant Buddha

The world's largest sculpture of Buddha sits against a cliff wall at the confluence of three rivers near the city of Leshan in Sichuan province. Many boats met with their doom at this point, so a monk decided to construct a giant statue of Buddha to ward off further calamities. Construction begin in 713AD and lasted for almost one hundred years. It remains in good condition to this day, although its nose has been blackened by modern day pollution. The world's largest handkerchief is said to be in production in a nearby factory.


"The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain." - Local saying

December 21, 2009

Gobs of Spit

One of the favourite pastimes of my Chinese comrades is to spit noisily in public. Whenever I hear a thunderous throat clearing noise followed by a symphony of spray and splotch, I know another gob of spit has left the mouth of a citizen and found its way on to the pavement. If there is silence following the release, the spittle has most likely landed on a living creature or some other absorbent material. The exact composition of the dribble varies, sometimes containing phlegm or leftovers from a past meal mixed with the saliva.

'Do not gob anywhere' signs do little to discourage the activity. The subzero temperatures of winter bring along miniature ice skating rinks, as each new drop of spit freezes in place on the pavement where it landed. Sometimes I hear the windup behind me and try to predict the gender of the spitter, turning around to check only after the drool has been discharged. More often than not, I guess incorrectly.


"Hhhhhhhhhhghhhhhhhhhhhhhooiikkkkkkkkkkkhhhhhhhh......pppthhhwwwwiee" - Anonymous

December 20, 2009

The Fragrant Hills

Xiangshan or "Fragrant Hills" is a mountainside park located in the northern fringes of city of Beijing. The most popular time to visit is during autumn, when the hills are ablaze with the red and orange leaves that have gently fallen from the trees. I went in winter. Although there is a cable car that can be taken to the peak of the highest hill, I chose to take the more scenic route. The strenuous hike to the top was completed by both young and old. I passed musicians, singers, temples, and villas along the way.

As the only visible non-native that day making the 600 meter climb, the Chinese eagerly pointed at me and said "foreigner" in their local tongue. I was accompanied by a Chinese girl who had previously worked in the same company as I in India, so she could translate the remarks of the fellow hikers. To keep me energized, the girl continuously plied me with chocolate, biscuits, and duck tongues. I was nonetheless famished once we reached the top, so I purchased some preserved dog meat and chowed it down. Revitalized, the way back down was swift and painless.


"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."
- Anne Dudley Bradstreet

December 14, 2009

Condom Conundrum

A long time family friend was visiting Beijing with her elderly brother-in-law. She asked me to come over and stay the night at their hotel near the airport. I stayed in a room with the gentleman, while she slept in a separate room. Early next morning, it was time for them to catch their flight out of the city, so we checked out. As we patiently waited for the airport shuttle bus to arrive, a concierge approached us. He pantomimed that we had used an item in our room and not paid for it. As this was an international hotel, his English vocabulary was non existent.

Upon closer examination it was determined that he was holding a condom. The family friend expressed her complete shock and surprise at the peculiar turn of events. "They are uncle and nephew. No need for a condom!" she exclaimed. One of the desk girls snidely retorted "It not free, you know.". The argument reached a deadlock, so a visual inspection of our room was suggested. This confirmed our innocence and all involved breathed a sigh of relief.


“Condoms aren't completely safe. A friend of mine was wearing one and got hit by a bus.” - Bob Rubin

December 08, 2009

Kingdom of Heaven

Once the largest city in the world, Kaifeng has fallen into relative obscurity. An ancient capital of China, Kaifeng was also the home of the first Jewish settlers to the region. The Jews had settled here after crossing the Silk Road, bringing with them their customs and traditions. Over time, this knowledge faded. The original synagogue no longer exists, but a nearby alleyway is still called the "Lane of the Torah". The religiously diverse city also has a mosque, a church, and many Buddhist temples.

The Kaifeng night market is where the whole city gathers to shop and eat on a Saturday night. There is a multitude of options to satiate the taste buds, but very few to relieve the bowels. I was traveling with an Argentine, who notified me in advance of his desire to defecate as soon as possible. There was a KFC about 500 meters ahead, and it provided hope of a clean washroom. As we waded through the sea of people in the direction of deliverance, he noticed a sign for a public toilet and dashed off in that direction. Minutes later he was back. It was so dark he said, that people were using the light from their phones to navigate their way through the filth on the floor. The horror was too much for him to bear, so he chose to carry forth his burden to the world famous chicken franchise. I picked up my pace, sympathizing with his situation. He complained I was walking too fast, explaining he had to walk at a certain speed to make sure nothing came out. The Argentinian was able to complete his business in time, and we continued wandering amongst the street stalls.

Soon I felt the same urge he had just experienced and the race was on again. We strolled quickly back to the poultry provider and most popular bathroom destination in town. At the crossroads of two major streets, the KFC occupied a prime piece of real estate. A queue had formed for the only toilet inside. In front of me was a man and a young boy. The young boy was in dire straights, holding his pants, grimacing, pacing, and repeatedly knocking on the bathroom door. A voice inside mentioned he was almost finished every time, further annoying the little fellow. Five minutes later a man emerged, pulling up his pants and buckling his belt as he left the washroom. The boy darted in, having received permission from the gentleman ahead of him in line to do so. The door kept swinging back and forth. The child was having trouble locking the door. He gave up and the door swung wide open as he dropped his pants, squatted, and let loose. The man in front of me wanted the cleaning squad to have a turn before he went in, so I was up next. After I concluded my ordeal, we had dinner on the street. As a safety precaution we ate within a 50 meter radius of the KFC, remaining tethered to it by an invisible rope.


Tho` much is taken, much abides and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven that which we are, we are
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

- "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

December 05, 2009

ARNABeauty Contest

On a quiet Sunday evening in Beijing, I received an urgent call from a coworker. A client of my company had given us tickets to go to a beauty contest, but the client manager could not make it. Could I go instead? Not wanting any of my other colleagues to be disturbed on their day off, I made an exception to my "no working on weekends" rule and accepted the offer. I had only an hour before the show was scheduled to start, so I rushed out of my apartment.

I rendezvoused with another colleague directly on the subway, notifying him when I was nearing the stop he was at so that he could hop aboard. Unfortunately, we were in different compartments at opposite ends of the train. At each successive stop we jumped out and walked towards each other, before getting back on the train just before the doors slammed shut. A couple of stops later we converged, and he gave me my ticket. The event was called the Kanebo 7 Beauty Pageant. We got off at the appropriate subway station, and jumped into an auto rickshaw-like vehicle that dropped us of at the entrance to the Olympic Sports Centre. The show was starting in minutes. We frantically sprinted through the parking lot before entering the stadium where the event was being held.

The performance was action packed. A bevy of Chinese beauties smiled, danced, and posed for the audience. There were about forty of them. An hour and a half into the program, one of them actually spoke. The crowd grew restless. The focus quickly shifted back to their stronger attributes, as they started dancing and smiling again. After a winner was crowned and confetti poured down from above, I made my way to the floor. Some of the finalists were still milling about while workers were disassembling the stage around them. Squeals of delight were heard, as the ARNABabes posed with the Indo-Canadian Temptation for a photograph.


“It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be good than to be ugly.” - Oscar Wilde

November 19, 2009

Gone Fishing

A fleet of two rowboats set sail on to the waters of Lake Erhai, near the town of Dali in southwestern China. Evenly distributed among the boats were two oarsmen. One boat also carried a fisherman from the indigenous Bai minority and ten cormorants. The other carried our intrepid protagonist. The big seabirds were perched on the edge of the fisherman's boat. When fish were in the vicinity the cormorants would dive from the surface into the depths beneath to capture their unsuspecting prey.

Almost hunted to extinction by people who saw them as competition for the same fishy resource, humans and cormorants now cooperate to some extent. As the boats ventured further into the 40 kilometre long lake, the birds of prey sprung into action. Some splashes later, a few of the cormorants emerged with freshly caught fish in their beaks. The fisherman pulled the birds out of the lake and back onto the boat. He now had to coax them into letting go of the fish before they swallowed them. After some encouragement from their human master in the form of treats, the cormorants let go of the still squirming fish. With a healthy catch of two large fish and several smaller ones, the boats headed back to a nearby fishing village.


"The gods do not deduct from man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing."
~ Babylonian Proverb

October 26, 2009

The Mausoleum of Mao

Mao Zedong was the first leader of the People's Republic of China and one of the most influential figures of modern times. He died in 1976 and construction of his mausoleum began soon after. I visited the final resting place of the Great Helmsman alongside thousands of Chinese peasants on a cold Beijing morning. The masses lined up outside his mausoleum, eager to pay respect to his waxlike remains. Visitors are asked to produce identification proof before they are allowed in to the viewing area. Many stopped to buy flowers before entering the tomb.

The queue moved surprisingly quickly and I did not have to wait long before coming face to face with the Chairman. Security guards ushered everyone through, allowing for only several seconds of Mao viewing time per comrade. No photographs are allowed inside the complex, so everyone bobbed from side to side trying to get as good a view as possible of the man who helped China become a major world power. As they exited, they had a chance to buy some Mao-morabilia before heading back to their homes across the nation.


"If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience."
- Mao Zedong -

October 22, 2009

Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom

Many foreigners come to China to experience a different culture, travel the land, learn a new language, or to build a career. Some come to seduce innocent members of the local female populace. These women of virtue often deduce the ignoble nature of the scoundrel in question. Although lacking proper English skills, they are still able to scold the callous foreigner about their improper behaviour:
You are very serious vowed on Wednesday to meet us, but you not coming. I can understand you are very tired that day, but you dave not informed me the day.
First you do not respect me!
Second you do not care about me!
Third you are a person of bad faith!

October 21, 2009

Beijing Blazing

My first Monday in Beijing I came home from work. My landlord was there. I told him I had nothing to do for the rest of the day. He told me that it was the last day of the Lantern Festival, so I should visit a park to see what it was all about. I ventured outside, took several buses, and got thoroughly lost. Fireworks were exploding left, right, and centre throughout the city. It was the last day of the Spring Festival, so everyone had to use up their fireworks before the citywide ban was back in place. After watching the light show for a while, I looked around and saw what appeared to be a gigantic chimney with smoke coming out from the top. I had heard rumours of giant smokestacks that provided heating to all the homes in Beijing so I walked toward it.

Source: Gizmodo

When I got near, I realized that it was a skyscraper on fire. There were sparks at the top, and the flames were slowly making their way down the floors. I watched in awe as the fire slowly spread, before suddenly erupting into a massive inferno. As the flames engulfed the building, ash and small pieces of debris began to rain down. The sky turned black, the smoke blocking out the stars and the moon.

Source: BD Online

I backed away with the rest of the crowd that had gathered to gawk at the fiery sight. The fire reflected of the glossy exteriors of the surrounding office towers, giving the illusion that the whole area was ablaze. The eerie spectacle drew a crowd of thousands. The onlookers were intent on breaking the Guinness World Record for most camera phones used simultaneously in one place. Even passengers on buses driving by quickly flipped open their handsets to snap a few pictures of the destruction. My camera had ran out of batteries, so I remained an eyewitness before returning to the safety of my apartment. The inside of my ears were filled with soot and my forehead had turned black.


"Fire and people do in this agree, they both good servants,
both ill masters be."
- Fulke Greville

September 10, 2009

Kunming Konnection

China is one of the few places on Earth where you can go to a city that has a population of 6 million to experience the small town feeling. I also went to Kunming for the clean air, moderate temperature, and noodles. Wherever I ventured in the city, I was surprised to see people of all ages interacting with each other. In the parks, the masses were dancing in synchronization to loud music. A popular form of exercise, no one seemed to be embarrased by the moves they were pulling off. In Beijing, the youth and elders do not visibly hang out at the same venues. In Kunming, this did not seem to be an issue as the generations mixed freely. Old folks played mahjong while their grandchildren practiced their slick rollerskating moves nearby.

With a three day holiday in my first week of work at my new job, I flew to the other end of China. Kunming is in the south while Beijing translates to "North Capital". The townspeople kept a safe distance from me the first day, but by the end of my visit they had become accustomed to having the Indo-Canadian temptation walk among them. An eager set of parents brought their shy 7 year old daughter to practice her spoken English with me. A plain looking girl also came up to me excitedly and greeted me as if I knew her. Eventually I figured out that I had gone to Shilin with her on the same bus the previous day. The City of Eternal Spring was a good place to escape the hustle and bustle of Beijing for a few days, but I soon had to return to the capital to continue building my promising career.


"There is only one way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man."
 - Alan Paton -

September 09, 2009

Jin Gang Guoji

The Prince of Peking needs a suitable residence. My Beijing pad is called Jin Gang Guoji (or Golden Harbour International in English). Located on the outer edges of the central business district (CBD), it is an abode of peace in a city of smog. The massive complex takes up a full city block, with its domed towers lit up majestically at night.

Security guards man the entrances, but the real work is done by the locked gates. The gates open with an electronic swipe card and are quite heavy. Petite Chinese ladies struggle mightily to open them as the guards watch nonchalantly. I wait patiently for several minutes while they use all their strength to push open the door. If I approach them from behind to lend a hand they are startled by my appearance. They go into a state of shock and start hyperventilating, so I have stopped providing this service.

The ARNABode of Beijing follows the traditional Chinese architectural pattern of having a central courtyard with rooms enclosing it from all sides, but on a much larger scale. Manicured gardens, an artificial lake that is occasionally filled with water, and a circular platform where old folks practice tai chi in the morning and children play in the evening are the main features of this inner sanctum. I estimate there are 5-10 thousand inhabitants living here. It is a five minute walk from my apartment to the street if I exit through the official gateway to the outside world. There are a string of convenience stores located on the bottom floor of the buildings that make up Jin Gang Guoji, and sometimes I use them as shortcuts for entry and exit. I often buy fruit, chewing gum, and phone cards to show my gratitude.

“When you're safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you're having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”
- Thornton Wilder -

September 08, 2009

Visiting Macau

I was in Macau for a day, having arrived from Hong Kong via catamaran. It does not take long to realize that this is the gambling capital of Asia. Competition is fierce in the high stakes world of wealth redistribution. At the ferry terminal, buses from various casinos wait to take visitors to the pits of sin. I first went to the Venetian, the largest casino in the world, before making stops at a few others. Macau has its own currency which has a fixed exchange rate with the Hong Kong dollar. Since the HKD is accepted everywhere on the island, day trippers from Hong Kong can go directly to the casinos without the hassle of first visiting a foreign exchange.

Apart from the still developing under construction Cotai Strip of casinos, the former Portuguese colony is nowhere near as well developed as Hong Kong. It still has a homely feel to it. I wandered the streets and visited a few of the sites which were not gambling dens. The Macau Tower, a replica of Auckland's Sky Tower, has the world's longest bungee jump. While chewing on a chocolate bar at the base of the tower, I watched a few people jump from the outside of the observation deck. The Macau Grand Prix Musuem was very impressive, with cars driven by Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher on the city state's famed street circuit on display. I tried the racing simulator to experience the high speed thrills of Formula 3 car racing. The public bus had a sofa, so I finally sat down after a long day walking around town. The bus driver had to rouse me at the ferry terminal, as I had dozed off on the couch.


"The urge to gamble is so universal and its practice is so pleasurable, that I assume it must be evil." - Heywood Broun

September 07, 2009

Ancient Towns: Cuandixia

The vast majority of tourist sites in Beijing are not as old as history would dictate. Many have been reconstructed in recent times. Although the style of architecture may be old, the physical construction is new. There is very little wear and tear to indicate years of usage, so a modern day visitor might not fully appreciate the authenticity of the site. Every once in a while though, it is possible to uncover a hidden gem that appears to have been left unrestored. One such place was Cuandixia, an ancient Ming village around a hundred kilometers outside of Beijing.

Situated on a hillside, the village has not changed much in the past 500 years apart from the fact that the residents have all joined the tourist industry. Most of the homes also serve as either restaurants or guesthouses. Time moves slowly in Cuandixia. I had Chinese style pancakes at the house of an old couple. It took them almost 30 minutes to make the first one and another 15 to make the second one. After lunch I hiked around the surroundings. The Line in the Sky is a popular landmark where light shines through a gap in a ravine. I also ventured to the Fairy Pool. I waited a few moments but no Chinese beauty emerged from within, so I headed back into town. This time machine into China's past made for a pleasant day out.

"If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it."
 - Ralph Waldo Emerson -

September 01, 2009

Wangfujing Snack Street

There are many sites in and around Beijing that must be seen at least once in a lifetime, but only a handful warrant multiple visits. Apart from the Great Wall, Wangfujing Snack Street is one of the few attractions that has consistently drawn me back time and again. Wangfujing is a busy shopping district with two main areas where strange treats are sold alongside more mundane fare. Tourists mill about the rows of food stalls, many with looks of complete shock on their face when they see the delicacies awaiting them. Mysterious sea creatures and insects are top draws for the daring. Some merely gawk at others without trying any of the skewers on offer. The footpath is frequently hosed to get rid of the organic materials that have been dropped, spat out, vomited, or otherwise excreted on to the ground.

I compiled an incomplete list of items that I tried for the first time at the mother of all snack streets.

Visit 1
  • Starfish
  • Seahorse
  • Sea snake,
  • Soup made of cows inner organs
  • Stinky tofu
Visit 2
  • Scorpion
  • Snake
  • Silkworm
Visit 3
Visit 4
  • Bees
  • Dragonfly
  • Lamb testicles
  • Under the counter cat

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
James Beard

August 26, 2009

Guilin Grub

While I was in Guilin it rained continuously. The heavy downpour usually kept me indoors or wandering from one restaurant to another. I had a chance to barter for a variety of fresh fare, from fish to frogs to turtles. Since the precipitation was intense most of the locals had headed for the shelter of their homes, leaving prospective customers scarce at dining establishments.

The managers of the restaurants vied for my attention, energetically trying to usher me in to their eateries. I nonchalantly perused the edible creatures and estimated how appetizing they would be. One shopkeeper grabbed a toad and held it inches away from my face, but his tactic proved to be futile as I moved on to other options. I settled for a large fish after finding the exotic creatures too expensive for my liking.


"Tis not the meat, but 'tis the appetite makes eating a delight."
- Sir. John Suckling -

August 25, 2009

Temple of Heaven

Heaven. Earth. Sun. Moon.

Four elemental temples are scattered around Beijing, with the Temple of Heaven the most spectacular of the quartet. The name of the temple in Chinese is Tiantan, which translates to "Altar of Heaven". On a cloudless summer's day, I wandered its grounds for several hours. As the sun shined up above, beads of sweat graced my forehead. Rivulets of perspiration slowly trickled downwards, tracing the symmetric lines of my face. Effortlessly combining aesthetic principles and cultural values, the design of the temple was similarily well thought out. Squares, representing earth, and circles, representing heaven, serve as the chief design motifs for impressive structures within the temple complex such as the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Echo Wall, and the Circular Mound Altar.


“My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth's loveliness.”
- Michelangelo -

August 24, 2009

Stone Forest of Shilin

270 million years in the making, the Shilin Stone Forest is a collection of odd rock formations jutting up from the ground. Located in Yunnan province, Shilin was an easy bus ride away from Kunming. I remained steady as a rock when I entered the forest made of stone. All around me were the strange shapes. It was a dark and rainy day, so the formations seemed even more foreboding. Legend has it that the gods shattered the mountains into smaller fragments so that lovers could have some privacy among the rocks. The scientific explanation is that the area was an ocean before, and when the water subsided these rocks were left behind.


“The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself.”
- Bertrand Russell -

August 18, 2009


As the global downturn continues many people can no longer afford their expensive hobbies. Instead they have sought out more cost effective means of entertainment. ARNABonics is one such beneficiary of this worldwide trend, as it is a fun, free, and educational alternative to pricey pursuits. ARNABonics is a nonstandard form of English where words in standard usage are concatenated to the tail end of the phrase ARNAB. Anyone can participate in adding new words to the vocabulary. Having rapidly gained in popularity in the past few years, ARNABonics is forecast to rank alongside solitaire, crossword puzzles, and sudoku as one of the primary pastimes of housewives by 2020.

The grammatical rules are easy to learn. The words must seamlessly combine with ARNAB following a concrete syntax. They usually start with B (ARNAB + Bombshell = ARNABombshell or ARNAB + Babe = ARNABabe), but words starting with AB, NAB, and RNAB are also acceptable, though considerably more difficult to construct. As it is a growing field, new words are being continuously created and semantically defined. There is also room for innovation. The ARNACutie provides an interesting case study. Even though Cutie starts with the letter C, and distorts the natural harmony of the five letters A-R-N-A-B, it rhymes with the already established ARNABeauty and is thus a valuable addition to the vernacular.


"Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!"
- Nathaniel Hawthorne -

August 17, 2009

ARNABungee: A Moment's Hesitation

I had gone to Longqing Xia, the site of my first attempted bungee jump, with an Argentinian and an American. The Yankee was promptly declared overweight by the Chinese attendant and was not allowed to jump. The Argentine and I emptied our pockets and and handed the American all our loose items for safekeeping. I had to leave my glasses behind, leaving my world an indistinct blur of colours and shapes.

I followed the Argentinian up the stairs to the 68 meter high bungee jumping platform, grasping the railing as I could not see anything clearly. He would jump first. Ankle braces were tightened around his feet and he was led to the edge of the platform. At this point he was having second thoughts and grasped a hold of the guard rails with his hands. After waiting several moments for him to voluntarily take the plunge, the attendant calmly pushed the Argentine off the platform. A long schoolgirl shriek echoed through the gorge as he disappeared into oblivion. I was up next.



“Hesitation increases in relation to risk in equal proportion to age.” 
- Ernest Hemingway -

August 11, 2009

798 Art District

Avant garde and trendy are usually words that come to mind when people are visualizing me, but in Beijing they are often associated with the 798 Art District. East German architects created the factory space in the Bauhaus style of design. At the cutting edge of China's cultural scene, the pedestrian friendly zone is a haven for creative types.  Beijing's artistic community found a home in the formerly deserted warehouse area. Art galleries, boutiques, and cafes are peppered among the austere old buildings. Modern art, such as strange sculptures of mutants, line the alleyways.

There is also a Nike Basketball facility, where a crowd had gathered to watch the action on court. A large picture of Lebron James adorns the exterior as China's basketball sensation Yao Ming is sponsored by rival Reebok. Nike, Reebok, and Adidas with its "Impossible is Nothing" slogan are busy combating China's homegrown athletic apparel company Li-Ning and their incomparable catchphrase "Everything is Possible". Fortunately, the contemporary artwork on display in 798 shows much more creativity.

"Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in." - Amy Lowell

August 10, 2009

The Dragon's Head

Our train arrived in the port city of Qinhuangdao, from whence we caught a bus to the Russian-flavoured resort town of Beidaihe. The beach was mediocre, the water dirty, the beer weak, the food terrible, and the women clothed, but apart from that it was a wonderful place. Since it was the 4th of July, we took a taxi to the local McDonalds ("Mai dang lao") and had dinner, before catching another taxi to Shanhaiguan.

After being able to successfully bargain down the admission price at the entrance, we found out we were in some kind of wax re-creation of the Great Wall instead of the actual site itself. There was also a fake Buddhist temple within the complex. A "to park" sign gave us hope that the real Great Wall lay ahead of us, but the path took us back to the parking lot. We walked further down the road and finally found the real entry point into the "Dragon's Head" section of the world's largest military structure. I stood at the edge of the Great Wall, gazing out at the ocean.


"Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering." 
- Saint Augustine -

Great Wall Beach Party

The Great Wall Beach Party is an annual event held in Shanhaiguan, the point at which the monumental structure meets the sea. With the Great Wall serving as an imposing backdrop, the beach is converted into a playground for drunken revelers. Busloads of fickle foreigners are transported to the site at night and then carted off back to Beijing in the morning. Three friends and I wanted to explore the area properly, with the party serving as a bonus attraction. We caught a train at dawn from Beijing.

By the time we arrived at the site of the beach party we were quite sleepy, having woken up at 5am to catch the train. After a few false starts that involved rain, overweight women, and sleeping in hotel lobbies, we walked over to a sandbar from where we could both see and hear the party. Soon we were fast asleep. Around 2 am it became quite chilly. Half of our group fled to the safety of a hotel room, while the other fellow and I retired to the comfort of the hotel lobby for a few hours before walking back to the beach at 4 am to catch the sunrise. We finally made it to the party as it was on its last legs. After 15 minutes, we were napping on the beach again until 6 am. We then strolled to the Great Wall.

“Never be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home and never, never be both.”
- David Brown

August 06, 2009

My Fare Lady

Although there are crowd avoidance strategies that an experienced transit user can usually employ, sometimes he has no choice but to get on a jam packed bus. The population density becomes so great that it is not possible to count the number of people on board without falling asleep first. On one such busy occasion, I somehow found myself positioned between the two most attractive female passengers on the bus. I was tightly holding on to the overhead handlebars and trying to maintain my balance so as not to bop into either of the women, lest they form an incorrect opinion of the Prince of Honour.

The bus was idling at one intersection for several minutes due to the heavy traffic. The temperature was pushing 40 degrees. Everyone was sweating heavily, using their arms to wipe the perspiration dripping from their foreheads or just letting it splash onto nearby passengers. As I was drying myself with one hand, I was knocked from behind with considerable force. I lost my grip on the handle bar and felt myself falling. I used the lady in front of me to stop my forward momentum. She instinctively turned around and shot me a dirty look. I also turned my head to see what was going on behind me. The other pretty lady was flat on her back. She had collapsed from heatstroke or some other malady. I delicately attempted to lift her up with the aid of a scrawny Chinese chap. We were having some difficulty until we were helped by the fare lady.

Responsible for making sure everyone pays for their bus ride, the ticket collector was a big boned woman of sturdy stock. She pushed aside the crowd that had formed a circle around the prone body and picked up the young woman. She shooed away the occupant of one of the seats reserved for the sick, pregnant, and elderly, and dumped the knockout there. She had regained consciousness by now and was rubbing the shoulder she had landed on. The fare lady checked to see if the girl still had her wits about her. Once this was verified, she yelled at the bus driver to keep going. The remainder of the journey was not noteworthy.


Colonel Hugh Pickering: Are you a man of good character where women are concerned?
Professor Henry Higgins: Have you ever met a man of good character where women are concerned?
Colonel Hugh Pickering: Yes, very frequently.

- My Fair Lady, the winner of the 1964 Best Picture Oscar

August 04, 2009

Poutine Nation

My love affair with poutine started at an early age and only strengthened throughout the years. As I celebrated Canada Day with an Irishman, a Malay, and an Argentine in China, I was treated to some poutine at the Goose and Duck. This Canadian-owned bar was hosting the July 1st festivities in Beijing. An individual with low cholesterol might ask "What is poutine?".

Poutine is the closest thing to a national dish that Canada has. Its precise birthplace is unknown, but poutine originated somewhere in Quebec. The "heart attack in a bowl" is the perfect blend of French fries layered with cheese curd and covered in hot gravy. As it melts into a single entity, poutine becomes much greater than the sum of its ingredients. Poutine is to the stomach what I am to the soul. A feast for the senses, it is Canadian cuisine at its finest.


"Oh, the tiger will love you. There is no sincerer love than the love of food."
- George Bernard Shaw