March 31, 2009

The Ladybars of Sanlitun

My Irish flatmate arrived five days after I had moved in to my apartment. To welcome him a night on the town was in order. He was keen on visiting the House of Suzie Wong's. Supposedly a trendy Beijing club visited by Chinese ladies looking to snag Westerners, it turned out to be salsa night. After catching a few performances, we hurriedly left.

The night was still young so we took a taxi to the bar street in Sanlitun, Beijing's most famous nightlife area. I had been warned not to come here since it catered to the depraved. We were greeted by a line of brightly lit establishments with neon decor and groups of sinister individuals offering us ladies. We declined the offers and found a place with live music. Inside, a man offered to draw our portraits and a woman tried to sell us flowers. Once the band called it a night, so did we.


Chinese tout: Lady?
Frenchman: Absolutely not.
Chinese tout, leaning in with eyebrow raised: Sorry?

March 30, 2009


My Chinese market research company conducted several English language focus groups in Beijing. My colleagues had to transliterate the comments the participants had scrawled on the worksheets that had been given to them. The writing was by and large quite messy. I provided valuable assistance in deciphering the more difficult to read words. One lady at the office asked what the word "prejudice" meant, so I explained that it is having an opinion in advance that colours someone's judgement.

Chinese lady:  I have prejudice against you. Right?
Arnab: Yes, but it's bad to have a prejudice.
Chinese lady: I can say you have prejudice against me. You have prejudice against me.
Arnab: How?
Chinese lady: I really beautiful, but you thought no.


See also: Pride (totally unrelated)

March 27, 2009

Shop Talk

While I worked as a primary developer of product releases at ResponseTek, several new terms were introduced into the technical lexicon:
  • ARNABranch - Whenever features, changes, or bug fixes had to be developed, I requested a branch of the code base to work on.
  • ARNABuild - As I made rapid progress on my project, I would roll out incremental packages tot the quality assurance (QA) team so that they could validate and verify my work.
  • ARNABug - Occasionally an ARNABuild behaved in an untoward manner. These ARNABugs were not necessarily introduced in the current ARNABranch, although they were detected in it.
  • ARNABeta - When software is ready to be tried by its users but is still not ready for the big time, a 'beta' label is slapped on it. ARNABetas looked very good but rarely worked.

March 26, 2009

Taiwanese Tease

As a highly appreciated objet d'art I have always been heavily photographed by everyone from Joe Public to various subject matter experts (SMEs). A goal of mine was to be photographed by strangers for reasons not purely aesthetic. Being an alien in China, the time was ripe for me to be picturized for looking different, and not just for looking gorgeous. I thought my wish had come true at Shanghai Airport, but alas it was not to be.

I stood at the entrance to the terminal and a group of tourists gathered near me. They exchanged nervous glances and spoke to each other in hushed tones, before sending an emissary to approach me. The young fellow asked me if I could pose with his sister for a picture. I happily obliged and he thanked me for my kindness. He told me he was a fireman from Taiwan and then leaned in conspiratorially, whispering in my ear "My sister thinks you are very handsome". My dream shattered, I cast a scintillating gaze in her direction. She blushed and looked downwards.

March 17, 2009

The Place To Be

Q: Have you been to "The Place"?
A: Which place?
Q: The Place?

Beijing is full of fancy shopping malls, but a few stand apart from the rest. The Place is one of them. Asia's largest LCD screen covers an open air plaza that is part of the upscale shopping complex. 250m long and 30m wide, an array of LED's dot the massive overhead screen. A film about the solar system was being played on the giant screen, as its capabilities were showcased to the audience beneath. A slightly larger screen in Las Vegas takes the top prize, but the Place also boasts a Ferrari store where the salesmen are dressed in the signature red Formula 1 outfits donned by the team.

March 12, 2009

Arnab and the Great Wall

My first visit to the Great Wall turned out to be much more dangerous than I had anticipated it to be. There are several sections of the wall that are around a two hour drive from Beijing. Rather than a jaunt through a tourist heavy portion of the wall, I visited Jiankou. Featuring long and steep stretches of unrestored splendour and sheer drops onto the jagged rocks below for anyone who has the misfortune of toppling off the wall, the world's longest tourist attraction was quite spectacular here.

After a strenuous climb up to the wall through snow covered wilderness, I believed that the most physically challenging portions of the hike had been completed. I was wrong. Like a video game, each consecutive stage of the trip proved to be more daunting and exciting than the last. Many portions of the wall were missing or crumbling apart. To get from one segment to another I had to scale near vertical steps or climb bare handed on the sides of the mountain to reach the next level. Some stairs were referred to as 'ladders' as there angle of elevation eared 80 degrees. Strategically positioned watchtowers allowed me to catch my breath and enjoy the panoramic view, before I continued onwards on the perilous path.

The Chinese climbers had come well prepared with heavy duty gear including walkie talkies, walking sticks, ropes, and brand name clothing, while the foreigners were an ill prepared ragtag outfit. At one point a piece of the wall came lose, bounced of the shoulder of one adventurer, then narrowly avoided obliterating another member of the expedition, before smashing into a thousand pieces down below. The perilous trek concluded soon after as we found a gap in the wall and slid down the snowy hills back to base camp.

"He who has not climbed the wall is not a true man" - Chairman Mao

March 11, 2009

The Rise of the ARNACuties

The Goose 'n Duck is a Canadian sports bar in Beijing catering to the twisted tastes of Westerners. As I was explaining the concept of ARNABabes, ARNABeauties, ARNABombshells, and the ARNABride to a partially inebriated Irishman, a group of nubile Chinese ladies ran out in front of us in cheerleading outfits and began to dance. As the cheerleaders gyrated to popular beats, the Irishman presented a cogent argument. He lamented that in China there were very few beauties; the women were either cute or ugly. Since ARNABeauties would be low in numbers, the rogue suggested I focus on ARNACuties instead.

March 05, 2009

Full Moon

As I was strolling down a main thoroughfare in Beijing, I was somewhat intrigued when I thought that a small child was mooning me. I did not want to stare so I looked further ahead, only to see a whole column of similarly non-attired children on the sidewalk. I would find out that it had nothing to do with the lunar calendar.

The first bums I have seen on the streets of Beijing belonged to small children. Following environmentally sound best practices the toddlers have refrained from wearing diapers, opting instead for a hole in the pants. Sporting a stylish slit in their garments around their rear ends, the tiny tots deposit their byproducts near the trees that line the sidewalks. If no trees are in sight other crevices or receptacles suffice. The curvaceous contours of the ARNABum have yet to make a public appearance, as toilet facilities have so far been plentiful.

Bumper sticker: Boycott shampoo, demand real poo instead.

March 03, 2009

Where's Walmart?

I had noticed a building in Beijing with the words "Walmart Supercenter" reasuringly emblazoned near the top of it. The first day that I meandered around the complex I discovered a department store taking up seven floors of the building, a food court, a five star hotel, a movie theatre, and a video game arcade. A Walmart was not to be seen anywhere, so I went home.

I returned soon thereafter to the site, this time approaching the building from the rear. I spotted the entrance to the Walmart at once, and saw that the escalators led downstairs. It was a hidden underground facility teeming with consumers. As I entered it, founder Sam Walton's shining visage welcomed me. His name tag had been digitally altered, so both the English and Chinese versions of his name were clearly visible (unlike the entrance to the store).

The Walmart offered everything from live turtles in the seafood section to liquor to clothing. I had come searching for a box of Dove chocolate bars, which hold the highest market share in China's intensely competitive chocolate industry. I found small portions of dove, in chocolate and meat form, but not in bulk so I went home empty handed.