March 29, 2011

The World's Largest Shopping Mall

For much of my youth, the world's largest shopping center was West Edmonton Mall in Canada. At this juncture in history, China is so superlative that it can only outdo itself though. I visited what was once the world's largest shopping mall in Beijing. It has since conceded first place to the deserted South China Mall in Dongguan in 2005. Beijing's Golden Resources Shopping Mall held the title for approximately a year, as it opened in 2004.

With narrow corridors and over a thousand stores packed into it, the Great Mall of China does not have any cavernous spaces to invoke a feeling of awe at its size. The design is quite mundane. Six million square feet of gross leasable area are spread across several city blocks. Sky walks over the streets connect the different sections to keep the mall connected as technically one building.


"We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls." - Bill Bryson

March 25, 2011

Prince Charming

Me: You like ugly guys?
Chinese girl: They don't have to be good looking, as long as they are charming.
Me: Ahh, so I am too handsome for you?
Chinese girl: No, you are ugly enough... (pause and smile) ...but not charming enough.

March 22, 2011

Songzhuang Artists Village

As the less glamourous counterpart to Beijing's 798 Art District, the artsy community of Songzhuang has a more intimate feel. The laid back artists work where they live, readily inviting in curious guests to peruse their works. Situated within the eastern suburb of Tongzhou, Songzhuang Artists Village is Beijing's largest such creative community. Around 2000 artists practice their craft here. An annual festival brings in the crowds from the city, but we were among a handful of visitors on the day of our visit.

The people here also have an affinity for pets, with many cats and dogs lazing about. One puppy became excited upon seeing us. It lay on its back and nonchalantly peed on one of my fellow travelers. The rest of the people, locals and visitors alike, chuckled with delight. A group of friends and I were then led from one floor to the next of an apartment building, each door opening to reveal an artist within. It turned out that the lady who gave the tour was both the landlord and the marketing department for her talented tenants.

Some artists worked in larger warehouse type workshops, their messy beds and small kitchens visible in the small rooms attached to the sides of their studio. One was painting and noticed us peeking through his ground floor window. He immediately invited us in. Another studio had a collection of portraits of a handsome young man baring an uncanny resemblance with myself, right down to the sexy beard and trendsetting dress sense. It was a work of art.


“There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature, or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art, and knowledge.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

March 15, 2011


When Chinese girls first meet me they are often curious about my origins.

Chinese girl: Where you from?
Me: Canada.

There are then three possible reactions to my mind boggling answer.

Chinese girl: Where you really from?
Chinese girl: You don't look Canada.
Chinese girl: Umm....

I must elaborate further as to not leave them utterly dazed and confused.

Me: My parents came from India.
Chinese girl: That make sense.

March 13, 2011

Journey to the Eastern Tombs

A group of friends and friends of friends assembled at the Sihui subway station in Beijing on a Sunday morning. They were eager to begin an arduous journey to the Eastern Qing Tombs. The final resting place of members of China's last imperial dynasty was located near the town of Zunhua. The bus heading there was supposed to leave from a depot across the street from the Sihui station. As is often the case in fast growing China, the bus station was now the former site of the bus station, as heavy construction work was already underway on something new. We walked in the eastern direction until stumbling upon a station which had a bus leaving for Zunhua from it. Our fellow passengers were auditioning for the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra, regaling us with sounds of singing, eating, burping, loud speaking and nail cutting throughout our bus ride.

We were dropped off at a fork in the road, the bus continuing towards Zunhua while we rented a van that took us to the tombs. Spread apart over several kilometers, vehicular transport from one tomb to another proved handy. The van had one less seat than the number of passengers, so the men alternated sitting on the floor. At one point, the driver found some cardboard boxes on the street, flattened them, and provided that as a cleaner option to sit on rather than directly on the floor.

The sky was blue and the sacred burial grounds were devoid of tourists, making it a perfect day to explore the tombs of emperors, empresses, princesses, and concubines of times past. As we walked along the main courtyard leading to the entrance, a sudden gust of wind churned the dust on the grounds into a miniature hurricane that whirled past us. "That's actually Bruce Lee!" punned one of my fellow travelers.

Xiaoling, the tomb of the first emperor of the Zing dynasty, and Dingdongling, the tomb of notiorous empress dowager Cixi, were the most fascinating complexes. The exteriors were much more colourful and ornate than the interiors of the tombs. A diorama explained how an adult Cixi had drunk breast milk from her attendants to maintain her youthful skin complexion. The coffins could be reached by climbing the stairs to the main entrance of a tomb, and then descending down a pathway until we were underground. One particularly productive emperor had 35 hut style tombs belonging to his concubines adorning the grounds around his magnificent resting place.


“Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.”
- George Eliot -

March 10, 2011

Pubic Hair on Moles

Whether by choice or circumstance most Chinese men sport the clean shaven look. What is more surprising is that a select few have a single hair growing on their face. This solitary strand of hair springs out from the center of a mole, its floss-like texture shimmering under both natural and artifical light sources. I find such a sight hard to ignore.

Fortunately, the Cindy Crawford style beauty mark on my face is hairless. Upon further examination, I found a mole on my shoulder that had sprouted a singular follicle as well. It was lengthy, curly, and glossy. The foliage on the skin around it did not have the same thickness or sheen. The pubic nature of the hair may be explained by the fact that it has to be thicker and stronger than regular body hairs to be able to pop out through the dense surface of the mole.  


"There's many a man has more hair than wit." - William Shakespeare

March 07, 2011

The World's Most Dangerous Road

While navigating through the information superhighway, I chanced upon on a listing of the world's most dangerous roads. My eyes scanned the list and widened as it reached the top. First position belonged to a road carved into the cliff side to reach the ancient village of Guoliangcun. The tiny outpost in Henan was only a combined overnight train ride, short bus ride, medium distance taxi ride, and shorter golf cart ride away from Beijing.

My travel partner and I arrived at dawn in the city of Xinxiang via train. We walked to the location of the bus stop, only to discover it was under excavation. The erstwhile grounds of the bus depot were to be transformed into a world class shopping facility. Several early rising locals watched us with bemused expressions as we tried to hail down whatever buses passed our way on the street in front. We wanted to get to the nearest town at the base of the world's most dangerous road. After several failed attempts to find a bus heading for Huixian, we entered a sinister looking taxi. I said the name of where I wanted to go to the taxi driver repeatedly until he started driving.

After several stalled attempts at conversion, the driver realized that I could not speak Chinese. Logically, he handed me a pen and piece of paper so I could write in Chinese where I wanted to go. I snarled with frustration, the paper combusting into flames under my fiery breathe. On the way to Huixian we picked up three separate individuals, diverting our route to drop each at their desired destinations. One of these fellow passengers muttered the same bus stop name that I had orated to the taxi driver. This elicited understanding, and the taxi driver repeated the same syllables that I had. Once we reached the deserted bus stop, we realized it would be a couple of hours before any minibuses that pass by the road to Guoliangcun would depart from the station.

We engaged in silent talks with our driver. He fashioned another piece of paper out of sheer willpower, upon which I drew one line and three dots. Dot 1 was where we started. Dot 2 was where we were. Dot 3 was where we wanted to go. We had already agreed to pay a certain amount for being ferried from Dot 1 (Xinxiang) to Dot 2 (Huixian). We then negotiated different pricing bundles based on extending the journey to Dot 3 (Guoliangcun), as well as returning to Dot 1 from Dot 3. After coming to an agreement we continued our journey towards the road of death.

“The greater the fear, the nearer the danger.” ~ Danish proverb