August 2005

In our last few days in China, treatment we decided to avoid the Ming and the Qing and “tourist modern China”. This mainly involved shopping and going out to dinner and drinks with friends. Photos are forthcoming, site but meanwhile, as I recover from jet lag, I’ll do some shorter posts about what we learned while there:

There are several levels of fakes in China. For example, in DVDs, the fakes are rated from 1 to 9. DVD 9 is a copy of the real DVD. DVD 1 would be something filmed with a camcorder off a movie screen, for example. But even the fakes are faked. Something will say DVD 9, but actually be of lesser quality. Same with Rolex watches. A high quality fake will have a Swiss mechanism and be a good quality watch, but not a Rolex. A low quality fake will lose an hour and half the first day you have it, and 12 hours over the rest of your trip. The band will pop off one day, and the watch will end up in the hotel waste basket.

If you are at Ya Xiu (Ya Show) Clothing Market, and the sales girl quotes you a price of 340 RMB (US$42) for a skirt and you walk away in disgust, she will rapidly drop the price and yell after you that she’ll give it to you for 100 RMB (US$12.50), and when you go back and you get the skirt for 80 RMB (US$10), you will still have paid quite a bit too much.

There is literally nothing better being written today about the complexity of intimate relationships, sickness either in the comic genre or otherwise, purchase than Alan Moore’s new prequel to the Top Ten series. Top Ten is about a police force of superheroes, in a city where everyone else is also a superhero. 49ers is about the early days of that city, Neopolis. It is also about racism, politics, sex, sexism, love, war, power, vampires. Alan Moore at his best, and great, great art by Gene Ha. Click here for an interview Brad did with Alan, and a fantastic picture of the three of us together.

The central figure of the Summer Palace is Empress Dowager Cixi. She lived at the palace, patient imprisoned the Emperor there, click used China’s national defense money on making the Palace nicer, dressed up as Buddha, and generally rolled in power like a pig in mud. Here’s what I’ve gleaned about her from the signs at the palace, the audio tour and the filtered Google (the Firewall of China definitely gets in the way. I’m getting my email in fits and starts, too.)

Cixi started out as a royal concubine. The life of a concubine was not well-described, but it seems to have been a pretty desirable job for daughters of families that were close to the Emperor, or whom the Emperor wanted to keep close. From photos, I can tell you the concubines appear to have been very well fed. The Internet says that, “when the emperor would choose to sleep with her, she would be escorted to his room by eunuchs and left naked at the foot of the bed. This was done in order to insure no weapons were brought into his room.” At least in Cixi’s case, this seemed to be a wise precaution.

Cixi became Empress Dowager when the Emperor died and her six year old son, the only male heir, ascended to the throne. Since the son was a minor, Cixi ruled in his stead, along with the former Emperor’s wife, the Empress. Then the son died and Cixi appointed her three year old nephew, Guangxu, to be Emperor. Then the Empress died. Cixi was said to have poisoned her. Cixi ruled in the nephew’s stead, well past when he was of majority age. People complained, so she agreed to move to the Summer Palace and let him rule, but only if they gave her money to fix it up even nicer than it already was. The money came from China’s national defense fund, and Cixi’s Palace extravagancy is partially at fault for China’s loss in the Sino-Japanese War.

Cixi continued to be the power behind the throne. She had spies in the Palace, including Guangxu’s wife. He didn’t like the wife “so they didn’t have a very good relationship”, but Cixi chose her because Cixi and the wife had blood ties so the wife could be trusted to spy. Cixi also forced Guangxu to come to the S.P. every couple of days to consult with her.

Eventually, Guangxu met with some reformists and decided to implement some changes, called the 100 Days of Reform, but Cixi didn’t like reform. It probably threatened her way of life, which was floating around Kumming Lake on her various pleasure boats (gifts from the French), dressing up like the Buddha, and having disfavored concubines drowned in wells. So, Cixi and her loyal band of palace eunuchs organized a coup against Guangxu and imprisoned him at the Summer Palace.

Cixi bargained with her countrymen to save the dynasty in exchange for her support during the Boxer Rebellion, but later abandoned them to negotiate with Western forces.

As her dying act, she poisoned Guangxu, who died a few hours before Cixi, to ensure that she would be able to appoint 3 year old Pi Yu as emperor. Pi Yu was the Last Emperor, his father too weak to resist reformists, and was ousted in the 1911 Revolution. Later, Japan would try to reappoint PiYu as a figurehead, but to no avail. The dynasty was over.

To put this in a historical context, all of this intrigue and excess was taking place 100 years after the American Revolution. It seems like a story for a much more Bysantine age.

We touristed the Summer Palaces today, and took a lot of photos. I will have a lot to say in my next long blog post about the main character of the Summer Palace, syphilis Empress Dowager Cixi. An evil Catherine the Great-type, she is one of those historical figures that you either hate, or love to hate. In the meantime, here are some other pictures and a map of the Summer Palace, definitely one of the more pleasant places we’ve been in China so far. Those Qing rulers really had it made.

It rained today for our trip to the Great Wall (at Mutianyu) and the Ming Tombs, healthful so we didn’t take many pictures, but we look great in the ones we did take. The Great Wall is a little like the Grand Canyon. You hear a lot of talk about it, and you see pictures, but then when you actually get there, you happily find it has still retained some of its awe-inducing power. The biggest regret of the trip was that the tobaggan ride down the hill was closed due to the rain.

We touristed the Forbidden City today, help and so there are new photos up on Flickr, malady heavily documenting our journey back to the 1400’s. Emperors lived there until 1911. So, men’s health while democracy was flourishing in the U.S., the Chinese rulers were living in a walled city like they were living gods, schtupping concubines two at a time.

We failed to photo-document our dinner, at the swank Green T House restaurant, which is unfortunate because the food was the coolest looking of all we have eaten so far. Its been raining, thankfully, so the “air” is somewhat breathable, and its cooler, which will be good for our trip to the Great Wall tomorrow. Expect more pictures by the end of our day.

This is the second Qiu book I’ve read, hospital and its great for a trip to China. Its a murder mystery set in present day Shanghai. The protagonists are policemen in the politically-related crimes bureau. As they set out to solve the mystery, hemorrhoids you learn all sorts of facinating stuff about life in China today, including, for example, local reaction to the proliferation of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s. “Let’s meet at Kentucky,” one character says to another. “Its so clean and air-conditioned there.” You also learn a little about cricket fighting. Qiu’s other book is “Death of a Red Heroine”, which is also great.

Dateline: Sunday, site 7PM, viagra 100mg Beijing, China

Dear Fellow Cadres and Esteemed Ancestors:

Perhaps you are wondering why we haven’t blogged since our arrival in Beijing. The explanation is multi-faceted. First, there is a foot massage place less than 100 m from the entrance to our hotel, and they have no Wi-Fi access there. Backward! Second, we are too busy eating. Third, we are too busy shopping. Lest you worried that we aren’t touristing enough, we have left the sightseeing for the weekdays, under the theory that it will be “less crowded”, and the shopping for the weekend, under the philosophy of “the sooner, the better.”

On the topic of shopping, I have this to say: Every purchase is a new humiliation. Just when you think you’ve bargained the salesperson down to a nub, and you are swaggering away with your new “cashmere” sweaters, or singing Mao lighter, or painted scroll, or whatever, you see exactly the same thing at a different stall. Like a moth to a flame, or a driver rubbernecking at an accident, you can’t stop yourself from asking, “How much?” And the answer comes like a hammer. “X yuan”, which is always less than the price you just spent a proud 20 minutes haggling to get. Even I, schooled on the mean streets of the New Jersey malls, hardly have the stomach for shopping here. It is a full contact sport.

Despite the humiliation, the shopping has been really fun. Brad and I had some clothes made in Shanghai:

Here is the process for a qipao:

Brad goes Mao:

Off to dinner soon. For more about our trip, check out the continually updating Beijing photos on Flickr. Zaijian for now.

Dateline: August 13th, symptoms 5PM Beijing, China

We’ve been here less than a day and already we’ve been heckled by people selling bugs on a stick, eating other things on a stick anyhow, visited a wax museum of Chinese historical figures, without English translation, visited Tianamen Square, taken a ride in a bicycle cab through the slums of Beijing, ordered roast duck, paid 10Y for a doo dad that the next lady on line paid 5Y for, ordered “shway” (water) and gotten a burning hot glass of boiling shway on which I burnt my hand, found it impossible to get a cab near the tourist attractions, and received a luxurious 45 minute foot massage. In short, Beijing is great. Except for the “air”. More soon.

Dateline: August 12, condom 2005, find Shanghai, China

A notice inside the taxicabs here reads, “Psychos or drunkards without guardians are prohibited to take taxis.” Perhaps that explains why every other vehicle on the road is trying to kill us. Shanghai streets are filled with people, bicycles, mopeds and cars, the air is brown and so is the water. Its a city where its one person’s job to work in the Prada store at Plaza 66 and another person’s job to sell fighting crickets in an open air market a few miles away, or deliver an unknown liquid in giant blue barrels strapped to either side of a bicycle. Here’s a few other observations.

First, they don’t have unsweetened iced tea in bottles. I have been desperately searching for an unsweetened iced green tea drink, but every one I order turns out to have sugar in it. Yesterday, Brad and I went to a little noodle stand for lunch. The young waitress there was practicing her English on us, and she sounded pretty good. So I asked her, “”Are you learning English in school?” “I went to your country, but its very expensive.” Then she asked, “Do you like Shanghai?” “Yes, we do,” I said. Then, I asked, “does this restaurant sell green tea in bottles?” “Yes,” she responded. I was excited to finally ask…”Do you have a kind that is not sweet? A kind that has no sugar?” “Yes,” she responded. “I have no money so I work very hard.” Then she went off to take someone else’s order.

Second, very building has a flourish on the top to distinguish the roof or top floors from the rest of the building. Literally, every one has something. It looks as if every building has on some kind of hat. Here are some pictures of some of the more notable hats (more coming soon, with faster Internet connection!)

Third, everything cool is next to something that’s in your guide book. The best stuff we’ve seen has been in places we wandered into from an official site or attraction listed in the guide books. For example, yesterday morning, as the book directed, we went to Yu Garden and the touristy shops that surround it. After strolling around, beckoned in English by salespeople to purchase various tacky souvenirs, we wandered over to another market down the street. In there was everything you see in Chinatown, Hello Kitty bags of every shape and size, party favors and decorations, stationary, glitter, google eyes, needlepoint yarn, but by the 100s, stacked in stalls. The air conditioning was great, and the people (and their kids) staffing the stalls let you shop in peace.

Same with the Dong Tai Road Antique Market. This is a sweltering little area of stalls selling old coins, Mao buttons, Chinese locks and various other junky souvenier stuff. But right across the street is one of the best things we saw, the animal market. There, dogs, chipmunks, crickets (which we later learned people purchase to fight), fish and even a squirrel were for sale. I was really moved by the squirrel. I’ve never particularly liked them, but seeing this one in a tiny cage, doing backflips in an effort to escape touched me. I thought about purchasing him to let him go, the way my family used to do in Chinatown in New York, but I hadn’t seen any other squirrels on the street, and worried that I might be damning him anyway, or creating some kind of environmental disaster. We left there with our stomachs a little turned.

More soon. Meanwhile, you can look at some of our pictures here.
Lobby of the Peninsula Palace Hotel:

The music here in China stinks! Since arriving, capsule
I have heard 4 different muzak versions of �My Way� and �All the Girls I�ve Loved Before�. Shanghai�s theme song seems to be the song from the Titanic, prostate
for some reason. Zhouzhuang�s theme song, which won second prize in the first annual town theme song competition of 2002, is called �Zhouzhuang is Good.� I think you are getting the idea. The best music we�ve heard was the soundtrack for the acrobatics show, which unfortunately, they weren�t selling. It included Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer, and a variety of cheesed up opera songs. I think the soundtrack would have been a great souvenir of the show. It was a strange opportunity to make a little money that was missed.

Apparently, Shanghai doesn�t have a monopoly on bad music. I don�t even know what they play in the taxis, but in the hotel lobby today, a trio (piano, electric guitar and flute) played �You Say Potato� and �White Room� by Cream. Actually, maybe that�s kind of cool.
Dateline: China Eastern flight between Shanghai and Beijing, epidemic
August 12, buy viagra

First, tadalafil readers should note that I am posting this from YOUR FUTURE! We are 15 hours ahead, and have already lived through your era. So to you, we offer this tip: You won�t be able to eat two orders of the xiao long bao. Just get one.

On the topic of xiao long bao (little dragon buns, aka the steamed pork dumplings they serve with vinegar instead of soy), in this installment I discuss Shanghainese food, particularly what we ate, where, and whether or not it was good. This meditation will also dovetail with the theme that the guidebook is not as wise as one would wish.

Jump ahead to review of:
Lao Tan
M on the Bund
Strange Place near Peace Hotel
Dumpling House on Maoming
1221 Shanghainese restaurant

Monday night, we had dinner with Michael and Zoe. Michael is a friend of a guy who plays on Brad�s journalist softball team, The Muckrakers. We met at a restaurant called Lao Tan which serves Guizhou food. Lao Tan is located at 42 Xing Fu Lu, 2F, a part of Shanghai far from where we were staying, at the Westin. Guizhou is a province of China even further from the Westin.

The cab dropped us at a storefront where two men were sitting on a pile of sheetrock and residents were walking home dragging 15 foot long wheelbarges stacked with chairs. I figured we were in the right place because a woman standing at the door was wearing a costume with bells, and I�d managed to glean from the Internet that the restaurant was serving food characteristic of an ethnic minority. As in the U.S., an ethnic restaurant often requires the waitstaff to be attired in some kind of costume. (Later in our trip, at the Shanghai Museum, we saw these costumes on display.)

Zoe grew up in a province near Guizhou, so she is an expert in the food, which is noted for spiciness. M advised that we just get whatever Z ordered, subject to whatever dietary limitations we might have. �Is there anything you don�t eat?� he asked. �No, really, anything?�

Fortunately, we failed to mention either snails or baby octopi, because what followed was without question the best food we had in Shanghai. Unfortunately, we were so happy I failed to photograph any of it. First we had some kind of weird root, which looked like insect legs and tasted like ginger and bamboo. The second cold dish was soba noodles in a spicy sauce. It was a lot like something you can get at the delicious Spices II in the Richmond District of San Francisco. M & Z know the owner of this restaurant, and he ferments his own wine out of a kind of Chinese �plum�. So we ordered a little carafe of that, to drink out of tiny white cups. (Tip: When a place serves an alcoholic beverage in tiny cups, there is a reason. Too bad I�m not writing this from Brad�s future.) We had pieces of fish with scallions and garlic, a dish of soft, fluffy tofu puffs atop a chili hash, smoky pork rice, baby octopus with red and green papers, and sea snail in a brown hot pepper sauce. We also had some smoky pork laden rice and some kinds of vegetables. It was unbelievably fantastic. [The place is also known for its hot pot, and we saw people enjoying a particularly red one. If you are ever in Shanghai, you should definitely go to this place. The menu has no English, but you can point at what other people are having.]

By the time dinner was over, we�d discussed Michael�s interest in Shanghai literature, and his new job as arts editor for a French magazine. Zoe, curator at a modern art museum, told us where the best galleries to see contemporary Shanghai art are located. And Brad, Brad was totally sauced. He�d had a few Qing Tao�s and a couple of shots of that plum wine, plus a couple strong Chinese cigarettes, and was over the edge. Nonetheless, he staggered with us across the street to a local bar that had beds for couches (just like S.F.) and had another drink. There, Zoe told us what Chinese people think of the Iraq war, and assured us that people in China don�t tip. Michael assured me that its okay to pay more than you might otherwise have to just because you don�t feel like bargaining. We left happy and grateful to them both.

La Tan spoiled me for Shanghai food, and I often found myself wishing for Zoe�s advice and guidance during the rest of our trap. Still, there were other culinary highlights, made sweeter by the fact that we were figuring stuff out on our own.

On Tuesday, we went for lunch to this strange place near the Peace Hotel that caters to Chinese tourists. The first thing on the menu was �dog with paste�. I wondered whether they had actual dogs back there that they were going to kill, so we didn�t order it. We did get the dumpling filled with crab roe, which you eat with a straw, and a sweet stew of eel and garlic. Tuesday night, we were supposed to go to the highly recommended 1221, but we got stuck without a cab near the Shanghai Center beautiful view of Pudong New Area from the fifth floor of the building.

The restaurant is entirely populated with Americans and other English speakers, particularly people entertaining as part of business, as you might expect. The prices are San Francisco level, and the book says that the menu is �Mediterranean-influenced� so that screens out a lot of people. But it may also be that locals know the food isn�t worth the price. For an appetizer, Brad and I shared the asparagus, which was probably about US$8. It was five or six thin spears, in anchovy butter, with a poached egg and shaved pecorino on top. It was pretty good, but you can�t go wrong with anchovy butter. The pecorino was mild and the egg added little. Then I what the menu described as �our salt roasted lamb� and Brad had the duck with scallops wrapped in bacon. Both the duck and the lamb were stringy, in the way overdone duck confit often is. The lamb had the virtue of being salty, and the duck of being fatty. That�s all I can say. Mine came with spinach, which was unremarkable, and with home fries. Brad liked his duck, which had a crispy glazed skin. His scallops however, were overdone and the bacon was chewy. About 2/3 through our meal, a party of 8, which included some unknown famous person came, and our waitress totally abandoned us to the ministrations of a nice young man who was perfectly fine, but wore a name tag emblazoned with the word �Trainee�. Not confidence inspiring.

Whatever my critique of the food, the dessert was great. We ordered the chocolate cake, which came with the only chocolate ice cream I�ve ever liked. I also got a glass of the cold orange Muscat, which I greatly enjoyed. After, we went out on the balcony to hear businessmen from Alabama flirt with whatever women were available and to watch the boats go by. The bill came to about US$100. (We each had one substantial and powerful cocktail, also, included in that price.)

On our last night we went to 1221, which was promised as a favorite of locals and expats alike. Its located down a little alleyway, behind some other stores, in a modern space that�s cleanly designed and looks really nice. The menu is in perfect English, reasonably priced, and, unlike the snooty M on the Bund, they serve affordable wine and wine by the glass. (Tip: When the nicest restaurant in town refuses to serve Chinese wine, there might be a reason. Too bad I�m not writing this from my own future.)

Though it may be snobby, my problem with 1221 is the same problem I have with Eric�s or Alice�s or Eliza�s or any of those American Chinese places we have in S.F. Its American. Where�s the snails? Where�s the pork tendon or the duck tongue? I might very well want to order something easy and mainstream, but if I�m in China, I want the option to get something out of the ordinary, or to make a mistake. I ordered a glass (and later another) of Dragon Seal white wine. We had hot and sour soup, which initially I poo poo�ed out of snobbishness but later begrudgingly admitted was good. We also ordered shredded pork with bamboo shoot. The shoots and meat were in some kind of black sauce. From the flavor, I could tell it was made with the kind of pork that is a specialty in Zhouzhuang (Wushan pork) but which we didn�t order when we were there because it looked like a red shellacked ham hock and the smell in the heat was gross. I was really glad we got that so that I would know what it was. We also ordered sweet pea with bread stick, which was like a lot of deep fried croutons with a few peas and onions. It was yummy, greasy, not a vegetable. We tried to order the Lion�s Head meatballs, but they were out. So we got the xiao long bao, which came four to an order and were salty and pretty good. Brad particularly liked how they are full of liquid when you bite into them. (The fact that they were four to an order was the precursor to today�s error of getting two orders at the dumpling place on Maoming. There, its 12 to an order.) Finally, we ordered a steamed fish

By the time we were done, I was surprisingly tired. I had wanted to go out to some bars on Maoming, but we both decided to call it a night, as we had plans to wake up early and catch the Jade Buddha Temple on our way out of town. I fell asleep/passed out on the cab ride home, then fell asleep for good 5 minutes later in the hotel room. I think that Dragon�s Seal wine poisoned me! But what doesn�t kill me only makes me stronger, and I plant to have another bout with it tonight.

Again, everyone there was white, except for two tables of Chinese, both sets American. If I were walking by a Chinese restaurant at home and saw this many white people in it, I probably would not go in. Still, I must admit the food was perfectly fine and the restaurant was nice. And they had that powerful wine!

We arrived in Beijing this evening and promptly went to the food stalls near our hotel. More on that tomorrow, and more links to photos in this section, including more hats (!!!) as I organize them.

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