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Browsing Posts published in May, 2008

China, one week in

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I’ve been here in China for a full week now, and have already seen a ridiculous number of places. Until Friday, we’d been mainly doing work-related stuff, traveling to various cities and places to do so. The first night we stayed in Beijing, then the next morning we were up bright and early to catch a plane to Dalian. On Monday we took the train ride to hell to Tangshan, with a trip to Tianjin on Wednesday. We came back to Beijing on Thursday, thinking we were done with work, but it looks Tuesday morning we’re heading off to Shanghai. We’ve been touristing it up here in Beijing for the weekend and it’s been pretty cool so far.

The fight night in Beijing (北京) we stayed at a hotel near the somewhat famous Wangfujing area, walking around and getting our first taste of shopping and bargaining at tourist traps in China. Also we got our first taste of the air pollution and dust in this country, which is pretty bad at times. You walk around hacking and coughing like you’ve been chain-smoking 10 packs of cigarettes (which a lot of the guys here do), then have no choice but to spit all over the place (which a lot of the guys and women here do). Nothing says sexy like a woman hocking a loogie right in the middle of the road. Goo.

北京鴨 ペキン ダックWe got Peking Duck for our first meal, in a fancy-seeming restaurant. This place was the opposite of any restaurant I usually see in Japan. It was huge, brightly colored, and had several dining rooms full of pissed-off workers. In a lot of ways it felt like eating in the middle of a convention hall. It was just me and my dad, but we ordered a full duck and some cabbage soup thing. This restaurant was famous for duck, so pretty much every table ordered one. Every few minutes you see a train of chefs wearing surgical masks come out from the kitchen with carts. They break formation and head off to whichever table they’re serving, and they start to slice the duck right in front of you. Peking Duck is half fat, which I guess is what makes it so famous. Fat and skin. So the guy slices up the duck for you, puts it on plates, and you eat it by dipping the duck meat and skin in sauce, adding shredded leeks, and putting it inside a thin pancake. It’s kind of like getting fajitas, but less Mexican and no sour cream. And it’s pretty good! Really fatty, but the taste is good. You can, of course, just put less of the fatty pieces in when you roll up your duck fajitas.

More Peking Duck

The next day we headed out to Dalian (大連) via airplane. It was a really short flight, only about an hour and a half. They barely had time to serve drinks and this weird beef jerky fried sandwich thing before we had to get ready to land. Dalian is actually a huge city, famous for its beautiful beaches, zoos, and museums. We got to see none of this, instead driving for about 2 hours to a smaller island nearby, which apparently is a rapidly developing area with a lot of government support. Along the way we stopped by a restaurant that was actually a hotel/motel, and the table took up the entire room. We ate and stuff, met our clients, then headed out to the place we’d be working for a few days. When you think “lab,” you don’t think about this kind of place. Check it out:

outside the compound in DalianThat’s the outside of the complex where we were working on the fishies for 3 days. At least they had electricity. It’s a hatchery with all of the workers living on the premises. Kind of interesting to see how these people lived. I also came up with some sweet nicknames for the people there, like Transvestite kid, 2-tone hair girl, and eyebrows.

Our last day in Dalian, we got treated to a big lunch at this market-restaurant a bit closer to the city. Once we walked into the place, there were all kinds of tanks and stuff with live seafood and other animals and vegetables. Our host told us to each pick a dish. We did, but the host also had picked out some dishes. We then headed back to a private dining room. It seems the general norm for these big Chinese meals is to order a number of dishes, put them on the lazy susan turntable, and have everyone share them. No biggie, I’m used to that. What is strange, however, is the number of dishes. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re guests here or if this is what they usually do, but it seems like the equation for figuring out the number of dishes is people x 2, because there’s always so much food. When the first 2 dishes came out, I was speechless. Weird, strange dishes (to me) that must have been ordered by the host. I won’t go into detail just now, although I’ve told a few of you already. I don’t know if I’ll actually post it on the blog, because I can imagine some people getting offended, haha.

Left Dalian and headed to Tangshan (唐山), a smaller city, via train. Of course, this was a 9 hour hobo train ride from hell, which I’ll write about later. It was terrible though. There wasn’t much to do or see in Tangshan, since it’s a fairly small town that pretty much has no foreigners and no foreign tourists even. Nothing is in English anywhere, and since me and my dad don’t speak Mandarin it was pretty interesting. The coolest thing though was learning about the “board taxis,” called “bardu” or something in Mandarin. It’s pretty much a motorscooter with an army green cab attached to the back that can carry 2 or 3 people. It’s a kind of taxi but super cheap. 3 RMB (about 45 cents US) seemed to be the flat rate. Sure it’s not super fast, but it was convenient and kind of cool.

motorcycle taxi in Tangshan

Baijo burns like fireWe also made a day trip to Tianjin (天津), which was good for work but pretty boring overall. After the big meeting with businessmen and Communist government types, we went out to a local restaurant with them and had another infinity-course meal. They used a lot of local vegetables or something, and knew the owner, but it was kind of weird because we went to a pretty remote place to eat at this restaurant. And the owner ate with us! It was way good, and luckily no weird animals that I know of, except for the water bug shrimp things. They also served this Chinese liquor called baijo (白酒) which was supposedly 60% alcohol by volume but tasted more like Everclear. It was painful. Especially when the one Chinese guy across the table from me would take his glass, grunt, hit the glass table, and give you a look like “if you don’t drink some baijo right now I will kill you.” A very enjoyable party though. Communists love to give the double hand-sandwich shake, and they also wave goodbye using both hands, in case you didn’t know.

After a long dinner and baijo party, we went back to Tangshan in Golgo 13’s car as he played American rave and trance music picked out especially for us. I have a short video of this car ride that I’ll post later, just so you guys know I’m not kidding about the rave music.

Ni Hao

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I’m safe in China. It’s been a pretty long trip so far, and we’re not even halfway through. Arrived in Beijing Friday afternoon and stayed there for the night after meeting up with Dad and our assistant/sales guy. Got to walk around a “walking street” which was pretty much just a closed off road with tons of shops and things. Pretty cool. The next day we were up bright and early to go back to the airport, this time going to Dalian (大連). We worked there pretty intensely until this morning, when we got on a 9 hour (yes that’s not a typo) train to Tangshan (唐山). The train was a pretty awful experience overall, but there are so many good stories that it will get its own blog post sometime in the near future. Also at lunch today with one of our clients, I added 2 things to the “Animals Anthony has Eaten” list that I probably would rather not have…

I’ll write more later but right now it’s late and I need to get up early tomorrow.

Snake!

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The new Metal Gear Solid game, Guns of the Patriots, comes out next month. I don’t have a PS3 so it’s a little disappointing, but watching the trailer always makes me consider getting one primarily for this game. Of course, it’s an 8000 yen game on top of buying a very pricey system, so I probably won’t be getting either for a while. Also my TV sucks right now, so I’d have to get a nicer one before getting a PS3. I think you see where I’m going here. Hopefully I can convince someone else to get it and let me play.

メタルギア4 リゲインThey released an English trailer for the game, complete with the movie voice guy giving narration. Courage is Solid. Sweet. Also the Calorie Mate product placement from MGS3 has been outed in 4, this time making way for a new promotional tie-in with Japanese energy drink Regain. They even have a whole page set up here. I usually hate product placement in movies and stuff, but with MGS it always just seems so retarded that it’s funny. You should definitely check out the commercial for Regain featuring Snake and Otakon. From the tie-in website you can click on “Play Movie,” or you can watch it on YouTube here.

I tried Regain for the first time, just because I saw the Metal Gear stuff, and it tastes pretty usual for an energy drink here. Kind of like an uncarbonated Oronamin C. I’m sure I’ll be buying a lot once I get back from China, not because I particularly like how it tastes, but because I want to snag some of the Foxhound dogtags that they’re offering as a promotional item.

Oh yeah, I also noticed that the Regain bottle is featured on the Japanese game site, but not the US one:
MGS4 MGS4 Regain bottle
This was also only featured on the Japanese version of the site:
MGS4 x 南明菜 Minami Akina

中国大使館 in 東京

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I went to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo this morning bright and early to apply for my visa. As if it weren’t bad enough that the Embassy is in my favorite part of Tokyo, Roppongi, the real kicker is that the office hours for the consulate division are 9-12, M-F. Yeah. The place is only open for three hours in the morning. Talk about a pain, especially when you live an hour away from the place. I will at least say that of the various government and immigration offices I’ve been to here in Japan (and probably in America too), this embassy was the easiest and quickest to use. I entered, went through the metal detector, and filled out the form I had printed from the website. Luckily I was able to bypass the long-ass line on the first floor, which was for the lone passport-size photo booth. Thank god I had gotten pictures the night before in Chiba. Otherwise this probably would have taken me even longer.

Headed up to the 3rd floor and got a number. I only had about 9 or 10 people in front of me for the visa counter, which wasn’t bad. There were people waiting, some using the copy machine, and some filling out their forms, pasting pictures, etc. I waited less than 30 minutes I’d say, compared with the several hours I’ve waited before at the Chiba immigration office. Apparently 12:00 is the time they stop letting people in, so as long as you’re in the building before that you’re fine. Had a bit of entertainment as some British guy was trying to argue with the lady at the counter about how he’d have to get a new visa once he leaves Shanghai and goes to Hong Kong, since he’s coming back to Shanghai after that. I guess UK passport holders can’t get a multiple entry visa? Not really sure, and of course I don’t know the guy’s situation. I really don’t care either. But as it always is, it was fun to see this guy loose his cool and literally shout “you mean I have to get another bloody visa?” to the poor lady behind the glass window. He huffed and puffed his way out of the room, wheeling his laptop/briefcase on wheels. And yes, you can imagine he’s the tooly kind of middle-aged businessman wearing tight jeans and a blazer as if it’s the officially licensed uniform of international businessmen who think they’re more important than they are as they scream on their Bluetooth headsets. Can’t stand those guys – and they usually travel in packs throughout any airport I’ve been to.

I snickered as I was applying for my visa a few minutes later, since US passport holders can easily apply for a multiple entry visa for the same price as a single entry. Sucks for British Business Man. I was doing my best to joke around and be friendly with the worker lady because I’m sure she has to deal with enough business guys who treat the workers like crap. I am, after all, a man of the people.

However, this man of the people is not happy that he has to go all the way back to the embassy on Monday to pick up his visa.

China?!

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Just the other day I was thinking how I’d like to take a trip, but probably won’t because I don’t want to spend the money and stuff. Hong Kong and Seoul were awesome last year. But then I talked to my parents on Monday and guess what…

I’m heading to China next Friday. Haha, yep. I’ll be there for about two weeks to help my Dad with some work. Should be a pretty sweet trip. I’m going to Beijing then maybe some other cities from there. It’s good timing since I don’t start the full-time position until later in June, and I’m pretty free right now. Had to cancel a few of the lessons I’m teaching, but luckily I was able to arrange that. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to do sightseeing while I’m over there, but I’m sure at least the weekends should be free.

I wonder how much Mandarin I can learn in a week and a half.

Nice Partner

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How long do you think you could live without a fridge or a microwave? You’d think it would be pretty tough, right? Well I’d been going for about 8 months since moving into my current apartment without them, and I was doing OK. One of the main reasons I didn’t get them was that I wasn’t sure how long I would be sticking around here in Japan. Now that I know I’ll be here at least a little while longer working, I figured it was time to get them.

I headed to Treasure Factory here in Chiba a few weeks ago, a “recycle shop,” which means a place that buys and sells used stuff. They have all kinds of things: appliances, toys, bikes, furniture, grandmas, and electronics. Blanchard bought a ukulele even. Who knows why. So yeah, I decided to save a little money and get the fridge used, since Japanese people keep everything in amazing condition anyway, allowing me to get an almost brand new unit for cheap. The recycle shop’s second floor had most of the appliances, including about 3 or 4 rows of fridges. A lot of them were really similar, so I based my choice on 4 key factors: age (something less than a few years old), appearance (if there were any marks, dents, etc on the outside or inside), price (something fairly cheap), and most important, smell (if it’s got a rank stank). I’m not even joking on that last one. I was opening fridge doors and taking whiffs for about 20 minutes up there while Blanchard tried to self-teach himself the ukulele. By the way, I’m pretty sure those 4 criteria is the same way NR7000 chooses his dates*.

I got the fridge and microwave delivered to my apartment for really cheap in less than a week. After spending about half a day cleaning and sterilizing them both, I had a new tower of power in my small Japanese apartment. The fridge, which is a blue Sharp SJ14G Nice Partner, a white Sharp 730-watt microwave, and the rice cooker I’m borrowing are all stacked on top of each other in an intimidating fashion like Dr. Wily’s Castle. It’s also taken me some time to get used to having fridge noises in my room. But anyway, I’m glad I finally got around to getting these things. I cooked a little bit at home before, but usually it was restricted to pasta, stuff with rice, etc. Now that I have a fridge and microwave I can cook more stuff, heat up stuff, and in general expand the foods I can eat and prepare. It’s like the 1920’s when people first started getting fridges in their homes. I think people living in Japan eat out a lot more than in the US, but this way I can eat at home more, like when I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to leave my apartment.

I’ve thus been playing around with cooking more recently using my awesome gas range, which absolutely destroys the hot-plate-equivalent “electric range” I had in my old apartment in Goi. I can make fairly decent fried rice, made some Mabo Dofu one night, and have also been eating eggs and sausage for breakfast. It’s also awesome to be able to eat cereal and milk again, which I suppose I could have done before by getting a small carton of milk, but having the fridge just makes everything that much more convenient. I think I should hit up Costco sometime and stock up on stuff that I can now refrigerate in my Nice Partner.

Fried Rice チャーハン

*in Kabukicho
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