Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Peacock

I finished the third day of classes today, and so far has been quite good. In one of my courses, we're read through a story for comprehension. The vocabulary was pretty difficult for me, so it took 2 days to make it through it. But once I finally understood everything, I realized it's really quite a great story.

I've translated it here for you to read. (I have taken a fair amount of liberty with the translation and paraphrasing.)
One day, my friend and I were talking about nothing in particular, when all of a sudden, a mysterious grin came onto on his face. "Do you want to hear a riddle?" Curious, I said "Sure".

He began: "You're an explorer traveling through a strange forest with
five animals: a tiger, a monkey, a peacock, an elephant, and a dog. In this journey you will encounter many dangers and hardships. You cannot bring all of the animals with you through to the end. You have to get rid of them one by one throughout your journey. In which order will you get rid of them?"

After thinking for a while, I replied, "First the peacock, then the tiger, the dog, the monkey, and lastly, the elephant." My friend started laughing. "I knew it! You got rid of the peacock first too!"

"What's so funny about that? What does this even mean?"

He explained, "The peacock represents your lover (or spouse), the tiger represents your desires for money and power, the dog represents your friends, the elephant represents your parents, and the monkey represents your children. How you answer this riddle reveals a lot about what kind of person you are. Whoever your get rid of first in the story represents who you will betray first when you encounter a hardship or crisis."

"The peacock represents my lover? So you're saying that I would first betray my lover in a hardship?" I was so surprised to hear this. The truth is, the only reason I decided to get rid of the peacock first is that in a dangerous situation, the peacock is the least helpful animal to me.

This outcome really upset me, so I began to pose the same riddle to everyone. It seemed that no matter who I told the riddle to, they all had the same answer as I had. Everyone chose to get rid of the peacock first. I began to think, "What kind of person would come up with a riddle like this?"

Then one day, I called an old friend from my hometown and remembered this riddle. I decided to pose it to him. After thinking for a while, he responded, "Monkey, tiger, dog, elephant, peacock." I couldn't believe it! He was the first person I had met that got rid of the peacock last!

"Why did you get rid of the peacock last?" I asked him eagerly. He calmly replied, "Think about this group of animals: The peacock is the least able to protect itself, so how could I feel right about leaving it alone in such a dangerous place?"

I finally understood. Most of the time, we only think about how other people can benefit us, instead of thinking about how others might benefit from our help.

Instead of looking only out for our own interests, we should be pay attention to when others are in need of help.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fried Wikipedia

I ran across a link today to a photo of a Chinese menu I wish I would have found. At a local restaurant in Beijing, the character for 'chicken' was inexplicably mistranslated as 'Wikipedia'. This leads to such delicious treats such as:

Stir-fried Wikipedia
Stir-fried Wikipedia with pimentos
Steamed eggs with Wikipedia
Wikipedia with peppers

Check out the link for photos. Fried Wikipedia

Some changes 'round these parts

It's been a year-a-half since I since my leave of absence of blogging. The general idea was that I would blog if I had something interesting to talk about. Unfortunately, living in Midwestern America did not provide such opportunities. However, now that I have returned to China once again, I hope to resume blogging activities.

While I certainly appreciate (and did not expect) the warm response this blog has received in the past, I am wary that this blog may be a bit different than before. While I'm still hoping to share crazy stories, cultural experiences, and bizarre culinary adventures, I'm anticipating less of these experiences this time around.

This primarily has to do with the environment in which I'm living. There are several obvious, striking differences in my environment here in Beijing than in the South where I lived before.

First off, I am living in a city of approximately 17 million instead of a rural town of 300,000 (incredibly small for China). While in the South, I couldn't walk down the street without every head turning towards me, with people laughing, pointing, or staring, people here are very used to foreigners here, especially since the Olympics this past summer. I should be carefully sensitive in my description here, but people in the city behave much more... (and I hate to use this word...) 'civilized'. Due to significantly higher income levels, and the fact that they're not farmers, people in Beijing engage much less in activity that a foreigner may find mildly amusing / offensive. (i.e. holding your baby over the street to poop)

Also, while I am determined to eat at the 'penis restaurant' here in Beijing (a restaurant that specializes in cooking dishes with penis as the main ingredient), food from the Northern part of China tends to be far less exotic than food in the South. So it might be slightly more difficult to find dog meat noodles or duck tongue soup here.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all though, is that because the omnipresence of hilariously mistranslated signs was viewed as an area of national embarrassment, Beijing had hired a task force of competent English speakers to eradicate all instances of such malsignage.

Lastly, I am living in a college dormitory in an upscale part of town. The campus is gated, and I will more than likely be spending the majority of my time within these gates. This does seem a bit tragic, but I need to remember that my primary reason for being here is to study, and study I shall do.

You may also notice a few additions to the site by the way of the sidebar. These are just a few other widgets added to broaden the spectrum of updates. Now, if you're interested, you can receive more Simon than you ever wanted or can handle.

  • Twitter feed - You can follow me on the microblogging site Twitter under the username simonlesser.
  • What I am listening to - Music that is currently rocking my guts.
  • What I am reading - Interesting news stories or links that I have shared through Google Reader. (If you use Google Reader too, you should start sharing too and let me know about it!) I scour a number of blogs about China, so this may be a great place to keep up with news that flies under the radar. (Be aware, geek stuff may be intermingled in here as well.)
  • Subscribe to this blog via RSS - Allows you to read this blog in the RSS reader of your choice so you don't have to keep checking the site for updates.

Bicycle Adventures

As a foreigner in China, just about anything you do is considered crazy. This can often be played to your advantage if you choose. You can go around doing whatever you like, claiming ignorance to just about everything, saying "我就是个笨蛋的老外。我不知道了!” ("I'm just a stupid foreigner, I didn't know!") But today, I began to think I was a bit nuts as well.

Being a student staying in China for longer than 6 months, I'm required to obtain a residence permit. In order to do so, you have to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops, including getting a health checkup to prove you're not bringing AIDS or other goodies into the country. You get the checkup in your home country, but need to immediately get it verified by the health officials here.

So during registration, the university gave me instructions on how to take care of this, and handed me a crude map of how to get to the clinic. It looked quite far from the university, but I figured Beijing is a city of bikes - therefore, all places in this city are bikeable. So the next morning at 9:00, I set off for the clinic.

Already, the elements were against me. It was as cold as it had been all week (mid-20's), but Beijing was covered with the first (and more than likely only) snow of the year, amidst the biggest drought Northern China has experienced in 38 years. (The Chinese government actually is taking credit for the snow, saying that they had launched chemicals into the clouds causing the snowfall). It was quite obvious to see that the city is not well-equiped in dealing with snow, as the maintenance ladies on campus removed snow from streets and sidewalks with brooms instead of shovels.

But weather aside, I was off, riding through the 1-inch of snow in the bike lane. It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't making much progress on my map, and that it could take me quite a while to reach the clinic. 'No matter' I thought, as my American gut could use the exercise, and I continued.

Conditions soon worsened. The speed of the cars on the streets kept increasing, as the size of the bike decreased. Then I happened to notice the sign that said no bikes were allowed on this street from 7:00-21:00. It occurred to me that if bikes weren't allowed on a street in Beijing, it must be pretty serious. While the bike lane still had a good coating of snow and ice, the snow in the car lanes had melted into brown slush and water, which made perfect conditions for spraying water on the bike lane every time a car passed. 'No matter', I thought once again to myself.

An hour had now passed, and there was a considerable more distance to go on the map. I was now at a point of no return though. I had to keep going. The campus is located in the far Northwest of the city, and I was headed farther Northwest. Slowly I saw the city spread further and further out, and it became apparent that I would soon be in the outskirts of the city. A few minutes later, I was in the absolute middle of nowhere. It was bizarre. The buildings disappeared, and were replaced with fields. I then came upon an absolutely enormous lot of the biggest satellite dishes I've ever seen. (Think "Cable Guy" big). There must have been over 100 satellite dishes in the lot.

I stopped seeing other bikers a while ago. But now, I had stopped seeing cars for a bit too. As I got close to the clinic people started appearing again. As I passed on my bike, they looked at me as if I were a madman. There I was - a white foreigner bundled up from head to toe, completely covered in snow and slush, riding in the middle of nowhere, on a street that bicycles were prohibited to ride on. It was fantastic. I so dearly wish I had a photo of these looks.

In total, it took just slightly under 1 hour and 45 minutes to get there. I filled out a short form, and handed it to the clerk at the desk. She then informed me that I should come back in 3 hours to pick the results. I did not know this was part of the deal.

After a short, pointless debate on whether to start riding home and turning around half-way, I hopped back on my bike to find a place to kill some time. The only problem being that I was in the middle of nowhere, it took me 45 minutes to find signs of civilization. After a bowl of fiercely hot noodles, and a couple of hours in a fiercely cold internet bar (how is it colder inside than outside?), I picked up my documents and headed home again.

I think next time, I will check the map a bit closer.

(Also, I hope to promise that this is the last voyage I take without brining my camera.)

Friday, February 13, 2009


Friends, I have arrived safely in Beijing. Posts to follow shortly. Also, be sure to check out my Twitter feed.