Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blood, the Breakfast of Champions

Of all the wonderful items that Chinese people have creatively categorized as "food", there's only one thing here I won't eat - blood. I know what you're thinking, but it's not even the Jewish thing either. I'm not afraid of new things, I'll eat duck tongue or chicken brain without skipping a beat. But blood is a no go. To tell the truth, I'm not exactly sure why. (Perhaps it's the bodily fluids thing. To my knowledge I've never seen steamed mucus on a menu, but I probably wouldn't be too inclined to try that either.)

Last week a friend and I were walking into a Chinese restaurant as she complained that she was feeling quite tired. "I feel like I need some blood in me" is the interesting choice of words she chose to describe her fatigue. I said in jest that we could order some steamed pigs blood to satisfy that craving, but it was met with little support.

We then sat down with the rest of the group and proceeded to order food. As dishes are served family style, usually one or two people take charge in ordering for the rest of the table. I was only mildly involved, merely overhearing some of the dishes being ordered. I did happen to notice that we ordered a dish called something like "Red and White Tofu". I'd never heard of the dish, but didn't think much of it since the word "red" in a dish name usually refers a spicy braised dish.

However, my eyes lit up a bit when a dish fitting exactly the colors of its name appeared on our table.

I pulled a waitress over to our table:

(Pointing at a piece of blood) "Excuse me, what is this stuff here?"

"That's tofu."

"Really? Because it looks like blood."

"No, it's tofu."

(Pointing at a different piece of blood) "What about this?"

"Oh, that's blood."

She got her wish.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When Life Gives You a Sandwich Full of Dirt and Pebbles, Make Sandwichade.

It may not come as a huge surprise to those close to me that the past year of my life has been a rough one. While blame could be cast on a number of reasons or circumstances, the simplest explanation is that I just let life get to me. I simply wasn't able to brush off the daily awfulness of life that is required in order to keep moving.

A few months ago, I vowed to come out of this slump. Slowly, I have been able to pull myself out of this hole and reclaim my life. But it wasn't until this morning until I had proof that I could finally claim victory over this slump.

Running late to baseball practice, I only had time to pick up a quick sandwich from the on-campus store. I knew I wouldn't have time for lunch, so I could not skip breakfast too. Unwrapping the sandwich, I hopped on my bike. Tragically, the first bump sent my irreplaceable meal plummeting to the ground. It landed open, face down on the concrete.

Those of you familiar with the fine print of the "Three Second Rule" know that there is a clause near the bottom that makes this law of nature null and void in China. Nowhere are you allowed to eat anything that has even thought about going near the ground here. However, I was faced with a dilemma. I didn't have time to buy another one. It was either forfeit my only meal in 12 hours, or go for it.

This is the kind of thing that starts a very bad day. But I was determined. I refused to life get one over on me again. Not this time. I looked up and noticed that 3 or 4 people were watching the situation. They could tell I had a slight glimmer in my eye, and were watching in suspense whether I'd really do it.

I stood straight up, stared life in the face, and pieced my sandwich back together - pebbles and all. Hopped back on my bike, and took a huge, delicious bite as I met my onlookers gaze square in the eyes. You couldn't even taste the dirt. Simon: 1 Life: 0

I'm finally back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Glass Official Business Cup of Double Deck

Finally recharged my camera's battery today, so I was able to capture the goodness at the local supermarket. These never get old, do they?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chicken + Tiger = Delicious

Some friends of mine when to Harbin for the weekend (city in the far Northeast of China). They went to a tiger park where you can feed the tigers chickens - either on a stick, or just throwing them out the window. I so wish I would have gone with them.

Enjoy the carnage.

Why Wal-Mart Understands China

One of the blessings / curses of living in such a massive city is the availability of goods. Living in a small town in a much less wealthy part of the country, I was used to living without most amenities I enjoy back home. Everything I needed that I knew I wouldn't find here (french press coffee maker, floss, deodorant, etc.) I had to bring from home. Somehow I didn't realize that this would not be the case this time in a city of 17 million people. Nearly any product you could possibly want or imagine can be found relative ease in this city.

Nowhere is this point better illustrated than the fact that a Wal-Mart is located one subway stop from my dorm. It's actually connected to the station, and I can be at the front door in under 25 minutes from leaving my room.

From my time working at the Wal-Mart Home Office in Bentonville Arkansas, I've been slightly infatuated with the concept of Wal-Mart in China. We opened a store here during the time I worked there, and pictures of the grand openeing were sent out to all employees. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I've been fascinated ever since.

Believe it or not, Wal-Mart actually has a pretty substantial presence in China. A lot of multinational companies are scrambling to make a splash in the China market, but not all succeed. Wal-Mart, however, understands China.

Here's why: The building is spread over several floors, so it isn't as initially as impressive as the 'I can't see past the end of the horizon to the other side of the store' effect you get in America. So in order to support the weight of the extra floors, there are massive columns spread throughout. Near the far corner of the personal hygiene department is one such column. It's actually only about 5 feet from the shelves on all sides, so it's really a tight squeeze to get back to the items placed in this area. Seems like a terrible design flaw in an otherwise well-architected building. Whose idea was this? What products could you ever place in such an inconvenient area?


That's right, condoms - and it's pure genius on Wal-Mart's part. Condoms are the life-blood of the one-child policy here, and yet sex is still quite taboo in Chinese culture. Being caught purchasing condoms could be a mortifyingly embarrassing situation. But no one can see anyone in this corner of the store. Unless someone deliberately walks back into this small area, you remain neigh invisible.

While I have no statistics to back it up, I am reasonably confident in believing that Wal-Mart sells more condoms than any other retailer in China.

It takes so much more than simply setting up shop as in your home country to do business internationally. You must understand your customers. And that is why Wal-Mart has succeeded in China.

Full Nelson

Although, I would much rather leave this story untold, the purpose of this blog is to document interesting phenomena I encounter here in China. And this event was certainly interesting.

(This is in no way is an attempt to brag about a heroic event, because I assure you it was anything but.)

A couple of nights ago I was walking a friend home. As we approached the alley where we would part for the evening, we passed a young couple. The girl was holding onto a rather large handbag, and the guy was behind her, wrapping his arms around her and grabbing the handbag. She was squirming and trying to get away, but he had a pretty firm grip on her and the bag. As we walked by, they appeared to be joking around with half-smiles on their faces, so we thought nothing of it.

We said a short farewell, and were ready to part our separate ways, until we looked up and noticed that they were still going at it. Joking or not, the girl was shrieking a bit, and this had been going on for over a few minutes. Reluctantly, I walked my bike past them again pretending to mind my own business, going in for a closer look to make sure everything was in good fun. I made eye contact with the girl for a good second. She still appeared to be smiling, and maybe even laughing a bit. I was only a couple feet away, so if she needed help, she definitely would have signaled as such.

So I returned to my friend and ensured her that although we both felt quite uncomfortable leaving with this scene still going on, I was reasonably confident that the girl was not in danger and we should go in peace. We said another uneasy goodbye and walked away.

As I hopped on my bike, I still couldn't let it go. It had been more than 5 minutes now, and they were still struggling. If this was a cute little flirting game, it was getting pretty weird. People were passing left and right, but no one paid attention or stopped. I knew if I didn't at least ask if she needed help, I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it.

I can't recall clearly the exact words that were exchanged, but I asked the girl several times if she needed help. Each time, I got a different response from the girl. They ranged from, "No, I don't need help", "Yes, please help", "We're just joking", and "He's trying to steal this from me". From the guy, the responses I got were "She's my girlfriend", "We're just joking around", "You're just a foreigner, you don't understand what she is saying".

Confused and frustrated, I looked her in the eyes and said, "Seriously. Tell me the truth. Do you want me to help you? Are you just joking around?" I finally got a straight answer when she said, "Yes, please help. I'm not joking."

At this point, I honestly can't remember the last time I had to assert myself in any kind of physical confrontation. Without any knowledge of self-defense or what to do in this kind of situation, my mind went blank. I always knew what I would do in a fight if confronted - stand there, and kindly ask the gentlemen to bash my face in, but I never thought about what if I would have to do on another person's behalf. Besides telling the guy, "Hey...yeah...come on...don't do that..." I really had no idea what to do. The only thing left in my head was wrestling moves I learned back in high school.

The guy was possibly very slightly above average in size for a Chinese guy who has been drinking his milk, but still pretty much just a kid. On top of this, he didn't do much to try to resist me, as he would have had to let go of the girl in order to do so. As I proceeded to put my arms through his and onto his head, his only resistance was to say, "Buddy...friend...brother...we're cool...she's my girfriend...you're just a foreigner, you don't understand what she was saying..."

I now had him in a full nelson (considered an illegal and unsportsmanlike move in wrestling, since there is no real way to break the hold.) As soon as he lost his grip on the girl, she started sprinting away as fast as she could. I felt relieved that based on her pace, she definitely wanted to be free of this guy.

A small crowd of about 6-7 people had now formed around us. Now that the girl was gone, latecomers were wondering why this white guy was holding this Chinese guy in a full nelson hold in the middle of the street. I wanted to wait until she was completely out of sight before I let him go so he couldn't follow her, so I just held him for a minute looking at the bystanders, awkwardly nodding the kind of nod that says, "Hey, how's it going? Take a picture!"

As he called me 'brother' one last time, I let him go and hopped on my bike.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tiananmen Literally Means "Gate of Heavenly Peace". (Square Just Means "Square").

Parting Words

I've been meaning to sort out the past year and a half I spent in America in a splendidly articulated retro/introspective post here. While I search for deep themes to highlight, I'm left with the very last conversation I had with a stranger in America.

My flight left the next morning from Chicago at 8:00 AM, so I spent the evening with Joe, as he bartended at a cozy little Irish joint. Towards the end of the evening, one of the fine gentlemen at the bar struck up conversation with me. Eventually it came out that I was leaving in a few hours for China.

"What the fuck is in China?" He pondered out loud in a non-rhetoric, boisterous voice.

"What, indeed." I replied.

And so, has begun my quest to find out what is in China. Perhaps next time I'll have a better answer.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Chicken Head

So a friend just told me of an outdoor street market where you can eat scorpions, larvae, and other delectable treats. Stay tuned, I'm thinking this weekend will be an insect-fest. Until then, here's a chicken head. Don't knock it 'till you've tried it...tasted just like fried chicken. Only more "heady".

After:Next up: The delicious brain...

If Even Number Entrance

Found at church today.