Thursday, August 31, 2006

Qingdao Beer Festival

I mentioned a few posts ago that I went to Qingdao last weekend with Louise. The highlight of the trip was the annual Qingdao Beer Festival. For one or two weeks, beer companies from around the world setup a tent, serve their beer, and hire Chinese rock groups, kareoke singers, and models the size of a chopstick (and with the personality of one) to lure people into their tent.

Most Chinese cities have a local beer brewery. Yantai beer is not bad, and at 3RMB per liter ($0.38), you really can't complain. During the summer months all of the restaurants and BBQs serve sanpi, a less carbonated, slighly sweet beer with no preservatives. The no preservatives thing means that you must drink it within 2-3 days of brewing, which is not usually a problem; a BBQ can go through 10+ kegs on a busy night. And we must not forget the always present Tsingtao beer, even available in the US.

I do quite like the beer usually available here, but I was quite excited to have some German, Belgium, Mexican, and other libations available. We walked around the festival and after sitting through some mediocre kareoke singers at some German tents (let me tell you, there is nothing like listening to Chinese pop songs blasting at 200dB while being surrounded by German flags and pictures of Umpa Bands and bratwurst), we settled in the Belgian tent for some Bitburger. The crowd was lively and the band was half decent. Little did we know what a treat we were in for.

After a few performers, this burly looking Chinese man came up on stage holding two butchers knives, two cucumbers, and an oddly shaped piece of metal. Now, of course I was waiting for the Siamese-twin midgets to show up, thus filling all requisites for the world's strangest performance piece, but alas there were none. Not knowing what to expect, we watched as he sliced and diced the cucumbers in midair to prove that, yes indeed, what he was about to do would surely get you admitted to most mental hospitals.

He used the funny shaped peice of metal as a vise to hold the two knives blade upwards on the ground. The then had a fat Chinese man climb onto his back, and then proceeded to carefully STEP ONTO THE KNIVES!! What a sight! A Chinese guy standing on two butchers knives with another on his back, whilst singing kareoke and ganbei-ing beer with the crowd that was now going pretty crazy.

The fat dude crawled off his back, and the singer jumped from the knives to the nearest table where people were eating and drinking. His performance would have gotten any crowd going due to his extreme enthusiasm, but they went absolutely nuts when he poured a pitcher of beer over his head, tore off his shirt Hogan-style, and started smashing everyone's dinner plate on his head!

By now, all 200 Chinese people in the beer tent had realized that there were foreigners amoung them, and I was being ganbei-ed every 30 seconds with pints of Belgian beer. I made more single-serving Chinese friends that night (yeah, just watched Fight Club) than I could count.

By far the strangest part of the evening was when a father pushed his 7 year old daughter up to me. Holding a 1/4 filled pint glass in her hand, she proudly proclaimed, "Ni hao! Ganbei, woda laowei pengyou!" It took me a few seconds to register the fact that a 7 year old girl was ganbei-ing with me (they have not drinking age in China), look up at the father with a "are you f-ing serious look", realize he was, and then chug Belgian pijiu with an elementary school girl.

And boy could she chug... I've got three words for that girl: Future KTV girl.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Yay, my alta mater

Ok, so I am directly stealing this post from Paul, but he only made reference to the article and I intend comment about what an idiot this kid is and how ashamed I am someone as careless and stupid as he went to my school.

For those of you too lazy to read the article, a current student at my alma mater, Lafayette College in Easton, PA, USA has been charged federally for packing a stick of dynamite in his luggage and flying from Argentina to the US. His father's excuse? "Oh, its just a careless kid who ignored the rules because he thought it would be cool to bring home some dynamite... blah, blah, blah, I'm an idiot and apparently passed along my low IQ to my son."

Seriously! How could anyone, no matter how thick they are, believe it is ok to bring a stick of dynamite on an airplane an not expect to either:

  • Die in a fiery ball of jet-fuel.
  • Spend the rest of your natural life in Guantanamo.
  • Be shot by the security patrol in the airport as large German Shepherds decend upon your bleeding carcass.

I am very proud of the school I went to. While I was no figure-head of academic excellence (har har) the school produces some of the countries most successful and ambitious people. It honesetly pains me to hear that one of Lafayette's own students could be this absolutely brainless. It makes me wonder how he could get into my school... I sincerely hope the family is loaded which mean that the admissions office is merely guilty of nepotism and not negligence.

Chinese Elevator Logic

It is often muttered by foreigners visiting China that they do not understand Chinese logic or that their sense of it is completely backwards. This sentiment is generally a symptom of cultural misunderstanding or ignorance. Sure, something makes absolutely no sense to us sometimes, but it does not necessarily mean it is wrong...

...but then again, sometimes it does. There is no better illustration of backwards Chinese logic than in Chinese elevators. Now, before I continue this post, I wish to clarify something to any Chinese readers that I may have. I am not saying that as a Chinese people are stupid, or backwards, or any such thing. In fact, most of the time a westerner marks something down to "Screwy Chinese logic" or "lack of common sense", it is most often because the foreigner does not have a full understanding of the situation. The Chinese people are a very resourceful and intelligent group. All I am proposing is that they way some buildings operate their elevators is entirely insane and there is no good reason for it in these examples.

My first exposure to screwy Chinese Elevator Logic came in the form of a story from my Austrailian friend Joel. Joel has been living in Yantai for about 4 or 5 years now. He has many great crazy stories about situations he has encountered in China (ask him the one about his drunk friend getting his foot stuck in a Chinese squat toilet) and I very much enjoy hearing them. One night at the BBQ Joel recounted a story about a local apartment complex that has some great CEL to try and save money on electricity. Each day the floors that the elevator services alternates between even and odd floors. The idea is that only half of the electricity will be used, but clearly if you think about it for a few seconds you realize this is crazy. If I live on the 14th floor, I will still take the elevator to the 13th and then use the stairs. When I leave, I will walk down one flight and call the elevator to the 13th floor again. I suppose in theory that one floor's worth of electricity has been saved, but it is no where close to 50% savings, it just causes inconvenience.

Earier this summer I was in Beijing with some of my friends from the US. I decided to take them to the Silk Market so that they could buy some fake clothing goods and get a taste for bargaining. As we entered the elevator the Chinese elevator girl (gets paid to push the buttons) pressed 5. I looked at the panel and saw 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 listed.

"Third floor, please."
"Excuse me?"
"We are going to the 5th floor."
"Yes, but can you please stop at the 3rd floor?"
"No, go to the 5th floor and use the stairs."

My most recent experience with Chinese Elevator Logic (CEL) was this weekend in Qingdao. Louise and I stayed in the Aegean Sea Commerical Hotel. The lower half of the building (1-20) is composed of offices and the upper half (21-28) is the hotel. Of the two elevators, one serviced floors 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, & 20. The other serviced floors 1 & 20-28. Ok, a little odd (still has that "only some floors thing" on the business side to misguidedly try and save money), but I can understand wanting to separate the business and hotel side of things. But, here's where is got silly. If you were in the lobby downstairs and pressed the elevator "up" button, the only elevator that opened was the business elevator servicing the lower half of the building. Our room was on the 26th floor, so we decided to take business elevator to the 20th (only other floor they both shared) and catch the hotel elevator to 26. Nice in theory...

When we got to the 20th floor and tried to call the elevator again, the only one that came was the business elevator again! We even waited for it to go back to the lobby. Usually elevator systems use proximity to decide which car will come to you; the closest one to your floor comes. Even when the hotel car was two floors above us and the business car was 19 floors below us, the hotel car refused to budge. We attemped to take the stairs, but after the first flight we found that the first few floors of the hotel are empty construction sites with no lighting. We turned back and headed back down to the lobby.

The only thing we could think of was to wait in the lobby until other hotel guests came down the hotel elevator. The problem with that was, if you are on the hotel floors (20 and above) and call an elevator, EITHER ONE CAN COME!! Yes, even though the business elevator only goes up to floor 20 on the control panel, it has full ability to service the whole building! The first group of guests came down on the business elevator, but fortunately the second group came down one the hotel elevator. We hoped in before the doors could shut and finally were on our way up to the 26th floor.

With no sarcasm whatsoever, I love living in this country! Where else could I get stories like these?

100 Posts...

...and over 10,000 visitors. Not bad, but I will admit being listed on China Blog List helped attract a lot of people to my site. I am ranked #6 on the Hottest Blog List for China blogs!

Visa Woes

It is no small coincidence that the country of China, with all of its paralyzing red-tape has a red flag. I swear, at times I don’t think you could cut through it with Excalabor itself. I am currently in the situation of trying to get my visa (F-visa) renewed, at least until I can get myself down to Hong Kong in a few weeks and obtain a residence visa (sweet, precious Z-visa, how I long for thee).

My visa worries have been helped in the past by the fact that I'm a dual-citizen of the US & UK. When I first came to China, I arrived on a multiple entry, one year F (business) visa. The only catch was that my maximum duration of stay was 30 days, so every month I would be required to fly to Hong Kong (technically leaving the country, although it is the same country) and back. I quite liked the sound of a free trip to Hong Kong every four weeks, but my company didn't like the idea of paying for my vacation each month (honestly, I don’t know why), so my company changed my visa to a six-month, single-entry F visa.

I left China in January to visit the US and then travel around SE Asia. Because US citizens are not the most popular, I almost always travel on my UK passport unless I am entering the US again. While in Bali I tried to get my company to fax me the appropriate documents I would need in Hong Kong to re-apply for a business visa, but unfortunately I was in the jungle town of Ubud and it never got through to me. When I arrived in Hong Kong, I was forced to apply for a K-visa (tourist) and was given a three month, single entry visa on my UK passport (always use UK in Hong Kong because of the former British territory thing). Working in China on a tourist visa is technically illegal, but since I wasn't getting paid yet I decided to claim I was a lost tourist if I was ever caught!

In April I was traveling to Europe, but knew that once I came back to China I would have no entries left on my visa and would be turned away at customs, put on a plane back to Hungary, where I would inevitably become the kingpin of the Eastern European mafia. Years later when I was serving a 15-year prison sentance for raqueteering (running that "protection service" for those Budapest sex shops brought in some good cash), I would comment to my cellmate Igor "The Bone Crusher" Gregorian that I wish I had just renewed my visa and avoided this life of crime. (Come on, people. That was my poor attempt at humor.)

Anyway, I arranged to mail my US passport to my associate in New York, where she processed the visa through the Chinese embassy, gave it to my boss who flew to Paris, drove to Bratislava, and gave me my US passport with a shiny new Chinese F (business) single entry, three month visa. It was like a modern day Pony Express.

Which brings me to my current situation; in three days my current visa expires and I will be fined 100 RMB ($12.50) per day upon trying to exit the country. They will actually bar me from leaving China until I pay up, so it is well within my interests to get this sorted. I was supposed to fly to Hong Kong this week with my boss for business where I would get my glorious resident visa (and not have to worry about this crap anymore), but my boss is still in Europe and we won't be going for a few weeks.

I tried to get a girl who works for Yantai University to process me as one of their teachers, but she said she is unable to do so. Today I had one of my staff working on the problem and found that we can go to the local police station and all would be fixed! Great!

We show up with all of the documents in hand that we think we need and are given a list of additional items we need. One of them says "residence permit".

"I don't have this permit", I say. "How do I get one?"

"Well, you cannot have a visa without a residence permit, so you have this already."

"I do not have this permit. I have gotten a visa many times before without one."

"Well, you need one to get the visa."

"Ok, how do I get the residence permit?"

"Well, you must have your visa."

"I am trying to get my visa, but you won't give it to me without the permit!!!"

AhhhH!!! Are you listening to yourself, woman? Do you hear the Catch-22 spewing forth from your food-hole? Honestly, at times I am prone to agree with my friend Nick that the Chinese are really just trying to invent new ways to f&#* with foreigners.

Oh well... it will be costly, but the only solution may be to force my boss to send me to Hong Kong for a few days. I guess it works out in my favor in the end!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Afternoon delight?

So, yesterday I spent the day in the office of Michel Humbert (French guy that works for Yantai Investment Board) plowing through stacks of resumes to see if there was anyone we'd be interested in hiring. After a few hours and lunch at the Double Happiness Restaurant across the street, I dedcided to walk downtown and window shop. Before I left though, I thought I'd stop in on the fourth floor and say hello to a guy I know who runs a stone business... just wanted to keep up the relation.

I found the guy's office, and knocked on the door. I heard a very cranky exclamation in Chinese, but I just assumed he was still taking his noon-time nap, despite the fact it was 3:30. Well, I decided it was about time this guy woke up, especially if he was every interested in doing business with me in the future, so I knocked again. Loud and angry doesn't begin to describe the rant that caused. Figuring that this guy was dead set on sleeping longer, I turned around and started to leave. As I was nearing the staircase, the door started to unlock and I could here his Chinese cursing getting louder and louder. I don't know what he was saying, but I think I detected the words, "your mother", "prostitute", and "fat piggy" all in the same sentance. When the guy looked down the hall and saw it was me, he turned pale and started apologizing profusely. He ran down the hall, shook my hand, and phyically dragged me into his office...

...where I saw a rather disheveled woman on the couch (that he introduced as his wife) very quickly buttoning up the top of her blouse. She said, "ni hao" and quickly ran out of the room while she was tucking her shirt in and somehow putting one shoe on at the same time. As I sat down with the man at his desk, I started to notice that his buttons were done up incorrectly (buttons in wrong hole) and is fly was unzipped.

I apologized profusely for "waking him up" and told him I'd call him the next week to have dinner with him.

Talk about bad timing!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Chinese music tastes

When you go out to a bar in China, you are subjected to what can only be described as audial crack. Most Chinese bars blast music through speakers that are FAR to small (producing a wonderful omg-the-tweeter-sounds-like-its-going-to-explode noise) and in general they choose the most catchy, addicting songs on earth. The normal one that gets stuck in my head is the Chinese version of a techno song called Dragostea Din Tei by the Moldovan band O-Zone. The Chinese singer's name is Guo Mei Mei (Lacie) and she changed the title to Bu Pa Bu Pa. I guess I shouldn't really say "new" popular one, because this particular song has been haunting my thoughts and dreams now for almost one year. You can here that song here.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you the new popular one in the Chinese clubs and bars. It is a true abomination in every sense of the word, and it is a sad commentary on the state of music in general. Again, I gather its not that new, so perhaps you have heard of this before. Here are the lyrics.

The Pizza Hut
The Pizza Hut
Kentucky Fried Chicken
and the Pizza Hut

McDonald's, McDonald's
Kentucky Fried Chicken
and the Pizza Hut

The thing that sucks the most about this song is that it gets stuck in your head so easily AND it has a dance to go along with it (v-shaped roof over your head for Pizza Hut, dancing like a chicken for fried chicken part, and eating an invisible hamburger for the Mickey D's part.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Blogger seems to be un-blocked in China today. I can view blogspot pages without using anonymouse or anthing! Lets hope it lasts!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Side note to the Pepto post

Did you know one of the potential side effects of taking Pepto Bismol is waking up with a pitch black tongue, looking in the mirror as you are about to brush your teeth, and then freaking out because you think you've developed some new version of the Plague?

But yeah, I looked it up, so the black tounge thing isn't scaring me quite so much anymore.

Still frickin' weird though.