Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beijing Blog Reader's Choice!

Don't get excited. I didn't win an award. In fact, I don't think Beijing-ren can even read my blog yet. But since I have some random followers in Korea, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Laos and other parts of Asia, I'll count that as a win. I guess that subject was a bit dickish and at least partially misleading.

There is good news though. I have been very busy lately and will be departing for Indonesia and Malaysia this Friday. I wanted to let my readers choose what I write about next. I've gotten a lot of request by email, but the official vote will take place here. I figure, the more say you actually get in what I write, the more likely you will be to read it. And the more likely you are to read it, the more likely you are to think: "Wow. Marc totally deserves a street crepe for this, I'll click on one of the fine advertisers that grace his site".

Here is the list of potential topics:

-Drinking/Partying in Beijing
-Silly Exercises Old People Do
-More Street Food Posts
-More Shopping Posts
-Ultimate Frisbee in Beijing
-Things I miss about America / Things I like more about China
-Any crazy red tape I've experienced (might hold off on that one for now though)
-Beijing Architecture
-Trips we've taken within the country
-The Malaysia/Indonesia trip

Clearly, if you'd like to hear about something else, you can write it in as your comment.

And also, remember, YOUR (blog topic) VOTE COUNTS.

Since the most comments I've gotten so far on a single post has been six, this vote could easily recreate the US Election of 2000.

The entire Blog Topic vote could be decided by ONE SUPREME COURT JUDGE'S COMMENT ON THIS BLOG POST.

And, if you are still reading, here is a reward for your dedication:
I finally learned what street crepes are actually called:
煎饼, pronounced jianbing and inaccurately and un-deliciously translates to "pancake".

Monday, April 13, 2009

Basketball's Popularity in China + 798 Art District

751 art district beijingThis past weekend, we went to the 798 Art District in Beijing. Beijing Magazines, websites and travel guides bill the district as Beijing's Greenwich Village or its SoHo. They describe a former industrial park that was overrun by the hipster elite punk rockers where the avant garde arts flourished.

Despite the abundance of interesting art of all mediums, its pretty clear that whatever independent spirit the park once had has been co-opted by the international art scene and bank rolled by large companies.

751 district lebron jamesThis is evidenced by the existence of a King Lebron James Basketball Court Shoe Wonderland™. I may have messed up my imaginary translation, but when wandering around the former industrial park, I saw in the distance the towering visage of the most recent and still American King (Sorry Elvis. Sorry George). When we got closer, we heard dribbling, squeaking and whistles. People play basketball EVERYwhere in Beijing, but I was a little surprised to see a Nike-sponsored King Lebron James Basketball Court Shoe Wonderland™ Gym. Complete with a horde of amateur athletes playing a refereed game.

751 basketball courtOf course we went in and watched for a bit. I pretty much wanted to stay long enough to get a cool action picture and, as you can see, I got what I was looking for. The experience was a little surreal. The place was full of neon and weird shapes and I'm pretty sure the court and nets were regulation for a middle school. I felt like I was in Double-Dare. I also half-expected the buzzers to be replaced by a pre-recording of Lebron saying "BZZZZ The Period is Over - BUY MY SHOES". I guess the extensive branding was enough.

751 art district graffitiAs I said, the park itself was full of galleries and a lot of young Chinese and older westerners. I was most interested in some of the graffiti that remained around the place. Though I'm not sure how much was original and how much was added after the boutiques started going up, it was still pretty cool.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Celebrating Passover in Beijing

passover in beijingNext year in Jerusalem,
this year in Beijing

Before this week, between Veronica, her mother Mary, and I, we've celebrated Passover in 4 different countries. Mary and Veronica in Ghana, Veronica in Italy, I celebrated in England and we've all observed in the US. Now we can all add the People's Republic of China to that list.

And thanks to Mary's suitcase o' matzoh and Grandma Annette's brisket recipe, we were able to do so in style. Our first seder was celebrated in our apartment, with an excellent view of the Beijing skyline. Mary invited her friend, Laurence, from one of her tours of Southern China and we were able to share the holiday with an un-initiated. But then, we were all a bit uninitiated - this Seder had a bit of a Chinese twist to it.

Mary and Veronica did all of the preparation and shopping. They supplemented the brisket with matzoh ball soup in chicken stock that Mary from a whole chicken (feet, head, guts'n'all) and it tasted fantastic. They added some fresh veggies and a bunch of street baked sweet potatoes. (I didn't mention yet, but two of the most popular and cheap street foods are baked sweet potatoes and boiled corn on the cob.)

beijing passoverThey picked up some Great Wall wine, as well as some actual French wine - which is quite uncommon here. And we finished the meal with macaroons from the states and rice-gluten pastries. I'm pretty sure I'm going to go sephardic this year and allow rice. It would be pretty hard not to - matzoh and kosher for passover food is REALLY hard to come by.

The haggadah we used was a Chinese one that Mary picked up while in Shanghai. It told the story of the Jews of Shanghai at the beginning and often included Mandarin translations of the important prayers. We enjoyed hearty discussion and a few bottles of wine. A very nice seder eaten entirely with chopsticks. Except for the soup (clearly).

Our second seder was celebrated with the community at Kehillat Beijing. If you are curious, you can visit them online at This multi-generational community included plenty of US expats and temporary Beijingers from around the world. Apparently a first night seder was hosted by the Chabad house in a different part of town. We haven't been there yet.

This seder was much more official, but quite light hearted. The meal included chopped liver, boiled eggs and of course gefilte fish. I'm sure there was a maincourse, but I gorged on those dishes - they really remind of passover back home. Overall the night included plenty of new songs, new melodies, new traditions, new friends and plenty of actual children to run around looking for the afikomen (instead of me and Laurence looking while Veronica laughed at us for not being able to find it). A nice change of pace from day-to-day live in this massive city. Oh, and a lot more matzoh ball soup.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Southeast Asia Trip Planning Advice

indonesia vacationPlease note: I did not take the picture on left. Yet.

Its been a little while since I've last posted. I've got a bunch of good ones in the queue and I should have some of them up soon. This post is another one in which I ask you, my loyal readers, for advice and input.

I am trying to book a 10 day trip through Southeast Asia. Due to the relatively short length of the trip, I'm going to try to rely primarily on for my travel. For those of you unfamiliar, AirAsia, based out of Kuala Lumpur, is like THE premier regional carrier for Southeast Asia. They are so big, that they are threatening to build their own airport and leave Kuala Lumpur international if the Malaysian government doesn't give into their demands. AirAsia can get you pretty much anywhere for very very little. Oh and I bought Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring from one of a very small number of English language bookstores in Beijing. That should help a bit. But.....

...This is where you guys come in.
If you've been to southeast asia, please give me your thoughts.

Do you know other cheap ways to get around?
Are there places I should not miss?
Are there places I should avoid?
Foods I should eat?
Topless beaches I should visit?

Of course, if you don't have any advice, you can just write a bunch of profanities about how jealous you are in the comments section. That'll do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chi-Thai-na-Town (Bangkok Chinatown)

When I was in Bangkok, I did what I do in all cities - I visited Chinatown.

You would think that someone LIVING in China would want to visit Thailandtown, or Wee Britain or Little Italy or Americaville or something other than Chinatown. You would be wrong.

I've always found that some of the best spins on Chinese food exist in other cities Chinatowns. For instance, my FAVORITE Chinese food meal was Indo-Chinese that I had in Mumbai. So I had high hopes to Chi-Thai-na-town in Bangkok. I arrived via the Ratchawong pier and dove in.

So how did Bangkok Chinatown stack up? Well, aside from having an awesome nickname that I made up (Chi-Thai-na-town - get it?!?), Bangkok's Chinatown was actually quite formidable. It was sprawling (covering many city blocks), it was bustling with street vendors (true to its continental Asian nature) and it was full of knock-off and cheaply made goods. Perhaps more than any Chinatown I've been to, this one felt a bit like China. That is, except for all the Thai people.

The similarities were many and compelling. The street food was very interesting - a lot of seafood, most of it live, all of it delicious. Stores sold dried herbs and mushrooms. Teenage girls hawked gawdy costume jewelery and imported Hello Kitty stuff.

To the right you can see a few street delicacies: street-sautéed crawdads, street-sautéed norway lobsters and street-sautéed prawns. The crawdads, though I'm sure they aren't called crawdads in Chi-Thai-na-townese, were delicious and dirt cheap.

Otherwise, Bangkok's Chinatown is a true Chinese expat community. But unlike many Western Chinatowns and due to its relative proximity to China itself, it feels more like China. Of course, when you round the corner and see one of Thailand's ubiquitous 7-11's, you remember you aren't in Guangzhao any more, Dorothy.

But really guys: Chi-Thai-na-town. I'm going to write the Lonely Planet people and see if they can relabel that section of their Bangkok tour book. Pure. Comedy. Gold.