Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Mystery of the Chinese Universe

So today, like most Saturdays, I went to the Sanyuanli market to pick up some meat, veg and fruit, and then to the Jenny Lou market to buy some other groceries. I wound up with three largish bags, including my don't-go-to-the-market-without-it shopping bag from the Central Grocery in New Orleans that my friend/former colleague Alan gave me a few years ago. As I got out of the cab in front of my apartment building, lugging my three largish bags, it just so happened that my neighbor from across the hall was coming out of the building, saw me, said hello, and then let the front door slam shut, forcing me to put my bags down, fish for my keys, and then re-open the door. He clearly saw me, he clearly could tell that my hands were full, and yet he had no qualms about blithely keeping on his way without stopping to hold the door for me. Mind you, he was clearly not rushing anywhere; he walked at a very leisurely pace with no clear destination, so halting for the 5-10 seconds it would have delayed him would surely not have made any difference to him.

This is symptomatic of the general lack of consideration demonstrated by the Chinese people generally. It is of course very banal, but it makes me wonder why there has never been--to my knowledge--a campaign to promote the idea of holding the door, letting another guy's car enter your lane, slowing down your car so that you don't splash a pedestrian during a rain storm, etc., in this country that just LOVES public campaigns. You'd think, in a country of 1.3 billion people, that there would be a premium on getting people to be a bit more civil, and yet there doesn't seem to be. Just wondering here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another Night with the Chaîne

Last night was the last Chaîne dinner before the summer break, and was held at the relatively new Hong Kong Jockey Club here in Beijing. The HKJC is a closed club that only members can usually visit, and it's the kind of place where you cannot spend any cash, since all charges just go straight to your membership account. It's a striking building from the outside, done up in old imperial style with architecture that seems right out of the nearby Forbidden City. Inside it's all modern and plush, with beautiful woods, thick golden carpets and interesting decorations all over.

We brought our friend Hui along this time, and managed to sit at a table that was hosted by a friend of ours from Germany; in addition to the three of us, he had his wife and three friends, one of whom brought his girlfriend who was visiting him in Shanghai (where he's based) from her base in London (though she's from Guadeloupe). She and I sat next to each other and had a wonderful conversation throughout the meal; it's too bad she lives in London, since it would have been fun to get together with them a bit more outside of the confines of a Chaîne event.

The meal was one of the best that we have had at one of these events, with outstanding wines and stellar service. Usually the service at these functions can seem a bit over-rehearsed and not very fluid, but here the staff, all of whom were dressed like they were about to out and do some dressage, really seemed to know what they were doing and were extremely unobtrusive as they whisked dishes on and off our table. Whatever they charge for memberships (and it must be a lot) seems to be worth it.

The menu was also a big winner. Before we left for the dinner, J2 asked me to tell him what we'd be having, and his reaction was one of resignation rather than excitement, since nothing really grabbed him out of the entire list. But when he was actually eating it, even he proclaimed that it was an outstanding dinner, with no duds at all (other than the sherbet, which was a bit weak). Here's what we had:

Club house marinated fresh salmon with poached pigeon egg and balsamic vinegar

Crispy pork belly with marinated jelly fish salad

Cold prawn and mango salsa


Pan-fried goose liver with Port Taylor’s Special Ruby
Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Bourgeois, Loire Valley, France, 2007


Grilled sole fillet filled with Japanese scallop and asparagus
served with Shanghai crab meat sauce
Sauvignon Blanc, Kim Crawford (Stelvin Seal), Marlborough, New Zealand, 2008


Fresh lychee and mint leaves sherbet


Pan seared braised Wagyu beef cheek with garden vegetables
in red wine sauce served with home-made purple rice noodles
Gigondas, E. Guigal, Cote du Rhone, France, 2005


Earl grey tea chocolate mousse with ginger ice cream in raspberry sauce

Sweetened coconut pudding with osmanthus
Karcher Beerenauslese, Austria 2006


Beijing Jockey Club Clubhouse Coffee and Tea


I'm glad that I changed my Alpha training appointment from Sunday to Saturday this weekend, so that I don't have to go to the gym early this morning after such an evening; of course, I'll probably end up having to do some additional cardio to work off the meal, but at least I can do that at home, after I've had my coffee...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Registering Ivan: The Saga Continues

Two weeks ago I went back to the police station to pick up our Sheltie's registration documents, only to find out that they had rejected the application on the grounds that he was going to turn into an Old English Sheepdog. After much cajoling they took the application back, but made no promises that the upper authorities would approve it this time around. So today I went back to collect the registration, only to find out that in fact the upper authorities rejected us again, since Ivan was "certainly" going to be a big dog. So once again I tried to reason with the police officer who, I have to admit, was being very nice about the whole thing, even if he was completely unwavering in his insistence that Ivan was going to transmogrify into a St Bernard or something, but without any positive result. So I asked if I could go to the upper authorities myself and see if I could reason with them. "Be my guest" was the gist of the response, so I called our driver and off we went.

The district dog registration headquarters is located on the grounds of the Temple of the Earth, a pretty nice park that I had never visited before. They don't make the place easy to find, but eventually we tracked it down. There they knew right away who I was (guess the police station phoned ahead), and since I brought Ivan with me, they asked if this was the dog in question. (I not only brought him along, I also brought his pedigree certificate, his birth certificate, and J2's passport, since the pedigree was made out in his name rather than mine.) As soon as they saw Ivan they said "he looks like a Sheltie", though they also said that it was the first time they had seen a Sheltie with his coloring. Turns out that, from the photo I submitted for the license, Ivan's muzzle looks very long, kind of like that of a Russian wolfhound (or Borzoi), which, combined with the fact that an American citizen had given his dog a Russian name, led to their conviction that I was trying to register a Borzoi as a fake Sheltie. Once they took a look at him they agreed that he was of the regulation size to live in Beijing, and they took our forms and put a big read seal on them, signifying their acceptance.

While I was waiting for them to complete the paperwork, our driver was sitting with me in the office, while Ivan sniffed around. I was petrified that the driver would say something about the other dog at home, since of course you're only allowed to have one dog, and if they were to come to see this other dog they'd see that he's way too big. But luckily he was sensible enough to avoid that topic and we got off scot free.

We returned to the police station with the sealed document, and now it's up to them to issue the certificate, which could take Mao knows how long. But at least he's on his way to legality. Phew.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today I was sitting glued to my television in Hong Kong, watching with disbelief at the news coming from Beijing. I had been in Beijing until a few days before the troops descended on the square, and knew people who were on the square from my university in Nanjing. None of us could have anticipated that this would have happened, and yet it did.

In the aftermath of Tiananmen, my company closed its offices in Beijing and I found myself being moved, first to London and then to Moscow. It would be 1991 before I got back to Beijing, on a quick visit, and I already found a changed city. No one would talk about what happened on that day, and people talked in the same hushed tones that were common in the USSR.

By 2002 I found that young people already had never heard of what happened in Beijing (and elsewhere in the country) on June 4, 1989), and those who had heard that something had happened only knew the government's version of the story.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the events of Tiananmen Square, and in preparation for the occasion the Chinese government has blocked many of the internet portals that might be able to inform their people about what happened: MSN, Blogger, YouTube, Twitter, Hotmail are all blocked (there are ways around these blocks, which is how I'm posting this). Almost surely the blocks will fall in a few days' time, only to return the next time the anniversary of one of the Chinese government's less admirable moments approaches.

It's a shame that the government is so afraid of the people knowing the truth about what it did. But the sad thing is that most Chinese nowadays seem to feel that the growing economy makes up for their lack of freedom to know the truth and to be able to affect change in how the country is run.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Funny Show

On the Singapore Airlines flight from Johannesburg the other day I had already watched all the movies I wanted to see ("Gran Torino", "Watchmen" and "Que Parezca un Accidente"; the first and third were great, the second one, not so much) but there was still time to kill before landing so I started to flip around the other channels (God bless airlines with multiple on-demand entertainment channels!!). That's how I stumbled across a British comedy series that had me laughing so hard that I became very self conscious.

The show is called The IT Crowd, and it concerns the IT department in a British conglomerate, which consists of a nerdy genius, a female director and a man from Ireland. Having enjoyed the two episodes on the plane so much, I of course managed to find the whole series (all three seasons that exist to date) here in Beijing and have already watched the first seven episodes with J2. Each episode causes us to laugh so hard that we run the risk of asphyxiation, so suffice it to say that it's very funny. If you get a chance, I strongly recommend that you watch it!