How Kenny Rogers Saved THANKSGIVING

29 11 2010

I love the holidays. There isn’t a thing I don’t love about the holidays. Thanksgiving just so happens to be my favorite of holidays, so much in fact, that it’s often referred to as YANGSgiving. Unfortunately, this is the first Thanksgiving I have ever spent away from home and the family. And as such, I was going to do everything within my power to have a proper one away from home, and there was really nothing that was going to stand in the way of me doing so. Not even the great nation of China. This is a story of trials and tribulations, of blood and sweat, and of heroes born from the most unlikely of places. This is the story…of Thanksgiving.

So there were a few very big obstacles China decided to throw in the path of our successful Thanksgiving experience. For starters, there were no days off allotted to us, as the government demands that every day be a day of thanks to modernity of the Middle Kingdom. So there had to be intensive prep work done to get dinner started in a timely manner. Secondly, the Chinese don’t particularly care for the turkey bird, as I’ve been told they are convinced that the turkey is only as large as it is because it has been genetically modified to feed all the fat Americans (no joke). This means I had to sprint to what arguably might have been the last market with turkeys left the night before because my butcher thought I just wanted a really large chicken.

The last of said obstacles was to be the hardest to overcome. There are many things that the everyday Chinese household still lacks: drying machines, dishwashers, a general conception of personal space, and ovens. For you see, the Chinese don’t eat freshly baked cookies or grandma’s casseroles, let alone whole 16 pound turkeys. There are a few who have had ovens installed, but in utilizing one of these rare ovens, I would have had to share my Thanksgiving with an English satellite friend, one who is nice enough, but has terrible friends. So what were we to do…? In comes my saint.

This is Kenny Rogers. You might know him as one of America’s most beloved country singers, the man behind 21 hit number one singles, and winner of the 1986 USA Today  “Favorite Singer of All-Time” award. What you might not know is that Kenny Rogers is also the father of an extremely successful chain of rotisserie chicken restaurants all across Asia. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, that’s right. We somehow convinced Kenny Rogers Roasters to allows us to slow roast our turkey in their giant rotisserie oven. How? That sounds ridiculous? That’s because it is ridiculous. That’d be like me walking into a Boston Market and asking them if I could use their oven to roast my Peking duck. They’d be like, take your raw duck and get the hell out of here. BUT KENNY ROGERS IS GOOD PEOPLE. Oh and it came out fantastic. We managed all the other dressings quite well, but the turkey was beautifully done. All that you see below was done by your’s truly (except the beetcake, that was Roth).

Never give up on Thanksgiving, because Thanksgiving will never give up on you. Next time you’re in Beijing Kenny, hit me up, I owe you one. Until next time.


Thomas the Lamb and the Bashang Grasslands

5 10 2010

It’s National Holiday here in China, commemorating the founding of the glorious party 61 long years ago. And as such, we got an entire week off from work to cavort around China. For the last four days, together with Lucy Brady, Christian Nordby, and his lovely girlfriend Camille, we braved the weather and traversed the Bashang Grasslands in Hebei Province. A mere five hours away from Beijing, the grasslands sit way high up in the mountains at proper elevation, which means sweeping winds and cold cold weather. But it’s realllll gorgeous like.

We spent our time exploring the steppe through varied means. I had never ridden on a galloping horse before this, but can see why people get so attached to the animal. Riding ATV’s at 50 mph up a scaling mountain is a trip. Freezing your ass off in Chinese bought “waterproof” jackets on top of said mountain…

The face of near death. Yeah, it was real cold. And being out in the country in China means no heating whatsoever. In the house, in your room, etc. Below freezing temperatures in the evening means sleeping with your clothes on with 4 comforters above you. But the farmer’s family that we stayed with was more than pleasant. I guess absolutely lovely would be appropriate. We ate every meal in their kitchen area, with dishes being cooked to what we…felt like eating that day. And we’re talking down and dirty country cooking. Every culture has some variation of a stewed (meat) with potatoes, but this might’ve been the best stewed chicken(meat) and potatoes dish I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, and they slaughtered a baby lamb for us. Because I’m a considerate soul, the picture is linked below. Mind you, it was by far the most humane way an animal could be killed, and the next two days were spent eating every part of the lamb. Meat, innards, blood and all. It really doesn’t get anymore organic. Couple that with some good yak milk liquor, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a good evening.


Anyway, 4 days and 3 nights later, we had to say goodbye to our Hebei family and head homewards to Beijing. It was just one of those spontaneously fortunate trips that just happens to work itself out in the best way possible. I’m currently in Tianjin right now for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and then leaving for Shanghai tomorrow night to visit family. Updates galore to come. Until next time.

Oh Hi Hou Hai

25 08 2010

I’m going to break one of my own rules, and start conversation with a quick shout out to how nice the weather has been here in Beijing. It’s been beautiful. A solid mid 80’s, bright blue skies, a nice breeze coming in from Mongolia. The city becomes a completely different place when these elements align, and you feel a real vibrancy coming from even the littlest of things.

With that having been said, the latest adventure had us traversing around Hou Hai, a series of three small lakes in Beijing surrounded by charming hutongs and curvey back alleys. Accompanied by Tiffany and Lucy, we ended up renting bikes to navigate the area, spending all day riding around the lakes and through the centuries old neighborhood.

As we rode, we stopped off at a handful of little food stalls, slowly snacking on a variety of little Chinese treats. This is stinky tofu, fermented to the point where you can smell it from yards and yards away. If you get a good batch, its fuzzy and flash fried.
It was just one of those days that is perfect in every way possible. It’s a nice area that’s done a good job creating a tourist experience while maintaining some semblance of a traditional Chinese community. In the winter, the lakes freeze over, and everyone comes out for some great ice skating. You forget that places like this exist in Beijing, and its nice to be reminded every once in a while.
(thanks for the pictures lucy)
Until next time.

My Fingernails are Spicy

12 08 2010

We’re reaching another exciting weekend here in Beijing, and things are starting to look up for Phillip (in Beijing). Routine is the comfort of life, and there’s a degree of normalcy that’s starting to exist. Between work (which is great), eating (which is consistently awesome), and downtime (how fucked up has true blood been lately?), I’ve had a bevy of friends passing through town from time to time. Showing them around has been a great opportunity for me to learn the city, and seeing familiar faces is always welcome.

After spending the past few days cavorting around Beijing, my friends Karlin and Mari-e spent their final night in Beijing with me before they shipped off to vacation in Shanghai. I took them to Wangfujing (street food night market), but this time, came away with some pictures to show you what we’re dealing with exactly.

Afterwards, we went to go and get some proper food on Gui Jie, or GHOST STREET. The whole street is covered in hanging red lanterns, so its kinda creepy I guess. What’s scarier are the throngs of 400 pound chinese gangsters with mohawks and call girl arm candy that frequented the street….but anyway, we ended up going to a place that serves up spicy crawfish. That’s right, crawfish in China.

You have to put these little surgeon gloves on to make sure the spicy doesnt rub all over your hands and stuff (fail), and there’s not enough meat to warrant the effort…but it’s a food that goes well with friends and beer. After some hugs and goodbyes, it was back to the apartment to tackle the next big hurdle in the China experience.

Laundry. Luckily the apartment has a washer, but dryers in China are far and few between. I was warned that the side of the building my window is on is often frequented by black birds who like to shit on everything, so hanging my clothes out the window seemed to be…not worth the possible repercussions. So this is what I came up with.

Yes mother, I sent my dress clothes to a cleaner. No mother, I don’t care if my clothes dry funny and wrinkle in strange places. Until next time.


As a rule of thumb, I don’t eat baby insects.

9 08 2010

Oh, and its here. The post that many of you have been waiting ever so patiently for. The first of many… the food post. Yes, I went to the Forbidden City this weekend. And two of my best friends are visiting from Japan this week. But those things can wait a little. Because its FOOD POST.

The other night, I had my first officially great meal in my time here. Apparently, most of the provinces in China have representative offices here in Beijing, and in those offices, they have restaurants serving authentic provincial cuisines. Word on the street is that the two worth going to are Sichuan (dry spicy spicy), and Yunnan (exotic mushrooms and southeast Asian influenced spicy). Accompanied by a bevy of coworkers, we made our way to the latter.

Honestly amazing. They have mushrooms flown in from Yunnan every other day, and they are honestly some of the most amazing fungi I have ever seen. Button mushrooms, golden mushrooms, black earwood mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and morels. There was a honeysuckle elderberry salad, eel cooked in a log full of sticky rice, spicy beef tendons and bamboo shoots, and of course, mealworms. It was either that or bee pupae. And you know my feelings towards eating baby insects.

Not but a few days later, we decided to make a nice and early trip to the antique and arts and crafts market here in Beijing. On our way there, we passed by a small narrow alley just teeming with people, so being the adventurous souls that we are, we fought our way through street vendors, sandal peddlers, and pools of dirty stagnant puddles of trash water to find this.

The largest open air food market I had ever seen in my entire life. It was unbelievable. Overwhelming. The smells, ruckus, the bright colors of every imaginable fruit. It was a sensory overload. And of course, sitting in the heart of the market, the mighty and formidable durian. Some are impervious to its powers, but at its best, the fruit has been described to me as the most disgusting, foul tasting thing you could ever imagine. At its worst, it has been said to smell like rotting human flesh. The verdict? Yeah, it tasted horrible. And yes, it did smell like rotting human flesh (not that I’ve smelled rotting human flesh before, but you can only imagine…)

I like the idea of posting mp3’s on here, and sharing some of the stuff that’s been on rotation in my head. Here’s to reminding us that You Are Not a Robot. Until next time.


Braised Pork Belly and Yale Lightweight Crew in Beijing

3 08 2010

First and foremost, a big thank you for all the positive feedback I’ve been getting on this. We’re looking at close to 150 hits a day, and I hope you guys enjoying reading it as much as I enjoy updating.

It’s been a busy few days around here, and to avoid writing too much, I’ll just touch on the more interesting experiences. On Sunday evening, dear friend Aaron Reiss had a potluck dinner for his last night in his beautiful hutong. For those of you who don’t know, the hutong is a very traditional Beijing living quarter, with rooms surrounding communal kitchens and a beautiful courtyard. Rapid urbanization has destroyed most of them, but the ones that remain, my god are they charming.

So I decided to try my hand at the infamous red braised pork belly. It’s a slow cooked dish that consists of arguably my favorite cut of meat; with layers of striated fat and tender meat, the belly simmers in a mixture of soy sauce, cooking wine, star anise, and a bevy of other goodies for a few hours. I’d eaten the dish thousands of times, but have never actually handled the meat itself. The lovely lizzie (pictured below) took me to the local open air market next door, where the meatlady literally pulled out an entire underside of a pig, and cut me off a savory sliver on the spot. The evening really was fantastic, new friends were made with beer and sweet potato chips aplenty. Being shirtless and cooking and covered in pig blood, I didn’t have any opportunities to take pictures of the actual food per se…but I’ll find some eventually for this.

I guess the next big thing is my actual job…which started yesterday. So I’m working with the Natural Resource Defense Council here in Beijing through a Princeton in Asia fellowship. The office is in a really nice high rise on the 16th floor, not but a short ten minute walk from my apartment. There are a lot of little food stands with some strange offerings on the way, so I’ll try to go through most of them on my way to work in the morning. As of now, I’m responsible for helping organize two conferences in September for mid-level government officials on low carbon smart urban growth? Exciting, I know. But if anyone’s interested, you can read about some of the cool stuff we’re working on

Lastly, I had a surprise visit from the Yale lightweight crew team last night, as they were finishing up a race here in Beijing. It was good to see Grunky and Jhop again, and the rest of the team proved to be really fun as well. A trip to the Silk Market was an exercise in patience and haggling prowess, and once again, Phillip Yang emerged victorious. Purses, shoes, shirts, ties, scarves, even a leather jacket (none of which was…actually purchased by me). All haggled down to a quarter of asking price. Just exhausting.

Afterwards, we walked down to Wangfujing, the night market area of Beijing where street vendors will literally cook anything that moves. Again, I couldn’t grab pictures (but i’ll steal some from the crew boys later to post), but last night’s menu included scorpion, snake meat, starfish, lizard, and sheep testicles. And to wash it all down, some of the local moonshine, innocently known as baijiu (or white liquor). It’s firewater swill.

The otherwise fantastic evening came to a sobering conclusion with a stark reminder that, yes, this is still China. In front of myself, 12 some six foot tall crew boys, and a crowd of other foreign tourists, a homeless man was dragged along the floor from the alley by his collar by two men and shoved into a giant police bus. And I kid you not, proceeded to be beat with nightsticks in the bus as it drove away. And as if that weren’t the most upsetting part of it all, we were the only ones in the crowd who seemed to be bothered by the whole disturbance. My guess is that he was being homeless in a touristy area, and refused to leave after being asked by authorities to do so. Fucked up yeah?