[Insert Stock Apocalypse Now Quote]

19 10 2011

Two months between posts is a little bit much, I’ll admit. But you know, settling into your third city in three years is always taxing. And China has recently decided to block wordpresses, making this all the more difficult. After a short week in America, I found myself returning back to Shanghai for what’ll be at least another year here in China. My parents started a running joke that if they’d know that I’d end up here 23 years ago, they might as well have not left for the states in the first place. I’ve got a weird relationship with this city, and while I’m excited for the new job and the prospect of new friends, it’ll take some time to get my feelings about this place into context. I guess more on that at a later time. I managed to be in Shanghai for a whole two weeks before one of the two big national holidays rolled around (conveniently celebrating the inception of the modern day communist China), giving me a week’s worth of vacation to take advantage of. So without hesitation, I jumped on the first available flight to Vietnam for a week with the ever missed Beijing crew.

Vietnam was my first real experience in southeast Asia (Malaysia doesn’t really count with it being a weird amalgam of peoples and a predominantly Muslim country) and it really is a very overwhelming region of the world to take in all at once. Living in China is often times a sensory overload, but the tastes and sounds and sights of Vietnam are completely in a field of its own. While never a huge fan of colonialism, I’ve gotta tip my hat off to the French in some respects. The Vietnamese have done a fabulous job of holding onto all the awesome parts of French culture while losing most of the lamer ones. The old quarters of Hanoi are filled with charming winding streets that mix in the hectic bustle of mopeds and street vendors with the weirdly romantic ambling of an old 19th century European city. The coffee in Vietnam is out of this world, unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. Banh Mi is an amazing little sandwich that’s sold on almost every street corner, incoprorating the baguette, pate, soft cheese, and delicious local vegetables.

After a few days walking around Hanoi, I met up with the always trusty Beijing contingency near Hoi An, where Roth’s parents graciously allowed us to stay in their gorgeous beachside villa timeshare. The word luxury should be embarassed that its not what the Nam Hai was. Hoi An is a cute little town that’s considered the tailoring capital of the world, and provided ample eateries and coffee shops for us to wander around. We took a daytrip out to the temples of My Son, structures that have weathered a few centuries and a good old American shellacking not but a few decades back.  We just so happened to be there just as a typhoon was coming through the central coast, but seriously, with your own infinity pool, its hard to let that get you down.

I always feel bad about waxing on generalized observations made about a country that I’ve only spent a short amount of time in, so I won’t. What I will say is that if you get the chance to go to Vietnam, please do. And do so before the Australian backpackers turn it into Thailand. I’m back in Shanghai now, and am finally starting to officially settle in. A more generalized, non-traveling post soon, I promise.

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Octopus Have Balls?

22 07 2011

First and foremost, I’m home safe and sound after my stint in deportation limbo. The details of what happened and why are really not that interesting or important; just know that the Chinese really don’t care for visa related shenanigans, and will do everything in their worldly power to make life miserable for you if need be. In the same vein, my first visit to Hong Kong, albeit under ridiculous circumstances, was enjoyable enough. The city might honestly be the least hip place I’ve ever been, however, as my short stint there was filled with boring finance dicks, overweight middle aged English guys ogling at the walk by hussies, and self-righteous 19 year old Russian models. And as unfair as it seems to typecast an entire city into cultural lameness after not but three nights out and about, my observations were confirmed and by many long time residents so…

Tokyo, on the other hand, is maybe the most awesomely overwhelming place I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s chaotic, quirky, and weirdly charming all at the same time. I was lucky to have best of friends Mari-e there to show me around the city, and doing her best to shed some light on the eccentric nature of Tokyo living.

After spending the first day or two seeing and eating my way through Tokyo (apparently they’re balls made of octopus, silly to think mollusks would have testicles) proper, we took a quick day trip out to a little place called Kamakura, an hour outside of the city by train. The place is noted for a series of Buddhist and Shinto temples hidden amongst a series of rolling hills; most notable of which, houses this giant sitting Buddha. There’s also a beach where you’ll find weird Japanese surf bums in dreds and rasta-gear. Are you there Ja? It’s me, Ras-Hisashi.

Tokyo, a place where walking in the street wearing a gimp suit is an everyday occurrence. A place where everything from ice cubes recycling is fetishized and executed flawlessly. No joke, 80% of the public restrooms I used were electronic bidets. They’re sticklers about jaywalking and spitting, but if you pass out in your three piece suit on a curbside in a puddle of your own vomit after a heavy night of drinking, totes mcgoats ok. Our time together was short Tokyo, but I look forward to the next time we meet.





Malaysia, Single-handedly Renewing my Hatred for all Insect-kind

1 03 2011

My short 80 some hours in Malaysia was nothing short of a whirlwind. It was my first time traveling in Southeast Asia and my first time traveling abroad alone. Luckily enough, English is an administrative language in Malaysia, so communication wasn’t too big of an issue. The country is extremely diverse, with the ethnic makeup mostly comprised of local Malays, Indians, and Chinese. Malaysia itself identifies itself as a Muslim country, with mosques dotting the landscape and hauntingly beautiful calls to prayer projected throughout the day. My trip started with a midnight arrival into Kuala Lumpur.

After months of dreary, cold Beijing, the humidity and exoticness of Kuala Lumpur was more than welcome. When I arrived to my hostel at one in the morning, I decided to go out and get myself a sample of the storied Malaysian street food I’d heard so much about. I guess at that hour, however, most things just kind of shut down as the streets were almost completely empty. I’ve grown used to the nitty grittyness of Asian streets, but seriously, there were rats everywhere. The little audacious disease balls were just scurrying around everywhere, across roads and into sewage canals. But I guess that was the least of my worries that evening. The first person I ran into on the otherwise empty roads was a guy a bit younger than me, who from across the street, I thought was asking for a cigarette. It turns out though, judging by the manner in which he was bobbing his head back forth, that he was offering a different service altogether. After kindly refusing, I scurried off only to run into something significantly scarier. I don’t know if I was just tired, or the street lighting was just a little off, but I almost actually physically ran into a woman standing on a corner without noticing her. She was maybe 40, obviously a lady of the night according to her get up, and had a crazy Amy Winehouse-esque beehive haircut. But the scariest thing was her pale, ashy face that just kinda dully stared at me. I collected myself and walked a few paces by, looking behind my shoulder…to see that she had completely disappeared. Ghost prostitute, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Early in the morning, I hopped on a bus to Pangkor Island. Four hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, I had heard that it offered some of the country’s best beaches. Because of the prior night, I completely passed out on the ride there, only to be quickly rushed off the bus still halfway asleep. Turns out that I didn’t get dropped off at my destination, but some random shanty town bus station in a town called Ipoh. And the next transfer bus wouldn’t be here for another 3 hrs. Luckily enough, there were two Dutch guys who also were heading to the island, and were in the same predicament, so we split a cab the rest of the way. We finally got to the island around midday after riding a ferry to the island jetty. For the evening, I rented a little chalet right on the beach, that was extremely cheap and offered a great view…but was Spartan living to say the least. As promised, the beaches were gorgeous, even if the area was a bit resorty.

The next 24 hrs. proved to be full of highs and lows. That evening, I paid for my thriftiness, as I was rudely awoken at 4:18 in the morning by insects in my bed EATING ME ALIVE. I freaked out, and ended up sleeping in a plastic deck chair the rest of the evening. Early the next morning, I left my nice, but otherwise boring Dutch traveling friends, and headed out to Teluk Segedas, a secluded beach area on the south side of the island. Its secluded because you’ve actually got to trek through 2 km of uncut wild jungle to get to the beach, which was full of hornbills, bearded monkeys, and spiders the size of my fist. The entire time, I was afraid I would:

– Get lost in the jungle and never be found again.
– Sprain an ankle, not be able to exit the jungle, and never be found again
-Be bitten by one of the aforementioned spiders, and never be found again.

But as soon as you could hear the ocean, and the dark tree line cleared, the precarious journey made it all the sweeter.

 

Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. As promised it was almost completely empty (save for three pudgy locals having a fish bake), and supremely relaxing. The water was crystal clear, with schools of fish darting about between your legs as you stand. The creeping jungle behind provided ample shade for an afternoon layabout. After spending an entire day there, I made the slow return back to Kuala Lumpur, and headed back to Beijing the morning after.

A few observations…Malaysian people might honestly be the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The country is full of beautiful, mixed race peoples. While the food is good, it certainly has a bit of an identity crisis in not being able to figure out what it is. The majority of young tourists/backpackers that Southeast Asia attract suck, as they seem to think that tribal tattoos, traditional Indian clothing, and man capris are acceptable. Also, when Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston die, all of Asia will fall into a deep period of unparalleled mourning. And sunshine really can make the difference in maintaining a healthy outlook on life.





LOOK AT CHINA, CHINA BEAUTIFUL!

7 02 2011

So I got roped into taking a little family overnight excursion to a small town called Wu Zheng in the Zhejiang Province. We drove about two hours outside of Shanghai, which apparently isn’t far enough to avoid a million tourists during Chinese New Year. Wu Zheng is known for its Venice like canals, silk worm farming, embroidering, and soy sauce making. These days, its more of a historical reenactment kind of place, but manages to stay on the less cheesy side of things to its benefit. I guess the trip was more for my parents, as we went with a bunch of their old friends from college. So while they stayed up till 2 in the morn shooting the shit and playing cards, I was upstairs watching Dunstan Checks In on HBO Asia. Knowing what I know now about the general strength of orangutans, that movie recklessly endangered the lives of many a child actor.

 

 

 

Back to Beijing tomorrow. Shanghai is a great place, but it feels like two completely different worlds at this point. I’ve found that the glossy aspects that used to draw me to the city have actually pushed me away. Plus, if you want to find the world’s creepiest ex-pat community, I would say Shanghai is bound to be high on your list. Oh, and I missed the Super Bowl, but caught a replay later on in the day. The Eminem Chrysler Detroit commercial was pretty badass, a much needed dose of heavy Americana.





There’s No Rest for the Wicked

18 10 2010

Man, I’ve been negligent. I promise it’s not entirely my fault, work has had me running around China for the last two weeks. It’d be overwhelming to try to go through everything that’s happened, so we’ll try to condense it as much as possible.

I usually don’t talk about work on here, as I like to keep things fun and fairly lighthearted on phillipinbeijing. The fact of the matter is, working on environmental advocacy in China, while engaging and extremely rewarding,is  kind of depressing. You have to read things like “A Quarter of China’s Water is Unusable for Even Agricultural Purposes” day in and day out, and it just kinda wears on you after a while. Two weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Tianjin, China. The whole thing was really supposed to be a precursor to the big upcoming meeting in Cancun in a few months, and so no one was really expecting any big steps to be taken in addressing climate change. You could easily argue, however, that talks actually regressed over the week, enough to the point where people are getting pessimistic about Cancun and are already looking forward to the South Africa 2011 conference. To boil it down, there are a million issues on the table and no one can agree on a single one. There are alliances made (developing vs. developed nations), but even then, there are factions drawn within the alliances (poor developing nations vs. less poor developing nations). It also doesn’t help that China called America a Preening Pig. OOH BURN!

With that having been said, China is making huge domestic strides, where as America has seriously stalled, to its own detriment. I spent the next two weeks visiting new industrial parks in Shanghai and Suzhou, where the government has shut down energy inefficient manufacturing complexes and poured money into turning them into newly designed sustainable mixed used communities. How many of these does China have so far? 12. America? 0. Remember the energy bill that was killed in the Senate a few months back? From the time that the bill was dropped to now, America has lost out on over $11 billion in clean energy investments and 1.9 million potential jobs. So maybe you are a preening pig America, maybe you are.

ANYWAY, onto more fun things. I got the chance to spend a week in Shanghai in between work visits, spending time with family and seeing old friends. In the time there, I quickly visited the Expo (the American pavilion was terrrrrible), made the mistake of doing all you can eat/drink Japanese again, visited an island in the middle of Shanghai, and WENT TO A CHINESE WEDDING! An old family friend that I’ve known since I was four decided he wanted to go and take the plunge, and my god was it hilarious. It was cute, romantic, and a little cheesy Chinese. There was a lot of singing, ungodly amounts of food, drinking drinking drinking, and a bubble machine. As a guest of the family, Lucy Brady somehow managed to catch the Chinese equivalent of the bouquet, with 11 bridesmaids fuming with the best bitchyface impression they could pull.

 

But now I’m finally back in Beijing. It’s real cold like here now, and as there is a lack of central heating here in China, the only warm place I know is the nest that is my bed. Again, a thousand apologies for the long job-related tirade. More frequent updates to come, I promise. Until then.





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.

LAMB KILL=SLIGHTLY GRAPHIC

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.





Pt. 1: Korea Hates Cowards

26 09 2010

So yours truly has recently returned from an 3 day, 4 night excursion to Korea. I’ll avoid making a Seoul pun, but its not a city for the weak-hearted. There’s a reason koreans have mad bouts of stomach cancer, and the entire city drinks like I drink ranch dressing. But regardless, with the company of local Seoul resident Michael Horrell and globetrotting phenom Rick Menchaca, we braved what might have been the most ridiculous series of adventures not made into a Hollywood movie.

First and foremost, contrary to popular belief, I am not Korean. And as such, speak/read no korean. Horrell, god bless his soul, speaks no Korean. And Menchaca speaks as much Korean as girls in Korea DONT get plastic surgery (zing). The entire trip can essentially be boiled down to the three of us pointing at circles with lines and hoping that it wasn’t a live octopus we just ordered. And so to avoid spelling out just how much we ate and how much sojou we drank, I’ll just try to cover some of a good chunk of the highlights in this post:

Seoul has a handful of cultural must see’s, most notably Gyeongbok Palace. Unlike the Forbidden City/anything here in China, the experience wasn’t hindered by millions of people jostling to take pictures next to that important tree that some emperor from the ______ Dynasty may or may not have planted.

Bukchon Village is a sleepy little community with remnants of old Korean architecture in downtown Seoul. Some buildings still house residents, but for the most part, most have been turned into art galleries and boutique bed and breakfasts. The hilly landscape and great views made for a more than enjoyable afternoon walk.

And before you start thinking, “Wow Phillip, you had a real cultural immersive experience”, hold onto your pant suit. Because after months of drool inducing dreams and hunger pangs, we found the ONLY Taco Bell in all of Asia, and gorged ourselves. Granted, they failed to include my chalupas on the menu, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Stay tuned for Pt. 2: Please Don’t Add Anymore Bulgogi to that.