Mouths on Fire, I Reach Out to You Tonight

8 04 2011

I’m afraid I’ve been holding this blog to really high standards. I guess I’m afraid to bore you all with the bump and grind of everyday life, hesitant to reveal the degree of normalcy things have taken here. It’s been a solid 7 months since I first moved out here, and to date, has been one of the more eventful half years of my life. But things are settling, and the idea of staying here for a significant amount has started to feel right.

That’s not to say that this month hasn’t been full of (mis)adventures along the way. Since coming back from Malaysia, we’ve had snakes, tons of broken glass, altercations with rappers, and I fell down a mountain.

The venerable Lee West came to visit, and stayed a week longer than originally planned because of the firestorm in northern Japan.Below is a video of eating me et al. eating the spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Chicken wings so spicy that my entire body began to convulse. Below that you can see Ben and Christian partake.

Anyway, spring is arriving, and I’m fully looking forward to enjoying the season in full swing. I think we’ve avoided the month where giant swirling dust storms envelop the city in a giant yellow plume. Which means its just bright blue skies, evening beer gardens, and generally temperate weather. Dear friend Elena will be visiting all the way from Switzerland, and comrade Aaron shortly thereafter. Hope all is well in your respective parts of the world, and I promise more regular updates as they come. Until then.

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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.





The Comeback, and How I Learned to Love the (fire)Bomb

2 02 2011

First and foremost, happy Chinese New Year, or the year of the auspicious rabbit. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen some action here on phillipinbeijing, and I blame that all on winter. It’s really been way too cold to go and have adventures worth writing about around the city. It’s been a quiet, low key existence here in Beijing, and I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed it. I’ve watched a ridiculous number of movies, and have reacquainted myself with American television. I’ve made great friends with both the owners of the noodleshop downstairs, and my McDonald’s delivery man, as I’ve been traveling the path of least resistance in respect to the food to face process.

But my quiet, zen state of being was abruptly brought to an end by the coming of the Chinese New Year. I’ve never celebrated the holiday in China before, so the past two days have been quite traumatic for me in a way. My childhood experience with fireworks consisted of: dinky bottle rockets, sparklers, and giant blooming displays at 4th of July. In China, however, these notions of playful pyrotechnics are either discarded completely, or bastardized into a twisted barrage on all your senses. I promise if you check back later, I’ll include videos to each one of these sequences, but…

So I’m just chilling out in my sweatpants before work, gathering myself before the daily grind, when all of a sudden, I hear this BANG. It was far enough to gather that it came from outside…but close enough to cause the windows to shake and set off all the car alarms in the nearby vicinity. This bang is then proceeded by what sounds like rounds from a Gatling Gun, uninterrupted for a good two minutes. This sequence would continue throughout the day, starting at 7:30 in the morning and going as late as 1 the next morning. It felt like the city was being shellacked, and while you kind of got used to it after a while, there were still that one or two that would be way closer than you expected and really give you a good jarring.

But that’s what the Chinese love about fireworks. Loud, fucking loud, and lots of it. Phosphorous colors and swirly shapes mean nothing to them. They just want everyone in a 2 mile radius to hear all 40 of their 1 trillion decibel whizzbangs. And its everywhere, in every neighborhood, on every street corner, with no regulations dictating where and when. There’s a gas station where we live…and there were maybe three separate parties of pyros setting off fireworks not but 20 meters from the gas station. Madness, absolute chaos.

And so later in the afternoon, I took a plane down to Shanghai to spend the holiday with family (as both parents are here visiting for the time being). It seemed that there was some semblance of order when I arrived, in that it didn’t seem like Kosovo. But no, they were actually just waiting until midnight to create the largest clusterfuck of fireworks I have ever seen in my life. You know on the Fourth of July, where everyone gathers around in their lawn chairs and watches a nice little show that lasts about 30 minutes? This no joke lasted an hour. And it wasn’t just over the Charles River, or in the San Francisco Bay, this was THE ENTIRE CITY. It honestly looked like the place was on fire. If anyone ever tried to pull something like this in the States, that city would maybe be razed to the ground.

So after a while, the father and I leave our apartment vantage and head down to the streets to see what was going on. And as expected, it was crazy. All traffic was more or less stopped, as people set up boxes of 100 cylinder bottle rockets in the middle of the road. A group of drunk, off hour chefs were lighting some of those abrasive whizzbangs, and I guess a few slipped and came shooting right at me. I got pegged in the right calf, and it felt like getting hit by a rubber bullet. Luckily, only a slight bruise.

Tune in for upcoming episodes here in Shanghai, and come back for first hand video accounts to be uploaded once China and Youtube decide to cooperate.

*update*

if you skip to 2:21, you can see some good sparks right outside the window.





The Laziest Post Ever Written

21 12 2010

2010 was a big year. It marked the end of collegiate life and the end of my stay in that charming helltrap that is New Haven. And as jolting as it was to have to say goodbye to family, dear friends, and the beautiful United States of America, I find myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to be here in Beijing and working in what boils down to the dream post-college job for me. The transition was far from easy, but being surrounded by a cast of fantastic new friends has made it more than enjoyable. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming year: when will I find myself stateside again, or more importantly, back in Nashville? Will I get that pet pig that I’ve been dreaming of for the apartment? Is honeysuckle REALLY the color for 2011? Blehh…here’s some favorites that didn’t make the blog previously.

 

Like Thanksgiving, this will be my first Christmas away from home and family. As much as I’d love to be in Nashville, we’re gonna make the best out of what we’ve got here, so stay tuned for a smash up Christmas soiree.





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.





Asthma from the Future and the Return of DRE

20 11 2010

The past few days have been pretty wonky. I’m still fighting off the illness that refuses to die (although it seems to be reaching its tail end at this point), which hasn’t helped me in getting over my now week long battle with jetlag. Life is funny when you sleep in…four hour increments for a week. It’s helped to rediscover what it feels like to be a hermit, developing strange daily habits that can really only come about by living by yourself for a period of time. Like ordering McDonald’s delivery at 6 in the morning and you’re starving and there’s nothing in the house to eat and its too cold to take your sickly corpse outside to forage for food. Strangeeee indeed.

On a side note, my australian counterpart, Nick Bartz, kindly pointed out that the new Dre album is dropping soon. And while he’ll claim that he “called it”, there’s really no doubt this album’s going to be huge. I Need a Doctor has leaked, and its really good. “Get up Dre, I’m dying, I need you for fuck’s sake.” It’s a sentiment we’ve all shared slim.

We’ve also had a tiny little preview of what the post-apocalyptic world will be like here in Beijing, with air quality and pollution indexes jumping out the roof. We’re talking a thick layer of smog that you can smell, taste, and visibly see surround you. It was so bad that it permeated the subway, making it a veritable underground asthma chamber. Beijing’s tallest building is the Fortune Plaza, sitting at a modest 63 stories. Usually, from our corner of the street, you’d be able to see it looming in the distance no problem . But during smog-pocalypse, it was nowhere to be seen…

And how does one go about dealing with this pollution? The simplest option is to just not go outside. Granted, we don’t have a nice sharper image ionic breeze air purifying system here, but at least the windows are closed. Eventually, however, basic necessities force you out. Like food. Or bodily movement. Or just social interaction. So you resort to looking like this to prevent from sucking too down much particulate matters.

No, I am not sent from the future to assassinate Emperor Morimoto. I just wanna breathe.

Thanksgiving is slowly approaching, and celebrating my favorite holiday in China might prove challenging. For one, there aren’t ovens here, so recreating some of the staple favorites will take a level of creativity. That and Chinese people don’t really dig turkey, as they find it bland, tough, and flavorless. But I’ve already talked to my butcher downstairs, and he says he can get me a good live one the day before so all is well in that department. Regardless, tradition and holiday spirit shall prevail in one tasty, fell swoop. Tune in next time for the festivities.