Friday, June 28, 2013

When Beijing's Air Makes Fire Equipment Look Tempting

During the past 24 hours Beijing's air quality has often been in the "hazardous" range. The U.S. Embassy's readings for the Air Quality Index (AQI) posted on Twitter topped out at 477.

To provide some context for the 477 reading, the "hazardous" AQI range is from 301 to 500 and includes the advice "Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion."

When the reading was "only" 455 earlier in the day, I passed an elementary school as students were leaving. Nothing appeared unusual and most of the students were not wearing any sort of mask.

students leaving elementary school in Beijing
Hopefully not exerting themselves

This evening as I considered whether to head outside, I wished I had purchased a reliable mask during my recent time in the U.S. When I mentioned this to a friend, she suggested I look around my hotel room to see if they provided a mask.

To my surprise, I found one.

"filtering respirator for fire self-rescue" which covers the entire head

The air is so bad that I considered making use of the "Filtering Respirator for Fire Self-Rescue" even though it is "made for escaping in the fire disaster". I imagine it would give the hotel staff quite a jolt to see me walking out wearing it.

But after noticing it is only good for a single use, I decided to save it. After all, in the next few days the air could become "crazy bad".

Google Reader's Final Recommendations

Previously I shared "one of the most remarkable online experiences I have ever had". The experience involved Google Reader's "Recommended items" feature. Since Google Reader will be shut down in a few days, I decided to take a final look at what it had to recommend to me.

It only offered two selections. The first was this: "Google Reader Is Shutting Down; Here Are the Best Alternatives".

I had to laugh. And for that, I'll give Google Reader one last +1.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


There's much to learn in this fascinating world, and lately I have been doing a lot of what this man in Beijing was doing a few days ago:

man reading a newspaper while sitting on a stool

And now it is time to do some more writing...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Fairness of Cheating

Malcolm Moore in The Telegraph reported on protests at a high school in China's Hubei province. They were in reaction to numerous attempts at cheating being foiled by watchful eyes during the administration of the gaokao, China's university entrance exam. The protests were especially remarkable since many people were upset not about the students cheating but instead about the students not being allowed to cheat:
When students at the No. 3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams earlier this month, they were dismayed to find they would be supervised not by their own teachers, but by 54 external invigilators randomly drafted in from different schools across the county...

For the students, and for their assembled parents waiting outside the school gates to pick them up afterwards, the new rules were an infringement too far. As soon as the exams finished, a mob swarmed into the school in protest...

By late afternoon, the invigilators were trapped in a set of school offices, as groups of students pelted the windows with rocks. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."
Roll that last quote over in your mind for a bit and read the full story here.

Although the reaction offers ample opportunity for commentary about a variety of issues in China, high school cheating in itself is not unique to China, and some remarkable attempts occur elsewhere. For example, Angelique Chrisafis in The Guardian reported on a recent case in France where a woman posed as her daughter for an English exam. As in Zhongxiang, the cheating was exposed. But the reaction was different:
An invigilator who wandered up the rows of desks glancing at the candidates' ID cards noticed the imposter straight away, having seen the daughter sitting a philosophy exam two days before. She notified the head of the exam centre but, not wishing to disturb the other students, did not evict the mother straight away.

Only after she had been writing her exam paper for two hours did plain-clothes police arrive and wait outside the exam hall.

An invigilator gently asked the woman to leave. "Thankfully, she left with no difficulties," a lycée representative told Le Parisien.
The woman was taken to a police station, but I can't find any word on whether she or her daughter received any punishment. Hopefully the situation was resolved fairly.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deceived by the Sky

This morning I noticed that the air seemed relatively clear--meaning I didn't notice a haze in front of buildings across the street and the sky had a spirit-lifting bluish color.

The sky in Beijing around 9:40 a.m.

I assumed this meant it was at least a semi-decent air day. So I was surprised when I later looked at the Beijing air quality reports provided by the U.S. Embassy and saw the reading for 9:00 a.m.:
No matter how blue the sky may appear, I wouldn't consider an "unhealthy" air quality index (AQI) of 154 to be semi-decent.

I then thought about my days in Shanghai where it is not uncommon to hear people say something like "yeah, the air isn't great here, but it's much better than Beijing!" So I was curious to see what the U.S. Consultate in Shanghai reported at the same time:
155, I'd call that a draw.

For another comparison, I checked more recent readings while writing this post:

Shanghai's 161 is in a different category than Beijing's 112. We had a winner.

And now I wondered how a U.S. city would compare. I found that at the same time (8:00 p.m. Saturday night) current readings in Central Los Angeles, one of the most polluted cities in the US, indicated an AQI of 59 and the forecast for Sunday was 45--considered "good" for a 24 hour period. For the U.S. it's nothing to be especially proud of, but a 45 would seem great to me right now.

Of course, these are a very small number of data points. They're representative in some regards, but I wouldn't make any strong conclusions based on them alone. My main points for now are basic. I found it easy to think the air was OK when in fact it wasn't. And even if Shanghai has not seen some of the extreme pollution that can occur in Beijing, there's still good reason for people in Shanghai to also be concerned.

Non-KFC Chicken for Breakfast in Beijing

Years ago KFC in China had a shrimp & egg breakfast burrito on their morning menu. I ordered it on occasion and found it surprisingly decent for fast food fare. However, one day I discovered KFC was no longer serving it.

It had been a long time since I last had a KFC breakfast, so today I stopped by one of their branches in Beijing curious to see what was now available. I wasn't inspired by the selection, but I ordered a small meat sandwich. The menu didn't specify what type of meat. In China that usually means it will be pork--or at least something which could pass as pork. The small sausage puck was in a roll with a limp piece of lettuce and a red sauce with a funky taste. After a few bites I was convinced it wasn't my thing and put it down.

So as I left KFC with my leaking cup of coffee, I wondered where else I could find some sustenance. No Macanese restaurants were nearby, so I assumed a squid ink hot dog wasn't a possibility. However, one of Beijing's many small food stalls was near the KFC and caught my attention.

If you can't find the Golden Arches, maybe you can find the Golden Arch.

After confirming that one tray on display included fillets of chicken, I felt a wave of hope (or maybe it was the coffee dripping).

Not Colonel Sanders

I'm not going to try giving it a name in English, but what I ordered was chicken in a folded round egg-bread (or egg-pancake if you prefer) with crispy lettuce and some sauce. Altogether it was much heftier than the KFC sandwich and about the same price (a little less than one US dollar).

And... it was tasty.

So, I have to give the "Beijing Breakfast" food stall the win today.

If you're now considering buying a Chinese mobile food stall, there are some options here.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Scenes from Liuyin Park in Beijing

While walking around this afternoon I stumbled upon what some call one of Beijing's best kept secrets--Liuyin Park (柳荫公园). It was less crowded than several other parks I've visited in Beijing, and I enjoyed the change of scenery provided by the lush environment. I also listened to several musical performances, spoke with an accordion player, and spent time with two cats. Here is some of what I saw:


A bridge


Making music


Feeding a stray cat


An urban background

A cat in silent contemplation as a man practices tai chi

Looking at fish


More music

More walking

A flower

Friday, June 21, 2013

Faces on a Wall in Beijing

The other day I saw several faces on a wall bordering the Renmin University of China.

portraits of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe on a brick wall

faces on a wall

As I looked at them I recalled the different faces I saw on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City.

That's all for now. Time to return to an ongoing series of adventures at a bank.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Meeting of Gizzards and Erguotou in Beijing

A little after 5:00 p.m. on Monday, I was enjoying spicy chicken gizzards and chopped Chinese brocoli at a small restaurant in Beijing when a man asked if he could sit across from me at the same booth. In some settings in China eating at a table shared with strangers is common. But in this case it seemed a bit unusual, especially since a number of other tables were empty. Regardless, I told him he was welcome to join me.

After setting down his various belongings, including a music player, he complimented me for choosing the gizzards dish (of course). While he waited for his dish of sliced raw tomatos with sugar, he offered me a cigarette and some of his 46% alcohol erguotou. I don't smoke and wasn't in the mood for more erguotou taste testing, so I declined his offer.

Since I had to go somewhere else, I didn't have a chance to learn more about this man. I can't say for sure why he chose to sit with me, but I think it's reasonable to consider this yet another example of the friendly people I have met in China.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Shinier Day in Beijing

Today I found myself marveling at a blueish sky in Beijing.

A view of the sky from the Dongsi Mosque

Although the air was "unhealthy for sensitive groups", it was much better than yesterday's air, and the clearer view inspired one Baltimorean to tweet "Beijing is so shiny on blue sky days". I don't know if tomorrow's sky will be similar, but the readings for Beijing's air quality since I took the above photo are not encouraging so far.

I'll have more to say about Beijing's air in a later post, but first I'll be delving into other topics. More soon.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tiananmen Square on May 47, 2013

At Beijing's Tiananmen Square between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. today, whether it was tourists posing for photographs or the "very unhealthy" air, nothing seemed particularly unusual.

Here are some scenes:

man sitting and a police van at Tiananmen Square

group having their photograph taken at Tiananmen Square

young women walking at Tiananmen Square

young man checking a young woman's backpack at Tiananmen Square

people in front of a large video display at Tiananmen Square

food and beverage truck at Tiananmen Square

foreigner posing for a photograph at Tiananmen Square

young woman walking and checking her phone at Tiananmen Square

little girl riding a pink kick scooter at Tiananmen Square

people sitting on the ground around a lamp post at Tiananmen Square

girl spinning at Tiananmen Square

twin boys squatting at Tiananmen Square

people watching a large video display at Tiananmen Square

woman taking a photograph of her daughter at Tiananmen Square

three men walking at Tiananmen Square

red flowers at Tiananmen Square

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Virtuously in a Mass of Mass

After departing Qingdao, I headed to the city where I would spend today's Dragon Boat Festival holiday. When I arrived at Beijing South Railway Station, one of the first things I noticed was the chipped paint on the ceiling.

This looks like a sea of serenity in comparison to my memory of the crowd around me at the moment I took the photo.

I was immediately reminded of the similarly chipped paint I've seen on walls inside a number of newer university buildings I have visited in China. However, I failed to ponder the connection more deeply due to my survival instincts kicking into gear while I was in the midst of a large crowd of people who seemed to be attempting to get on an escalator all at once.

As I made my way from the station, the statement "Beijing is a mass of mass" bubbled into my consciousness. To better appreciate what may have inspired such a deep / meaningless thought, Qingdao, a city of over 8 million, now felt like a quaint small city to me.

But regardless of its mass, it was exciting to be back in China's capital, and I tried to get into what Beijing now claims to be its spirit.

How can you go wrong with Patriotism, Innovation, um.... aha... Inclusiveness, and Virtue?

By "tried" I mean I took a photo of one of the many signs with the Beijing spirit slogan.

More about Beijing later. But if you're now pining for a bit of holiday spirit, then you can see my Dragon Boat Festival post from two years ago with scenes from a temple and two parks in Chengdu, Sichuan province, here.

Excavators and Safety Precautions in Qingdao

I saw a notable example in Qingdao, China, of people disregarding barriers. However, sometimes it isn't the ineffectiveness of barriers which catches my attention but instead the lack of them.

excavator digging up portion the sidewalk as people walk by

It's not possible to tell from the photo, but the man operating the excavator did not pause his work as the men walked by. I can recall a number of similar sidewalk experiences in China where passersby were able and sometimes needed to walk close to construction vehicles at active sites. The above scene also reminds me of the level of safety precautions I saw taken by a metal cutter here in Shenzhen, China, and a welder here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

And in case you're wondering, yes, I walked by the moving excavator too. Why? To get to the other side of course.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On New Barriers and Departures in Qingdao

Earlier, I posted about the collapsed portion of a pier in Qingdao and a young man's comment about the numerous people ignoring its barriers one day. Last Thursday I walked by the pier yet again and noticed new barriers were in place.

barriers to a pier--some with images of the pavilion at its end

Many of the barriers at the beginning of the pier either had a small window or a large image of the pavilion at the end of the pier. The beach areas adjacent to the pier were fenced off as well, but the area in front of the pier was now open. At least when I was there, the changes appeared to be effective in keeping visitors off the pier.

Although more may be in store, I will no longer be able to personally chronicle and comment on the developments at this pier in Qingdao, because on Sunday I went to the Qingdao Railway Station...

trains at the Qingdao Railway Station

... and then departed Qingdao on one of China's many high-speed trains.

More about where I arrived in later posts. And as usual, more about a location I am no longer in is also on the way.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Street Market at Caishi 2nd Road in Qingdao

Close to Qingdao's Taidong Pedestrian Street and across from the Walmart there is Caishi 2nd Road (菜市二路). In the afternoon vendors set up stalls in the street and remain open into the night. The market is dense and many of the goods for sale target younger shoppers. There is not a sign like at Taidong Pedestrian Street claiming it to be "world famous", but it is an equally fascinating slice of China's retail & shopping culture. For a small taste of what you can find there, here are a few photos from my visit one recent afternoon.

Street market at Caishi 2nd Road

young woman looking at various mobile phone cases

shoppers at the street market

painting by numbers kits for sale at a street market

shirt for sale with the words "The Pretend is Near"

Converse All Star sign at a street market

pocketbooks for sale on top of a car at a street market

young woman wearing a hat with stuffed fake antlers

man with shirt lifted over his stomach grilling meat

Abercrombie & Fitch clothes for sale on top of a car

young woman look at items at a street market

woman talking on phone next to colorful bows for sale