Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Scenes of China: People in Xining, Qinghai province

In a previous post, I shared photos of taller buildings in Xining, Qinghai province. I have already mentioned a few of the people I met in Xining in my post about several personal experiences of Chinese people being friendly towards me. Now I would like to share some more photos of Xining's people.

The following scenes are meaningful to me not just because they capture everyday Chinese life far away from China's better-known cities, but also because the photos highlight some of Xining's ethnic diversity, such as its Tibetan, Muslim Hui, and of course Han people. As I expressed when I shared some photos of youth in Chengdu, Sichuan province, looking at these photos of ordinary scenes can inspire questions and ideas that are not at all ordinary.

What do you see?

three people on a motorized tricycle cart in Xining, Qinghai, China

two men having a conversation in Xining, Qinghai, China
Chatting at a street market

drink stand on sidewalk in Xining, Qinghai, China
Taking a break

kids playing on a pile of dirt in Xining, Qinghai, China

market in Xining, Qinghai, China

people walking on sidewalk and man standing in his underwear in Xining, Qinghai, China

motorized tricycle cart with large load in Xining, Qinghai, China

people on sidewalk in Xining, Qinghai, China

men drinking tea outside in Xining, Qinghai, China
Drinking tea outside

fortune telling in Xining, Qinghai, China
Fortune telling near a temple

man talking on mobile phone in Xining, Qinghai, China

market scene in Xining, Qinghai, China

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Qingke Highland Barley For Sale in Qinghai

In earlier posts (see here and here), I have referenced qingke (青稞) -- a highland barley which is "the main grain plant for people living on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau". Although I have experienced two of its popular uses, for qingke wine and the traditional Tibetan dish tsampa, I had not seen qingke in a purer form until I met this street vendor today:

man grinding and selling fresh qingke in Xining, China

One could buy the fresh & raw qingke ground or unground (cheaper). I was encouraged to try some, and it had a very crisp and light "green" taste.

Nothing deep here, just interesting to see a bit more of Tibetan culture. For more about qingke and its uses check out the previous two links.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tibetan Monks, iPhones, and Luxury in China

Yesterday, I visited this mobile phone store in Xining, Qinghai province:

mobile phone store in Xining, Qinghai, China

It included a variety of mobile phone brands commonly seen in China, such as Nokia, Oppo, K-Touch, and Apple. It also included some lesser-known brands, some with curious names such as Samzong. The most remarkable experience I had in the store, though, was meeting these three Tibetan Buddhist monks:

three Tibetan monks, one holding an iPhone, in Xining, Qinghai, China

In the photo one of the monks can be seen holding an iPhone. In fact, all three had iPhones. To be clear, many Chinese could not afford an iPhone. If monks with iPhones come as a surprise, it is worth noting that some of the store's employees appeared to be surprised as well. The monks were in the store so they could upload new apps to their phones. Behind the monks is a computer where for 60 yuan (about U.S. $10) one can purchase a set of apps for either Apple or Android mobile phones.

In various regions of China I have often seen monks using mobile phones. For example, four years ago in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, I had an excellent vegetarian dinner with this (non-Tibetan) Buddhist monk:

Buddhist monk talking on a mobile phone in Yangzhou, China

However his mobile was not an iPhone, and not I do not know for sure whether iPhone usage amongst monks is now widespread (I doubt it).

Although they may not be representative of other Tibetan monks, the three men I met in Xining highlight that more and more people in China have an iPhone. This is obviously a good sign for Apple. But some consumers in China (and elsewhere) are at least partly motivated to buy an iPhone due to a desire for "luxury" items that are fashionable. It will be interesting to see whether the iPhone's more widespread adoption impacts their choices.

Finally, the monks' iPhones were not the only thing that caught my eye:

Tibetan monk holding a DVD of the movie Colombiana in Xining, Qinghai, China
His newly purchased DVD of Colombiana is probably pirated.

iPhones and DVDs of Western movies -- both part of these modern Tibetan monks' lives in Qinghai, China.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Zhengning Street Food Night Market in Lanzhou, China

Entrance from South Yongchang Road to the Zhengning Street Food Night Market

A recent conversation with someone who lives in Lanzhou, Gansu province reminded me of Lanzhou's Zhengning Street Food Night Market (正宁路小吃夜市). While I was exploring another supposed Lanzhou night market (It was identified incorrectly in a guide and was actually just a street with many restaurants), a helpful college student I questioned suggested Zhengning Street. It sounded like it had potential, and it turned out to be one of the better food night markets I have come across in mainland China. The night market includes many of the requisite small food stalls and also has several restaurants lining the street. I happily ate there several times during my time in Lanzhou.

To capture some of the night market's spirit, I will share several scenes. They show just a small sample of the foods available there (warning: could cause intense cravings, although one photo in particular might dampen a few appetites). I recommend exploring its full options if you ever find yourself in Lanzhou. It is a truly "local experience", and you will eat well.

And Dad, happy Father's Day. Sorry I can't send any of this your way to celebrate.

dense crowd at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China

dining alfresco at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
Dining alfresco at one of the restaurants

food at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
Pick your noodles and then several toppings

green noodles with toppings at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
One of my creations (with green noodles of course)

one of the places to eat at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
One of several noodles places

serving a variety of lamb parts at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
A variety of lamb parts for your dining pleasure

lamb heads at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
Plenty of lamb heads are available.

leg of lamb at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
If a lamb head is not to your liking, maybe a leg of lamb will do.

grilled meat and veggies in bread at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
There are also options if you like your meat sans bones.

variety of dry nuts and beans at Zhengning Street Night Market in Lanzhou, China
Or there are numerous varieties of beans and nuts to choose from if you want some snacks sans both bones & meat.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Scenes, Two Countries

In a few days I expect to leave Qinghai and travel to a very different region of China. I will share a photo to see if any readers can identify the city where I will soon find myself:

Bonus points if you can name the popular shopping area from where I took this photo.

For a another challenge, see if you can identify the location of this scene from a non-Chinese city that I have visited on a number of occasions:

Bonus points if you can guess what I had for lunch after taking this photo. Despite the large red circle being far from China, later I will share some nearby Chinese-related scenes.

Imitation BOMBs in China: Rocket Fuel for the Soul

[Update at end]

Companies such as Apple face challenges in China due to trademark infringement. Given Apple's large profits and relatively high-priced items, it may not seem surprising that some would try to copy or imitate it. But even products that could not be considered "luxury items" in China are not immune.

There are many possible examples illustrating this point, so I will share one that I recently encountered:

bottle of BOMB erguotou alcohol in China

Beneath the word "BOMB" on the label of the 100ml bottle above is "炸弹二锅头酒" -- which translates to "Bomb Erguotou Liquor". Erguotou is a type of baijiu -- in a loose analogy baijiu is to China as what vodka is to Russia. Erguotou is typically quite strong and BOMB is 56% alcohol (112 proof). Erguotou is typically cheaper than other types of baijiu, and the above bottle cost me about US $1 in Xining, Qinghai province.

Before introducing some of its notable competitors to this made-in-Beijing alcohol, it is worth highlighting how BOMB is trying to appeal to a larger audience. Its website at (in Chinese "9" sounds like the word for alcohol -- jiu) is part of this attempt. My favorite item available there is a movie-advertisement that combines the spirit of the Terminator, Superman, and other themes. Given its length and the various cultural references included I will not even try to provide a translation (but if someone else does, I will be happy to link to it). I will say that my earlier series of posts beginning with "People Not Helping Accident Victims in China" provides some context for a scene involving an injured older woman. But even without any knowledge of Chinese language or culture, I think one can enjoy the video which I will share here (ironically, the ad may be preceded by an ad):

If the video has not convinced you it is worth splurging $1 on a bottle of BOMB, fear not. Its competitors provide options. Perhaps a bottle of BDWB would be a better choice since I found it for about 17 cents cheaper:

bottle of BDWB erguotou alcohol in China

Although "SI HE YUAN BDWD" is written on the top left of the label, more prominently under the large BDWB is "四合院炸弹二锅头酒" which could be literally translated as "Courtyard Bomb Erguotou Liquor". Most relevant is that it uses the same Chinese word for "bomb" as BOMB. It also claims to be from Beijing, but it has a heftier alcohol percentage of 58%.

If the price is right, but the drink is too strong then maybe the equally priced BOWB would be a better choice:

bottle of BOWB erguotou alcohol in China

The Chinese under BOWB, 炸弹二锅头酒, is an exact copy of the text on the BOMB bottle. But if a weaker liquor is preferable then it "only" having 50% alcohol might be more appealing.

I would not be surprised to later find other similar imitators of BOMB. But unlike the examples involving Apple, I am not sure these imitators could provide any inspiring insights for BOMB. Regardless, the point here is that whether you are selling products worth hundreds and thousands of dollars or you are selling products worth a single dollar, being imitated or copied should come as no surprise in China.

Needless to say, watching the video, writing this post, and my earlier challenges of the week have left me welcoming a proper drink. And that will serve me well for the critical step of taste testing the above drinks to see how they compare. Can the imitators match the quality of the original BOMB?

I'll start with BOMB to serve as the baseline and then try the other while providing some brief comments of my initial impressions. Before I lose the nerve (or gain my senses), here I go:

BOMB -- I think I see as many stars as if I were kicked by a Beijing donkey. I have heard baijiu described as tasting like rocket fuel but I am not sure. I have yet to drink rocket fuel. Anyways, I think this may be the most aptly named drink ever. However, I should say I have tasted worse drinks in China. And better...

BDWB -- Oh my. That certainly felt worse. I swear my eyes are watering. And I do not have words for the taste. And you should probably be thankful for that. I am not sure how I can proceed. But in the name of science I shall press forward even though I may meet a fate similar to that of Clarence Dally.

Here it goes.

OK. Really folks. Do I need to do this? The BDWB made me realize I have no clue what may be in this bottle. Heck, why should I believe even BOMB is any safer than "unusual" baby formula?

Oh yes, in honor of Clarence...

BOWB -- Hey... that honestly went down smoother than the BDWB. Maybe due to the lower alcohol percentage? But the aftertaste is rather peculiar. Maybe the mercury? It should be emphasized that I drank it after the other two drinks. The previous alcohol may be impacting my perceptions. Ideally, I should later try them in counterbalanced orders but... that is not going to happen. Clarence only needs so much honoring.

So my point here? I have forgotten it. I feel fortunate that I spent less than $3 on this entire demonstration. It certainly would have been more expensive if I had bought fake iPhones.

Oh yes. everything can be imitated. Even $1 bottles of BOMB erguotou.

UPDATE: To respond to some questions... No, I did not drink the the full contents of the bottles (or even come close).  I was not interested in ingesting too much of whatever may be in the various liquids. I figured a one-time taste of a small amount would be unlikely to lead to any long-lasting ill effects. The worst part was the initial taste of the BDWB. I was absolutely fine later that night and the next morning.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Back in Service and Photos Revisited

I am happy to say that I have now restored all of the 400+ photos on this blog that had become unavailable (thankfully another ~1000 photos were not affected) due to a recent online calamity. So now instead of this appearing in place of some photos:

Should Picasa use something snazzier?

All photos should properly display like this one:

Kids in Xining, Qinghai province

However if you still notice any problems, please let me know. I have not had a chance to fully explore some remaining issues so again I will refrain for the moment from commenting further about what I have learned.

Since I just unexpectedly had to revisit a variety of posts with photos, I will provide links to a few of the photo-heavier posts. They may be of interest to newer readers who have not seen them or to older readers who may feel inspired to revisit them.

1. From Guangzhou to Zhuhai to Macau -- I describe the various forms of transportation I used to travel between several cities in Southeast China. The Guangzhou South Train Station is a good example of the new "big" architecture that can be found in China.

2. Bailian Dong Park in Zhuhai, Guangdong -- Scenes including a hillside temple and youth rollerskating show some people in China enjoying their free time.

3. A Random Bus Trip to Zhuhai's Nanping -- The results of me taking a random bus led to a variety of interesting discoveries -- including some buildings from a different era and as shared in another post an Android Store.

4. Existential Threat Posed to U.S. by Chinese Tiger Mothers' Continued Relentless Training of Children -- The title says it all. So does that fact that it was written on April 1.

And now I will get back to working on some newer material.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Layers, Movies, Sea-Buckthorn, and Purcell

The extensive recovery effort for my earlier mishap continue, but the end is in sight. Since I do not have time for a proper post today and want to hold off commenting on what I have learned from my recent experiences until later, I will share just a few unrelated items.

1. Thursday at 7pm China time (7am US EST time; 1pm Berlin time) I will be joining a discussion on Hangouts led by the president of the China Speakers Bureau, Fons Tuinstra, and also including Thomas Morffew & Alicia Noel. The topic will be "the current wave of anti-foreigner press in China - where it comes from, what it means to foreigners living in China, and employment implications for non-Chinese living in China." I look forward to discussing a topic that I believe has many layers. If you want to join or watch you can find more details here.

2. The article "Hollywood gripped by pressure system from China" on the Los Angeles Times describes how despite Hollywood sometimes being seen as a part of America's soft power, the desire to appease Chinese viewers and censors is influencing the nature of the movies Hollywood now produces:
In fact, references to the Middle Kingdom are popping up with remarkable frequency in movies these days. Some are conspicuously flattering or gratuitous additions designed to satisfy Chinese business partners and court audiences in the largest moviegoing market outside the U.S. Others, filmmakers say, are simply organic reflections of the fact that China is a rising political, economic and cultural power.

Meanwhile, Chinese bad guys are vanishing — literally. Western studios are increasingly inclined to excise potentially negative references to China in the hope that the films can pass muster with Chinese censors and land one of several dozen coveted annual revenue-sharing import quota slots in Chinese cinemas.
Read the article, but I must point out an important fact first -- Kung Fu Panda has bad guys.

3. The other day in Xining, Qinghai I found this:

bottle of sea buckthorn juice

I had never heard of sea buckthorn juice so I figured I would give it try when I noticed it in a small convenience store. I must say it had a rather unique taste, and I am at a lost to describe it. I will give it another try when I have the opportunity.

4. And for today's baroque culture, I will share a video of a one minute long song with music by English composer Henry Purcell (it takes about 20 seconds for the music to start). The piece has the title "Man is for the woman made". Lyrics and music are displayed making it easier to follow. I found it a catchy tune and the title brought me amusement. Soon you may find yourself singing this song on the street as others look on in bewilderment. Anyways, I simply share it as a quick taste of music from long ago.

Picasa Photo Problem

[UPDATE: I have updated the photo links for the most recent and visited posts. Still more to go. Unless you visit a certain range of posts you will not now notice the problem.]

Apparently my interpretation of certain aspects of Picasa's functionality and terminology was disastrously incorrect. Due to this disconnect, a great number of images are now not appearing on my blog. At the moment it appears a major amount of effort and time will be required to resolve this issue. I apologize for the problem.

In the spirit of helping others to avoid my mistake (and possibly getting a quick genius solution from someone), I will briefly share what I can piece together. The album containing photos for this blog was listed as "Limited, anyone with the link".  In short, I did not want people to be able to view all of my blog's photos at once in a single glance on Picasa. Some reasons for this include that I sometimes want/need to keep photos private until a post is ready for publishing and I want to encourage people to view photos through the blog where more context is provided.  My understanding was that the "Limited" setting enabled me to embed the necessary links to photos on my blog for readers to view individually, but without a special link the album would not be viewable as a whole. For a time this all seemed to be true.

But recently I noticed curious numbers in Picasa that suggested people might be able to view the album despite me having no awareness of ever sending the album link to anyone. A friend of mine checked this out and indeed she was able to "follow" my Picasa account and see the "limited" albums, despite them being clearly marked (to me) as limited. She did not have the link though. This baffled me.

On the limited album's page in my account I discovered a "Reset secret link" option. I figured resetting it might resolve the issue I was experiencing. After clicking it I received this warning:
Are you sure you want to reset the secret link to this album? This will remove access for everyone who has the current secret link.
Since I had no awareness of sending the "secret link to this album" and had no awareness of using it myself I had no worries. I was not worried about the individual photos since my understanding was that they each had their own secret link. This belief was supported by the fact that when I embed the images in my blog Picasa provides an option to "Hide album link" which I always chose. I only embedded the individual photo's link.

Needless to say, after reseting the album link it appears all the embedded links for images in my blog from that folder are now nonfunctional. That certainly was not my expectation.


Again, if any readers know of any quick solutions I would appreciate it. You can email me -- isidorsfugue at gmail. Otherwise, I will likely need to replace over 400 photos one by one. Again, that will take some time.

Fortunately, I have a post that will likely serve as useful for when I complete this task. More on that later.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai, China

Despite Tibet now being closed to foreigners, there remain other Tibetan regions in China that remain open such as Amdo -- now assimilated into the Chinese province of Qinghai. One clear sign of Tibetan culture can be found not far from Xining, the capital of Qinghai. In the town of Huangzhong, the Kumbum Monastery (Tǎ'ěr Sì) serves as a major religious site for the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is an immense complex and somewhat reminded me of the famous Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (Sōngzànlín Sì), also belonging to the Gelugpa sect, in Zhongdian, Yunnan province.

Although rich with Tibetan culture and worth a visit if one is the area, the touristy nature of the monastery can provide a somewhat surreal feeling as local Tibetans are prostrating in prayer while affluent-looking Chinese tourists mill about with cameras. During my vist this past weekend, I was sometimes able to capture scenes like this:

Scene without tourists at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

But more often it was like this:

Scene with tourists at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Of course, I was also one of those tourists. In some respects the mix of tourists and a holy site was reminiscent of many churches I have visited in Europe. And at times there seemed to be a certain charm in the mixture. For example, here is a Tibetan monk and several tourists spinning the prayer wheels:

Tibetan monk and tourists turning prayer wheels at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

However, it was not too difficult to get away from the many tour groups. During my wanderings higher up along a hill I found this path lined with prayer flags:

prayer flags at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

and prayer wheels:

prayer wheels at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

I also came across some "off-limit" areas due to construction:

construction at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

But in most cases they did not seem to care if I looked about and in one case a worker gave me a brief personal tour (not the first time I was provided a tour in construction area at a religious site).

construction at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Out of respect to limits on photography, it is not possible to share some of the more religious and beautiful scenes, particularly those inside the halls and temples. So I will share some some other scenes that help capture a small part of the spirit one can find at Kumbum Monastery.

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China

Tibetan monk and two other men sitting at Kumbum Monastery (Taer Si) in Qinghai, China