Monday, July 8, 2013

Chinese Twists to American Fast Foods

One of the joys for me of living in China is trying its broad variety of local culinary delights. Since I like much of the food in China, I find it curious when I find myself less accepting of localized American food products, which seems to mostly happen with what could be classified as junk food.

For example, although I have never tried the yogurt-cucumber or tomato-beef flavored Lay's potato chips I saw advertised in Beijing, I did once try Lay's blueberry-flavored potato chips. I stress "once". They weren't really that bad, but I'm not motivated to choose them again. I'll stick with barbecue-flavored potato chips. Or if I eat Chicken McNuggets at McDonald's in China I'll typically choose the garlic-chili sauce. It's OK, but I am almost embarrassed to admit how happy I was when I once discovered a McDonald's in Changsha with some American-style barbecue sauce. It appeared to be a leftover from days long past, but I figured the sauce probably had a rather long shelf life.

To show this isn't just about barbecue sauce, in another case one day late last year at a supermarket in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, the localized version of an American cookie caught my attention.

boxes of peach-grape flavored Oreos

It had the typical two chocolate wafers, but instead of white cream the filling was peach and grape flavored. I was curious, so I bought a box and tried one cookie. Again, I stress "one" — all I needed to realize that peach-grape Oreos were not my thing. Other Oreo flavors and versions of the cookie can be found in China as well. I have not tried them all, but someone else' review of them can be found here.

Whether it is potato chips, chicken nugget sauces, or cookies, I suspect some of these localized products would have a better chance of appealing to me if I didn't associate them with specific food items I have enjoyed long before (an intriguing issue to me). I can think of exceptions, though. For example, I prefer McDonad's taro pie, available in Hawaii as well, over its apple pie.

And no barbecue sauce is needed.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Two Views from the Yingtian Pagoda in Shaoxing

One day in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, late last year I visited the Yingtian Pagoda.

Yingtian Pagoda in Shaoxing

And after climbing up the stairs to its highest level, I spent some time pondering Shaoxing.

view with tall buildings from Yingtian Pagoda

view from Yingtian Pagoda of an urban area with mountains in the background

I share these scenes now in part because Shaoxing is where I tried a localized version of an American cookie familiar to many -- the topic for an upcoming post. I'll share one small teaser: I enjoyed the above views much more than the cookie.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Artichoke Juice in Vietnam

Yesterday's post about the localized flavors of Lay's potato chips in China reminded me of a potatory experience I had in Vietnam a few months ago. While I perused an upscale supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the drinks for sale caught my attention.

bottles of Vietnamese Vfresh artichoke juice

I'm a fan of artichokes, but I had never considered seeking out artichoke juice. Of course, I bought a bottle. It tasted just like what you'd expect artichoke juice to taste like -- artichokes -- and had the viscosity of apple juice. Since I like a variety of vegetable juices and herbal drinks, I could imagine it might grow on me, even though I had mixed feelings about it during my first experience.

A couple of regions in Vietnam are known for growing artichokes, although some artichoke farmers have recently switched to growing flowers instead. And not only are artichokes used for tea, but they are also included in some local Vietnamese dishes. Unfortunately, I never came across any of them, so see here for someone else's enthusiastic report of eating artichokes in Dalat, Vietnam.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New Potato Chip Flavors in China

When I saw the above advertisement for Lay's potato chips at a subway station in Beijing, I recalled some of my personal experiences in China trying the local flavors of items common in the U.S., whether Oreos or toothpaste. I will say more about at least one of those experiences later.

For more about Lay's attempts in China to find the perfect flavors, whether they might be cola-chicken or blueberry, see an article by Abe Sauer on Brandchannel here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Walking on Water in Beijing

Just a scene I enjoyed outside of Seasons Place, a high end shopping mall in Beijing:

woman and child in a fountain
I didn't see any signs saying you couldn't do this. I was tempted to wade in myself.

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