Steve's China Blog

Thursday, September 21, 2006


The other day I was reading this interesting article I found about the people who paint the pictures of mao that hangs over the entrance of the Forbidden City across from Tiananmen Square...

It happens every year, under cover of darkness, in the waning days of September. The giant portrait of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square — he of the Mona Lisa gaze, flushed cheeks and trademark gray suit — is spirited away and replaced by a new Mao. He looks just like the old Mao.

So little is known about the making (or rather, remaking) of this iconic image, it might as well have materialized out of thin air.

Except for the author's gushing descriptions of mao, and the part where he calls the mass murderer a great leader, it's a pretty good article. The article is really about the artists who have worked on the paintings for the last 57 years, the issues they have had to deal with over the decades, how they selected apprentices, and the work they do now. Since portraits of mao and other dead communist oppressors are not in that much demand anymore they do not have a lot of painters anymore.

A few days after reading this article I found this picture of Gene Simmons, of the rock band KISS, painting a picture of mao (which I shamelessy stole from Ryan's Blog):

This gave me an idea! Gene Simmons should be the next apprentice! Just imagine one morning all of the people in Beijing waking up to find a huge picture of mao, with KISS band face paint, and a huge mechanical tongue sticking out of it! Lick it up, Beijing rock city! Can we call him mao tse tongue?! Ok, ok... they would never go for it, but it is a funny idea.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Vacation Itinerary

Just a week until my vacation. I am really looking forward to getting away from work and Dalian for a little while. I will be meeting my parents in Beijing on the 27th, and here is what we have planned so far...

We will be in Beijing a few days and we plan on visiting the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the Sacred Way, Ming Tomb, the Summer Palace, and the Lama Temple. One night we'll have dinner at the century-old Qianmen Quan Ju De restaurant, which is famous for their Beijing Roast Duck, and we'll also see an acrobatic show.

Then we will head to Xi'an for a few days and there we will be visiting the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, the Huaqing Hot Springs, the Banpo Neolithic Village, the Peasant Painting Gallery, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the Provincial Museum, the City Wall, and the Great Mosque.

From Xi'an we'll go next to ChengDu. In ChengDu we'll visit the Giant Panda Reserve, the Sanxingdui Museum, Du Fu Grass Hall, and the Da Ci Temple. We'll also enjoy some snacks and tea as we stroll around Jing Li Street beside Wu Hou Ci. One night we're going to have dinner at a friend's house with their parents, and on another night stroll through night markets along Tai Shen North Road and Chun Xi Road.

Next stop is Dalian. I have not made much of a detailed schedule for my parents in Dalian as in the other cities, since I am not sure how much work will be waiting for me when I get back to town. Plus I want to give us all a chance to relax after all of the sightseeing in the other cities. There are a couple of places that I am hoping to show them in Dalian though (such as BinHai Road, XingHai Square, etc...), and I want to take them shopping too. We'll all wait and see how everyone feels when we reach Dalian.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mmmm.... moon cake!

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional festivity for both the Han and minority nationalities in China. The custom of worshipping the moon can be traced back as far as the ancient Xia and Shang Dynasties (2000 B.C.-1066 B.C.). In the Zhou Dynasty (1066 B.C.-221 B.C.), people held ceremonies to greet winter and worship the moon whenever the Mid-Autumn Festival set in. It became very prevalent in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) that people enjoyed and worshiped the full moon. In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.) people sent round moon cakes to their relatives as gifts in expression of their best wishes of family reunion. When it became dark, they looked up at the full silver moon or went sightseeing by lakes to celebrate the festival.

Since the Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911A.D.), the custom of Mid-Autumn Festival celebration became very popular. Together with the celebration there appeared some special customs in different parts of the country, such as burning incense, planting Mid-Autumn trees, lighting lanterns on towers, and fire dragon dances. Whenever the festival sets in, people will look up at the full silver moon, celebrate their happy life, or think of their relatives and friends far from home and extend all of their best wishes to them.

The round moon cakes, measuring about three inches in diameter and one and a half inches in thickness, somewhat resemble Western fruitcakes in taste and consistency. These cakes were made with melon seeds, lotus seeds, almonds, minced meats, bean paste, orange peels and lard. A golden yolk from a salted duck egg was placed at the center of each cake, and the golden brown crust was decorated with symbols of the festival. Traditionally, thirteen moon cakes were piled in a pyramid to symbolize the thirteen moons of a "complete year," (twelve moons plus one intercalary moon). Nowadays, there are hundreds of varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the arrival of Moon Festival.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Cultural comparisons

Here are some cultural differences between the US and China (partially derived from Cross Cultural Comparisons)...

If you're an American...

If you're Chinese...

You're fairly likely to believe in God; if not, you've certainly been approached by people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven.

You don't believe in God. You accept everything claimed by teachers and "experts." If you find errors in their thinking, you will complain, but next time you will still believe them.

You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played. If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer.

You know how table tennis, badminton, basketball, and soccer are played. You can argue intricate points about their rules.

You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap food.

You don't think of McDonald's, KFC, and Pizza Hut as tasty, healthy, or cheap food-- everybody knows that Chinese food is the most delicious in the world. Somehow, when you do go to McDonald's or KFC, you have trouble finding a seat because there are so many people eating there.

You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, etc... to be food.

You eat almost anything, which includes a variety of mammals, reptiles, and insects. However, feasting on one-time delicacies such as monkey brain and bear paws is now prohibited and widely frowned upon.

You find a two-party system natural. You expect the politicians of both parties to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the middle class. You find parliamentary systems (such as Italy's) inefficient and comical.

You find a one-party system natural. You expect the Chinese Communist Party to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the poor. You believe the People's Congress Systems is efficient.

You'd respect someone who speaks French, German, or Japanese-- but you very likely don't yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You're a bit more ambivalent about Spanish; you think the schools should teach kids English. It's not all that necessary to learn foreign languages anyway. You can travel the continent using nothing but English-- and get by pretty well in the rest of the world, too.

You'd respect someone who speaks a foreign language, but, although you most likely studied English for at least ten years in school, you very likely don't speak well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. In Hong Kong and Taiwan--which you were told are certainly China--you think the schools should teach kids Chinese. And that means Mandarin, none of that Yuèyu.

You think a tax level of 30% is scandalously high.

You think a tax level of 10% is very high.

Mustard comes in jars. Milk comes in plastic jugs, cardboard boxes, and occasionally in bottles.

Mustard comes in jars, but nobody buys it. Milk comes in plastic jugs, bags, cardboard boxes, and sometimes in bottles.

The date comes second: 11/22/63. (And Americans know what happened on that date.)

The year comes first: 1949/10/01. (And Chinese know what happened on that day.)

The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.

If you use a comma as a decimal point, your math teacher will punish you.

A billion is a thousand times a million.

Higher numbers go by groups of four digits. Above a thousand, you go from wàn (1 0000 or ten thousand) to yì (1 0000 0000 or one hundred million).

You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married by a judge is an option, but not a requirement; most marriages happen in church. You have a best man and a maid or matron of honor at the wedding-- a friend or a sibling. And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.

You expect most marriages to be made for love, although your parents might arrange your marriage. And a man cannot have more than one wife at a time--legally--even if he wants to. For everybody besides the bride and groom, the wedding is a burden--they have to prepare the "red envelope."

Once you're introduced to someone (well, besides the President and other lofty figures), you can call them by their first name.

Once you're introduced to people, you can call them by their full name, but depending on their social status, you can call them by their family name plus their title. You can also call them Xiao (young) or Lao (old) plus their family name.

If a politican has been cheating on his wife, you would question his ability to govern.

If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you would never know unless he told you in person.

You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.

Since medical fees are so high, you generally exercise and pray that you don't fall ill. If you're rich, you can access high-quality medicine to delay your death, but if not, you just wait for the inevitable.

Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation.

Your country has been conquered by foreign nations, and you'd rather not talk about it.

You still measure things in feet, pounds, and gallons.

You still measure things in Chinese units sometimes; otherwise, you use centimeters, grams, and liters.

You stop at red lights even if nobody's around. If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.

You may or may not stop at red lights whether or not anybody's around. When you're riding a bicycle or walking on the road, you will trust your eyes over the stoplights.

There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.

There's parts of the country you definitely want to avoid, period.

If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's ten minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable.

If you are male and your girlfriend is late for a meeting, you must wait there and be patient, and when she arrives, you should still smile. If you are female and your boyfriend arrives late, you will be very angry, and you will accuse him of not loving you. But after you are married, the above will be reversed.

About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, and antiques. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.

The things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, consumer electronics, clothing, food... If possible, you will haggle for just about anything. Haggling is to prevent you from being cheated or ripped off.

If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet.

You will feel uncomfortable if a stranger--with the exception of a good-looking member of the opposite sex--is talking to you from closer than a meter away. If you are in a crowded supermarket, train, bus, queue--just about anywhere, as a matter of fact--you will have no choice but to bump into and push other people. In this case, comfort or discomfort is irrelevant.

The Cross Cultural Comparisons website is a pretty fun website, and contains more cultures than just the US and China. It is actually kind of interesting to see how many things in common so many cultures have. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bad cold, good company, and Redskins

Last week we had a cold weather front move through northeast China, and in some places the tempature dropped as much as 10 degrees Celsius (about 18 degrees Fahrenheit). The cool air felt pretty good to me, but I woke up with a head cold on Saturday. Most of the weekend was spent just laying around my apartment feeling miserable, but I did go out with some friends on Saturday for dinner at a Sichuan restaurant. I think the spicy food helped my cold some.

On Sunday afternoon Phyllis came over to keep me company and we watched the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie on DVD and then we went out for dinner at a hotpot restaurant for dinner. It was very nice, but my cold was wearing me out a lot and I felt like I had to sneeze about every five minutes. I wish I had been better company, but Phyllis was very nice and did not seem to mind. I still felt sick on Monday and worked from home. Today I feel much better though. Luckily the cold didn't get into my chest and it just stayed a head cold. Hopefully it will be gone by tomorrow.

Last year I had discovered that the NFL had created a web based portal to local radio stations that broadcasted NFL games called NFL Season Pass, which you could subscribe to and listen to the games on your hometown radio stations over the internet. This year they have a new portal so that people outside of the US can watch videos of the games over the internet. I also found some other websites that broadcast the games for free, but so far the free ones I have found only broadcast the games live. NFL's site allows you to watch games afterwards, which is good because of the time difference here (currently 12 hours between here and EST). The only problem with the NFL's site is that it costs $250! I do not mind getting up at 4:00am to watch the Redksins, but I think I'll try to find another site that is like the NFL's that doesn't cost so much.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cool weekend

Not too much has been going on lately. The weather is starting to cool down some. I think I will need to unpack my sweaters soon. The nice thing about living someplace with a very cold winter is that you generally have cool summers.

On Friday night I attended a dinner meeting with the bosses and some co-workers. We went to a really good Chinese place that specializes in seafood. Although we spent most of the time talking about business and work it was a very enjoyable dinner. On Saturday I just loafed around the apartment, and played around on the computer.

I went to some friend's apartment-warming party on Sunday. It was a lot of fun, but most of the conversations were in Chinese and although I could figure out a little of what was being said I still did not understand all of it. Their new apartment is very nice and has a wonderful view from the 29th floor. We also went up on the roof and the view there was very nice! I wish I had taken my camera.