Steve's China Blog

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vacation decisions

My usual routine for vacations has been to travel back to the US during the National Day holiday (October) and to visit some place in Asia during Christmas time. This year I am thinking of going to Bali for my trip in Asia. Since the rainy season in Bali runs from November to March I was thinking of going there in October and then I would go to the US either during Thanksgiving or Christmas. If I go to the US in October, like I usually do, then I am not sure where I will go at the end of the year. I will have to think about it some, but I have some time to decide.

Update: I might have to come back to the US in August, since China is making it much harder for us to renew our visas. Hopefully it will not effect us here in ChengDu, but I'm not sure yet. Anyways, if I have to come to the US in August then I'll probably go to Bali in October.

Monday, June 23, 2008

War Games

About 20 people from my team at work went to a place on the outskirts of ChengDu called National Defense Park to play some outdoor laser tag on Saturday morning. The place was originally created to be a sort of outdoor museum of China's military past, but hardly anyone ever goes there.

Checking out of old style artillery

There is lots of old military equipment around the park. Some of it looked like old soviet equipment dating back to WWII. I guess they needed some other form of revenue, so now they have the laser tag.

Taking a break by an old 20mm cannon

We were divided into two teams and put on some camouflaged fatigues... Our side wore green camouflage and the other team wore desert camouflage. We then got a vest and a helmet which have small sensors on them that can tell if someone else shoots you with their laser rifle. The laser rifle was attached to the vest by a cord, and if you are shot by someone else, then your rifle stops working for a few seconds and emits a sound. If you shoot someone else then you hear a different sound.

Some laser tag gear

We were divided into two teams, and played several different matches. The first match was a team vs team shootout in a large field. We each had three lives. I think I only got one kill before I was killed my third time. We were told the rifles were accurate up to 400 meters, but they didn't seem that accurate at 50 meters. Our team won the first match, so during the second match the other team got to defend a radar system on a hilltop and we had to attack.

Our two teams chatting after a match

During the second match I started working my way up the right side of the hill, while most of my team went rushing up the left and center of the hill. Being half my age they got up that hill much faster than me. By the time I reached the top of the hill all the rest of my team had been killed, so all the survivors of the other team came after me. I got five of them before they got me though! Hehe. Oh well, we lost that match.

I am not sure why they put a bi-pod on that rifle

For the third match we had to move two people safely from one place to another with the enemy waiting in between to ambush us. We did real bad on this match... even though we ended up killing all the enemy we lost our two VIPs to enemy fire. The other team had positioned their sniper really well, and he finished me off after I had only gotten one kill.

The opposing force team posing for a picture on an old rocket-artillery truck

The last match was a free-for-all. There were no teams, and everyone got three lives. Every 15 seconds they would let one of us run out into this big field where we could shoot each other. I was like the sixth person in, and found a really good spot to ambush people. I got twelve kills before three other people surrounded me and took me out. By the time the match was finished there was one other person with thirteen kills, so I ended up coming in second place. No prize for 2nd place... darn. The winner got a nice zippo-type lighter.

After the last match and I'm tired (yes, that is a Harley Davidson patch)

After laser tag most of us went out and had a big lunch. After lunch I went home and took a long hot shower. I do not know how the others were feeling, but it has been a long long time since I've done any military stuff and it took more of a toll on me than I thought it would. It seems every time I looked I found some new cuts and/or bruises on myself. The mosquitoes did a good number on me too. Although the day was pretty warm I was happy that it wasn't sunny or I would have had to deal with sunburn too.

After an aspirin, a lot of cold water to drink, and a short nap I went out and met Amber for dinner. We ate a sichuan restaurant and did a little shopping at a new shopping mall near where I live. I was suppose to go to a late party on Saturday night, but after such a long day I decided to go to bed early, and I skipped the party. Luckily I did not have a lot to do on Sunday since I woke up feeling very stiff and sore. Reese came over later in the afternoon to for some Chinese tutoring and afterwards we, along with her mother, went out and had hotpot for dinner. I slept real well on Sunday night.

Friday, June 20, 2008

All about control

Well, that didn't take long...

China reins in quake school fury - BBC

Grieving parents say wreaths left on the rubble at Xinjian Primary School were taken away by officials.

"They went too far. They have no consideration," said Xu Yan, whose 11-year-old daughter Huang Ruiqi died when the school collapsed.

No senior official was available to explain why the wreaths were taken away.

...and this one...

Chinese media blocked as parents seek justice over collapsed schools - Guardian UK

The restrictions are a step back from the first two weeks after the May 12 earthquake, when the government was widely praised for opening the disaster area to journalists, volunteers and aid workers.

The tightening reflects political concerns that the destroyed schools could become a focus for anti-government sentiment. Thousands of children died when their classrooms were reduced to rubble even though surrounding buildings remained standing. This has prompted allegations of shoddy construction, official corruption and poor safety oversight.

I'm not too surprised by this. The government will do anything here to retain control. Eventually I hope the Chinese people will do something about their repressive government. I think that they are the only ones who can change it. It will be hard in a country where only one party is in control and where the press and the military are in control of the government.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Steak and spaghetti

On Friday night I went out to dinner with Amber. We went to a steak place that is a chain restaurant that specializes in steaks. It is a bit different than steak chains in the US though. Different cuts of steaks have different names here, so you don't see sirloin, ribeye, etc... You see Australian cut, French cut, etc... For side dishes you get either mashed potatoes or pasta, along with a fried egg and usually a soup. You also get one trip to the salad bar where you can fill your tiny bowl with as many of the five vegetables and six fruits they have as you can. I just chose some fruit and saved it for dessert. Actually, for about 40 Yuan (less than $6) it's not too bad.

On Saturday my team at work was support to go to a place near ChengDu to play some laser tag, but we had a lot of rain on Saturday morning so it got postponed. I ended up spending the day doing laundry and playing on the computer. It rained all day, so I didn't go out much and decided to be as lazy as possible. I did get my Ogre Shadowknight to level 30, so he was able to get some nice new shiny plate mail armor! (He's still not as handsome as he likes to think he is)

The weather on Sunday was very nice and I did go out some. Of course, with all the rain the day before all of the mosquitoes were wide awake and looking to feed.... on me! I got bit up pretty good, but the nice weather still kept me happy. In the evening Misha came over and I cooked some spaghetti for her. We ate dinner and watched the movie Casablanca, which she had never seen before. Unfortunately she had to leave with about 15 minutes left to go in the movie, so I lent her my DVD so she could watch the ending when she had time.

Misha trying on my cowboy hat

I realized I have never posted a recipe for spaghetti here. Mostly it is because my recipes for spaghetti sauce tend to vary a lot depending on the ingredients I can get at the time. This batch of spaghetti sauce came out really good this time so I thought I would share it...

Ingredients -

1 lbs lean ground pork
1 (1 lb) can tomato sauce
1 yellow or white onion, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 large mushroom caps, chopped
8 to 10 olives, sliced
1 cup carrot, grated
2 cups water
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried red chili, crushed
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
2 bay leaves

Notes about the ingredients...
- I found these at a variety of places here in ChengDu (Sabrina's, Metro, Carrefour, etc...).
- The mushrooms were a gift from Reese's mother and came from Hunan Province. They are large dried mushrooms, so they have to soak in water overnight, and then after removing the stems I cut the caps into quarter-inch pieces. Wash well with cold water.
- I used ground pork instead of ground beef, since beef is sweeter and the pork seems to go with tomato sauce better. Pork is also easier to find here than ground beef also.
- The dried herbs should be crumbled in your hands to release their flavor as you add them to the dish.

Directions -

Cook ground pork in a large skillet/wok/pot until almost browned. Drain most of the grease.

Add olive oil, onions, bell pepper, mushrooms, carrot and worcestershire sauce. Cook on medium heat until pork is browned, and onions and peppers are soft.

Add garlic and olives and cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.

Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and allow to simmer uncovered for more than 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer the better. If the sauce starts to get too thick then you can add a little water and stir well. Cover skillet/wok/pot and let simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

That's it! Cook the pasta of your choice, throw on a little parmesan cheese if you want, find some good bread, open a bottle of red wine, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Got a smoke?

Back around the beginning of May I noticed that stores here in ChengDu were starting to run out of foreign cigarettes. More than six weeks later, and there aren't any foreign cigarettes to be found here. You can sometimes find them on street vendors, but those are just stale counterfeit ones. Some friends and co-workers that have traveled to other cities have been able to find foreign cigarettes without any problems, and since this started before the earthquake I do not think it has anything to do with that.

At first I was thinking it was just a distribution problem, but since it started at around the time all the torch relay protests were stirring up xenophobic feelings more than normal, I think it is probably a result of some distributor here got a nationalistic burr up his butt and decided he wasn't going to sell foreign cigarettes in ChengDu anymore. Hopefully he'll lose a lot of money.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dragon Boat Festival

This last weekend was a holiday called Dragon Boat Festival. This is one of the older traditional Chinese holidays revived by the government here in 2008. Since the holiday fell on Sunday we got Monday off. As far as I know there were no dragon boat races in ChengDu... maybe because of the earthquake. You can find more information about the holiday here.

On Friday night I went out with some co-workers to have hotpot downtown. The dinner was very good, but right before we finished a big rain storm rolled into town. It was still raining pretty heavily when we left the restaurant and it was hard to find a taxi. Even though a few of us had umbrellas we were soaking wet by the time we did get a taxi. I was worried I was going to wake up with a cold the next day, but luckily I didn't.

I spent Saturday just hanging around the apartment, doing laundry, playing on the computer, and napping. It was pretty relaxing. I was hoping to get together in the evening with Misha, but she wasn't feeling well. After dinner I watched Ratatouille in Chinese with English sub-titles. It was kind of funny to hear someone speaking Chinese with a French accent, and I found I could understand more of the conversations then I thought I would be able to.

On Sunday I went over to Reese's place and had lunch with her, her mother, her sister, and her sister's boyfriend. It was a really good lunch, but I ate too much. After lunch Reese helped me with my Chinese, and then later in the afternoon I went back to my apartment and just spent the rest of the afternoon napping. For dinner I went out to Shamrock and had a chicken pizza and a beer.

On Monday a friend of mine named Amber came over to my place and we decided to go to a restaurant near my apartment for lunch and have Lao Ya Tang (old duck soup). It was very good, but the weather was a bit warm for it. It would be great to have in the winter though. After lunch we went for a walk and ended up walking all over the place. It had rained earlier in the day, so the air seemed really nice out. We spent the rest of the afternoon laying around and watching TV. For dinner I cooked spaghetti for us, and then we watched a few DVDs. It was a nice way to spend a holiday.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Last weekend of spring

This was a busy weekend. On Friday night I went out to eat dinner and meet some friends at the Shamrock Pub. We stayed there for awhile since Shamrock had some free drinks for the ladies from 10:00pm to 1:00am. I spent the evening there with three different groups of people and it was a lot of fun. Sometime after midnight, my friend Catherine took me to a bar called Paname that I had never been to. It was kind of small, loud, and crowded. It was still fun, especially with such lovely company as Catherine.

I got home from Paname at about 3:00am and then at about 8:30am I was awoken by some loud hammering going on in the apartment above mine. I laid there listening to that noise for awhile and the dragged myself out of bed to get started with the day. I did some laundry and played some Everquest II, and when things quieted down upstairs I took a much needed nap after lunch. In the afternoon Reese came over to help me with my Chinese, and after that we went downtown and met up with her mother and sister and we went to a place for dinner. We went to a Chongqing-style hotpot restaurant, and it must have been the loudest restaurant I had ever been to. It was very crowded and everyone was yelling and having fun. The food was really great too.

After dinner I took Reese to a party over in Flower Town. This was the same place as the party I went to the weekend before the earthquake. It was a lot of fun, and I got to see a bunch of people I saw at the previous party and also got to meet some new people. I am not sure if it was the first time Reese had been to a party with so many foreigners about or not, but she seemed to have had a great time. At about 11:00pm we decided it was time to go. Reese, another girl named Victoria, and I went out and found a taxi that would take us all home. It was a pretty nice day considering the lack of sleep I had the night before.

On Sunday I spent the morning playing some more on the computer and doing a little cleaning up around the apartment. In the afternoon I went and met Victoria to do some shopping at Carrefour, and after that we went back to my place for dinner. I didn't really have any particular recipe in mind to cook, and ended up making a variation of the Skillet Penne and Sausage Supper recipe that I had made before. We also had bought some vegetables and Italian dressing at Carrefour and made a salad. The meal turned out ok, but it was not the best thing I've ever cooked. We watched some of a DVD while we ate and then Victoria had to go home early, since she had to get up early to go to work on Monday.

On Monday I had dinner with a very lovely lady named Misha. We went to Peter's Tex-Mex since she had never had Mexican food before. It was an interesting date, since Misha had learned English a long time ago, but had forgotten most of what she had learned because she is now learning Japanese. Spending time with me is bringing back her knowledge of English rather quickly. I wish we could have stayed out longer, but I had to go back to the office for a late meeting.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Aftermath articles

There's been a few good articles I've seen lately about the aftermath of the earthquake here in Sichuan, such as...

Can Charity Change China? in the Wall Street Journal

The earthquake in Sichuan has transformed China in many ways. Abroad, China has switched from victimizer to victim. At home, Olympic excitement has been replaced by the sadness of death and destruction, and xenophobic anger has been exchanged for a new spirit of volunteerism.

This last change presents the most difficult test for China's leadership, which sees an old and fearsome dragon of civil society raising its head. The earthquake has triggered an outpouring of philanthropy so large that it can't be channeled through government conduits alone. As of last week, Chinese companies and individuals had offered about a billion dollars in aid to victims, according to the official news agency.

... and this one...

Quake tragedy stirs ordinary Chinese to charity in the International Herald Tribune

Beijing is instinctively wary of public activism and has long maintained tight restrictions on private charities and religious, social and environmental groups that operate outside government control. The public outpouring is so overwhelming that analysts are debating whether it will create political aftershocks and place pressure on China's authoritarian state to allow more space for civil society.

Both of these articles discuss how much things have changed here. I think it will be interesting to see how long this sense of civil society will remain. Will the government try to stamp it out, will it just fade away, or will it endure?

Then I had the misfortune of reading this load of crap...

Amid Tremors, a City Trembles With Dread in the NY Times

The teahouses are nearly empty, travel agents sit beside silent telephones and shopkeepers pass the day watching the continuing agony of their countrymen on television. The buildings in this usually teeming city of 10 million, about 50 miles east of the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake, may be unscathed, but its residents are living on edge.

Pretty typical of the NY Times to twist things out of context in a poor attempt at sensationalism. Some of this might have been true during the first week after the earthquake, but it's as if this reporter hasn't been in ChengDu in quite awhile. Maybe they are hiding out in a hotel in Beijing.