Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sandmich China UnFAQ

Q: What, no running diary?

A: I thought of doing that, but this was more of a social visit than a tourist trip.  As an example, two of the days I was there (the second and third I believe) were very nearly exactly the same.  Just as you would expect if you were sitting around your own home, and who would keep a diary of that?
Maojamins


Q: Where's the usual biting Sandmich style of snarky B.S. in regards to the China trip?

A: Let me first point out that the Chinese don't do well with criticism ('self' or otherwise), so I feel that I have to be somewhat guarded in my comments.  Additionally, despite whatever issues I encountered, my hosts were very generous and worked to help me with any issues that I thought worthy of bringing up to them.  It's hard for me to say 'X' sucked when if I actually felt that 'X' was that big of an issue I could have asked for help with it.

OK, but I'll need his address.


Q: How about the flight experience?

A: We packed a bunch of food, which I was against since I'd have to dedicate my limited space to hosting it.  The Air Canada flight (Toronto->Shanghai) was crazy with the food and the beverage cart (two and half meals along with four beers).  This meant that starting out the trip, I was already traveling full of food, something which would rarely go away.

Air China was interesting in that they had what had to be at least a full inch more between the seat rows which meant that I could sit and not have to fold my legs in at an angle under the seat in front of me.  I thought the extra space was all the more interesting due to Asian people's reputation for shorter stature (though I saw plenty of Chinese dudes at my same height/weight and got to sit next to one, yay).  Air China made up for this though by not having air vents (so I got backed like a piece of smelly toast in the middle row) and an incredibly inane policy of not allowing cell phones to be on at all ("off" meaning the screen is off).

Which since I've brought up unreasonably stupidity in regards to Chinese air travel I should bring up Chinese airport security.  I've found that the only thing worse than the American 'airport security-kabuki theater' is the strict Chinese airport security (I'd read an article recently talking about American security was the worst and the author listed all the places that were better, and oddly not one place in Northeast Asia made the list).  Lighters (even empty) are not allowed onto checked bags, everyone gets patted down by a goon with a wand scanner of some sort, and security checks are layered and redundant as if the government is absolutely terrified of...something (this is actually a theme that would come up again and again on the trip).  At Beijing we had to go through four security check points before getting on the plane:

  1. An explosive chemical check upon entering the airport
  2. Baggage inspection at check-in
  3. The ever popular x-ray/metal detection station
  4. A spot bag inspection within the tunnel entrance on the plane where fluids purchased within the airport had to be disposed of (?!?!).
Yeah, f@@k them.

Giant Christmas display at the Beijing airport.


Q: You survived the automotive traffic though?

A: There are no scooters on the highways but there's all manner of 30 mph trucks that pop up.  Intersections without signals are treated in a manner similar to a traffic circle (though with everything from pedestrians to trucks trying to get through).  Intersections with signals are actually treated with a proper amount of respect, possibly because the police in China love fines nearly as much the Ohio State Highway Patrol (this in addition to the huge number of traffic cameras on the highways).  However I was there two weeks and was indirectly involved in two traffic altercations and survived more close calls than I've had the rest of my life, so my survival wasn't for lack of trying.
Note the scooter in the far distance; chances are it A) is electric and thus silent, B) is peeling down this narrow alley at  30mph and C) will run you over if you're not quick enough.


Q: Food?

A: I can remember exactly one meal that I sat down to before which I was actually hungry.  Every other time I was so stuffed from the meal before that it took (even for me) all my will power to sit down to another meal.  Even the smallest spreads had way too much food, the worst ("worst") being this pre-wedding feast which had enough food for twice many people as were at a table:
It was interesting because everyone would be at the table packed senseless and then they'd bring out another dish and everyone would groan, and then another, and another, and so on until untouched dishes sat stacked upon the half eaten dishes that the table inhabitants already couldn't finish off.  As many said while I was there, it was as if every meal was Thanksgiving.  So a Thanksgiving dinner for lunch, and then for dinner, and then lunch the next day, etc.

Q: So no food issues?

A: Well...I did get some kind of bug late in the day (after consuming the above feast) and I was not feeling very well the day of the wedding.  I pleaded "stomach issues", not wanting an awkward translation 'back and forth' around the discussion of "fever laden, explosive diarrhea".  In the picture above you can see the clams (about 1:00 on the table, under the multi-colored cake thing, they're raw) but there's also raw crab (probably buried under that plate of green stuff at 11:45), both of which I made the mistake of eating.  As well, all food is 'community eaten' (note the lack of serving utensils) so if any of the dozens of people I was eating with over the course of the days prior had a stomach bug, I was bound to get it myself (though Mrs. Sandwich didn't get ill).

As well, for some reason my eczema was extra upset on the trip and the doctor said "no seafood, no alcohol" (and no spicy food too, though there's none to be found expect for some weak sauce stuff at KFC).  This left me with being able to eat veggie plates, lamb (which seemed to pop up at every meal, in the pic I believe it is under the multi-colored cake opposite the clams) and pork (you may notice the pepper steak sitting on top of the lobster in the picture which is fitting since the lobster showed up more frequently than beef).

Q: A favorite story of Mrs. Sandmich is you being unable to go 24 hours in Japan without having an unquenchable spaghetti jonesing; anything like that this time?

A: Chinese food, at least where I stayed, has a lot more variety, it would seem, than Japanese food.  A few of the dishes tasted outright 'American' and the Chinese aren't afraid to use a wide variety of starches (noodles, rice (not as much as one might think) potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, etc) so it never felt like I was in a food rut.  As well, Mrs. Sandwich bought me some dehydrated peanut butter to bring along for my peanut butter fix (the Chinese frequently had some sort of boiled peanut out as snack, not bad, but not quite the same).  

I should also point out that I did a command performance and prepared pizza one night at the newly married couple's house (they own what may be the one range style oven on the island).  Mrs. Sandmich came by the last imported can of Hunts spaghetti sauce and between the Italian seasoning the I brought over, three packs of very expensive "mozzarella cheese food" (why didn't I get a picture of that?) I was able to make a couple of passable pizzas.

Q: What's it like to be in a police state?

A: It was interesting since crime is known to be low (not Japan low mind you though) but every night the cops would be out by the town square with their giant ass paddy wagon ( I not dare take a picture).  What are they afraid of that they have to be out like that, every night?  I explained the doors in another post where nearly every room in Chinese homes is a panic room, but as well around the development where the newly married couple lives is a high cement wall topped with broken glass.  All larger property developments have private security of some sort (even though and the building's multilayered defenses were often ignored).  I just got the impression that there was some security issue lurking not far below the surface that no one wished to discuss, but this may have just been some natural American paranoia.

Beyond that, I used IPVanish to work around the Great Firewall.  I felt my IQ drop by about five points without my Google access and was glad when I got it back.

Other than that the police state was more PIA than 'goonish', at least where I was.  It was more of a 'soft tyranny' that was indistinguishable from local tastes.  Why is there no foreign liquor?  Because the locals won't buy it, or because some guy in the PLA doesn't want competition for his disgusting rice liquor products?  For all the development, why are the rolling hills almost completely devoid of any kind of buildings of any sort?  Because people don't want to live there, or local government big-men are hoarding it?  Etc.
The undeveloped hills do keep the place looking good though; maybe that's why?
Q: Anything that you think will rank as a lasting memory?

A: With a mind like mine, it's hard to know if anything will stick.  What makes Japan interesting is that it's almost like a giant, Japanese theme park.  It seems that everyone in Japan, from the architects of skyscrapers to the guys who paint lines on the street are of the same mind and are designers where they want everything that they do to match up to each other.  It really is crazy how the whole place just flows.  China on the other hand is much more like America in that, whatever needed to be done at that point in time, was done according to the fancies of whoever was in charge.  Streets don't look the same between areas, buildings bear no symmetry, and stores do the best for themselves without regards for what their neighbor is doing.
This charming store could be almost anywhere.
 As well, the Chinese seem to be more laid back in their definition of 'fun'.  Sure there's movies, TV, and whatnot, but liquor seems to be an afterthought and it's often enough just to sit around with the family spending a couple hours eating a meal.

I have to say though that the one thing that will be hard to purge from my mind was being cold.  In preparation for our trip I had bought two sets (shirt and pants) of Climatesmart stuff.  I dare not buy more since I couldn't have imagined wearing them much since, heck, I live in Cleveland and haven't needed them!  I have to tell you that there was only one day when I didn't wear them (aggressive wash schedule obviously) because there was no heat anywhere even though the temperatures typically ranged between 45 and 55 (with occasional dips below freezing).  I can remember one occasion where I was sitting at my computer (inside mind you) and I had my Climatesmart attire on, a flannel shirt, a sweatshirt, and my light winter jacket and I was still cold, oh so cold!
The air-conditioning boys are happy because they will probably never see a day of service.
 But maybe it's because I'm a wuss?  China is a hard country full of hard people and perhaps I just can't compete.
The 'box spring' is, as Mrs. Sandwich said, "a skid".
 Hard beds, hard decisions, hard to read language, hard to eat food (at times, and I mean difficult, not distasteful), hard government, hard traffic, etc.  It's probably to be expected that a people that has seen (and continues to see) as much adversity as they have, that they probably don't care about silly things like heat when it's just as easy to dress warmly, or about any sort of kitchen gadget when a cleaver can open cans as well as fruit and meat.  Why bother with drinkable water when heating it up does the job?

I suppose that it may not be a bad thing for life to be more closely stripped to the essentials so that people can stay focused on what's really important.
The bride and ring bearer try a duet.
Q: Believe or not, some of us are not dudes and we actually care about the wedding part of the trip!

A: It's...different.  Being a guy it's hard to know what people would be interested in.  Although the marriage was not arranged, it still operated a lot as if it were.  The groom's family had to put up a substantial investment: buying the newlyweds a new home with all the fixuns', and other help to make sure that they get off to a good start.  In return the bride is formally a member of the grooms family.  Therefore, wedding ceremonies carry a bit a business air, but they're serious and they actually mean something and have weight.  The traditional ring exchange occurred at the grooms house and a few facets including paying respects to ancestors and the bride having to serve her new family.  The latter ceremony (pictured above) was (I believe) put on by Sally's family and was basically a redux of the earlier ceremony with a little bit of a western flair and a reception all rolled into one.  None of the ceremonies had an 'authoritarian' figure of any sort (i.e., a minister, etc.) and both involved a serious amount of food (of course).

The whole situation was a little bit odd since I and Mrs. Sandwich were considered part of the wedding party (a distinction we frequently noted was not required).  This allowed us to go to the ceremonies at the groom's parent's house (only Sally and her cousin came along since they were part of the wedding party as well, no one else from Sally's family was permitted to attend) as well as sitting at the main table for the ceremony at night.  Our hosts were crazy good to us and it really stretches the imagination to think of a way to repay their hospitality.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

China Post Four

Some more pictures perhaps...


I'd buy these for my nephews if there was school in the USA that they could take them to without getting kicked out.

Condo sitting beside a construction bog.  It seems like labor is thrown at any project if they can get by without a machine.  I'm sure at some point in time this will be prettied up (well, not that sure), but outside the complex they had a crew of men doing prep on the road to be blacktopped with brooms and dustpans.

View away from the front of a hospital where I saw a dermatologist, got a prescription, and was in and out in ten minutes, all for the wallet ruining cost of ~$35.  The whole experience left me even more disenchanted with the American medical system than I already was.

You pick it, they cook it.

Weddings are a big deal all over, from what I hear.  It's interesting that the spouse's family is noticeably less well off than Sally's family, but then so is most of the rest of the planet.  This 'modest' house would be a regular middle to upper middle class home in the U.S. and with hot water, indoor plumbing, flat screen TV, etc. I'd have to guess that they're well on the upper side of 'good' in China.

Monday, January 05, 2015

China Post Three

The condos/house (in China there is no term for "condo" apparently) buildings exhibit a beauty from afar in China, but then as you get closer you find the facade applied to the concrete form buildings doesn't hold up quite so well and that the locations lose some of their allure when there's laundry hanging out of every window (to be fair, even the most expensive palaces have laundry hanging out their window)*.  Sometimes though there's a real treat hanging out the window.

Here's a Google shot of a building close to the location where I'm staying:
This building is, so far as I can tell, the highest condo tower in the city; so naturally the very highest floors will be held by an exclusive elite with the rest of the building populated by their hangers-on.  Here's an exterior shot:

Cool, but it looks like there's something hanging out the window on one of those upper floors...

Sausages!

*I'd probably hang my laundry up too given that I had someplace to do it (and negating the fact that for large portions of the year I couldn't do it at all).  As well I noticed this same thing in England where people blithely leave their windows open and can hang sausages outside with impunity.  If I tried the same thing wildlife would have the sausages eaten in matter of hours (minutes if at night) while any gap in a screen means flys, hornets, and all manner of creepy crawlies in the house.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

China Post Two

Being a glutton for punishment, I'm going to give this another shot.  Let's skip right to the photos!  (Again, in no order):
A panorama taken at the Opium War memorial (may be a giant download if Google didn't downsize it).

Okay boy band dude, you've sold me on your spicey-rice-chicken-burger thing!

There are more American badged cars in China than in Colorado

A little history repurposing as Sally told me that this retro take on Mao uniforms are used to symbolize love between marriage partners.

There are condos being built all over the place.  I have no idea who is buying these things (they are not cheap dates), but the locals seem unconcerned so I guess it's all good for now.

Food in the round; there's always way more than can possibly be eaten by the number of people who can fit at the table. 
Marriage coasters

A pano from the window of the condo of the future bride and groom (again, probably huge).

China sports some serious doors.  Even interior doors feature real doors with steel frames, dead bolts, and mounted into concrete.

I was getting no buzz from the local beer and these cans finally had the alcohol content on them.  Sally's dad said that he would get me drunk yet, to which I replied that we were going to be there a long time if we're just drinking 3.1 beer.

A resort/mall/? edifice that's Tibetan themed

Chinese coastal development

The Hut

Scooters!

Strawberry farm

These strawberries don't look ripe, but they're actually done.  They're crazy sweeter than anything stateside (only the green ones tasted 'American').  I never knew how a peach tasted until Mrs. Sandwich got a line on fresh Georgian peaches, and I can now say that I know what a strawberry tastes like.

Migrant workers painting a condo

Array of solar powered water heaters on top of a condo development

Drying/curing meat outside of a restaurant.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

China Travels One

Well so much for live blogging since the Chinese government has done it's best to rob every bit of fun that they can out of the Internet.  I write this passage using a bit of light technical chicanery that allows me to remote on to my home computer.  Otherwise, Google, VPN sites, Twitter, and others are outright inaccessible while other huge swaths of the internet crawl since no one bothers to set up distributed caching servers on the other side of the Great Firewall.  It brings to mind the description that I read of this book where the author puts forward the idea that China will be perpetually bottled up in a no man's land between the third and first worlds due to their government.

Along those lines, one might be afraid of police in America since they're so citation happy, but Chinese police, oof, I don't care for those dudes eyeballing me at all.  It may be better for clueless natives, but I can feel those dudes sizing up my organs whenever I walk by them.  I should point out that one needn't come to the Far East for such a fun experience though!  Before getting on our flight bound for Toronto, (where the connector to our China flight was located), some U.S. stormtroopers stood in the terminal tunnel interrogating citizens as to how much money (specifically) they had on them.  These are the jackasses that shouldn't exist: State troopers who can take your cash for laughs under the guise of trying to stop drug money laundering (something which has obviously been a rousing success).

The flight?  Ah yes, fifteen hours in an aluminum tuna can.  Mrs. Sandmich expected the usual spartan airline experience and packed about ten pounds of food (I exaggerate of course, it was probably only 9.5 pounds).  Little did we know that Air Canada serves two and a half meals along with a rolling beverage service (I sucked down four beers without much thought before my bladder told me that I should probably hold off).  As usual I couldn't sleep, so I hit the ground ready to pretend whatever time it was supposed to be.  So let's make with some photos, presented in no particular order:

$100 water pots, a basic requirement due to water quality.  I remarked to Mrs. Sandwich that we go into our American appliance stores and find inexpensive Chinese appliances whereas in China they have crazy expensive Japanese appliances.  Anyone in the mood for a $200 electric rice pressure cooker, or perhaps a $700, 50 liter hot water tank?  I have the store you then.

A major intersection in town, note the lack of any traffic signs

Part of a typical, Chinese construction production.  I don't know enough about large scale production to know if their approach (which appears to be heavy with the use of wood staves) is good or bad.

Sally's dad's new house.  The construction is glass and concrete.  Even small houses are built this way so I guess cement is easier to come by than timber.

Older ladies exercising in the evening in the city's main square (it's a "town" by East Asian standards, but would be a major metropolis anywhere in America).

Santa is everywhere

A winterized scooter (some are electric jobbies that are completely silent)

The arrival area of the Shanghai airport.  Maybe I don't travel enough but I've never seen that many people waiting directly outside of an arrival gate.

In what at one point in time was probably a fishing village.  Every spare piece of dirt in this area had a vegetable of some sort growing in it and the gardens were quite impressive.

Well that's enough of that.  It took me all day to crank out this post over my painful faux vpn connection and I doubt that I'll have the patience to do more until I get back, sorry!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December Notes

Bengals

So they finally won a prime time game and, alas, my travels will prevent me from seeing the next two Bengals games.  Argh!  Perhaps though, the secret to the Bengals success will be me not watching them in their playoff appearance, though more likely their success will be related to how much they can get away with not having the inconsistent Andy Dalton throw the ball.  Yeah Marvin Lewis isn't as good as the NFL coaching elite and Dalton certainly isn't as good as even near-elite quarterbacks, but they sure go to the playoffs a lot.  A special thanks to Mike Brown for not pulling a Dan Snyder and firing everyone because the team didn't go 15 and 1.  That's a recipe for eventually going 1 and 15.  (If they manage to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night, something I that doubt will happen, the Bengals will have won four AFC North titles under Lewis, which is four more than the Browns over the same time frame, which is even more remarkable given how many Super Bowl wins his division opponents have racked up).

Chinese

Yeah the Chinese language is it's own special form of screwed up.  The grammar isn't automatically intuitive, but isn't bad (and is forgiving if it gets goofed), the vocabulary is limited since it lacks noun/verb conjugations (for the most part, certainly nothing like the screwball 'past pluperfect/action verb' combinations needed in Spanish for something like "I was going to the store yesterday because I was going to buy some meat for tomorrow, but then I changed my mind and decided that I would get it next week.").  However what it does have is tones which even those who know nothing of the language are passingly familiar with due to recurrent jokes ("You'll ask for water in China and get in trouble because you actually asked if their mom is a horse, haha!").

It's not so bad since (hopefully) since context should clue natives into the desired word, but the problem is that the sentence structure needs to be (mostly) correct so that the context can be properly ascertained.  There's a few examples (the derivations of 'ma' are rather notorious) however even something as simple as water (shuǐ), whom (shuí), and sleep (shuì) can get confusing, especially since (and this is really hard) one has to remember NOT to put the English tones on the word (for questions, etc.) since they're the same.  Oh well, not quite sure why I'm bothering since I'm sure I will forget it all shortly, except for the word for beer.

International Womanizing

Along those lines, it seems that every piece of language training software circles around the idea of the salaryman sitting in the bar ("Ask the woman if she would like a drink/Ask her where she would like to go to get a drink/Order two beers/etc.").  Really?  Does that crap work?  "Hey baby, I can barely speak your language, but let's forget about that and go get wasted at the hotel!".  I need the domesticated version with fun stuff like "I need to do laundry", "Please cook something that walks", and inevitably, "I have dysentery".  I guess that kind of thing won't sell too many volumes though.

Man Cave Game Review

I didn't play that many games of note this year.  I guess if I had to pick one winner out it would be Borderlands 2 since I sunk some serious time into that game (though it only really shined when I was playing online with people who aren't jerks, which can take some doin').  I'd like to speak for a moment about game called Bulletstorm, though.  In fact that Wikipedia article sums up the noise surounding the game when it was released some years ago:
[T]he game was targeted because of its profanity, crude behavior (examples of which including the game's skill-shot system, which has a move that rewards players for shooting at an enemy's genitals), and sexual innuendo. [Foul language as well].
When playing through the game the reason for such hatred became obvious: they hated it because it was a game unabashedly targeted towards men, heaven forbid!  I could describe the following scene that sums the game up nicely, but it's best to just check it out yourself, crank it up!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall Movie Time

John Wick

Keanu in the process of removing brains from Russian mobsters

Don't let the sandwich score fool you, this movie was an enjoyable romp and it's single fault was that it was just too easy to make: Keanu get's cheesed off, Keanu kills everything that moves.  Revenge crime movies like this used to be more prevalent back in the Death Wish/Dirty Harry days, but their current scarcity has made them all the more delicious (note in the picture this is the first time that I've seen the Kel-tec shotgun outside of an NRA mag; BTW, don't shoot a shotgun like that, you'll be deaf).



During the course of the movie there is a scene where someone is playing a shooter video game (spoiler: he dies) which I found interesting since the loose justification for the slaughter in the movie can only be compared to some video games where the protagonist's lack of caffeine or whatnot is used a justification for killing off enough combatants to field a respectable third world army.

Interstellar

True Astronaut 

This is a hard review since I knew within minutes that viewers of this movie would either love it or hate it. I will admit that I bring a lot of baggage to this movie in that I'm both a Christopher Nolan fan  and a sic-fi fan.  If you're a fan of neither then, well, you'll have to wait for the next Madea movie, loser.



My fear was that with the long runtime of this movie that this would be an overindulgent art flick.  This fear wasn't entirely misplaced since the Nolan's third Batman movie suffered from the fact that the director was given too wide of a berth in which to dock his epic comic book film.  Somehow, though, Interstellar doesn't waste any scenes and the length of the movie is hidden behind excellent movie making.  It may not be the most entertaining Nolan film (something that's given to personal preference), but be it dialog, soundtrack, character development, special effects, set design, story, editing, etc., this may be Nolan's strongest film to date, which is saying something considering his already impressive back catalog.


Of special note is that this is a big movie and probably only the largest, most outrageously expensive, home TVs would be able to do it any justice; if you're given to see it, try to check it out on the big screen.