Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chinese Censorship

During dinner with Sindy's extended family, I asked her if she knows about the Nobel Peace Prize. She said she did and even knew that Obama won it last year. I asked her if she knew who won this year. She did not, and was surprised when I told her a Chinese guy won the prize. She asked around the room and no one else knew except her cousin's husband. He works for Adobe and they get their Internet through a VPN connection via Japan so it's uncensored.

These were all college educated people living in the capital city of the 2nd largest economy in the world. From my conversations, it seems that they really don't understand multi-party democracy, (relatively) corruption-free capitalism, multiculturalism, and political dissension at all. Sad...

Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 Beijing Trip, Home

Yawn... I had to go to work today after arriving at LAX last night so I'm really tired. In addition, I scheduled a root canal for this morning so I was at the dentist office bright and early at 9am... or 1am Beijing time.

The rest of my Beijing trip was pretty uneventful after the ski trip. Here are some more photos:

Sindy had to go to a surgery Friday morning so I slept in again at the hotel. It didn't take too long so she came back to the hotel around 11:30am. For lunch, I decided that I would cook the spaghetti that we bought on Tuesday at her parents' apartment. Their kitchen was really small and they didn't have too many pots. Anyway, the pasta is cooking on the left, I had already heated the canned sauce (Hunt's spaghetti sauce with Italian sausage), and I'm heating up the garlic bread on the right. Originally, they could not find a can opener but her father eventually found a "Swiss" army knife which had a tool that opened cans very slowly. I think it turned out okay for canned sauce; I would have preferred to cook the sauce from scratch but that would have taken too long.

After lunch, Sindy went to get her hair styled at the salon downstairs. It was a really small place but it was packed with chairs and there were about 10 hairdressers (mostly guys) standing around. Her "regular" guy was off that day so some random guy was working on her hair. It took about 20 minutes to style with a brush and hairdryer, and he finished up with some gel and hairspray. Total cost: RMB15 or ~$2.25.

For dinner, we went to a Korean BBQ place with her extended family. I'd met everyone already the last time I was in Beijing. Before dinner, we checked out her cousin and his wife's new apartment. I think they bought it in 2008 for ~RMB750k and they said it was worth almost 2 million RMB now. It was a one bedroom apartment out by West 4th Ring Road.

As usual, they ordered too much food. I think for 9 people, the total bill was ~RMB600 or about $10/person. This was not including the bottle of wine and moutai (~RMB1000) that her uncle brought from home. I think everyone was full but they ordered a few bowls of cold noodles 냉면 and stone pot rice 돌솥비빔밥.

After dinner, we went to a KTV place in the same shopping mall. The place was really crowded so we were only able to get a small sized room. It got really warm since we packed all 9 of us in there (no additional girls). I think we sang for ~3 hours and left a bit after midnight. The lobby was still packed with people waiting for a room. Crazy.

The next day, we were planning to go to Tianjin by high-speed train. I was going to visit John and Jenn but they went to Japan for the week. However, since I didn't get back to the hotel until after 1am, we got up late and decided not to go. Instead, we took a trip to Ikea. I read an article in the LA Times about the Beijing Ikea before and had always wanted to see how it compares with the huge Ikea in Costa Mesa. It took us forever to find a parking spot so I was expecting the worst. This is the entry/lobby and the store was laid out the same way as all other Ikea stores I've been to.

It was crowded. There's probably 10x the amount of people compared to the Ikea stores in LA.

Swedish meatballs! I never had them here in the US so I don't know how they compare. We got 10 and only ate 9 of them.

Almost every seating/sleeping display was covered with people Here you see 5 people on one bed, with two people laying down. It's hard to visualize the furniture in your house with all the Chinese people in the way. I'm not sure why everyone was sitting around so much... are they tired? The LA Times article said people went to Ikea to escape the summer heat but this is wintertime and it was pretty cold outside.

The cafeteria was packed full of people. They were serving more than Swedish meatballs; there were some Chinese dishes and other Western food such as spaghetti(!) w/meat sauce and steaks. We just got some meatballs for a snack and had to wait for a table.

Lots of meatballs. They were just okay. Sindy also got some strange spicy cold noodles; I think she said it was a Chengdu dish. I don't think I've ever seen it all the times I was in Chengdu.

What she really wanted was the RMB3 hot dog, which was sold next to the checkout area. It was not too good (for me anyway). We also got some RMB1 soft serve cones. While walking around, she picked up some minor kitchen items. We had these in the large yellow Ikea shopping bag. Not knowing the checkout process, I put the bag on the conveyor belt. Typically in the US, the cashier would probably ask you nicely to take the items out and put the bag in a bin in front of the conveyor... perhaps he/she would even do it for you. However, this is China so you get Chinese customer service. The cashier basically threw the bag at me and rudely yelled at me to take the stuff out of the bag. WTF? Up until that point, I could have been at an Ikea in the US... except for the thousands of Chinese people in the store. Sindy also asked her politely if she could use her credit card to pay for the 3 items. This same cashier gave her an annoyed look and pointed at the card reader. Sheesh... if this was in the US, I think I easily could have her fired. If that person worked for me in any type of customer service role, I would have fired her.

For dinner, we went to a Sogo department store near my hotel. The original plan was to go to a steakhouse but we ended up at the food court. Like most food courts, you have to purchase a meal card and deposit some money. When you're done, you have to line up again to turn in the card and get a refund on any money that's left on the card... pain-in-the-ass. Not learning my lesson, I got a bowl of noodles with BBQ pork and it was just as bad as the bowl I got at Vancouver Airport. Very disappointed.

Sindy bought some cold noodles and a bowl of something. It was not that good either but better that my bowl of crappy noodles.

The next and last morning in Beijing, I was woken up by what sounded like war but turned out to be fireworks celebrating a wedding... twice. It was really really loud. I packed, went to Sindy's parents' apartment to pick up more stuff to bring back to the US, and had more homemade dumplings for lunch. Her dad made 100+ dumplings and wanted me to take some back to the US. Hmm, raw meat... yeah, that would be easy to bring across the border.

My flight was delayed about an hour when I checked in online. When I got to the airport, the display board didn't show the delay... panic! Turned out the display board was not updated. We ended up having some mechanical issues which delayed us for another hour at the gate. This was my flight: AC030 from PEK to YVR on a Boeing 767-300.

I ended up having ~30 minutes to connect to my YVR to LAX flight but I posted about that already. This was sunset at ~5pm as we were coming in to LAX.

At every other airport outside US, even at places like Chengdu and Sanya (Hainan Island), they have free luggage carts available. At LAX, you have to pay $4 (except for Bradley). I saw puzzled looks on foreign visitors' faces as they try to unsuccessfully grab a cart from the stack.

As I was waiting for my check luggage, this girl walked by wearing a pageant ribbon with "Marissa" written on the back, which I assumed was her name.

Intrigued, I tried to get a front shot from across the room at max zoom. The sash read "Miss South Col...something"... don't know if she was coming back from somewhere or attending a pageant in LA.

Leslie Nielsen

RIP - I found out that Leslie Nielsen died when I got back from China (it wasn't on the news there). He was in a few of my favorite movies (Airplane! and The Naked Gun) and also had the best movie quote ever:
I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.


Yup, OJ Simpson was in The Naked Gun. I wonder if he still receives royalties each time it's shown... and whether that money goes to the Goldman family.

No Mo' SGB

It appears that Star Golden Bell (Korean variety show) is no more. It has been replaced with something called Oh! My School. The first subtitled episode is on tonight on KBS World so I'll record it and see how it is... it's supposed to have a similar format and guests as Star Golden Bell.

Wealth Rationing

That's what these "scientists" are basically proposing...

Telegraph UK

Global warming is now such a serious threat to mankind that climate change experts are calling for Second World War-style rationing in rich countries to bring down carbon emissions.


In one paper Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while allowing the poor nations to continue to grow, is to halt economic growth in the rich world over the next twenty years.

This would mean a drastic change in lifestyles for many people in countries like Britain as everyone will have to buy less ‘carbon intensive’ goods and services such as long haul flights and fuel hungry cars.

Prof Anderson admitted it “would not be easy” to persuade people to reduce their consumption of goods.

He said politicians should consider a rationing system similar to the one introduced during the last “time of crisis” in the 1930s and 40s.

This could mean a limit on electricity so people are forced to turn the heating down, turn off the lights and replace old electrical goods like huge fridges with more efficient models. Food that has travelled from abroad may be limited and goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture.

What a bunch of hypocrites. How big was the "carbon footprint" for this Cancun boondoggle? I just increased the thermostat program in our house by ~4 degrees since my mom was complaining that it was too cold. Should I tell her to freeze because some guy who probably flew in on a private jet and staying in a 5-star resort in Cancun said we should?!

BTW, the 1930s and 40s were not a good time for Chinese people. No frigging way "climate change" is a crisis comparable to WWII.

Qantas A380s

BBC News
A Qantas A380 passenger jet has taken off in its first flight since one of the planes suffered an engine explosion earlier this month, officials said.

The A380 is travelling from Sydney to Singapore, and then London, three weeks after the Australian airline grounded its flights following the incident.

Qantas says the aircraft have undergone extensive work and are safe to fly.

I had a window seat on my flight from LAX to YVR last Saturday and we taxied right next to where Qantas parked their A380s. I didn't get a photo but I saw three grounded A380s with their engine covers removed. That's a lot of hardware depreciating on the ground.

Photo of A380 at LAX from August

Sunday, November 28, 2010

2010 Beijing Trip, Vancouver Again

Wow, US Dept of Homeland Security is a PITA. Transiting in Vancouver on the way to Beijing was really easy. All I had to do was go through Canadian customs and since I was not staying, they didn't really care. On the way back, I had to go through several checkpoints to get to my connecting flight to LAX. At least I'm "in" the US now and don't have to go through the Bradley arrival nightmare.

After landing, you hand all your documents to some guy who checks that you do have a transiting flight to the US. Then you have to go through security again. We just got off the plane and have not been outside the secured area. It's as if DHS doesn't believe that security is as good as TSA or something. After security, you wait in a room until someone calls you to look at a photo of you luggage. Once that happens, you then clear US Immigrations, then hand your blue form in to one more person. That's six people... I think this is probably part of Obama's economic stimulus plan.

Since I had to check in my bag, I only have my backpack with me. I now see how much crap people try to carry-on with them. While walking to my LAX flight, some guy from China (I saw his passport) cuts me off and nearly runs me over with his 4(!) pieces of carry-on luggage (roller, computer bag, and what looks like two trash bags). He seemed to be in a big hurry, asking everyone how far to his next gate/flight. At the security line, it took him forever to get all his crap onto the conveyor and even then, he still didn't remove his wallet and belt, and proceeds to set off the metal detector. Now he just showed up at the same gate as me... if his seat is near mine and he takes up all the tiny luggage space on the Embraer plane, I'm gonna be really pissed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Ugh, my TV has been tuned to CCTV-9 the entire morning; CCTV-9 is the English channel from China's state TV network. Right now there's a political talk show call Dialogue and the host is a total ass. The topic was supposed to be about perceptions of China internationally but he keeps harping about how the US is the cause of everything bad in the world. When his guests try to give a more balanced view, he cuts them off and then puts words in their mouths. He even blames the slow economic development in Africa on the global economic crisis "caused" by the US. It's just one loaded question after another to his guests.

Why? Who is the target of all this English CCP propaganda? CCTV (and Xinhua) are not really seen as trustworthy news sources both inside and outside of China. Surely no one in the Western world watches CCTV-9 for news analysis. Is it targeted towards foreigners inside China? Also, I'm bothered by the Chinglish accents of most anchors/reporters. I don't expect everyone in China to speak English well but if you want to run an English language TV station, at least get people who can pronounce words properly.

2010 Beijing Trip, Endovascular Grafts

Yesterday, I basically stayed in my hotel room the entire day. Sindy came by in the afternoon but immediately got a call about a surgery scheduled for this morning. For each surgery sponsored by her company (more on that later), she has to go back to work and pick up products. In this case, after talking to the surgeon, she decided to bring 4 stents to the OR this morning.

There were two stents in each plastic box; the boxes came up to about my chin. Sindy said they charge ~RMB100k per stent so we were carrying about US$60k of product with us around Beijing.

I went with her by taxi back to work last night ~7pm since it was her no-car day (based on license plate number) in Beijing. Traffic was pretty bad as usual on the 2nd Ring Road and it took us about 45 minutes to go ~10 miles. After picking up the package, we went back to her parents' house via subway. Her office (Huapu Garden building) is right next to Dongsishitiao (东四十条) subway station. The subway was pretty crowded as well since people were still getting off work but it was faster than going by car. I felt a bit weird carrying $60k of medical devices through the subway but Sindy said one time she carried a box with 20 stents or ~$300k of product. Good thing the boxes are printed in English so most people won't know what's inside.

Why are we carrying medical devices around Beijing at night? The medical system here works a lot different from the US. In this case, Sindy's company are sole sales reps for Cook Medical's (US company) endovascular grafts. When there's a surgery scheduled, the patient actually pays her company for the entire surgery. Her company then pays the OR surgeon who then pays the medical support staff and hospital for their services. Therefore, if the patient do not pay for the surgery for some reason, Sindy's company takes the hit. After paying the surgeon (officially and under-the-table), product cost to Cook, and other sales and marketing expenses, the owners make ~RMB10k per surgery.


Jovi, the Japanese fusion restaurant we ate at on Monday is very near Sindy's office. They have 2 Beijing locations currently and plan to open 13 more. Judging by the low number of diners when we were there, I'm not sure short skirts will draw enough business over the long run.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2010 Beijing Trip, Skiing

That's right, skiing in Beijing. We actually tried to go on a three day trip to Jilin, which is northeast of Beijing. There they have real mountains and ski resorts but it's too early in the season so we settled for indoor skiing. Sindy found discounted tickets (RMB168 per person including ski rentals) online so off we went.

The ski place is right outside of Beijing but still about an hour's drive away. Sindy didn't know how to get there so we took a bus. It was really windy and cold in the morning so we decided to drive to the bus terminal at Dongzhimen Station instead of taking the subway. This is the route map for bus line 915 express. The fare for the entire route was only RMB10 but since we had a transit card (I bought one a few years ago), it was only RMB4.

Bus 915 runs quite often and wasn't too full. Sindy says it fills up on Friday as all the workers from the surrounding rural area goes home for the weekend.

We had to transfer to a minibus somewhere on the outskirts of Beijing (beyond the 6th Ring Road) to get to the ski area. We told the ticket girl which stop we wanted to go and she deducted the amount from our transit card using a hand scanner.

The bus let us off at a stop near the ski resort; not sure why they didn't let us off at the front door since there was nothing else around. We had to walk ~10 minutes to get there... good thing we weren't carrying skis. You can see the two "runs" at the back of the building. I read somewhere that the longer slope is 260m long and the bunny slope is only 150m.

When we got there, there were only ~10 cars in the parking lot. Once you check in and pay, they give you a badge encoded with your payment information. The first station you come to is for lockers. You can change into your ski clothes (available for rent), put your shoes in the locker, and put on a pair of slippers. Next is ski boot rental, followed by ski rental. I had to check my running shoes to get the right size; they use European sizes in China (my US size 12 = EUR 45.5). I was a bit worried when they just gave us our skis with asking all the questions I'm used to hear (height, weight, ability) so they can adjust the bindings. They also gave me really short skis; I guess they don't want people to go too fast since the runs are so short.

They tried to mimic the look and feel of an Alpine ski lodge, I guess.

Looking up the larger slope. They didn't have real chair lifts but something equivalent to a t-bar lift. I have never used one of these before so it took a few tries before I figured out what to do. The downside is that you don't get to sit and after awhile, your legs get really sore from standing while being pulled uphill.

The top section of the longer run is slightly steeper than the bottom but still not too bad. Probably rates a low blue square in difficulty. The snow was hard packed since it's man made (obviously). The one problem with being indoors was the lighting was uneven; it was hard to tell if there were bumps or ice in the darker sections. On my second run down, I wiped out and smacked the back of my head pretty hard. My neck is all sore now... this is probably what it feels like to get whiplash in a car accident.

Sindy has been skiing a few times but never took lessons. I tried teaching her in Chinese but wasn't making much progress. We decided to get her a real instructor; they only charged RMB150 per hour. At the end of the hour, she was snowplowing well down the bunny slope.

Bunny slope. Instead of the "t-bar" type lift, there was a conveyor belt lift that brought you up slowly.

Basket where you deposit your slippers after putting on your ski boots. We left ~3pm (our whole day ticket was good until 6pm) and the place was more crowded. When we got there at 11am, there were only <10 pairs of slippers in the basket.

After skiing for ~3 hours, we had to walk back to the bus station, wait for the small minibus, which was packed with people, then transfer to line 915 back to Dongzhimen. There was a lot of traffic so we didn't get to Sindy's car until 5pm. Even then, it took her another hour to drive to my hotel and drop me off. I was so tired from skiing, the bump on the head, and jet lag that I crashed (after a shower) for 3 hours. She then came back to pick me up for dinner at her parents' house. I feel bad since I wasn't too hungry and her parents waited until 9:30pm for us to eat.

View Larger Map


It's now about 4pm on Thursday afternoon. Sindy had to go to work this morning so I've been in the hotel room blogging. I finally went down to breakfast at the hotel and the food was lame... even worse than Jinghu hotel in Chengdu. And what's the deal with warm OJ?!

2010 Beijing Trip, Thursday

Happy Thanksgiving! It's Thursday morning in Beijing and everything useful on the Internet is still blocked by the GFW of China. I finally got out my SecurID dongle and logged into the company VPN so I can check Facebook and post some blog entries.

I arrived in Bejing on Sunday afternoon after a 12 hour flight from Vancouver. Air Canada uses a Boeing 767 on it's YVR-PEK route and the plane is much smaller than other Transpacific flights I've taken in the past. The seating arrangement in economy is 2-3-2 vs. 3-4-3 in 747's and 777's. The flight wasn't too full and I managed to get the inside three seats on row 24 by myself. Even then, it was hard for me to sleep and I ended up watching several movies (finally saw Inception and some Japanese samurai movie). The in-flight food was awful too... much worse than what you get on Cathay Pacific.

Air Canada has a pretty cool touch screen entertainment system. One hour down, 11 more to go.

Mood lighting. Business class was lit with reddish lighting.

My friend in Beijing, Sindy, picked me up from the airport and promptly got lost on the Airport Expressway. She drives okay but likes to stop in the middle of the road to read signs or call friends for directions when she is lost. It's a bit disconcerting when she stops in the right lane (not shoulder) of a 3-lane highway and pulls out her cell phone. Anyway, we managed to find our way to her parents' house to have dinner. The entire time, their TV was tuned to CCTV-5, which is the national sports channel, and it was non-stop Asian Games coverage. As expected, the games are dominated by China, South Korea, and Japan, with China taking the most medals. After dinner, she drove me to my hotel, which is only a few blocks away, and I checked in.

View outside my hotel room (8th floor of Rishengchang Hotel, looking west)

Hotel room. I found the hotel online and reserved it through Ctrip.com. This is the "business" class room which is ~45 m2 vs. the cheapest room at ~25 m2. After fees and stuff, the room costs RMB450 per night. I think if I just walked in from the street, it would have been ~RMB100 more.

A lot of hotel have a big glass window between the bathroom and the bedroom. Not sure why... maybe it's so you can keep an eye on unfamiliar female visitors.

The next day (Monday), I went back to Sindy's parents' house for lunch. This time, her father made some beef pastries and we also had some porridge. Sindy had some coupons for cheap movie tickets and we went to see Harry Potter 7. Thankfully, it was in English with Chinese subtitles so I could (mostly) follow what was happening. The reviews haven't been all that good and I could see why. The entire movie felt like a setup for the next movie even though this was the last book in the series. I don't remember the story in the book being all that confusing. For dinner, Sindy brought me to a place called Jovi, which was a Japanese restaurant. The menu prices were pretty high but they had a RMB138 all-you-can-eat special. Basically you can order whatever you want on the menu for few hours. The food was just so-so but the restaurant is supposedly know for short skirts. All the female waitresses had the same uniform which had short flared skirts and they all wore thigh high black stockings. This was so-so too...

Dinner at Jovi. The decor was pretty modern but so were the prices. RMB138 is ~$20. I didn't get any pictures of the waitresses.

Sindy was ordering a lot of items but she said that everything was really small. We ended up getting too much stuff and left several items uneaten when we left.

Since my Tianjin friend (John Chen) and his family went to Japan this week, I really don't have anything planned in Beijing. Without anything to do, Sindy and I went to a new shopping mall next to her parents' apartment. They said it was opened a few months ago but there were still a lot of unopened stores. It had six floors of shops and restaurants along with a multiplex movie theater. We walked around for an hour and the only thing I bought was a ping pong paddle. Since it was right next to a Carrefour, we did some snacks shopping for Wednesday's ski(!) trip. Carrefour is a French market chain, similar to Wal-Mart in China. I was still pretty tired jet lag so I went back to the hotel right after dinner (we ate in the shopping mall).

Papa John's pizza. I was surprised to see it in a new mall in Beijing since they're not that common in the US. I haven't tried pizza in China yet.

Storefront with lots of inflatable pools for babies to swim. Most people don't have bathtubs in their apartment. Sindy's parents have a showlet (toilet + shower in one).

It was ~3pm when we got there and the place was pretty deserted. The one store I wanted to visit (electronics) was still closed. There was a large H&M clothing store on the first floor. I've never heard of the brand until I found out my cousin works for them in Beijing.

Kobe fan

All the escalators were placed randomly around a central opening that spans the entire six floors. It takes forever to go up and down though.

Subways. There were lots of these too. Still no In-N-Out anywhere to be found yet...

We sat in a coffee shop for awhile. Around 5pm, a lot of the restaurants had employee pep talks outside. I've never worked in a restaurant... do they do this in the US too?

We ate dinner in a Chinese "fast food" place: kung pao chicken bowl and mapo tofu bowl. It was not too good and I didn't have any appetite in the first place.

This post is getting too long... I'll put pictures from the "ski trip" on the next post.