Confucius says…Read These Blogs

Posted in Travel Log (Asia) at 8:16 pm by Benjamin Ross

Hello everyone.  I’m coming at you now from Qufu, a small, remote town in Southern Shandong.  Qifu would be nothing more than another spot on the provincial map if it weren’t for its most famous former resident, Master Kung, better known as Confucius.  So far I am enjoying my travels in Shandong, but until I have access to a computer with Photoshop, an SD card reader, and a keyboard where the shift keys don’t stick to my fingers, I’m going to keep this update short and non-pictoral.

Here are some highlights and impresions of my two days in Shandong so far.  I plan to elaborate on these (plus add pics) as soon as I get back to Beijing.

-动车组 trains are a godsend.  Beijing to Jinan took less than three hours. 

-Jinan is your typical run-of-the-mill, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary, boring, polluted, Northern Chinese capital city…I absolutely love it!  After two months in Beijing, with an Olympiad in the middle, I desperately needed a return to Chinese reality.

-Furong Jie, located in the old section of Jinan, is now has my vote for my all-time favorite Chinese snack street.

-Shandong has some of the most unique alternatives to rice and noodles I have ever encountered in the Middle Kingdom.  Today, I ate my 辣椒炒肉丝 (pork with spicy green peppers) wrapped in a bona fide flour tortilla!

-The Confucious Mansion wasn’t one of the more extraordinary tourist attractions I’ve seen in China.  However, the two hours I spent roaming around the Confucius Forest were some of the most surreal I have ever experienced in China.  Also, I have never seen so many living trees in one place in China as there were in Confucius’ old stomping grouds.  This alone, makes it worth a visit.

Until I get the chance to write up more comprehensive updates from this trip, I want to encourage you to have a look at the blogs of some other individuals whom I have had the chance to meet in Beijing this past week.

William Moss (aka Image Thief) has been living in Asia now for over ten years.  He currently does PR in Beijing and his blog tracks public relations, communications, and interesting times in China.

Fiona Lee doesn’t like Beijing, and she’s not afraid to tell this to people.  She tries to find the gently off-beat in a decidedly uncute city through her blog quirkyBeijing.

Some of you know probably know Chris Waugh (chriswaugh_bj) from the commentary he leaves on this blog.  Chris keeps his own blog of ramblings from an expat Kiwi living in one small corner of Beijing on Bezdomny Ex patria. Chris and I first became acquainted through a old friend of mine from Fuzhou, and fellow blogger as well, Matt Schiavenza.

Kaiser Kuo has been well-known personality in Beijing back since the days when Liu Xiang was wearing split-bottom pants.   I only had the pleasure of meeting him last week.  Kaiser is a founding member of one of China’s most influential rock/metal bands Tang Dynasty, and a current member of one of my now-favorite Chinese bands Chun Qiu.  He is currently the director of digital strategy for Ogilvy Beijing and writes about the Chinese Internet, Web 2.0, and currently, their application to the Olympic Games.  Be sure to check out his blog as well as his band.

Currently, my favorite China blog is written by Michael Manning.  What I like about Opposite End of China (in addition to Michael’s writing ability and photography), is that it focuses on one of the more under-reported areas in China, Xinjiang.  Michael now lives in Beijing, but has blog still has been keeping an eye on Xinjiang and China’s ethnic minorities.       

My next stop in Shandong is going to be in Qingdao, where I am going to meet with Steve Dickinson, who along with Dan Harris, writes another one of my all-time favorite China blogs.  Don’t let the name China Law Blog deter you.  I don’t have much interest in law either, but this blog always provides insightful and witty views on a wide range of tipics from two guys who both know their stuff. 

Stay tuned.  More updates on the way from the land of tortillas and Confucius.    




Olympic Wrap-up and Post 8/08 China

Posted in Olympics, Sino-US, Relations and Comparisons, Society at 12:31 pm by Benjamin Ross

Over the past three days, a cool has descended on the Chinese capital. In the span of just over two weeks, the Beijing Olympics have transformed from the most hotly anticipated event in the history of the People’s Republic of China, to the annals of modern Chinese history. Around Beijing, the hangover from the Olympics can still be felt. Olympic signage still dangles from bridges, buildings, storefronts and volunteers in blue shirts are still milling around on street corners, and the occasional wide-eyed foreigners with their credentials dangling from their necks are still walking around Wangfujing like they just landed on the moon. For locals however, it’s back to business as usual. The anticipation, the excitement, the vigor of the masses has all waxed and waned, as 12 million people recuperate from their 16 day party and settle back into their routines.

Even though Beijing appears to be returning to a semblance of normalcy, the rippling effects of the Olympics will be felt for generations. For my parents and their contemporaries, they all remember exactly where they were the moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon. Regardless of any practical effect it would have on Americans’ daily lives, the metaphorical significance of the first moon walk was immense. It presented Americans with reason to be proud to be American, and to be proud to be human. More importantly it catapulted us to a new age, where a feat previously reserved for science fiction novels had now become reality.

The PRC did not even begin competing in the Olympics until 1984. To ascend from those depths to become both the host nation, as well as the gold medal tally leader, is a deep source of pride and accomplishment for the entire Chinese nation. 50 years from now, Chinese retirees will all remember their exact location when Li Ning ran through the sky in the Bird’s Nest. For China, this moment, and the 16 days which followed it will shape the way the nation views itself for years to come. It was during the summer of 2008 that China realized dreams which only thirty years ago would have been unthinkable. The memories are not going to fade. What will gradually fade are the memories of pre-Olympic China.

What we just experienced in Beijing was no mere sporting event. It was bigger than that. China may not have sent a man to the moon, but the symbolic implications are there. The way in which 1.5 billion Chinese view their country and themselves will never be the same. For the Middle Kingdom, this is the beginning of a new era. Welcome to Post 8/08 China.

For me, my current China journey is about to wrap up as well. I am heading off to Shandong this afternoon for some exploring and independent travel. I should be back in Beijing by early next week, and will remain here until Sept 9, when I head off to Japan for a 4 day layover. On the 14th, I fly back to Chicago where it’s back to Italian Beef sandwiches and job hunting. At this point, it is uncertain when I will be back in the Middle Kingdom. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to be in Beijing during these historic times, and am eagerly anticipating what this new era will bring. With that, I want to officially wrap-up my coverage of the Beijing Olympics. It’s been a wild ride, but it’s time to move on. Post 8/08 China is now embarking on new territory and will never be the same as it was during pre-Olympic times. Expect some posts from the Shandong in the days to come.



Closing Ceremonies – Observations and Knee-Jerk Reactions

Posted in Olympics at 9:39 am by Benjamin Ross

Like several billion other people in the world, I watched the Olympic Closing Ceremonies last night. Overall, I was extremely impressed by the show, just as I have been with all of the events of the past 16 days. Many of my notions about China and its dearth of creativity were seriously challenged by what I experienced on CCTV last night. That aside, here are some observations and knee-jerk reactions I scribbled down while watching the festivities.

Jacques Rogge’s speech could have been written by a class of fifth graders…”Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world.”…Wow, that’s deep.

Would it ki11 Hu Jlntao to crack a smile…just once?

Jiang Zemln looks old.

Were those dancers really wearing bike helmets? And where can I get one of those bikes with the rotating neon light wheels? That would actually be quite practical for riding around Beijing at night.

Did anybody else notice Liu Qi almost began a sentence with 同志们 (comrades) before catching himself mid-breath and saying 朋友们 (friends)?

Which tent was Jackie Chan volunteering at? I could have used him when I was trying to find an emergency helicopter equipped with parachutes, jump out, land in a moving taxi on 4th Ring Road, and roll out of it while passing the Wukesong exit en route to the baseball stadium. Instead, I just had to take the subway.

All of the flash photography is probably unnecessary at night with the entire Bird’s Nest all lit up (unless of course everybody is taking snapshots of their friends)…but it sure did make the stadium look cool.

Is it just me or does London seem like a pretty blah place to have the next Olympics?

Did David Beckham really need to travel halfway across the globe to kick a soccer ball into a crowd of dancers?

As much of a Led Zeppelin fan as I am, “Whole Lotta Love” seemed a little out of place, but at least they weren’t singing “London, London, I love London.”

That’s all I got for now.



Picture of the Day: Blue Skies Over Beijing

Posted in Beijing, Olympics at 4:53 pm by Benjamin Ross

beijing olympics wukesong baseball field

You couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions for a Saturday afternoon baseball game at Wukesong.



Inside the Nest

Posted in Olympics at 4:52 pm by Benjamin Ross

After two weeks of Olympics, I finally made it inside the Bird’s Nest on Friday. The Men’s Decathlon was admittedly pretty boring, but it was well worth the 200 RMB ticket just to see the inside of the Bird’s Nest and Olympic Park. There isn’t much more I can say other than that the stadium is absolutely phenomenal! I’ll let my pictures do the rest of the talking.

Beijing Bird's Nest
bird's nest up close
Beijing National stadium concourse
Beijing National Stadium
inside the bird's nest
Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch
China Olympic Track and Field
discus bird's nest
bird's nest seats
Beijing National Stadium roof



Picture of the Day: Olympic No-Smoking Propaganda

Posted in Health and Medicine, Olympics, Society, Translations at 4:11 pm by Benjamin Ross

I saw this advertisement at the bus stop outside my apartment this morning.

Chinese No Smoking Advertisement

It reads:

Establish a non-smoking environment. Controlling smoking begins with me (you).

There are so many messages wrapped up into this advertisement it is difficult to know where to begin. Here’s what I see.

-You will be healthy if you don’t smoke.

-You will be happy if you don’t smoke.

-There is an inherent connection between quitting smoking and helping the environment.

-There is an inherent connection between the environment and the Olympics.

-A proper Chinese family should have only one kid.

-Having a girl child can make a family just as happy as having a boy.

The Chinese word for “propaganda” is 宣传 (xuan1 chuan2). However, unlike the English word, the Chinese term does not necessarily come with a negative connotation. 宣传 is more like a public service announcement, messages for the greater good of the masses. But like “propaganda,” 宣传 often specifically tells the reader what action he should take or how he should think, rather than just stating the facts.

A picture may be worth 1000 words, but a carefully procured picture, along with a working knowledge of Photoshop and an explicit slogan, is usually worth a whole lot more.



More thoughts on the Olympics

Posted in Beijing, Olympics at 8:12 am by Benjamin Ross

The Olympics are almost over, and Beijing is on the brink of resuming to normalcy. Here are some more random thoughts and observations about the Games as we count down to the end.

Thumbs up to Olympic Organizers for making sure concession prices were so cheap even migrant workers could afford them.

Thumbs down to the people who were in charge of buying all the concessions. Apparently they didn’t think anybody would actually need a meal during the games. I have been subsisting on sausages, yoghurt, and dry instant noodles for the past week and a half.

Beijing Olympics 2008 volunteers
So far the Olympic volunteers have been great, as long as you don’t ask them any non-Olympic questions such as where the nearest restaurant is.

Thumbs up to the hordes of volunteers, mostly college students and senior citizens, who have donated their time and labor to the Olympic Games.

Thumbs down to whoever was in charge of training the volunteers for not requiring them to take a quick walk around the block where they are stationed to get familiar with their surroundings.

Thumbs up to Liu Xiang for giving his all in an attempt to overcome injury…not to mention the pressure of 1.5 billion rabid fans.

Thumbs down to those who have suddenly lost interest in Track and Field because Liu Xiang is no longer competing.

Thumbs up to the foreign beach volleyball live announcer who has been calling all matches in both English and Chinese, and with excellent inflection in both languages.

(Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything negative to say about this guy)

Thumbs up to the Beijing weather for raining for 2 days straight, clearing up most of the pollution, and leading the way for pristine blue skies for another 3 days.

Thumbs down to the Beijing weather for raining 2 days straight.

Thumbs up to the Beijing 2008 web designers for putting all event and venue information on a neatly organized website.

Thumbs down to the Beijing 2008 web designers for making their e-maps (like most made-in-China websites) incompatible with Mozilla Firefox.

Thumbs up to Beijing cab drivers for making an effort to learn some English, even if it isn’t of much practical use.

Thumbs down to whoever chose those yellow uniforms that cabbies are now required to wear.

Thumbs up to CCTV for providing round the clock Olympic coverage on multiple channels.

Thumbs down to the CCTV basketball announcers for not even pretending to be unbiased. Is it really necessary to cry “aiiiii you” after every single basket scored by the team opposing China?

Thumbs up for the music director at the basketball arena for playing Kurtis Blow’s 1984 hit “basketball” as part of the halftime program.

Thumbs down to the music director at the basketball arena for playing the organ version of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” at virtually every time out.

Thumbs up to the USA basketball program for making us look like we are once again taking international basketball seriously. (I am rescinding my previous prediction they had only a 50/50 shot at the gold.)

Thumbs down to the USA cycling program for making us all look like asses.



Cheap Olympic Tickets and the Running of the Yellow Bulls

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Olympics at 1:40 am by Benjamin Ross

I just returned from the semi-final soccer match between Argentina and Brazil at Worker’s Stadium. With two of football’s traditional powerhouses meeting, and a shot at the gold at stake, this has been one of the most sought after tickets of the Olympics. The match began at 9 pm, and when I showed up at Dongsishitiao Station (the nearest subway stop the stadium) at 7:30 I still had no ticket. Along the walk from the subway to the stadium, tickets were in abundance…however they were all going for sums in the quadruple digits. I arrived at the stadium at 8 to the same scene, hordes of anxious fans, many without tickets, and eagerly buying them from scalpers for as much as 1500 RMB a piece (face value was between 100 and 400).

At first glance, the situation looked grim. I had only brought around 200 RMB, and really couldn’t afford to pay much more than that anyway. But by 8:20, I had a ticket in hand. It was a “B” ticket, along the side of the field, only three rows back, the same section as Kobe Bryant. The face price was three hundred RMB. A friendly New Zealander whose friend decided not to show, had agreed to take my two bills for it.

The funny reality of the Beijing Olympics is that while tickets are officially sold out, and scalpers are selling them at upwards of ten times their listed price, face value tickets are not difficult to obtain All you need is a little bit of patience, and some flexibility.

When I arrived back to Beijing on August 6, I had no tickets at all. Thus far, I have been to matches every single day and have already seen boxing, judo, hand ball, water polo, basketball, beach volleyball (twice), baseball (twice), and soccer (twice). I have yet to pay more than face value for a single ticket.

So, how exactly does one get tickets to the “sold out” Olympics? The answer requires a basic understanding of the economics of second hand ticket sales.

The Beijing Olympics is an event which has been circled on the calendars of millions of Chinese people for the past 8 years, not to mention all the foreign guests who have flocked to the capital city as well. This is the biggest event that’s happened in Beijing since Mao Zedong stood on T1ananm3n Gate on October 1, 1949 to proclaim the founding of the PRC. The demand for tickets is enormous.

At the same time, the games are being held at 31 different venues, for a span of 16 days. Literally, millions of tickets are in circulation. While the demand for Olympic tickets has reached epic proportions, so too has the supply. In short, there is no dearth of extra tickets for most events.

Yellow bulls stick out like sore thumbs. Just look for guys who look like this.

Where then do all the excess tickets go? Extra Olympic tickets are sold by two distinct groups of people. The first group consists of what the Chinese refer to as “yellow bulls.” (黄牛 huang2 niu2) The yellow bulls are easy to pick out of the crowd. They have crew cuts and wear long pants and collared shirts. Most are from the bullish 40-year-old male Chinese know-it-all demographic. They carry man purses, and have tickets budging out of their pockets. You can spot them standing around the gates of venues smoking cigarettes and talking on their cell phones. Somehow they have tickets to every event, and they sell them at prices only Kobe could afford.

The second group of ticket sellers consists of those individuals who have extra tickets, and simply want to dump them off without any desire to turn a profit. Possibly their buddy got sick. Maybe their team was already eliminated. Or maybe they really just don’t give a damn about water polo. Whatever the reason, they have extra tickets, and are more than willing to sell them off for face value.

In reality, the latter group probably far outnumbers the former. The problem however, is that most of the extra tickets from the second group are scooped up by the yellow bulls, who then turn around to resell them at the inflated rates. The key to buying face value Olympic tickets is to get to them before the yellow bulls have a chance.

Here’s how to do it.

-Pick an event and show up at the venue an hour early.

-Arrive at the event knowing you may be walking around aimlessly for the next hour or two scavenging for a ticket. Patience is a must.

-Be aware that there is probably a 15% chance you will not get in to the event at all. This chance goes up exponentially if the event happens to have an athlete named Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Michael Phelps, or Liu Xiang who will be competing that day.

-Find an area near one of the gates where spectators who have just arrived are walking in.

-If you see more than one yellow bull in the vicinity, find a new location.

-Know the price of a face value ticket, and have the money (exact change) in hand ready to pay. On one instance, I had made a deal for face value water polo tickets for a friend and me. As I was fishing the money out of my wallet, a yellow bull swooped in and outbid me for the tickets.

-Approach people heading towards the venue, and politely ask them if they have an extra ticket to sell. It doesn’t hurt to emphasize the fact that you actually want to see the event, and aren’t just going to turn around and re-sell it. Several of the tickets I have bought have been from people who specifically did not want their tickets to get into the hands of yellow bulls.

-If the event has already started and you still don’t have a ticket, don’t panic. The people with extra tickets are in an even bigger pickle than you are. This is prime time for people to be dumping off cheap extras. From the minute the competition starts, the value of tickets drops rapidly.

-This entire process is much, much easier if you are willing to go to events alone as opposed to in pairs or groups. Olympic tickets were originally sold in pairs, but finding someone with two extras is considerably more difficult than finding a single. Finding three or more tickets seated together is virtually impossible. For some more low-demand events (i.e. baseball and beach volleyball) you can usually sit wherever you want once you enter the stadium. These are good events to go to if you want to go in a group.

Using this process, I have been able to get into most Olympic events with little trouble. So far I have purchased 11 tickets for 810 RMB (just over $100 USD). That’s less than the price most yellow bulls were charging for a single ticket to tonight’s soccer match. The longest amount of time I have waited for a ticket has been two hours, and the shortest has been only five minutes. A lot relies on luck, and the longer you are willing to spend looking for a ticket, the higher your chances are of encountering one.

Up until now, the only event which for which I have been unable to secure a ticket using this method has been Chinese women’s volleyball. I also haven’t even tried for US men’s basketball. Athletics, gymnastics, and ping pong (basically anything the Chinese are really into) are tough as well. Everything else though should be smooth sailing. Try it out, and have fun at the games.



Georgia on My Mind

Posted in Olympics at 8:14 am by Benjamin Ross

Georgia Olympic beach volleyball team
Geor (right) and Gia embrace after defeating Holland to advance to the semi-finals

With its Michael Phelpses and Kobe Bryants and Yao Mings, the Beijing Olympics have been as star-studded as everybody anticipated. But between all the big names, there are other talented athletes, whose accomplishments are equally as impressive, but remain anonymous to most of the world.

With this in mind, I want to give a shout out to my favorite Olympians thus far, the Georgian men’s beach volleyball team. Faced with the distraction of their country being at war, these two athletes (who according to official scoring are surnamed “Geor” and “Gia”) defeated Holland yesterday to advance to the semi-finals. It was the second day I had seen them in action, and in each match they entertained the crowd with both their skills in volleyball and their charisma on the court. As soon as the final point hit the sand, Gia jumped a barricade, ran through the crowd high-fiving fans, and ascended to the top the stadium. With his right hand, he pointed directly up to the Georgian flag, rocking his fist and then banging his chest. The entire crowd, only a small handful of whom were from Georgia, roared in applause. This is what the Olympics are all about.

Update: Thanks to information supplied by several readers (and confirmed through my own Internet research) I have become aware that Geor and Gia are actually Brazilians who obtained Georgian citizenship just before the Olympics. This doesn’t take away from their volleyball ability (nor from Gia’s flashy hairstyle), but it sure does diminish the sentimental aspect of their run. So much for my feel good story of this Olympics.



Picture of the Day: Chairman Shaq

Posted in Olympics, Pop Culture, Society at 6:42 pm by Benjamin Ross

There was a long period in Chinese history where most 50 foot statues were constructed in the image of one particular individual.

Chinese statue of Shaquille Oneal

Nope, that’s not the Great He1msman, but rather the Great Diesel, greeting beach volleyball fans to Chaoyang Park.

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