Sunday, May 28, 2006

Chinglish Choice

I get it, leave valuables in the hotel safe or they could get stolen.  Or, “be ready for lose”. 

Every blog on China seems to have some obligatory Chinglish and it would be bad ju-ju for me to upset this tradition. As for just what Chinglish is check out Wikipedia's extensive entry Many humerous examples here: There's no need to hunt down Chinglish in China, it's everywhere so it finds you. It's usually well meaning on the part of the writer and I still wonder why the Chinese think it's necessary to have English (or their own unique interpretation of it) everywhere. I'm glad that they do it, it means that I can read street signs and figure out where I'm going on the metro and get just a little bit less lost.

Behold! Maybe this is the origin of the phrase "Chinese Fire Drill". I found this on the inside of the door of my room at the Jin He Hotel in Chengdu.

Like most Chinglish the true meaning can be grasped after some thought. I found this one outside of a monorail station in Chongqing. It shows 3 businesses that have done well in the shopping center by the monorail. So "Tertiary Is Happy" probably means that good things come in threes. Or not.

Just a misspelling, I hope.

From Beijing: I have no clue of what they were trying to tell me. Change for parking? Since only a complete stark staring suicidal lunatic would attempt to drive in any Chinese city I didn't have to concern myself with whatever this is.

This one's from Hong Kong. English is one of Hong Kong's official languages so they ought to know better, unless I'm not up on my art and fashion and there is something called a digital perm.

Check this guy out, I shot this billboard in Chengdu. The text says, "The strongest potential makes the Chinese arrogant Men's clothing brand". Change the word arrogant to confident and it suddenly makes more sense.

This is from Dandong on the North Korean border. I found it outside a men's room. It means more than just keep the place clean.

The message is helpful, noble yet strangely phrased.

Why go to China?

Why not? Friends and coworkers keep telling me that I'm brave to go to China, especially on my own. I don't feel any great sense of bravery, I go for the adventure and adventure is wherever I find it. Is language a problem? Chinese is a tough language and at my age I realize that I'll never write the great Chinese novel and I'll never master Putongua. But as an English speaker I encounter more English in China than I ever saw in France and more than I've seen in some American cities.

Worried about getting lost? Don't. You'll be able to read most street signs, subway stops and even some billboard advertising thanks to pinyin. That's the Chinese system of Romanization of written Chinese characters.

Food: Don't let the lack of chopstick training hold you back, get hungry and go to your nearest Chinese restaurant to work out with the sticks. While everyone outside of the showcase Chinese cities will most likely notice that you're a foreigner (and maybe even point and tell their friends) it's the rare restaurant in China that will automatically offer you a fork. I stayed out of hole in the wall restaurants due to health concerns and the realization that I could never communicate with the staff. I was always nervous about appearing ignorant but usually the staff would try to meet me halfway. English is taught in most Chinese schools and there is usually someone around who can show off what little English they remember.

Expect cultural food differences though. When I told someone at dinner that I didn't eat beef but that chicken was OK she summoned the waitress and ordered something in Chinese. What arrived is in the picture on the right. No, that's not chocolate. It's chicken blood.

Water: The water supply in China is not up to snuff when compared to the water supply in North America. One waterborne pathogen that takes root could result in several days of wasted vacation at the very least so why risk it? Bottled water in the US is marketed and priced as a fashion accessory but in China it's available everywhere and it's cheap too. 500 ml of pure water for the People can be had for 1¥, sometimes less. That's about .12 US. Even the fleabag hotels that I complained about usually spotted me a bottle or 2 of purified water daily.

The Cybercafe

Back when communists ruled parts of Asia and central and eastern Europe shortages of everything was their trademark. In Chengdu my communist era hotel was providing a free communist era Internet connection. It was a 100 megabit Ethernet hookup but I maybe Chairman Mao was standing on the Internet garden hose. I wished I could upgrade to dialup. The solution? I went to the cybercafe. This one In China each user must sign in at the front desk with their government issued ID cards in order to be granted access. The kids running the front desk didn't know what to make of me, I couldn't read the government form and they couldn't read my passport to fill the form out for me so after forking over 3 or 4 Yuan they indicated that I could sit anywhere in the large room that I preferred.

It was a large hot room filled with adolescent youth and and hot computer equipment. It was already a hot day and this place was on the 2nd floor of a mini-mall. It was uncomfortable but I had things to do, such as finding out why I couldn't reach my Hotmail account via my own laptop. The Chinese government never admits to censoring the Internet but supposedly that's just what they did to accessing Hotmail from within China I was by far the oldest person in the cybercafe, probably 3 times the ages of the kids running the place. Grandpa Gweilo had come to town, let's all flash him our best gang signs! I left after about an hour and a half, I had gotten the information that I wanted and I could no longer take the stifling heat or my clothes sticking to my chair and my skin sticking to my clothes. When I went to leave I was surprised to be handed my change for the time unused (I had no idea how much time had purchased, I just wanted Internet access and the price was more than right).

Let's take more pictures with my new best friends!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Breakfast at the local bakery

Perhaps it's my own bias but I usually think of pastries and similar baked goods as European in origin. The stereotype I've subscribed to says that Asians get their starch from rice, Europeans (and by extension most Americans) get theirs from wheat and similar grains. Maybe not. In Asia I was surprised to find bakeries with elaborate cakes, breads and pastries everywhere. The format is usually the same, the customer grabs a tray and a set of tongs and selects their choice from small transparent bins. The selections are totaled and paid for at the cash register. So they have bread and pastry in Asia. Naturally there are some local variations on the usual bakery fare, how else to explain the "weiner doughnut" or the "bacon pizza bun" that I found at the Yamazaki bakery outlet in Kowloon:

Then there's Breadtalk. They're based in Singapore but have franchised stores in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. They're upscale, efficient and just a bit exotic. Behold the Firefloss:

This isn't the floss that you use to clean teeth: it's shredded processed muscle fiber.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Strange Taste Horsebeans?

What are Strange Taste Horsebeans? I picked up a small package of them at a rest stop on a bus trip from Chengdu, Sichuan to Chongqing. They're strange alright; crunchy, sweet, hot and salty in succession. Not bad. A nice change from tortilla chips and dip or Cheez Doodles. But what's with the name? It's like this all over China. English is in, it's fashion, it's the way that the Chinese think that they can communicate with all non Chinese speakers. But the differences between Chinese, a language based on characters and English, a language based on letters combined with the easy availability of inaccurate Internet based machine translations make for awkward Chinglish. Horsebeans are more commonly known in English as broad beans or Fava beans. Sounds better already, no? The "strange taste" is indeed a unique taste. Chongqing's Unique Tasting Fava Beans, now those might sell in the export market because the product ain't bad and there's nothing currently like it on this side of the Pacific.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Chinese radios

Some people buy stuffed animals or other tchotchkes as souvenirs when they travel. Me, I buy radios. Last year when I was in Dandong I bought one of these for about $25 US:

Yes, the front of the radio is in Chinese. On this trip I came home with another Tecsun radio, this one was $53 at Carrefour: This one's in Chinese too. A review is here I'm not sure why I do this, maybe I'm just a collector in denial. There's certainly not much worth list to on the radio these days and it can be argued that shortwave listening has been rendered obsolete by satellite communication and the abundance of audio streams available on the Internet. I dunno, I just like 'em.

What trade imbalance with China?

PJ O'Rourke is one of my favorite writers, in this article he questions the accepted notion of America's trade imbalance with China:
But there is no such thing as a trade imbalance. Trade can't be out of balance because a balance is what a trade is. Buyers and sellers decide that one thing is equivalent to another. Free trade is balanced trade. You might as well have free love then claim your partner had sex but you didn't. And a certain American president did claim that. Maybe Monica Lewinsky is in charge of America's China policy.
Click here for the entire article

Monday, May 22, 2006


When I was in China in May 2006 the price of gasoline was significantly cheaper than it is in the US. The price of premium gasoline was about $2.40 US for a four quart US gallon, almost one US dollar cheaper than home. It's said that the Chinese government keeps the price of fuel artificially low to stimulate their domestic economy. It appears that the difference will narrow a bit since gasoline prices in China are set by the central government and that central government has decided on a price hike. Which means that they're still selling fuel at a loss.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Everything's for sale in China, even pandas. Back when Enron was flying high they got all warm and fuzzy and invested $5000 in a giant panda. I've been searching the web, so far no leads on when Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are hiding little Enron the panda.

Fashion! For Men! China Style!

Now that I'm back home nearly everything I read makes sense. I can walk into just about any restaurant and make sense of the menu, no more taking the waitress to the tables of my fellow diners so I can grunt and point. Unfortunately for me even the conversations of passersby now make sense. At least all of the T-shirts slogans I see make sense. All of them except mine. When I ran out of clean shirts in Chongqing I went on the hunt for the goofiest, most inane T-shirts I could find. A fool's errand? Not in China, everybody wears them. I now have a golf shirt that says,

Golf: The Purpose of the golf link to urnamen is to adsance the game of golf

None of these shirts was purchased in shady knock-off joints, they were all bought at a French based chain Carrefour.

I'm going to be getting some strange looks this summer because I'm going to be a walking billboard for men's fashion in China.

(Below) I took this picture in Guangzhou in 1982. Notice the English on most of the shirts.

Let the Good Times Roll

Mao is right on the money, quite literally. He's on every denomination of Yuan notes so Mao is near and dear to everybody in the new China. He's in the textbooks of their kids and there's often a big statue of him in their town squares. In Chengdu a massive Mao gazes over the development of a new multi-block high end shopping plaza and the new subway that's being built to get Chengdu's citizens to the goods that they want from that new multi-block high end shopping plaza and back home again. In Dandong a giant Mao salutes the Real Love disco.

Mao wouldn't recognize the place. China has outgrown orthodox "workers control the means of production" communism because China has proved conclusively that communism just can't accomplish the basics of providing the food and fuel average folks need, let alone the luxuries they desire and dream of. In sidestepping communism it has brought prosperity to many of it's citizens. It's true, China still has 800 million rural, dirt farming peasants. It used to have more and plenty of urban peasants too. Even the Bang-Bang army in Chongqing bear their heavy burdens because as bad as it is it's better than life down on the farm. The ocean of good old classic iron fisted state planning in the world has dried up into a small dirty little puddle. That kind of good old time classic communism can only be found in garden spots like North Korea and Cuba and it's subjects are kept penned in physically and ideologically by fences and censorship. On the big collective farms that those countries are ideological purity is sprinkled liberally with power shortages, unemployment and famines. China had wide spread famines that starved millions to death in the late 1950's and 1960's, thanks in no small part to that guy on the banknotes.

In today's China food is cheap and all of the stores I saw are overflowing with quantity and quality. Chinese food stores have apples from New Zealand and Washington state, bananas from the Philippines and almonds from California. The English language China Daily from May 16th said that doctors here are running into something never before seen on a large scale before in China; type 2 diabetes. Many of it's citizens never had it so good and they want the good times to continue to roll. China's system is one not seen by the world before. If it ain't communism then what is it? It isn't democracy in the sense of voting for the candidate and party of your choice and the right to stand up on a soapbox in Tiananmen Square and say that the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China is ideologically hypocritical and full of crap. There's only one political party permitted, the "Communist Party", even if it's communist in name only. Coca Cola had cocaine in it way back when but even though the coke is gone from Coke it remains the name of the brand. In China perhaps the name "communist" is just traditional, part of China's branding.

So maybe it doesn't matter what the party in power is called or what it does just as long as it delivers the goods and they don't piss off too many people in the process. China does that sometimes, since the central government owns all the land they can decide that a new mega-mall or chemical plant or condo project is going to be built where your house is now. Be gone in 30 days because the bulldozers are coming they'll tell you and give you a paltry payoff while others get rich with the kind of in your face corruption that Enron could only dream of. China's new industry needs electricity and much of it comes from burning dirty coal. When the state electricity grid decides to build a new coal fired power plant in your neighborhood you don't have much recourse beyond living with it or moving someplace else. Is the ruling Communist party delivering the goods? In my travels it appears to me that they are. Traditional classic communism usually took a country with lots of nothing and made sure that the nothing was spread around equitably. This usually resulted in every body having an abundance of nothing and nothing else. China's been there, done that. There are no cell phones in North Korea, they're banned by the ruling Worker's Party. Cuba has a few because nobody has money for such a luxury. China has more cell phones than there are people in the US, over 300 million and increasing rapidly. I was in Guangzhou for a few days in 1982., there were next to no cars and everybody wore the same clothes and cheap black cotton shoes. Everything looked worn out and run down. The Chinese don't have to read their history books to find out how bad things were in recent Chinese history (assuming the government would accurately print that history where some 80 million died due to Communist Party ineptitude and indifference), they lived through the famines, the scorning and punishment of intellectuals and the purging of innovators or those with contrary ideas. It's recent enough for many to have lived through it, they know what depravation and unbridled state power are like.

The Chinese people want air conditioners, cars, good food with variety, computers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks Coffee, Wal-Mart and they want to go on vacations overseas. Oh, and they want fashion and they want it in abundance. If there's one English word I saw over and over on store fronts, the sides of cars and motorcycles and emblazoned in glitter across teen aged girl's chests it's F*A*S*H*I*O*N. They don't always spell it properly but they pursue it at the makeup counters, jewelry and clothing stores with a single minded gusto that suggests that they're making up for lost time and they want to enjoy the party before some bubble headed bureaucrat with more ideology than brains changes his mind. So I saw T-shirts with English gibberish ("World's Greatest Lovers, We Don't Move!", "#1 Killboy" on a 5 year old), women of all ages tottering around in high heels and lots of young people of both sexes with dyed hair.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bang-Bang: In Their Own Words

Click here for interviews with some members of Chongqing’s bang-bang army.

Chongqing, bang-bang!

Yangtze river

In 1997 the central government in Beijing carved off the piece of Sichuan province where Chongqing (pronounced Chong-ching) is located and made it the municipal equivalent of a province. So most everything about Sichuan cooking applies to Chongqing, which means that edible things can be chili hot and everything is saturated in oil. Yesterday I slipped and fell down about 5 stairs. Today I did it again and I've got a nice welt on my left arm and a scrape on my right wrist. There is so much oil in Western China that they're spreading it on sidewalks and stairways? The chilies melted the soles of my shoes? Ever since I've arrived in China people have been staring at my feet, specifically my shoes. I guess that they're fashion conscious. I'm wearing a pair of Asics Kayano running shoes because they're comfortable. They're made somewhere in China by a Japanese company but possibly only for export.

Chongqing municipality has about 31 million people of which at least 10 million live in Chongqing city. The central government in Beijing has been pouring billions into this city to make it the industrial, business and cultural hub of western China, sort of China's Chicago on the Yangtze river. Chongqing is where Ford, and Suzuki build cars, A large Chinese company named Lifan builds motorcycles and cars here. Chongqing has a monorail (more on that later), skyscrapers and they've done up their sidewalks and stairways in tile. It's been raining and to my running shoes that wet tile might as well be glare ice. Gotta be careful out there before I come home with my black and blue butt in a sling.

Chongqing-Yangtze-cable-carPlanning means a lot to any of these trips of mine. What to pack, where to stay, where to go, what to do. For the Chongqing leg of this trip I blew it. For one thing, I underestimated the size of the place, it's massive. Chongqing is known as one of the three furnaces of China because of the heat but it's been wet and in the low 60's. I packed shorts and short sleeve shirts. The hotel I picked turned out to be cheap for a reason, it was a run down fleabag, a fleabag with a free blazing Internet connection. I used that Internet connection to reserve myself a room up the street at the Marriott with real A/C (it's very humid).

Back in Seattle I'd reserved myself an airline ticket from Chongqing to Shanghai and arranged to pick it up at a place I thought was nearby my hotel. Was I wrong, I took a cab clear across town and even though I don't speak much Chinese somehow I knew that the cabbie was saying, "It's around here someplace" when she turned me loose. I looked and looked, I went into businesses and presented the address in Chinese. Nobody knew where the place was and I had no idea what I was looking for. In Shenzhen I picked up my ticket at an airport kiosk, last year it was at the airport at a bank. I screwed up but the Chinese people came to the rescue, they all tried to help me or somehow told me that they didn't know. I started stopping people in the street, old men who perhaps lived in this neighborhood for years, a neighborhood that I'm sure doesn't see too many folks who look like me. I had a 2 hour window to score the ticket and it was ticking away fast. One of the locals took it upon herself to call the place that had my ticket, find out where they were and to take me there. It was nowhere near where I was looking, maybe 7 blocks away, up a dark flight of slippery stairs in and an office. If she hadn't done that I'd still be looking for that damn ticket to Shanghai. So in return I bought her lunch and then she showed me around town a bit. That's not the way I usually see a city, my way is to just plop myself down and hit the streets but seeing a city through the eyes of a local is better. We took the cable car over the Yangtze river and had a grand old time in Chongqing. She relied on her 6 years of rusty high school English which she's never used and I on a few Chinese words aided by pantomime. Planning what to pack means planning what to wear. I bought some shirts before I left but I've run out of clean ones. I considered letting the Marriott wash them but they wanted more for one shirt than it costs for a nice dinner for two so I took a different route to cleanliness. I went to Carrefour and spent the money on new shirts instead.

In the US Walmart stomps the competition but these guys give Walmart fits in the rest of the world and they've been wise not to face Walmart down on it's home turf. They stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap and globalization be damned the Chinese love it. Carrefour is a French company but all the signs in the place are in English and Chinese. I was walking around in there when I saw an employee pulling a pallet of boxes and an old woman got in her way. It sounded like she was chewing the old woman out but when the employee saw me she broke into a big forced smile and started to say "lalalalala" in mid chew-out. I might be the only round eye she's seen in awhile and I could be from the home office in France.

In Carrefour I was able to buy some domestic clothes and some T-shirts with the word Xiongbalang! on them. These were about $1.15 each. I turned down shirts advertising "Seattle Hornets" whoever they are. In Chinese shirt sizes I'm and XXL, that's 180 in metric. Chinese pants are trickier for a Westerner to purchase. I was able to quickly figure out my size but in China it seems that the size of one's waistline determines the length of the pants. I couldn't find pants in my length so if the weather turns cold again the hunt will continue in Shanghai. I later found out that a tailor is on duty in the store for alterations.

A big bustling city like Chongqing needs rapid transit that goes beyond cheap taxis and buses so Chongqing built a monorail. Not a toy for tourists or a political cause célèbre that's going to be a model for the nation like in Seattle but real rapid transit that for now hugs the Jiangling river. Unlike Seattle Chongqing's monorail runs for about 18 stations (more are being built) and the first 3 or so are underground. Chongqing's monorail is simply a train that runs on a different kind of track, a concrete center is hugged by rubber wheels instead of a bed with steel rails. From the inside of one of the cars it's impossible to determine that it's a monorail instead of a train that runs on tracks. There doesn't seem to be any of the Seattle romanticism over the style of the train, it's just a train that uses a different technology. The fare is cheap, anywhere from about .25 to .75 US per ride depending on the distance. Service is frequent, about every 5 minutes.

Chongqing is also famous for it's "bang-bang" people, mostly men. Bang-bang (pronounced closer to bong-bong) means stick or bamboo and is possibly where English gets that word. The bang bang army can be seen everywhere in Chongqing carrying their ropes and bamboo poles if they are looking for work or if they've found work bearing large loads hanging from the pole that they balance on their shoulders. It looks back breaking but they do the work that is often done in other Chinese cities by people on bicycles. Chongqing is too hilly for bicycles so the solution is a combination of Chinese ingenuity and Chinese overpopulation. The bang-bang army consists of uneducated recent rural arrivals in the big city who work for peanuts as beasts of burden. I saw them carrying all sorts of things; couches, chairs, tables, giant baskets of fruit. It's awful work and they're looked down upon by the locals I saw this myself, every time my friend who helped me find my plane ticket would see one of these guys she'd sing out, "Chongqing, bang-bang!" and laugh and point. Maybe it's a cultural thing but I didn't get it, these guys looked like the lowest of the low to me and to mock them struck my pampered American sensibilities as cruel. My cubicle life suddenly looks just a little less dim by comparison.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sichuan - Bus from Chengdu Chongqing

I took the bus from Chengdu to Chongqing, roughly the distance from Seattle to Portland. What was I thinking! I had read that the buses were modern and that a new expressway had been completed between the 2 cities. Well, the expressway isn't done yet. Construction outside of Chengdu cost us at least an hour. I also have a headache, maybe because when we arrived in the station in Chongqing the guy sitting in front of me jumped up, grabbed his bag from the overhead compartment and swung it right into my face. That's him filling up the left side of the picture above. He left a nice faceprint on the inside of the left lens of my glasses. I don't think that he even noticed, I know the Chinese term for excuse me and I certainly didn't hear it. Just another cultural thing which I may get to later.

I thought that I'd be sitting on a comfortable brand new bus with clean windows that would allow me to happily snap pictures of the Chinese countryside. What I got was an ratty old coach with grimy windows. I was sitting on the aisle and the insides of the windows had dirty curtains drawn so everybody could see the TV. It's been years since I took a Greyhound bus but I'll bet that even in anything goes USA that they don't run violent slasher movies on their intercity coaches. Both were Hong Kong cop movies in Cantonese, which means that my fellow passengers had to read the subtitles. Bonus for me, the 2nd feature was subtitled in Chinese and English. Do I even have to mention that I was the only westerner on the bus? I put on my MP3 player because my fellow passengers were busy shouting into their cell phones. I fell asleep but awoke when the bus stopped at a rest area for lunch.

No golden arches at this rest stop, there was plenty of hot fresh food but it all had that red oily breath of fire look of Sichuan cuisine so I passed. I bought a bowl of noodles topped with crushed peanuts for 4Y (maybe .35 US), wolfed them down and then it was back on the bus. The Chengdu - Chongqing Expressway is a toll road. It looks like the designers didn't consult engineers anywhere else, those acceleration lanes to get on to the toll road are awfully brief. All of the signs are bilingual, sort of. I saw the sign "Many Accidents Happnd This Neighborhood" too many times. An overpass is a "flyover". And just like on an American Interstate there were giant billboards pushing cosmetics, cars and various companies. There was one ad for a plumbing company of a naked little boy peeing in a giant arc into their western style toilet. I saw some scenery, terraced farm plots and what might've been rice paddies.

After checking into my hotel (more on that later) I went for a walk to scope the place out. Chongqing and Seattle are sister cities. Seattle is damp and cold, Chongqing is steamy and hot. Both Seattle and Chongqing have a monorail, sort of. Seattle's isn't running due to an accident, Chongqing's is partially underground.

It started to rain (that sister city thing again) so I ducked into a restaurant. They gave me a menu, which naturally I couldn't read. The dog ate my homework, hopefully Fido wasn't for dinner. I was hungry, other than my small bowl of noodles at the rest stop I had a snack of a envelope of "Chongqing Strange Taste Horsebeans". I'm not making that up, I'm going to try and get some to bring back. Sweet, salty, spicy and hot, sort all at different times. Not knowing what to do I took my waitress to the other tables and inspected what the locals were having. I ordered a plate of sautéed greens and a bowl of some kind of tofu. I don't eat red meat but I overlooked the pork, I've learned that in China there's oink in everything. It was good but while I was eating I had the feeling that I was being watched. I looked up from my meal and found 4 waitresses and the owner staring at me, obviously entertained by Grandpa Lauwai on the chopsticks. We all had a good laugh, even though they were laughing at me. I don't know what I was doing wrong (other than stumbling in there in the first place). I didn't ask for a fork, I didn't mishandle the sticks and get rice all over the table. I thought that I was doing a good job getting the food from the plate and into my face. We all had a good laugh and the big meal was insanely cheap.

I don't like my hotel. But as I'm sure the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao once said, "you get what you pay for". And I haven't paid much for this place, about $28 a night. The Chinese Internet booking service I used said that this was a 4 star hotel and although there are more expensive rooms here there are cheaper ones too. The Internet is a wonderful thing. There's a Marriott down the street that promises luxury, as in A/C that'll freeze meat and a clean bathroom. I got onto the Marriott web site and got myself the weekend special. I'm off to wriggle out of my reservation.

Hotpot and a Communist Era Hotel


Sichuan Province is famous for hotpot. To eat hotpot you sit at a table with a large burner in the center that heats spiced oil with floating chilies. You order the ingredients and then cook to taste, being sure to dip into a bowl of garlic flavored chilified oil before putting your chopsticks into your mouth. Or, if you're a spice wimp like me, they'll float a smaller pot of boiling water in the boiling oil. The water for my dinner contained a small whole fish, scallions, some small bean-like fruits and various spices. I ordered some small mushrooms, bean curd skins and some other vegetable that I had never seen before. I was told that the menu was in English and technically it was. I passed on "cow spinal column" and I almost ordered "American tender boot" just so I could see what it was. The menu was full of English that had been massacred, sliced, diced, pureed and heavily spiced. Since it was dark and I was only out cruising for dinner I didn't have my camera.

Chengdu is full of fractured English, even Helen Keller could find examples of Chinglish here. Why someone would call a clothing store "Lesbian and the Life" is beyond me, just like the guy who sat at the table next to mine at the hotpot restaurant wearing a T shirt that said, "Jew Jeans" or the man out for a walk with his wife and their one government approved child wearing a black T-shirt that said, "Glitter Bitch". I've taken a few pictures of it but to take many more would be pointless, it's everywhere. The locals must think that it's cool otherwise why would they bother?

The Chinese hotels that I've stayed at before were a step up from the old commie era hotel where I'm staying now in Chengdu. They would cater to western palates with coffee, eggs and other breakfast items that we pampered westerners prefer. There wasn't even the pretense of western breakfast this morning. No coffee but I did have my choice between hot milk and a hot white fluid that I think tasted like soybean milk. There were also 3 different kinds of congee, some cookies, spicy salted beans, heavily salted peanuts and various fried buns and vegetables. I also ate something that was vaguely chowfun-like. Nothing was labeled in any language. I'm not sure what it all was but an hour later I was alternating between thinking that it was pretty good and wanting to hurl. I think it was all the oil, they're big on oil here and I have a low oil threshold. There must be some kind of edict handed down from the Communist Party in Beijing that all food consumed in Sichuan Province must be fried or at least passed through some oil, preferably chili infused oil I seem to be the only Westerner who stumbled into this hotel. For less than Motel 6 prices I'm getting a slightly run down commie era hotel. If there's A/C here it ain't working. Some of the hutong roofs are strewn with rubble, during the night someone decided to loudly shovel some if it. Perhaps it was done on one side and needed to be turned. To get hot water turn the sink spigot to the left, the shower control to the right (even though the left of the control says HOT in English). No fridge, no safe.

The people in town have pondered me a bit as I passed by but very few have shouted "Hello" or "lauwai" but I did attract the attention of the local pimps who had access to girls who could show me a massagy good time. I must look like a high roller. The hotel staff though speaks no English and when I arrived they treated me as if I had just emerged from a flying saucer. The mattress is the typical Chinese sheet of drywall. Internet connectivity here makes me long for the good old days when I had dialup. I'd like to send pictures but my LAN connection chokes on anything bigger than text. But it's nice to know that some things in life can be depended upon, I'm somehow still getting all of my spam. There's a wireless router hiding being an Intel Centrino ad at the front desk, I may go down there and lurk for awhile if it's not just for show because I can't pick it up in my room.

This afternoon I did a deal with one of the two government owned phone companies. At least I think I did. I was walking though a part of town that seemed to specialize in cell phone stores. Some people sat on the sidewalk selling old cell phones, others kept trying to hand me 8.5 X 14 pieces of paper filled with columns of numbers. They looked like large bookie sheets. Then it dawned on my tiny pea brain, they were selling cell phone numbers. Since I've learned that under the New Communism everything is negotiable I turned down a cell phone number at 100 Yuan (about $12.50). We bargained via calculator and settled at 50 Yuan but when he tried to add in an extra 30 I walked away. I may look funny but that doesn't means that you can take advantage of me. A woman who had been watching the deal go sour approached me and indicated that she'd do the deal for 50 Yuan. I agreed but she wanted me to chose a phone number. Fung Shui? They're temporary telephone numbers, they're all the same to me. She took me down a grimy alley filled with used cell phones and dealers, she took me right to her Mr. Big, the phone pimp. Mr. Big looked about 16 but he spoke some English. He assured me that I could call the USA. He recorded my number and who made the sale and I was back out on cell phone street. Seeing that I had no idea how to use my new service I stopped in at my new phone company, China Unicom. More language problems. They said that I could not call overseas until they recorded all of the information from my passport and then I had to wait 24 hours. Bureaucracy? Secret police? I agreed. The people with the sheets of phone numbers kept coming into to the phone company to try to sell the phone company's telephone numbers to it's customers. Maybe it's just business. And under the New Communism business cannot be stopped. When I was in Dandong in November I bought a SIM for my cell phone from a street vendor, no Mr. Big involved. The street vendor never told me about checking in with the phone company, probably because she didn't speak English. After I got home I read that the Chinese government had put a stop to such street sales citing security concerns. And while China Unicom did record all of my information (my papers were in order) it was only for the green light to place overseas calls. I was free to use the card within China before I voluntarily visited the phone company.

While walking around this morning I bought yak milk. Why did I buy yak milk? Because I could, that's why. I bought a 250 ml box of the stuff, I may bring it home if I can figure out a way to keep it from rupturing inside my luggage. It's not every day that one can buy a box of yak milk. When I'm walking the streets vendors are constantly trying to hand me advertisements, for what I don't know. I usually point to the Chinese printing, then to my eyes and shake my head, pantomime for I CAN'T READ so your ad is wasted on me. It usually works.

chengdu - yak milk

I  just went to the lobby and tried the wireless, my laptop reads it loud and clear. Unfortunately it's hooked up to the same sorry Internet connection I have in my room so it doesn't work. Or it does work, but only with Chinese web sites. works fine, is dicey. All the guys on the hotel staff come over and played with my laptop, which I'm convinced is just fine. And Hotmail won't come up on my laptop or their PC in their business center, which makes me suspect the heavy thumb of the government. This hotel has some odors that I've never experienced before and now it's going to have some more. When I was on my way downstairs to try the wireless I noticed that the entire hallway on this floor, except for maybe 20' around my room, the carpet was covered in sheets. The sheets squished and darkened when I walked on them. I could hear a woman sobbing loudly in a utility closet while others tried to comfort her. I'm not sure what happened but it can't be good.

Chengdu - flooded hallway