The Beijing Left Turn

This explanation (with diagrams!) of cars at a Beijing intersection making a left turn is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Substitute a Volkswagen Santana for the Hyundai if you’re in Shanghai, and add a couple of mopeds.

Edit: Proxy link here.


A letter to BOCOG

I was visiting the Web site of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) a few weeks ago, and was disappointed to find that the weather conditions in Beijing — temperature and wind speed — were given only in degrees Fahrenheit and miles per hour, respectively. I sent a suggestion through BOCOG’s online form, but several weeks later, there has been no change. Today, I sent the following message by e-mail:

Subject: Weather Reporting for Olympics

Dear madam and / or sir:

A few weeks ago, I sent a message through the “suggestions” tool on BOCOG’s Web site, pointing out that Beijing’s temperature and wind speed, as given on (http ://, are shown ONLY in degrees Fahrenheit and miles per hour. I asked that the information also be presented using degrees Celsius and kilometres per hour, in the interests of the many English speakers unfamiliar with Fahrenheit and miles. To date, I have seen no response to my message, and there have been no changes to the site. I am sending this message in the hopes that it might be more successful than a Web-based form.

As the United States is the only country left in the world that persists in using Fahrenheit as a temperature scale, the exclusive use of Fahrenheit and miles per hour is both confusing and annoying to those of us who have adopted the metric system. Consider:

English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Guyana, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jamaica, Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United Kingdom.

None of these countries and territories uses the units you have chosen in any official capacity. Only the United States does so. To use only Fahrenheit and miles per hour on your site, therefore, is to implicitly suggest that all English speakers are Americans. While I take no issue with America as a country, and indeed count many Americans among my close friends, this is an affront to the national sensibilities of all non-American, English-speaking countries.

I hope that in the spirit of international co-operation and friendship, you will fix this issue on your site. We may have “One World, One Dream,” but not all English speakers use “One System of Measurement.”

Thank you for your time, and I wish you all the best in helping to make the Beijing Olympics a great success!

Warm regards,

Andrew Galbraith

I am eager to hear back from them, and hope I can get the metric system up there before the Games start. 358 days left!

Edit: I’m aware that my statement that “none of these countries uses Fahrenheit and mph” is overstating the case somewhat… that’s only really true regarding Fahrenheit. I believe the point still stands.

Update: has bounced my message back. Apparently, it doesn’t actually exist, despite being listed on BOCOG’s site.

Travel, Video

Thunder on Jong-Il Peak

Another video, also from the Children’s Palace in Pyongyang. This one is of a band playing the song “Thunder on Jong-Il Peak”, possibly my favourite of the DPRK’s musical contributions:

Travel, Video

Arirang on Accordions

To make up for the continuing lack of a DPRK travelogue, I present this video, filmed at one of Pyongyang’s “Children’s Palaces” on our last full day in Pyongyang:


Back from the DPRK

I have just spent an incredible week in the DPRK, better known as North Korea. I plan to post a detailed journal of the trip at some point in the future. In the meantime, you are welcome to peruse my Flickr photo set of pictures from the trip. The photo here is of the monument to the Great Fatherland Liberation War, better known as the Korean War.


Shanghai hits the max

As of 4:30 pm, Monday, April 2, 2007:
Shanghai API at 500
The “500” is for respirable particulates. The other numbers are concentrations of Sulfur Dioxide and Nitrogen Dioxide, respectively. Taken from the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center. I’m not sure if this is a computer error or not, but looking out the window at the entirely brown air seems to confirm it. Yuck.

Edit: To be perfectly clear, 500 is as high as the air pollution scale in China goes.



Pancho, our family’s loyal companion of 15 years, faced with a long and painful decline after a long and happy life, was put to sleep today. He’s been such a big part of our family for such a long time, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. However, I think it’s the little things that I’m going to miss most: when I lived at home, he used to sleep on the rug beside my bed; later, when I visited during holidays, he would move from his hallway pillow to my bedroom rug at some point during the night, so he was always by my bed in the morning.

We originally got him when we moved from Vancouver to Tokyo and realised that our crazy whippet-pointer-lab-etc cross would be absolutely miserable in a large Asian city (we gave him to friends with a farm in the interior of British Columbia). Pancho was our “cat” and our “compact dog”, the only natural-born Canadian in the family apart from my dad. He became known to the shopkeepers in our neighbourhood, and was taunted by the gigantic Tokyo crows. He accompanied us on weekend trips to the lake district around Mt. Fuji, where my sister and I would race him down hills on our bicycles, and then take turns bundling him into our jackets and riding along the roads between the rice paddies, with his head sticking out under our chins.

He managed the move to Hong Kong admirably. He loved running along the beaches in Repulse Bay and Stanley, and in the country park around the reservoir at Tai Tam. He joined us on weekend hikes up the hills of Hong Kong island, even at the height of summer, when he would collapse, panting, in any shade he could find if he got too hot. He picked up the habit of hunting small birds, much to the consternation of our wonderful (and very Buddhist) Thai helper, Tum, who utterly adored him. On the other hand, he once saved the life of a frog by barking at a snake that was about to eat it (whether this was a case of gallant bravery or general dimwittedness is perhaps a question best left unanswered).

As he became older, he became a wonderful curmudgeon. You could have set your watch to his demands for walks — never noisy, but always insistent. And, once on a walk, he had very definite ideas about where he would go, exactly how long he would go there, and when it was time to go back.

I was not there for his last move, to Singapore, but visited last summer and saw him in high spirits, exploring the lush botanical gardens, and revelling in the wide open grassy spaces. At home, he still had his annoying habit of blending into the carpet, which frequently led to him getting punted across the room. He still loved sembei, the Japanese rice crackers, though having lost many of his teeth, they could prove hard to chew. He still acted like he was on crack after a bath, when he would race around the house with his ear to the floor, responding to the slightest movement by rocketing off in the opposite direction. He still proved entirely susceptible to tummy rubs, which would send his legs into spasms.

And every morning when I woke up, I still found him sleeping on the rug beside my bed.

Pancho, we will miss you.





Archives, Photos

Another Beijing commute

A few months ago, I posted pictures of my Beijing commute from home to my language school. Since then, I have moved from my old apartment in Beijing’s northwestern university area to an apartment within the city’s Second Ring Road. The Second Ring traces the line once drawn by the imperial moat and city walls, so I am now living in “Old Beijing” — you can find my alley (or hutong) on Qing dynasty maps from the 18th century. In addition to a new flat, I also have a new commute destination in the city’s Central Business District (CBD) on the East Third Ring. I am blessed with perhaps one of the city’s most pleasant commutes, as it takes me along the old imperial lakes (Shichahai/Houhai), around the back of Jingshan Park to the northern end of the Forbidden City, and then east-southeast past Chaoyangmen to the Third Ring. According to Google Earth, the total route is 9.43km/5.86 miles. Here is a map of the route.

Since taking these pictures, I’ve discovered an alternate route that takes me through one of Beijing’s pleasantly leafy embassy areas. It diverges from the following route after I pass the massive Chinese Foreign Ministry building, and in a happy coincidence takes me past the North Korean embassy. I’ll try to post pictures of that route soon.

And now, the pictures!

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