Ghosts of tourism past

If second-tier Asian tourist attractions are sometimes creepy and forlorn, China’s contributions excel in creating a mood of melancholy creakiness. I think I first became aware of this when visiting the original site of the Harbin Ice Festival, a small park in the city centre. The bulk of the festival has moved across the river and turned into a gloriously gaudy mini-Disneyland-of-ice that really has to be seen to be believed — but the original location is still home to a nearly deserted and rather shoddy display of ice-animals, aircraft carriers, and submarines.

I noticed this phenomenon again on a much larger scale at the Chinese National Aviation Museum, located on a particularly dusty strip of land outside of Beijing’s North Sixth Ring Road. The complex is huge, looking rather like a derelict James Bond set, and housing more F-6 fighters (Chinese-made MiG-19s) than anyone is likely ever to want to see. It is also home to a massive display hangar built into the side of a mountain, and a giant aviation graveyard containing crashed and/or rusting old trainers, bombers, fighters, transports and helicopters, Liberation jeeps, mobile radar stations, missiles, and the private aircraft of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. All of this is nicely complemented by a deserted children’s merry-go-round near the museum’s entrance. The visit took place a few weeks ago, just before the spring weather started moving in.

If you’re reading this on the main page, you can see more photos by clicking the “read the rest” link.

F-6 Takeoff Tiananmen Troops

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Heartwarming taxes

I was delighted to read on Imagethief today that China is imposing a 5% consumption tax on disposable chopsticks and other products. This delight stems from several factors, not the least of which is that other people read the China Daily so I don’t have to. I wholeheartedly support the Chinese government’s new taxes, which will hopefully remove the scourge of low-grade splintery chopsticks from local eateries and fingers. Thankfully, living in landlocked Beijing, I am safely insulated from the new taxes on luxury yachts.

It was explained to me last year that disposable chopsticks are a relatively recent addition to the Chinese restaurant scene, with the Japanese to thank for their introduction. Now we are safe from Japanese influences, but are at the mercy of the dishwashers at 成都小吃, the ubiquitous and grungy Sichuan fast food joint.

Update: As Imagethief helpfully points out, the solution to the now-inevitable dishwashing problems — and disposable chopsticks in general — is to BYO. A great post at Bingfeng Teahouse has more.


Almost, but not quite

For a bit of extracurricular reading practice, I recently bought a Chinese copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It is a faithful translation of the original, with a few notable exceptions. Of course, “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is,” does not exactly lend itself to easy translation. In this case, the translators chose to replace “sass”, “frood”, and “hoopy” with actual words, instead of the transliterations used for names and places — with the sole exception of the surname “Prefect”.

As such, the above phrase is translated as, “嘿,你碰过那个同行的福特·长官吗?那可是个真正知道自己的毛巾在哪里的好搭档” (Hei! Ni pengguo nege tonghang de Fute Zhangguan ma? Na ke shi ge zhenzheng zhidao ziji de maojin zai nali de hao dadang), which could be translated back into English as, “Hey, have you run into that fellow-tradesman Ford Prefect? There is a partner who really knows where his towel is.” (see update below)

Other sentences survive intact: “‘福特!’ 他说,’外面有无数只猴子想要进来和咱们讨论他们创作的剧本《哈姆雷特》’ ” (“Fute!” ta shuo, “waimian you wushu zhi houzi yao jin lai he zanmen taolun tamen chuangzuo de juben ‘Hamuleite'”) is an appropriate rendition of “‘Ford!’ he said, ‘there’s an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they’ve worked out.'”.

Unfortunately, some phrases didn’t make it through translation unscathed. Some have meanings which are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike their originals. Given the generally high quality of the translation despite the cultural gaps faced in translating a book like this, I must first extend my sincere thanks and congratulations to translator Xu Baike and the kind people at the Sichuan Science and Technology Press. It is unfortunate, however, that one of the book’s most quotable lines is one of the translation’s few real casualties.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish” is translated as “再见了所有鱼类,感谢你们” (Zaijian le suoyou de yulei, ganxie nimen), meaning “So long to all the fish, we thank you”. I blame the fuzziness of English prepositions and the tragic shortage of human-fed acrobatic dolphins in China.

Update: “Colleague” is a much less awkward translation than “fellow-tradesman”, and “partner” should be prefaced by the word “good”.

Archives, Video

Winter, of course

Winter in Beijing is deceptively cold. An absolute minimum of about -10 Celsius may not sound too bad to true cold-weather veterans, but it discounts the effect of the gale-force Siberian winds I encounter riding to and from my university; by some quirk of meteorology, I run into headwinds in both directions. I’m not sure if the psychological factor of knowing the wind has just blown in from Krasnoyarsk by way of Ulaanbaatar plays any part in it, but it does feel colder than should reasonably be expected.

The dodgy centralised heating system in my apartment over which I have absolutely no control doesn’t help, though it adds an element of surprise to my daily routine. It neatly encompasses all that is wrong with the idea of a command economy, providing either precisely the wrong service at precisely the wrong time, or going into Stakhanovite heating overdrive and turning my apartment into a blast furnace, even with all windows open, on the coldest days of winter.

In the face of the cold and astonishingly monochromatic winter, it helps to remember that there are beautiful times and places in this city. While going through some older files today, I rediscovered a small video I took last October while riding around the Houhai area. Nothing much, just a pleasant reminder of greener times.

A Houhai Scene
(click to play – 1.8MB QuickTime movie)


Beijing fireworks

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, I was fortunate to be invited to stay at the home of a Chinese friend of mine in Eastern Beijing. In preparation for the holiday, his family had bought a veritable arsenal of fireworks, which we all proceeded to set alight with little regard for personal safety. I shot two videos, which nicely capture the feeling of the evening.

The first shows another friend dropping a rather large explosive the wrong way down the firing tube. Listen for the “Aiyo!” shortly after the first explosion, an exclamation filled with the certainty of impending disaster.

Video 1 (11.5MB MPEG)

The second was taken several hours later, at one minute before midnight, when the whole city seemed to be exploding.

Video 2 (15.4MB MPEG)

The videos are large, but I have been unable to satisfactorily compress them. If there is enough demand, I will try again.

Related photos at Imagethief.

Update: There is not enough demand.


Neighbour’s Mutterings

I’ve been travelling for most of the last month and a half (pictures and such will most likely follow), but am now back in my Beijing apartment where my crazy neighbour was shouting even more than usual last night. In addition to the standard ranting and cussing at someone who’s not there, she repeatedly shouted one word for about ten minutes. As far as I could make out, she was yelling “Liangzi! Liangzi! Liangzi!”, fourth tone on the first syllable and third on the second. This would be written as 量子, translating as “quantum”. It is possible that I didn’t hear her clearly through the wall, but it would be so much more interesting to think that I did.


Happy New Year 2006

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a tall glass of the year’s first batch of the official milk of the Great Hall of the People?

Milk 2006-01-01
(click to enlarge)


Now with comments!

As part of my grudging admission of defeat in the debate over whether this site is a blog (as it turns out, it is), I am opening up the floor and allowing visitors to post comments. This is an experiment only partially motivated by my desire to increase value for shareholders. I hope all three of my visitors are pleased with this new development.