Beijing #4 – Food from Yunnan

There is a province in China in the Southwest (bordering Myanmar) called Yunnan. It is home to the most ethnic minority groups in all of China and its cuisine is fairly distinctive. The food is known for using lots of different kinds of mushrooms and for being quite spicy. There are a bunch of Yunnanese restaurants in Beijing so i tried one out.

I got one mushroom dish (that was hilariously described as “bag of wild bacteria”) and a minced pork dish that i was warned 5 or 6 times about it being super hot. The food ended up being amazing. It’s not often that i find that the dish w/ no meat in it was my favorite, but in this case, that mushroom dish was just so damn good! The pork dish was super good too. Filled with tons of chopped chilis and pretty damn spicy actually, but i was able to handle it 🙂.

Beijing #3 – The Subway

The subway here in Beijing is pretty amazing and puts a lot of other subways to shame. First off, it’s *massive*. There are so many different stops and lines that you can get pretty much anywhere (and Beijing is a pretty big town) quickly. Secondly, it’s super easy to use. When you are figuring out which direction you need to take your line to, each side will have a little map with a helpful arrow so you know exactly what direction that line is going and what the next stop is. Inside the cars themselves, each doorway has a little map with lights for each stop. The stop that you are at (or the next one if you are between stops) flashes, so you *always* know exactly where you are. Not like back home where you have to frantically look out the window when you reach a bart stop to try to find signage telling you where the hell you are. Also, at each station there are dozens of volunteers that will help you buy tickets, figure out how to pay, etc. So helpful!

Beijing #2 – Dumplings

China is a huge country made up of many different regions, with each region having its own unique flavors and foods that they are famous for. Though dumplings are pretty popular all over China, Beijing specifically is pretty well know for them. So, I decided to have dumplings for my first meal here. I went to aplce called Xian Lao Man whose motto is apparently “Our dumplings are the fullest”.

Like it or hate it, English is the de facto common language around the world, and it really puts us Americans (and British etc) at a huge advantage while traveling. Any country you go to, you will find lots of English speakers. Especially when you are “on the tourist trail”, pretty much every hotel, restaurant, bar, etc will have at least someone with some English knowledge that can help you decipher what’s going on. In China though, fewer than 1% of the people speak English. That number is definitely different in the big cities, but even in Beijing i found very few people who understood English. To maker matters more difficult, the tourist infrastructure here is actually more geared towards Chinese tourists and so they dont need to know how to converse with foreigners.

So yeah, getting back to dumplings. Because of the language barrier, doing even the simplest of things here can be tricky. Like ordering in a restaurant. When i went in, they handed me a menu that had both English/Chinese on it, and it was one of those dim sum style menus where you just mark things off with a pencil yourself. Ok, everything should be easy, right? Just read the English, add some checkmarks and call it a day. Umm, not so much.

I check off 3 types of dumplings and one noodle dish (yeah , yeah, i know that’s a shit ton but i like variety, what can i say). I hand the menu to the waiter and he starts talking a bunch.. no clue what he is saying. Finally, after some gestures and pointing, i get that they are out of the noodle dish. Stupidly, i try to pantomime asking him for a recommendation. This leads to extreme confusion and lots of back and forth, before he grabs the pencil and starts scrawling on the menu, crossing random things off, changing checkmarks to squiggles etc. I just stare blankly, having no clue what the fuck just happened. He finally finishes scribbling and talking, and looks at me expectantly. Not knowing what to do, i just nod in agreement. He walks off with my paper and I have no clue what i just ordered.

He eventually comes out with two types of dumplings, but a lot of them. I guess for some reason, my order got changed to two double orders, and i’m still not sure which dumplings they were. But.. they were hella good! One was filled with some kind of ground meat and chopped peppers that tasted halfway between a bell pepper and a chili. The others were deep fried and had shrimp meat and i think egg inside. Yum!!

Beijing #1

Beijing was my first stop in China, and it was a great introduction to the country. It was a really interesting mix of both really modern city and older Chinese culture. Beijing is famous for its Hutongs which are tiny alleyways. When you get off the main streets, it’s like a huge maze of narrow alleys filled with tiny shops, little cafes, etc. There are lots of interesting buildings with the traditional sloped Chinese roofs, ornate doors, and lanterns hanging outside. You could easily spend hours just kind of wandering around and taking it in.

On the other hand, there are parts of town that are so insanely different and modern. Huge gleaming skyscrapers, gigantic malls, Tiffany’s diamond stores, etc. Its hard to believe that these areas are even in the same city as the hutongs.

Connecting everything are roads that are filled with insane traffic. Beijing is a city big on bikes, and there are lots of bike share stations. So, on any street you have like hundreds of bikes, a ton of mopeds, and then hella cars and these tiny baby sized three wheel delivery trucks, all going in all different directions. Traffic “laws” here are more like a suggestion, and everyone just drives in every which way, making u-turns out of the blue, crossing lanes, stopping in the middle of traffic, etc. In the short time that i was in town, i saw *so* many near accidents.

Beijing is also a city under construction.. there is construction *everywhere*. Every street has new buildings coming up and there are construction crews *literally* on every block (and often times several per block). even in the hutongs you hear hammering and see welding all over the place. It’s crazy to imagine the frantic pace of change here.

Beijing can be relatively cheap compared to back home, but compared to other parts of China, it’s pretty expensive. My hotel room cost almost 50$ a night, which feels like a lot here, especially given that it is a super tiny room with a “bed” sitting on a platform. Of course, part of it is paying for location as i was in the awesome hutong part of town.

All in all, it’s a really awesome city. You have all the modern frills you need, like fancy pour over coffee, cocktail bars, nice restaurants, and entertainment while still getting to see that more traditional feel in other parts of town.

Off to China…

Holy shit. I am off to China. Having very little time to plan this trip, I scrambled to frantically read some bits of the guidebook and scan the thorntree forums. I still am not 100% sure where I will go, but I am thinking probably: 1) Beijing – you may have heard of it. 2) Sichuan – known for its spicy food, pandas, and some other things that I have not read about in the guidebook yet. 3) Hexi Cooridor – a slightly off the beaten track destination in North west China that is part of the old Silk Road.. An interesting convergence of China, Tibet, and Muslim cultures.

Excited!

more indietronik stuff

there’s just too much good music coming out these days. over the last couple of weeks, i’ve thrown together a new mix in my spare time. mostly some indietronik stuff, but some other random odds and ends as well. it’s a bit all over the place in some ways, but there’s some pretty sick tracks in there. check it out and leave a comment to lemme know what you think. also, last time i uploaded a mix, i guess pretty much everyone had issues downloading it for some reason. too large of a file maybe? so this time i’m also including the mix broken up into three chunks for easier download… each of the chunks should seamlessly come together if you have itunes w/ gapless playback.

Download the entire mix here: Question mark mix.

or, download it in 3 chunks here: Question mark mix part 1, Question mark mix part 2, Question mark mix part 3.

(oh, btw, the last track is pretty NSFW so dont play it for your boss or your mom)

Tracklisiting below:

1. David Byrne – Dance On Vaselin (Thievery Corporation remix)
2. The Martin Brothers – Stoopit
3. Freeform Five – No More Conversation (Mylo Remix)
4. Man Like Me – Oh My Gosh (Hoi Polloi Mix)
5. Gameboy/Gamegirl – Sweaty Wet/Dirty Damp
6. Yelle – Je Veux Te Voir
7. Klanguage – Priceless Things
8. Crystal Castles – Air War
9. ELMar – Suck That (Colt 45’s Remix)
10. Alan Hostage – Let’s Pretend (PornScar Remix)
11. Cajuan – Dance Not Dance (Digitalism Mix)
12. Riot in Belgium – La Musique (Van She Tech Remix)
13. GoodBooks – Leni (Kissy Sell Out Remix)
14. Cut Chemist – What’s the Altitude (She Wants Revenge Remix)
15. Au Revoir Simone – Fallen Snow (The Teenagers Remix)
16. The Valentinos – Kafka (Bagraiders Remix)
17. Le Castle Vania – Tigertron (Feat Factory Aire)
18. Spank Rock – Bump (Pink Skull Remix)
19. Thunderheist Рsue̱os dulces
20. Spank Rock – Lindsay Lohan’s Revenge

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Never a dull moment in the Deco Ghetto

I was working from home today, as usual, when i heard tons and tons of sirens outside my house. this is not uncommon around here.. it seems like all the time shit is going down. usually it’s probably the police. this time it wasn’t though. when i looked out my window i saw a ton of black smoke gushing out of a building less than a block away. i grabbed my camera and ran outside to see what was up.

it was nuts!! this building was smoking like crazy and every once in a while you’d see all these flames gush out of the top. there were at least 6 fire engines around, and lots of ambulances etc as well. a large crowd had gathered and we all stood there staring up at the fire. eventually, as time passed and they sprayed more and more water on it, the smoke changed from black to gray and soon i could tell that the fire was pretty under control. i’m still not sure what caused the fire. it was so crazy though!!



the rest of the fire photos are here .

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Votigo.com

for the last couple months i’ve been working at Votigo.com, and we just beta launched our site last week. dude, it’ so cool to see this website go live. it’s really neat that this site that was built by me and just a tiny handful of others is now on the internet and being checked out by a bunch of users. seeing the site slowly grow is so dope!

in case i haven’t already told you, the point of the site is online contests. people can submit either photos or videos into various contests, and then other users vote on them. also, any user can create their own contest, so as the site grows there will be more and more cool contests to check out and interesting videos/photos to watch.

right now, we’re running this promo w/ epic records. anyone who’s got photos of this band Augustana (i hadn’t heard of them, but they’re semi-big… been on letterman, vh1, etc) can submit them for the chance to win a camera. in just the last 10 days or so, the contest has gotten almost 12,000 views! not bad for a website that was just launched!

if any of you have some time, i’d love it if you checked out the site! the url is www.votigo.com. try it out… start your own contest, enter someone else’s contest, or just vote in contests. the more contests/photos/videos we get on the site, the better… and who knows, you just might get hooked. also, i’d be down to hear any feedback you have. how does it look? is it easy to use? are there any things that make no sense, or could be better? any general suggestions? any help or thoughts would be great!

lemme know what you think!

a few things to keep in mind:

a) you’ll have to register to make entries, vote, etc.

b) the site is LIVE… if you make entries/comments/whatever, make sure they are relevant and not just gibberish “asdfgdsagfd”, swear words, or anything else. dont mess up the site, and dont get me fired!! i hate being fired! 😉

thanks peeps!!

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Hong Kong

Our flight to Vietnam was via Hong Kong, so at one point I decided that it might be fun to cut out a couple of days from Vietnam and check our Hong Kong real quick on our way back. Also, I had agreed with my work that I would be able to work form Hong Kong for a week, so in the end, I had a few more days as well during which I could work during the day and explore town at night. Our flight to Hong Kong was god awful early… 6:30am. Which meant we need to be at the airport by 4:30, and thus be awake by 3:30. waking up at 3:30 is fucking crap. We didn’t sleep on the flight, opting to watch the latest episode of heroes instead (that show is so good!), so when we got to Hong Kong, we were completely dazed and confused. We wanted to go out and explore, but we were just too damn tired… we had to take a nap. We had rented a room in a short-stay apartment building, and when we got there it was all crazy… the hallways all glowed blue, the room was all nice with excellent views, and the shower oddly had a glass wall between it and the living room (in case you wanted to watch people shower? Or watch the living room TV while you shower?). this place was pretty sweet.

Hong Kong is a crazy crazy city. It’s a huge maze of skyscrapers, traffic filled streets, pedestrian walkways that zig zag in all directions above street level, and lots and lots of shopping. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a town w/ so many skyscrapers. Pretty much every building here is one, and they go on for days and days. It makes our financial district in SF, or any areas of LA etc look tiny. Hong Kong island has a harbor separating it from the rest of Hong Kong, and when you are at the waterfront, you can see that both sides have skyscrapers that just stretch on and on.

Hong Kong is basically built on a mountain, which makes navigating the city pretty interesting. They actually built the world’s longest escalator here so that during rush hour, people could commute to work, and then in the evening, the flow of the escalator reverses and no one has to walk up hill to get home. Because of the mountain, the streets here aren’t laid out in a grid like other places, instead they curve, bend, and go in all directions, making navigating really difficult. Plus, there is so much traffic, that you can’t cross many of these streets and are forced to take these pedestrian overpasses, that also turn randomly and often send you in the opposite direction from where you want to go. To get anywhere in town, you hardly ever can walk in a straight line and have to make a bunch of turns and loops. Parks are built right into the hillside, and Hong Kong has lots of them. Surprisingly they somehow are designed to really make you feel like you’re somewhere out in nature and you almost forget that just yards away, on the others side of some trees or a small hill, there lies a huge sprawling concrete jungle.

People here love to shop. Shopping is everywhere and I’ve never seen anything like this. There’s a shopping mall on every corner and then there are other stores filling in the gaps in between. And then, every other nook and cranny is filled w/ a starbucks/mc donalds/7-eleven/etc. On many streets you can almost not see the sky through the millions of neon signs, ads, and lights begging you to buy, buy buy. Everyone talks mad shit about how America is such a consumerist materialistic society, but I really don’t think America can compare to this. This is just too much! Plus, all the shops are mad fancy… every store is Gucci/prada/tiffany’s/rolex/etc. on the streets, everyone walks around wearing their chi-chi freshly bought clothes, pretty much everyone in town dressed in suits and designer threads.

Hong Kong is also an incredibly fast changing city. A lot of the things mentioned in our guidebook, which was published just a year ago, were gone. People here are in such a hurry to build everything bigger, better, richer that all the old stuff in the city is gone. There are hardly any old buildings left, and the ones that remain are being pushed away to make room for big business. Our guidebook mentioned how one of Hong Kong’s oldest buildings was blocking a new high-rise from being built. The building had historical value, so in the end, they reached a compromise where the building was taken apart piece by piece in order to be restored elsewhere. Unfortunately, the govt lost some pieces. Oops! A decade later, the pieces were found, but the chalk numbers that told how to reassemble the building had rubbed off. They tried to randomly assemble it, and got it sort of working, except somehow ended up w/ 6 columns left over. Oops again. When we walked to the pier, there were all sorts of leaflets and posters put up by people who were disgusted by how the govt keeps destroying parts of Hong Kong. Just recently, a famous pier had been torn down. Posters were everywhere to “save the clock tower” (kind of reminded me of back to the future). I guess Hong Kong is just trying to rush forward a little too fast…

I had been pretty excited about eating Chinese food while I was here. Chinese food is the first type of food I remember being really excited about as my family would go to Chinese restaurants often ever since I was a little kid. I had often heard that American Chinese food is nothing like the food people actually eat in china, and I was interested to see just how different it was. The are many different Chinese restaurants on Hong Kong, each serving one of the many different styles of food ranging from Cantonese (the most common here) to Sichuan to Hunan etc.

Our first time getting Cantonese didn’t really leave me impressed. Well, it was good, don’t get me wrong, but I just wasn’t very excited by it. One of the things I love about Chinese food is that it has so many bold flavors, everything is so spicy or tangy etc. this food was more… well, bland. Very little sauce, and the sauce that was there was very mild. Here, in all the different restaurants, they try to limit sauce like crazy.. if you ask for soy sauce or chili sauce or whatever, they’ll give you a tiny saucer with like 5 drops in it. Our meal actually started off with a nasty surprise. They brought out these little bowls and put them in front of us… inside was this super gnarly blackened egg with a transparent outside and a greenish mucky paste in the middle… this was the infamous 1000 year old egg. I cautiously took a bite. Mostly it tasted like a normal egg, but something was just gross about it… some kind of funky flavor coming form the greenish slimy yolk part. Caryn noticed that people were eating their eggs with ginger, and when we tried it like that, it was more palatable and I choked mine down, though caryn said she thought she might vomit. We were off to a good start! The restaurant we were at was famous for it’s fried goose, so we got some. I’m usually not a fan of duck etc, but this was pretty good. Everything else was just so-so.

Another night, we went out to a fancy Sichuan restaurant. This food was much better than the Cantonese. It actually really reminded me of the “Spices II” restaurant in sf. We had deep fried shrimp drowning in a huge mound of crispy garlic and then we got black chicken in chili peppers. Dude, they brought this enormous bowl that pretty much filled the entire table and the whole thing was completely full of red peppers. It was madness! Somewhere, beneath the surface you would find pieces of chicken, and man, they were HOT! And yeah, they were black. The skin was black, the meat was grayish, and the bones were black. It was so crazy. It turns out that there is actually a species of black boned chicken out there. how weird?!

So yeah, the rest of the Chinese food I saw in Hong Kong was kinda funky, smelled odd, and was just not really appealing. Coming to Hong Kong, I thought I was going to be eating Chinese food every single meal of the day, but after just a day or two, I didn’t want anymore at all. I suppose it might just be an acquired taste. The one exception to this is dim-sum. I *love* dim-sum, and for the most part, the dim-sum served here was similar to back home. Delicious pork buns, shrimp dumplings, etc. and surprisingly, some places even had soup dumplings. Soup dumplings are one of my favorite foods, and I crave them all the time, but I’ve only seen them one place before, and that’s at this small restaurant in the mall across from my parent’s house.

For the rest of my time in Hong Kong, I tried to stick to dim sum as much as possible. As there is usually no menu, and many of the people don’t speak English, there was often confusion when trying to order, but everything usually worked out. Just as the Chinese food back home is different than the real thing, the American food here was different than in America. At McDonald’s, you could get lobster bisque along w/ your extra value meal. Kfc served porridge. And weirdest of all, I read about a taco bell in china… it’s a sit down restaurant instead of fast food, and all the food is toned down for Chinese palates: no sour cream, no refried beans, little cheese, and they have margaritas?!

So what did we do w/ our time in Hong Kong? Not much…we really had very little time. We walked around town just to take it all in and explore the parks and high-rises. We checked out the shopping. We ate dim sum. One night we went to go watch this laser show. Usually, when I hear about a laser show, I instantly imagine that it will be super cheesy and lame and basically a tourist trap. But this actually sounded cool… you could look across the harbor at Hong Kong’s lit-up skyline and see lasers shooting all over. Well, in the end, I was right… the laser show was soooo cheesy, but checking out the view of Hong Kong at night was cool. One day, we took the tram to the top of the peak to see Hong Kong form above. The view of the city below was phenomenal. Seriously amazing. Of course, in true Hong Kong style, there was a 4 story shopping mall there too… just in case you couldn’t handle spending an hour w/ no shopping.

On Sunday morning, as we walked through town, we noticed that there were women sitting around on blankets everywhere. The sidewalks all over town were lined with small picnic blankets with groups of women hanging out, chatting, eating from Tupperware’s, playing cards. It was so random. Why were they all here? What were they all doing chilling on the sidewalk, and why hadn’t we seen this the day before? We found the answer in our book. A lot of people here have live-in maids, most of them from Indonesia, Philippines, and other poorer countries. These women usually only get one day off per week, Sunday, and since they have no real home of their own to invite people to, they all go and picnic w/ each other outside. It still seemed crazy just how many of them there were and how this whole section of town had turned into a large chill out area.

In the end, I cant say I was all that thrilled w/ HK. I mean, I’m definitely glad I got to check it out, but I just wasn’t as into it as I thought I’d be. I guess I’m just more into developing countries. Also, HK just seemed to stuffy suit-style for me. There was just something about the vibe here that I wasn’t into… like everyone was here to either get rich and show off how rich they’ve already gotten. Plus, it was just sooo expensive to be there. the cheapest hotels cost around $100. when we’d go get Chinese food, our dinners would cost like $100 for a mediocre meal for two. Everything was bank.

Partially because I wasn’t into it, and partially because the internet link that I depended on for work was a bit faulty, I decided to come home a few days early. Oh yeah, one thing I’ve forgotten to mention… there was a Bathing Ape store in Hong Kong. If you don’t know, BAPE is a Japanese clothing label that is famous for making cool and very limited edition clothing. when in Japan, we had gone looking for the BAPE store, and couldn’t find it, so I was really excited to just randomly spot a BAPE store here. Each time I walked by, there was a long line of people that wrapped around the block waiting to get inside, but one time we were able to get in. The store was DOPE. You walk in, up rainbow colored steps, and you are on a clear floor w/ shoes rolling on a moving walkway beneath you. The whole store is just designed so slick. I instantly wanted to just go on a buying spree. The whole thing about BAPE though, is that everything is very limited edition. If you buy a t-shirt, sweatshirt, whatever, you know that you will be one of a small handful of people that will ever own that exact item. You look through the racks and it’s like, oh yeah, they have this item but you can only get it in this one size and this one color… that’s your only option.. they just don’t have any more cause no more were made. Since these things are so rare, the prices are NUTS. Ok, sneakers for $200 don’t seem too crazy, but $70 for a baseball cap? $100 for a t-shirt? I asked about a sweatshirt I liked…. $280… for just a sweatshirt. Reversible yes, but still nothing crazy out of the ordinary. . I understand that high fashion designer clothes are expensive, but usually they are made in some crazy design or style or whatever, and not just a regular t-shirt or sweatshirt with a unique print. I totally wanted to buy something, but I just couldn’t spend $300 on a sweatshirt, I just couldn’t. meanwhile, I saw people in the store buying shoes for their 5 year olds. $200 shoes for a 5 year old. Dayum.

The morning that I was to leave HK, I woke up and really started regretting not having bought any BAPE stuff. Then, all of a sudden, I remembered that my parents had given me some money as a gift to spend on my trip. I hadn’t spent it yet. Plus, they had given me $$ for my Cuba trip as well that I had not ended up spending. Hmmmmm. I decided that this would be the perfect gift.. something really cool that I wanted, but would never be ok w/ buying for myself. So, I packed, got everything ready, and ran out to go to the BAPE store. I was really worried that the line would be too long and now that I had finally decided to go for it, I wouldn’t be able to get any BAPE after all. But when I walked up, there was no line. The store was shut. DOH! I was so bummed. Why hadn’t I bought the stuff earlier?! How many other chances would I have to go to a BAPE store. Argh.

I got the stuff from my hotel, and walked to the metro to catch my flight. As I walked by the BAPE store, I looked at it… still shut. Damn. I crossed the street, and just as I was about to keep walking, I glanced back, and holy shit, the roll up door had been rolled up part way. No way. I ran over, and wondered, should I just go in? will they be pissed? At that moment, a woman walked in and when I asked she said the store opens at 11am. My flight was at 12:50. if I was super quick, I could probably buy something. So I waited outside till the store opened, and walked in with my huge ass backpack, a duffel bag, and a bunch of other crap. Unlike many people who work at expensive shops, the people at the BAPE store were super nice. It’s funny, they are so anal about arranging every little thing perfectly, down to the inch. Also, when you try on a t-shirt, they cant let you try on the actual shirt, you have to try on a plain black shirt of the same size, so you know if it fits. I bought a few things, and was hella psyched. I almost contemplated buying *2* sweatshirts, but didn’t, heh.

I couldn’t believe how perfectly it had worked out. If I had walked by the sore just a few minutes earlier, it wouldn’t have been partially open. So lucky!! Well, I guess things hadn’t worked out exactly perfectly. When I got to the metro station, I was told I was too late for my flight. By the time I took the airport express, it would be too late. I begged and pleaded etc etc… but no. I had missed my flight, and had to pay $100 for a flight on the next day. Damn!! Back at my hotel, pretty much everything was booked, but they found me a room that they had been repainting, and I spent the afternoon working while breathing paint fumes. 

The next day, I made damn sure I wouldn’t miss my flight. Phew.

and here are my hong kong photos.
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