Friday, July 31, 2009

Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant at Vic's in Beijing

Read about it here. Word is the superstars were just passing through and didn't get mugged too badly for autographs.

UPDATE: YouTube video here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Onion of the Day: Yu Wan Mei selling the Onion

There're some half- and near-truths in this excerpt. CEO Zuo Xiabing:

Disloyal Americans! You have aided these treasonous snakes in their plot against Yu Wan Mei. First you refuse to ingest our coagulated octopus paste at a fast enough rate, and now you hold a dagger to the throat of the printed word itself! Your obsession with personal liberty has been a burden on your nation's success for generations, and now you sit there like livestock as an entire industry falls to dust around you—the very industry upon which you construct your imaginary foundation of free speech!

Submission is deficient in this culture of indolence, where citizens would rather have the unmitigated thoughts of others poured into their heads by the Internet than read diligently the printed word, as decent people do.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Another edition of hilarity

It's hard to say the Onion's better since the takeover by Yu Wan Mei, as it's always been top-notch, but now it at least gives this blog an excuse to link to its articles.

This one, for instance: Yao Ming!

Yao Ming officially averages 84 points per basketball game and has a shooting percentage of .9999998, Chinese basketball officials said. Furthermore, Yao Ming is perfectly healthy and, in fact, cannot be injured. Yao Ming is also a universally acknowledged beacon of humility and respect, and on the exceedingly rare occasion when he does miss a shot, he no doubt does so on purpose, selflessly ensuring that his lesser American teammates feel better about their own lackluster shooting percentages.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This did not happen: President Hu Jintao's son linked to corruption

Good luck getting any search engines to return a search for "Hu Jintao son corruption." As far as I can tell, the article itself has been stripped from all non-censored websites, such as the Telegraph. That's why you'll get an extended excerpt this time, from Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Hu's connection to any public scandal, however remote, could prove embarrassing to the Communist Party and President Hu's administration, which has waged a high-profile campaign against corruption in China. During the Hu administration there has been a strenuous effort to keep leaders' family members out of the spotlight.

Namibian investigators say that after the Namibian government signed a $54 million deal with Nuctech to provide cargo scanners for Namibia's ports and airports and made a $12 million down payment, the Chinese firm paid $12 million to a local consultancy, Teko Trading.

"It goes to corruption if these people were given this money in order to influence the authorities to give a contract to this company," said Paulus Noa, director of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Police have already arrested Teko's co-owners and the person identified as a Nuctech employee.

The three have each been charged with fraud, bribery and failing to report a corrupt transaction. They were expected to appear in court Wednesday. Their lawyers couldn't be reached to comment.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the case, Chinese-language versions of recent foreign news reports about Nuctech were removed from at least two Chinese Web sites. Efforts to search for "Hu Haifeng" or "Nuctech" on, China's most popular Internet search engine, returned a message saying: "The results of your search may not comply with relevant laws, regulations and policies."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

China buys The Onion

The Onion -- "America's 'finest' news source" -- is having a bit of fun at China's expense, on the (fake) premise that the paper has been sold to the Chinese.

Any-way, I wish you all the best of luck making sense of the dis-jointed drivel contained in this inaugural issue of the Chinese Onion. If the new owner-ship does not suck the very blood from your veins, they'll surely dizzy you into stupefied obedience with their unnatural black Orient arts. Oh, and in accordance with the contractual terms of the buy-out, let me remind you all that Yu Wan Mei Fish Time is the best Fish Time, perfect eating for you and me and so delicious. That is all.鱼

Of course, all good satire pokes fun at everyone and everything, and The Onion is, if nothing else, satire at its finest. Go check it out.

adidas Nations basketball camp in Beijing

This happened two months ago, but it was only recently, borrowing the speedy wi-fi of the Fuchengmen Starbucks, that I was able to get the following video uploaded.

Here's the story I wrote for ESPN The Magazine's website about the camp. The opening:

Amid a gym of squeaking sneakers and the incessant tat-tat-tat of dribblers, a sharp command: "Hold up."

The Chinese players on Court 1 halt, hardly knowing why. Eric Musselman, former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings coach, signals for the ball and walks towards the baseline.

"Get it out of the net," he snaps. To these kids, none older than 18, his words are foreign, baffling. But even without a translator, the intensity of the American's instruction—suggestive of aggressiveness, focus, energy; all those insisted-upon differences between the NBA and the rest of the world's basketball leagues— forces its way through.

"Get both feet out," he instructs a player inbounding a ball. "Clear the backboard, then go. Got it? Details. Little details."

Five seconds later, the fast break drill is stopped again. It's a familiar directive: "Hold up." This time there is something akin to disgust in Musselman's voice—yet it's measured, practiced, and coming from a coach who's used this tone a thousand times before.

"Listen: run hard. Don't jog. Run! RUN!"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Art of War 12 at Beijing Olympic Sports Center Auditorium

On May 23 I attended Art of War 12, heretofore the glitziest event AOW promoters have ever organized. Part of the reason -- I'm guessing a big part -- was because this one was sponsored by an UAE prince (elaboration below).

Here's a video I edited that I finally got around to uploading to YouTube:

Very kind folks at the Beijinger supplied me with two free VIP tickets, and in exchange I gave them this blog post. The original version of the entry (the messier, sorta unedited version) appears after the pictures. (I'm guessing tbj won't mind me reposting this, as it is two months after the fact.)

Big John McCarthy

Yes, that's Michael Buffer.

Main event winner Wu Haotian was not smiling after Art of War 13.

The Art of War 12 Fighting Championship happened Saturday at the Olympic Sports Center Gym, and it was about what you’d expect out of a mixed martial arts event billed as "setting the standard for the future of China's mixed martial arts industry”: loud, gaudy, over-the-top, packed with personality. Michael Buffer was there to say, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” Big John McCarthy, ref of Ultimate Fighting Championship fame, did his signature “Let’s get it on!” Even His Highness himself – by the way, this is the opening sentence in the press release: “Under the Patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates the Art of War Fighting Championship 12, 'Invincible' proudly returns to Beijing...” – was in attendance, presenting the main event winner an oversized piece of cardboard that was supposed to be a check, or something.

We should also mention – you know, for posterity's sake and all – it was lurid and violent. I wondered aloud how many times the ring girls, in their tiny tight black shorts and showing all their midriff, practiced their pre-round prance – you’ve seen it before, ladies holding ROUND 1 placards above their heads while sashaying around the squared circle – because from where I was sitting the consistency and conviction of their steps was to be commended.

Did we mention violent? Oh, there was violence. The fight between Fransino Tirta of Indonesia and Malik Arash Mawlayi of Sweden was stopped because Mawlayi’s corner couldn’t close a cut above the Swede’s right eye. A Japanese fighter got his head stomped on, then popped up for more abuse (this was best fight of the night, by the way, between Japan’s Atsuhiro Tsuboi and China’s Dai Shuanghai; it ended in a technical draw after two 10-minute rounds, and the audience applauded). Rolles Gracie, with his family ringside (the famous Gracie family, which dominated MMA with its Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), won via submission barely five minutes in with a rear naked choke.

The event began slow – China's Yao Qiang won the night's first match via submission to mild applause; he tried his best to be charismatic for a crowd that didn't want to be charmed – and dragged a bit long – nearly four hours to complete the 12-match card. But in between there were enough moments to redeem the event – enough punches to the head, slams to the ground. It was pretty obvious the spectators weren’t there for an intellectual discussion on the morality of violence.

Of course, how good a time you had depends on whether you dropped 500 RMB for a VIP ticket to basically sit in a glorified movie theater. Every time the fighters hit the mat – and it was often – just about the only way you could see the action was to watch the big-screens. And if the connection happened to fail – which it did more often than it should have – you were out of luck. God forbid you stand up, because you’d get a tap from a stern-looking usher dressed head-to-toe in black – from cap to boots – telling you to sit down.

So, it’s here that we would like to say, emphatically, to event organizers: MMA is a sporting event, not an Ennio Morricone concert. You can let fans stand!

In the end, the crowd went home happy. China’s Wu Haotian beat Japan’s Yutaka Kobayashi in the main event by getting him on the ground and pounding the pulp out of his head. It was the night’s shortest match. If this was pro wrestling, we’d say the baby faces won (Gracie, four of the six Chinese fighters) and the heels suffered humiliation and agony (more than once were there catcalls of "Kill that Devil!" when a Japanese fighter was in the ring). Of course, if this were wrestling, fans would have stood during the matches and drank beer (they ran out real early – probably a good thing, actually). As fine an effort as this was, when it comes to entertainment, His Highness the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi is no Vince McMahon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Video from the Jiankou section of the Great Wall

You'll recall that I camped out at the Great Wall last month and had a great time. Well here's a video:

If you ever make the trip yourself and want a small bit of advice on how best to maximize your experience, or at least how to achieve that one everlasting, breathtaking, astonishing, damn-near-sublime moment, the kind that, momentarily at least, relieves you of all worries: leave your tent at night, preferably when it's pitch dark and the woods are aquiver with the unabating nocturne of the cricket philharmonic, and look up.

Pictures from Art of War 13 and a longer video of Wu Haotian getting KO'ed

The full write-up to this event is now up on the Beijinger.

Ring girls: hot or not?

The man on the right is Bulgarian fighter Lubomir Guedjev, whose fight with South Korea's Kim Dong Hyun was stopped because doctors couldn't get that gash under his left eye to stop bleeding. Anyone wanna sign up for MMA?

China's Dai Shuanghai vs. Poland's Marcin Pionke was the first fight of the night to go into the second round. In the two pictures above, and you can see Pionke's left eye is swollen shut. After ending in a technical draw -- eliciting a few boos -- Dai took the mic to thank the crowd and basically apologize for his third consecutive no-decision. He said, "Next time, I will do everything I can to win."

China's Wang Sai vs. Sweden's Claes Beverlov in the main event, one of the best fights of the evening. Wang kicked the crap out of Claes for a round and a half before the Swede put Wang into an arm and induced a quick and shocking tap-out.

With streamers and confetti on the mat, Beverlov said to the crowd, "I'm pretty tired; he's really tough guy, really tough guy.... Thank you China for letting me be here. I love the crowd." That same crowd, by the way -- mostly Chinese -- got up to leave almost the instant after he won.

And as promised, here's a full-length video of the Shukhrat Minovarov-Wu Haotian "fight." I was able to record the entire thing because it lasted 22 seconds. In fact, I'm pretty sure the ring girls, in all their glory below, pranced around the ring for a longer length of time.

POSTSCRIPT: The guys over at the forum have picked up my first video of the knockout, posted yesterday. Check out their discussion if you'd like.

From: Altofsky
Posted: 10 hours ago
Member Since: 12/17/06
Posts: 25350
You could HEAR that shot. That was almost as loud as Bas Rutten's right hand across Ruben Villareal's chin.

From: Not Monty
Posted: 10 hours ago
Member Since: 8/23/05
Posts: 6108
Hear that crack? That is one of the reasons to go see fights live. You just dont get those 'thwacks' on tv.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Art of War 13: Wu Haotian gets knocked out in stunning fashion

I have quite a bit to say about mixed martial arts in China in general and yesterday's event, Art of War 13, specifically, but I'm preparing a blog entry for the Beijinger so I won't able to elaborate until later. (Update: tbj post.) Just know that last evening, China's Wu Haotian, one of the most popular fighters in the Art of War series and the winner of the Art of War 12 main event -- he who won in the shortest match of that evening, mind you -- got stone-cold knocked the %$#@ out in the 18th second of his match against Uzbek Shukhrat Minovarov. Think Dan Henderson's knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100, only faster. The ref, "Big John" McCarthy, called the fight off immediately. The official match time -- from bell to bell, by my count -- was 21 seconds.

It was, to say the least, shocking.

Here's a video. Expect a longer version to be posted shortly. (Update: here.)

POSTSCRIPT: Here's my Beijinger write-up to Art of War 12. Expect a video about that soon as well. (Update: here.)

Friday, July 17, 2009


Fondant au chocolat

Bought from the Japanese chain store Beard Papa inside Oriental Plaza at Wangfujing.

POSTSCRIPT: My girlfriend, upon me telling her just now that a Spanish blogger had me on his blogroll, replied, "Which blog, Heart of Darkness?" She tried catching herself but wasn't quick enough.

Well, it is nighttime in Beijing...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke at the Peninsula Hotel in downtown Beijing

Locke and Bob Poole (see anecdote below)

Gary Locke was in Beijing along with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu for a three-day whirlwind tour earlier this week, their first visit as part of the Obama administration. Neither men are newcomers to China, as both are ethnically Chinese, though Locke made a point of saying in his speech at the Peninsula Hotel in an event jointly hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) that though he's proud of his heritage, his loyalties lie fully with America.

I really have nothing more to add to what has already been reported (full text of Locke's speech here) except to say the Peninsula's food was delicious (chicken, rice, fancy dessert) and the secretary was, how shall we say, political, perhaps a bit overly so. Between adding a word to fundraise for the Shanghai Expo and lobbying for the president's energy and trade policies and using that classic tale about how it took his family 100 years to move one mile (from the servant's house in Olympia, Washington to the governor's mansion), he was quite... political. Which means charming and smart, of course, but in that nearly fake, certainly put-on sort of way.

There was one funny exchange towards the end that you won't find in any news reports though. As USCBC Vice President of China Operations Bob Poole was trying to wrap up the Q-and-A session so everyone could go home (or back to work, in some cases), Locke, ever the charismatic politician, said, "We've got time for a few more."

Poole, without missing a beat, replied, "You're driving the bus today?"

The audience laughed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wong Kar Wai's heartbreaking epic, Ashes of Time

Can you really call a Wong Kar Wai film anything but heartbreaking? Or epic?

I'm going to keep this review short: it's moving, it's fun, and it's classic Wong Kar Wai. It's more or less a can't-miss for fans of Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love and 2046 (which remains my favorite Wong Kar Wai film, by the way).

Check out the trailer here.

Red is the color of unattainable love

Monday, July 13, 2009

More uploading troubles and the beauty of VPNs

According to this notice it's now possible to upload videos onto Youku with Macs, but I haven't had any success. The status bar moves all the way to 100%, but the video never shows up.

Anyone know what's up?

I've been a little obsessed recently with finding a VPN that's faster and more reliable than the current one I'm using, which isn't bad but, I'm convinced, isn't the best.

Here's the good news / bad news part:

Good news: a list of free, downloadable VPNs can be found via Radio Free Asia, including possibly the most helpful list ever assembled for the expat in China: Freegate (only free to users in China (and maybe now Iran)), UltraSurf (Wujie), Gpass, Fire Phoenix, UltraSurf (Wujie) and Garden Networks.

Bad news: most of these proxies only work for Windows.

Times like these are when I wish I would've taken the time to partition my hard drive way back when.

POSTSCRIPT: For those who are still basking in the aftermath of the Green Dam fiasco, please check out Green Tsunami, which is the Global Internet Freedom's response to Green Dam.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The dream's over

Yup, China has re-blocked YouTube and Blogger. I am typing this from a proxy (a great proxy, by the way, at

My brief 10 minutes of euphoria -- and it was pure, exclamatory euphoria, as the people at O'Farrell Coffee know -- was worth it though. Some of those dunks on Shawn Bradley were hilarious.

Christmas in Beijing

Here's what I was going to write earlier this morning:

I woke up to a minor miracle: my five-hour upload of "BUSL 2009 draft" was successful!

Then I saw this note:

The audio track of your video is muted.

This isn't the first time I've had trouble with the YouTube censors.


Here is what I will write instead:





Quick, look up all the YouTube videos you can before it's too late. Family Guy. Miley Cyrus. Top 10 Dunks on Shawn Bradley. IT DOESN'T MATTER! Just watch, watch, watch!

Even inflammatory Xinjiang videos are accessible:

And this, which I recommend:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My poor old neighborhood

It has always been my opinion that Beijing has too many subway stops. Oh, the trains are nice and modern (some even air-conditioned, though that's not necessarily a good thing when the old air never gets recycled out and fresh air never comes in during the summer months), but they stop way too often, and unnecessarily.

The 5-line, for instance: anyone want to tell me why there's a stop at Beixinqiao when one can walk 10 minutes to the Dongzhimen subway or take any of about 16 buses there? At least five or six lines can (should) be removed from that subway line. And who can tell me why the Tiananmen West stop exists on Line 1? Has anyone ever 1) used that station or 2) seen anyone board the train from that station? (Okay, I exaggerate... has anyone ever seen two people board from there?) The only contribution Tiananmen West has made to this city is making people confused, and I suppose trains could always stand to see fewer tourists crammed inside, but still...

Anyway, they're building new subway lines as we speak, many of them even less necessary. Take the 4-line, for instance, which is supposed to run northwest-southeast, zigzagging through my old neighborhood at Xihuangchenggen (西黄城根). This street, loosely translated as "West Root of Imperial City," is at once modern and timeworn, with just the right mix of hutongs, restaurants (Xinjiang, Sichuan, chuar (kabob) bars, old Beijing, you name it...), small shops, convenience stores and 1950s-built courtyards. There are also three bus stations and plenty of cabs. In other words, if there's one neighborhood in Beijing that surely does not need a subway running underneath, this is it.

But look what they're doing:

Lingjing Hutong, the street perpendicular to the southern tip of Xihuangchenggen South St.

Xihuangchenggen South St.

The second picture doesn't appear to show much besides congestion, but look towards the back... yup, that's a blue construction fence.

Here's what this street looked like earlier this year:

Two of my favorite restaurants there -- a Xinjiang place with a nice owner and a chuar bar where my friends and I had this outing -- have boarded up and left. Ugh. That's all I can say.

It used to be a brisk 15- to 20-minute walk from my old residence at Xihuangchenggen to the Xidan subway stop. Now, okay, it'll be a 10-minute walk to the Lingjing Hutong station, but half as beautiful. Here are two street-level views and another fifth-story view, all from last summer.

And finally, in honor of above-linked chuar bar -- which Kevin, Casey and I discovered one night last fall for a late dice outing -- a picture from Valentine's Day eve, where Joe's pictured offering me a very, very spicy (the Chinese phrase is 变态辣, or "pervertedly spicy") chicken wing:

Inconvenience and absurdity

As almost everyone in China knows (at least everyone who would care, anyway), Blogger, YouTube and, most recently for the second time, Twitter, have been blocked in this country in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the PRC's founding (National Day is October 1, coinciding with China's longest national holiday, also called Golden Week). Related reasons for censorship include Xinjiang riots, unfounded paranoia, et al., but we won't get into that here.

There are several ways around the Great Firewall of China, of course, as most people also know. The simplest is a proxy server, a list of which can be found here. (A compendious history of my proxy usage: I arrived in China last year just after Anonymouse was blocked, so I started using Youhide but soon switched to Outlaw Proxy, which was great until it too went out of commission. This past year I've used YouTube Proxy and Proxy Box Online, both of which recently got shut down, and now MySpace Window and Proxy Own are the two on my bookmark bar.)

A better, less utilized option, however, is the VPN, or virtual proxy network, which acts like a security blanket for your entire computer instead of just one website. If you search online, you can find a couple that are downloadable and totally free to use, as long as you don't mind popup ads. And if I may say, for the chance to surf any website from any window, any browser, to watch any YouTube video or access all the decadence of the World Wide Web, I am more than willing to put up with the occasional commercial brought to me by Blinkx.

There's only one problem in all this, as far as I can tell: video uploads. Anyone who's tried to upload large files onto YouTube knows how frustrating it can be to see your Internet connection get interrupted and your upload go kaput. Now imagine this: not only do you have to worry about faulty Internet connections (and I have a very faulty one here) but also potentially faulty VPN connections. Not only are uploads slow, they're totally unreliable. Entire days can be wasted or ruined due to, say, an ill-timed screen-saver.

For me, this has led to lots of balked video uploads in the past week, so many, in fact, that I threw my mouse against the wall last night in apoplectic anger. Lucky for me, the video that stalled while I was away was successfully uploaded, and it's the video from earlier today. But just now I had a five-hour upload stall in its last five minutes because my VPN gave out. Seriously, five minutes, after five hours. You have no idea how aggravating this can be, though I've begun to learn how to deal with it. Click RETRY, minimize browser. Sigh.

Here's an image documenting something even more ridiculous. I don't know if you see it, but click on the pic for a close-up...

...0:03 is what's showing on the progress bar. THREE SECONDS. And in this case, I received no error message telling me my upload failed. I had to assume as much, because the bar would no longer move. And so, reluctantly, I clicked CANCEL and, dutifully like a neutered dog, RETRY. I may have said something like, FUCK THIS GODDAMN SHIT, but I'll never remember.

Haidilao Hotpot vs. Jindacai Barbecue

Saturday, June 27, I met my cousin Zhang Peng and Alicia at Haidilao Hotpot (Huoguo) (海底捞火锅), a fairly famous restaurant on the top floor of one of Xidan's mega-malls. Eight days later, which would be this past Sunday, July 5, I met my other cousin, Mingyu, and my uncle (haven't written about Jiujiu for a while), who was with his wife and twin sons (Fang Fang and Fei Fei), at a place next to Haidilao called Jindacai Shaokao (金達萊燒烤 (traditional characters)), an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue. You basically stack your tray with uncooked meat (they have cooked foods, too, like chicken kabobs, salads, jello, cake, dumplings and cold noodles) and take it back to your table to grill, and every 10 to 15 minutes or so a waitress comes around to replace your grate with a fresh one. Meats available beef, pork -- indeed, bacon -- tripe, kidneys, king shrimp, chicken breast, chicken leg... and more! -- all for RMB 58.

Please compare...


They have a cornucopia of dipping sauces.


The beer is all-you-can-drink, too.

An added bonus at the Haidilao place comes when you order the noodles. A man will actually appear with a clump of dough and pull the noodles into shape right in front of you, like so:

I think my verdict would be the barbecue joint, if only because I'm a sucker for buffets. You really can't go wrong with either though, if you're ever in the area.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A slice of "real" China

Pictures taken on Monday, July 6, near the Bagou subway stop, which is the last stop on the West side of Line 10.

Imitation Jade

NBA player Brook Lopez, when asked
on his second day in China what he'd seen,
replied he had not had time to see much
he had been escorted into the hutongs of the real China --
To see real China, he said with a crooked grin
as if to imply something,
the essence or point of which
escaped him -- and I could tell he thought
what every high-status visitor thinks,
that there is a fake China
beyond the Badaling section of the Great Wall
and the fresh lead paint over Tiananmen's red cracks,
beyond the fakeness of, say, Silk Street,
which specializes in fake,
and the fakeness of imitation jade sold atop sky bridges because
they are so obviously fake that if you asked the vendor
he would smile, crooked perhaps,
and say as much, adding
in his own special, unspoken way,
Skyscrapers, supersized malls, spirals of concrete: fake fake fake
fake --

As I pee into a trough near the Bagou subway stop, making sure
to aim against the wall so as to not
drench my toes in sprayage,
what is fake about this, about the clotheslines on which starched cotton
socks bake till they're cardboard crisp, the men
plastering a nearby building, two women watching,
the spade cutting back and forth across the charcoal clay,
what is fake about this, I think,
is what is fake about you and I, about
our motivations to keep our motors turning
and our lives running,
about history, which has already written the future,
indeed, about the future itself,

the lies we must tell because they are our tickets to arrive there
even as we drive ourselves to look towards past lives of dirt and dust
and clay
and call that real --

pissing, cleaning, grinding out
life one day at a time, one freshly washed,
lined and dried
collar-stretched shirt at a time, wanting nothing
but life.