Funny Sign Above A Urinal

That sign above the urinal says, “A small step forward a giant leap toward clvillzation.”

Where do I begin to make fun of this? First off, let me start by saying that every single one of my pisses should be celebrated like we landed on the motherf*cking moon! It’s also funny because the Chinese slang for “pee” is niao naio, which just sounds ridiculous. Third, it just shows you how often the Chinese piss wherever they want if they have to congratulate urinal users for making progress towards civilization, or as they call it, “clvillzation.” Fourth, they are just way off from Neil Armstrong’s original quote. Look it up, it’s in the history books.

It’s also worth noting this was the second time I got to pull off my favorite urinal joke. This picture was taken when we were in the Baotou airport waiting for our flight back to Beijing. My German friend took the first urinal so I took the very last one. I said, “I’m going to stand away from you as far as possible.” He replied, “I appreciate it.”

I started backing away from the piss hole as I was naio naio-ing and responded, “I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to the urinal!”

It’s funnier when you do it than when you write about it.








Inner Mongolia, Part 1 – Friday

My Chinese teacher, Willa, is from Baotou in Inner Mongolian. No, she’s not a Mongolian, her family is from Shanxi province and Tianjin. They’re Han Chinese but those that live there are proud of Mongolian culture. Anyways, she invited me and a few of her other students to go visit Inner Mongolia. I had no idea what we were going to do there, and this trip defied all expectations.

We all met at the airport. That’s when the massive picture-taking session began. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my most offensive picture yet. The only thing I’m sorry for is the bad quality.

Our Friday night flight to Baotou took roughly an hour. Chinese airline companies pride themselves on their flight attendants – it always helps when you’re able to discriminate based on age and level of attractiveness. In China, flight attendants are called in , “Air Brother/Sister,” which I think is kind of cute. They certainly treat you more like family than the crotchety old women you’ll find on Delta or American Airlines. They also still provide peanuts because China isn’t a nanny state where the solution to one person’s problems is forced upon everyone else.

Yes, those are seaweed-flavored peanuts. As my sister would say, “amazeballs!”

We got into Baotou rather late and Willa’s parents picked us up to bring us to our hotel a half an hour away from the airport. Baotou is St. Louis compared to Beijing’s New York. Having a car is an absolute necessity. Public transportation exists, but it’s extremely spread out due to the frequent earthquakes. They only have a few tall buildings, and our hotel is one of them.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane is that there’s fresh air! No pollution! I had no idea how much of it I was about to get.

So we arrived at our hotel, the Haide Hotel, a little after midnight and it turns out that Willa’s parents already took care of (i.e. paid for) our accommodations that night. As government officials and second generation Inner Mongolians, they pride themselves on hospitality – especially for foreigners. Baotou isn’t exactly a place that foreigners visit on their two-week vacation/tour of China. Sure enough, they got us the Presidential Suite, complete with 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a study, a full kitchen, a 8-person dining table and couches in front of a 72″ television. The bathrooms had steam showers and jacuzzi tubs, and the master bath even had a sauna. Straight baaaaaaaallin’!

You probably noticed that the pictures got significantly smaller. I’d rather include as many of them as possible than wait for my super slow Chinese internet to upload the larger ones, which takes about two minutes.

I got the study while the British couple got one bedroom and Willa and the German shared the master bedroom. I got to build a fort out of the chairs, pillows and 2 down comforters. I fucking love building pillow forts! It was without a doubt the softest bed I’ve slept in since coming China. We were a little shocked at how generous Willa’s parents were, but she assured us that they were getting the “government discount.” I’m still not sure what that means and I really didn’t want to ask.

After throwing our bags down, we went to get some grub. Willa took us to the local favorite Mongolian BBQ. Not a place for tourists, judging by the way the restaurants patrons were gaping at us. I forgot what it was like to be in parts of China where white people sightings aren’t common. As I’ve previously claimed, something happened in Beijing in the past 6 years that caused them to hate us. Maybe it was the Olympics, I don’t know. Here, they are excited to have you in their country, they are gracious and they love to stare at you.

Inner Mongolia has a ton of farmland and thus supports much of China’s Eastern seaboard with their quality meats. Not exactly on par with Argentian beef or Omaha steaks, but infinitely better than the mystery meat with tons of gristle that’s the norm in Beijing. 

Boom! What you’re looking at is chuanr (pronounced “chwar”) i.e. meat on a stick. Chuanr translates to “string” according to my iPhone 4 dictionary app, but the character 串 looks like pieces of meat on a stick, am I right? We ate beef, lamb (an Inner Mongolian specialty), a garlic-y bread and these giant green-tea flavored chicken wings. Honestly, folks, I almost cried when we ate them because it was all so delicious. Chuanr is also quite common in Beijing and other major cities, although its used more of a late-night drunk food than a mealtime dish. This is probably due to the difference in meat quality. Anyways, we washed down this meat with some delicious local beer.

At this point its 1:30am. Willa tells us (for the first time) that we need to wake up at 6:45 to get breakfast and catch our 7:30 bus. Bus, you say? Oh yeah. We’re going to the Inner Mongolian grasslands which are a 4 hour bus ride north of Baotou. Then the next day we’ll be going south to the Inner Mongolian desert.

My internet is going crazy and I’m tired. I’m going to break up the trip summary into two more parts, one for Saturday and one for Sunday.  Stay tuned.

(I’m very mad at myself for not taking a picture of my pillow fort.)





Off to Inner Mongolia!

Howdy folks. I’m off to Baotou, a city in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Baotou is also known as Lucheng, which means “Deer City.” I’m super pumped, although I have no idea what my group will be doing. My group includes my Chinese teacher and 4 other students.

For those like me interested in energy/environmental issues, Baotou is home to the Bayan Obo mines which have about 95% of the world’s rare earth materials production. What are those, you ask? In short, they are materials used to manufacture high-tech goods such as lasers, advanced batteries, specialty magnets, x-ray and PET scan machines, MRI contrasting agents (gadolinium) and more.

“Lasers (and ninjas) are soooooo sweet I wanna crap my pants!”

In my past job I was an ardent defender of the US coal industry as well as other domestic fossil fuel production. For those of you who are fans of solar and wind energy and are complete day-dreaming morons, we can’t build PV cells or wind turbines without these rare earths. Let me put it to you in simple terms: anybody telling you that we need a robust, domestic solar and wind energy economy is omitting the fact that we must source our materials from China. We don’t have these rare earths reserves, and even if we did it’s pretty much impossible to open a new mine in the US thanks to environmentalists, the Obama EPA, and ordinary citizens who love the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) defense. Sorry to burst your bubble with that Inconvenient Truth.

What I’m looking forward to most in Baotou:

  • Less pollution than Beijing
  • Checking out massive desert sand dunes
  • Mongolian Hotpot
  • Sheep (alive and in my food)
  • Parts of the Great Wall that I’ve not yet seen
  • Meeting my teacher’s golden retriever
  • The largest lamasery in China outside of Tibet
I’ll post pictures on Monday and let you know if Baotou lives up to my expectations. Keep on rockin’ in the free world!

Broken Phone Story, or I Can Be A Stubborn Asshole Sometimes

Chronologically this precedes my previous post on buying the World’s Fastest Bike.

I woke up this morning to discover my iPhone no longer had service – a great start to an extremely polluted day here in Beijing. After class, I went back to Bainaohui, a gigantic electronics market where I purchased my China Unicom SIM card and got my AT&T iPhone unlocked & jailbroken. Bainaohui is 6 floors of electronics vendors in stalls of all sizes. The Basement Floor 1 is where all the cell phone vendors are, including a fake Apple Store with real iPhones and iPads. However, the big “tell” is that no Apple store actually says “Apple Store,” it just has the Apple symbol.

When I go shopping at places like this, I find that its best to use very simple Chinese phrases as if I was just beginning to learn the language. It’s very difficult for me to talk about technical issues with telephones or pretty much anything, but I’m able to hold basic conversations. If I hint that I can comprehend their language, they always start using words and phrases I don’t know.

I went in and said I purchased my SIM card from them two weeks ago, now my phone has no service. They sat me down at a table and started goofing around on the phone for about 15 minutes, then handed it back to me and said they couldn’t fix it. This is infuriating considering I knew I had overpaid. (Mark my words, readers: This was the last time I will ever overpay for anything in China.)

I politely asked for a refund. They don’t do refunds at this place.

Unacceptable. I insisted they fix the phone or give me a refund. They made every possible excuse, using 3 different people to say they wouldn’t refund my money and they couldn’t fix the phone, but they knew someone somewhere who could fix it but I’d have to pay. A classic bait-and-switch scam that the Chinese use on us White Devils to help enrich their friends.

Right now I’m just taking Chinese classes and I don’t have class tomorrow since I’m going to Baotou in Inner Mongolia, so my afternoon and night is wide open. I told them I would wait in their store until they could fix it or refund my money. They said fine, wait as long as you want, it can’t be helped. I said I’d tell every customer that they were thieves and sold fake products. They didn’t believe me. I did so for about an hour. It was a lot of me walking up behind a salesperson to people perusing the counters to say, “These people are thieves,” with Chinese customers looking absolutely appalled. They did not make a single sale. In fact, they didn’t even have one customer do anything more than windowshop. Finally, they called in security.

This is where speaking in extremely basic Chinese comes in handy. I consistently said that I didn’t understand what they were saying, but they wouldn’t fix my phone and they wouldn’t give me a refund. The security guard calmly said they claimed I had no receipt. Of course I did. They never asked for it. I pulled it out, the security guard examined it for authenticity and then he huddled with the sales staff. He said I couldn’t yell in the market any more.

Then they explained that the person who sold me the SIM cards and unlocking services no longer worked there. Not my problem, I replied. I told them to wait a minute, went across the street to an arts and crafts store, bought a black magic marker and a piece of large posterboard and wrote in English and Chinese, “THESE PEOPLE ARE THIEVES AND LIARS” as well as the Chinese phrase yi jia luan zhen which means “fake passed off as real.” I wasn’t allowed to yell anymore, but nobody said anything about parading a sign in their stall.

At this point we just cross the 1.5 hour mark of my “adventure” trying to get my phone fixed. They were ready to give me a refund, but since they insisted I pay in American dollars the first time (and I went home to get it, too), I insisted my refund be in American dollars as well. Oh you don’t have American dollars? Then our only options are for you to fix the phone or for you to go to the bank. I knew that wasn’t an option as they’d have to have an American visa to exchange RMB to USD.

I gave them my sweet sweet iPhone 4, sat down in the store with my awesome sign, and waited while one of their sales team took my iPhone to every other stall in the Basement Floor 1 of Bainaohui asking for help. Fortunately for me, I brought my Amazon Kindle and passed the time with the fourth book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, better known to those with HBO as the fourth book of the Game of Thrones saga.

Let me tell you, folks: reading these books is even better than watching the HBO show. If you have a Kindle, I’m happy to lend you any of the first three books. But I digress.

After another hour and a half, they finally came back to me with my working iPhone after they paid another stall to fix the phone. I switched back to Charming & Polite mode, giving all the gracious thank-you’s and necessary pleasantries. They apologized profusely in return. I asked, duo shao qian? kai wanxiao! or “How much money? Just kidding!” I turned around, walked out and left my beautiful new sign on the floor.

The security guard, now stationed outside of their stall to watch me, gave me a High-Five on the way out.


Introducing the World’s Fastest Bike

Ohhhhh yeaaahhhh!

Check out the World’s Fastest Bike. It’s a single-speed, but I’M NOT A HIPSTER. I bought it today while walking around Sanlitun. I saw it and thought, “I have to have you.”

I walked in to the bike store and went straight to the most expensive bike, asking how much it is. I spent about 5 minutes oooh-ing and awww-ing over it, then went for a test ride. Apparently when they say to try it out, it means only go 50 feet before they run after you screaming, “thief!” Obviously I wasn’t going to buy the most expensive bike, so I started insulting it and saying I wanted to try another. This truly angered the saleswoman, who thought she had an easy sale. Little did she realize, I was just beginning my negotiations. I was already in a foul mood from earlier, but I’ll explain why in my next post.

I tried 3 more bikes, each one less expensive than the previous. I found some reason to dismiss each bike, saying I didn’t like the color, the seat was uncomfortable, or it rode poorly. After about 30 minutes, I asked to try the cheapest bike in the store and the one I planned on getting the entire time. The asking price was 400 RMB, about $62. This is in comparison to  the most expensive bike at 4000 RMB or $625 which I initially test rode.

After my test drive, I told her I liked it but wanted a discount, the price that Chinese people would pay. She started hemming and hawwing, and said she has to make a living to feed her two children. If any of you know me, this is exactly the talking point I wait for as there is no way she has more than one kid with the One Child Policy, so I replied that I have leukemia. No, I don’t really have leukemia, but the only two serious diseases I know how to say in Chinese are AIDS and leukemia, and the last time I used the AIDS tactic as a negotiating point I was flat-out told “no sale.”

It helps being a pasty and scrawny person when you say you have leukemia. If I was tanned and muscular, a Chinese person might catch on to my lie. But she said she had multiple kids, so I replied to her lie with a lie of my own. At this point we’re going on 45 minutes of trying out bikes and there are other people waiting for the saleswoman, so I decide to accept a fake phone call and talk in jibberish for about 2 minutes on the phone until she says she’ll accept my offer of 250 RMB ($37). With a free lock.

Booooyah! I rode this baby home with a nice cool breeze at my back. Let’s hope this means its the end of the brutal Beijing summer.