Category Archives: out and about

The End is Near: How Japan Will Nuke Us All – Or Not

Editor’s Update: Because there are times when sites like WordPress are blocked or difficult to access, KateWhitney occasionally cannot properly access the site to publish her posts. For this reason I help her upload photos, and sometimes repost things she emails me. Though I am listed as the author, the following is her work.

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CLARIFICATION: a Nuclear melt down is NOT when the fuel rods in a nuclear reactor become SO hot that they fuse together in a molten mass, and melt through their containment vessel, and continue to melt through the Earth until they reach the core of the earth, at which point we no longer are able to control their reactions. Which as a consequence of the lack of human intervention, they reach a critical mass and blow the earth apart in an apocalyptical nuclear explosion that ends life as our universe knows it. That last sentence is mine – it seemed like the natural progression of the idea.

This is the explanation I overheard in a conversation yesterday. Please, if you don’t know what something is, don’t make up an answer. It makes you look ridiculous. As Abraham Lincoln put it — “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, then open it and remove all doubt.”

Frankly, if it the overheard scenario were the case, it would be most helpful for us if the spent fuel rods would sink into the core of the earth. It would solve all our problems. The earth would act as a natural barrier to the radiation, protecting us, and eventually when the rods reached the molten lead deep down, they would cease to be an issue.

This, my dear hominoids, is what Wikipedia was invented for; to eradicate ignorance and prevent the spread of its destructive influence. Phrases like “I’m not sure but I THINK….[insert baseless idea here]” should no longer be a part of our daily diction, as we have no excuse for not being adequately informed. If you find yourself too busy to keep up with the situation — just don’t talk about it! There’s no shame in just not sharing an opinion you haven’t yet had the time to verify.

As China is so close (~2,500 km) to the site of the Japan accident, there has been a sudden fear of imminent destruction by radioactive fall-out. Never mind that the wind doesn’t blow this direction from Japan.

But undeterred by this rational people have taken to rushing to the stores to buy salt. There progression of this idea is this: potassium iodide is the chemical compound used to treat people who are exposed to or will be exposed to iodine radiation. Potassium iodide also happens to be one of the chemicals used to ionize table salt. Thus it is found in minority quantities in any salt you buy.

If you buy enough salt, you consequently end up with the useful dosage of KI (potassium iodide). The question that remains to be answered, is how people intend to extract the KI to make it a useful dosage in the event of a meaningful amount of radiation floating across the China Sea? Salt, in large quantities, is lethal. For a 220 lb male, this is about 300 grams — or about 12 ounces of salt.

Table salt consists of something like 0.006% potassium iodide (wiki page on salt). This means that in 300 grams of salt, one only gets about 0.018 grams of KI. Incidentally, if my calculations are correct, this is roughly a single dose for radiation exposure. Unfortunately, if you we’re somehow able to intravenously ingest the salt, you also just killed yourself from your lethal dose of salt. ( I say intravenously because of course there was now way you were just going to swallow about 12 ounces of table salt!)

Really, what you should do is read this VERY helpful article on nuclear fallout and the use of potassium iodide.

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Have You Seen My Donkey?

These are the exact words – well, in Chinese of course, of the man pictured at below.

While out with a group for a weekend hike in the countryside surrounding Beijing, we stumbled upon this character. Apparently his donkey had escaped him. Perhaps it was the concept that ones transportation would up and leave you that made me chuckle. The pro’s of an electric donkey seemed all too apparent. Power him down and you’d never be caught unaware and with an escaped donkey again!  It was unclear how this particular old man had lost his donkey.

For the rest of the hike, every time we saw a donkey, we wondered if it was his.  Perhaps we should all take a moment and be thankful that, barring thievery, we usually find our car right were we left it the night before.

Donkeys are the predominant mobile working tool of the area. Usually there are only one or two for a village area – as far as I can see – but they are still very commonly used for lugging fire wood, clearing fields of branches and transporting heavy loads. In the hilly areas where roads are scarce, they are just the tool to get around the terraced fields.

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A Man and His Guinea Pig

There are some things you just shouldn’t get between.  A mama bear and her cubs, a football fanatic and the TV during the super-bowl but most of all, a man and his Guinea Pig.

Just another sight seen while out for Sunday afternoon dinner and coffee.

Small pets are something of a popular item in the city. When walking in the morning (and just about any other time of day) I often see old men walking their small dogs but this was the first time I’d seen a man and a guinea pig.

In the photo the gentleman gives off a slightly unhappy air. This is a mistake of the camera. When I asked if it was okay to take a photo, he proudly smiled and gestured with glee his approval of the idea. His pride that his guinea pig was being singled out for such an honor was very clear.  He encouraged me to come closer to get a better shot.  I must admit, it is a rather handsome guinea pig.

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Someone’s in Trouuuuble!

I don’t know who – and my hunch is it’s not the guy in charge – but in case you think this is how trucks are supposed to stand…  it is not.   Someone obviously didn’t properly counter-balance the truck with the load.

This is really not necessarily unique to China – but I thought it was an interesting moment to share.

 

The trick is…  how are they going to fix it? Although it’s probably unstable enough to swing back if you lifted up the extended bar with say a crane…  it would not be good for the truck to plop right back down the way it went up…

 

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My Favorite Things: Noodles From the Basement

or

“Why it’s cheaper to eat out”

There are many fast and easy options for eating out here in China. My particular favorite take-out dish is pictured above. For a scant 6RMB (less than a dollar), you can get a generous portion of ramen like noodles, freshly juliened cucumber, and a deliciously light peanut sauce.  One of the charms of this dish is how refreshing it is. I prefer it cold.

In the beginning it was a trick to figure out how to get them to make the sauce. The grocery store puts out these little KFC style buckets with the noodles and cucumber, and then often has a plastic tub with small plastic bags of sauce next to them. You can pick up a noodle, and grab a sauce and you’re off. If, say, you get off work late and all the sauce is gone, but you still want the noodles, you have to ask the little guy behind the counter to make you more.

A trick.

If you are unfortunate enough to mis-convey the message to him, he might plop the noodles with some other vegetables in a water bath and cook them again – adding some other random sauce. Cooked cucumber isn’t very good, and it’s rather sad to watch it meet its end in a boiling bath.  Lately, I have been more successful and often get what I need. The little old man behind the counter is starting to predict what I’ll ask him.

Someday, perhaps when I leave China, I might try my hand at making the sauce myself. From what I gather it’s a mixture of peanut puree, vinegar, a touch of red pepper oil, a touch of soy sauce, and fresh crushed peanuts to top it off.

The simple truth is, usually it’s cheaper to eat out, or ‘take-out’, than it is to cook at home.  The majority of dishes in my arsenal are western, and thus need western type ingredients, which are naturally more expensive to buy here and are not always worth the price. I got cottage cheese once to make lasagna, and although it tasted okay in the finished dish, it was nothing I’d choose to eat fresh. That lasagna was probably the most expensive pasta dish I’ve ever made in my life!

If you can get a delicious meal-in-one dish in the basement for under a dollar, why spend a fortune on cooking? And when you’re tired of the noodles, you can always opt for a sit down dinner in a restaurant. Two people will set you back a whole $16. For a very nice meal, at an even fancier place, you might even pay $25!

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The Beijing Bike

 

China used to be a country where bicycle traffic jams were infamous.  Now that more and more people have attained an economic level that makes it possible to own their own cars, the sight of bicycles on the road is waning.  However, in comparison to any western city, Beijing still has a large population of bicycle commuters.

One thing that is especially popular, and perhaps is part of the growing affluence of even the lower classes of the city, is the electric bike. Never have I seen it in such numbers!  Most bikes look like they’ve really seen a lot in their time: sand storms, heavy wind, a few bangs and wrecks – yet through it all, a highly treasured possession.

For a mechanic here in the city, the hammer seems to be their favorite tool – out of alignment? things falling apart? Give it a good whack with the ol’ sledge, and surely everything will correct itself.  Along this vein the Beijing bike often looks like it’s been hammered and beat back together many a time. Perhaps as a later result of these do-it-yourself fixes duct tape and rope are heavily used to keep things together.

If you ever visit Beijing don’t miss the Forbidden City, and Tian Anmen Square – but also keep a sharp eye out for the locals transportation

***Note*** This photo may look like an extreme example, but I assure you – it is not.

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Come Magnificent With Me!

You can’t help but love Chinglish.  It’s so much fun.  I mean this in the most respectful and affectionate way.  The fact that so many things even have English translations is so very considerate. How often do you drive down the road and see a sign with Mandarin characters advertising a new park and child play area? That’s right. Not many.  The delightful way these signs and posters are often translated makes for a language almost its own. Of course, I’m speaking of ‘Chinglish’.

There are signs in English for a reason – if you’re going to advertise, you better speak the language of your target audience. If you want western tourists to use your travel services it would be best to not use exclusively Chinese.

It probably won’t be too long and the typo’s will be corrected, the grammar fixed , and all the signs corrected by a native speaker. Until then, I will revel in the mis-use of whatever online translator they’re using.

Walk down the street and see a little hole-in-the-wall store front with a sign “Cigarettes – Wine – Beer – Perfume – Firm “.  What on EARTH is ‘Firm’?  Firm what?? The friend I was walking with suggested maybe it had been a mis-translation (obviously) and they meant something like “Corporation” – not ‘firm’ as in the adjective (‘firm’ tofu), but the noun (law ‘firm’).  Even if this is so, it was a funny way to write the sign. “Cigarettes – Beer – Shop”.

The title of this post I saw on a billboard while taking a taxi across town. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture. The billboard had a cartoon character girl leaping in the air with the caption, “Come magnificent with me!!”  Apparently, magnificent-ing is exactly what happens when you visit a nearby park that features not just a playground but small amusement rides and paddle boats and whatever else one can do in a monster sized park.

Let me share some of my other recent favorites :

 

I couldn’t really decide if it was a translation flaw … or if it really IS a foot massage museum!  I really want to think it’s a ‘foot massage salon‘ or something of the type. I haven’t yet worked up enough courage to take the steps leading down the basement and find out – I’ll get back to you though. Perhaps it would be even more amazing if it were a foot massage museum. Apparently there IS a museum of ‘tap water’ (perhaps they meant ‘plumbing’?) – I saw it in a guide book.

 

While walking along one of the lake-parks near the forbidden city I spotted this sign. Interesting because according to the pictures one must “Not pollute the water”, then “Not leave your children unattended” and finally, “do not litter”. However according to what the text is telling me (as it is somewhat difficult to read from the photo) I must “Keep the lake clean”, and “Behave in a proper manner” (This phrasing is especially Chinese), and “Behave in a proper manner”.  Not surprising that in a culture where ritual and deference to one’s elders is so important, “behaving in a proper manner” is twice as important as not littering.

 

The third sign I found in the window of a woman’s clothing shop. Quite frankly, I’m more than a little baffled as to what it is trying to tell me. In their defense, it’s not so important what it says because the concept of walking in the shop and buying something was pretty self-evident. But these are the most confusing types of signs.  Sometimes you see words in English, and the message they’re trying to convey is just completely dumbfounding. “What do you suppose I’m supposed to do/not do ??”.

Frankly, I magnificent that I am daily entertained by the Chinglish language. I’ll probably be back to you soon with further discoveries. Until then, do remember to Behave In a Proper Manner!

 

****UPDATE****

I checked the Chinese characters for the Foot Message Museum – and guess what! It really IS a museum!  crazy! Apparently the last character, 馆 “guan”, means museum.

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Hot Coke and Ginger

To me, it sounds like something spiked – something I wouldn’t trust.  When it was served to us at a small restaurant off the trail to one of the sections of the great wall, it looked like a brothy soup.

In China meals are almost exclusively served family style. Show up at a restaurant, and your group will be seated and presented with one picture filled menu – whereupon you decide together what you’ll all have for dinner. Then, throughout the evening various dishes will arrive at your table and served just like your mom would – as they’re ready and hot.  You then spend the meal picking with your chopsticks at various dishes – sometimes using a little plate you’re given to dish up a proper portion for yourself. But usually not. It’s a family thing.

After a winter hike on the great wall this weekend, our guided tour treated the group at a local restaurant where, among other traditional dishes, we were served a bowl of piping hot…. Coke. Like I said. I thought it was soup. When our little bowls were passed around and I tasted it, it was indeed warmed Coca-Cola, seasoned with ginger and a few other spices.

Amazingly enough it was actually kind of good! Something you might have at Christmas – like a mulled-wine or spiced cider. Of course all the carbonation had been fizzed out of it in heating, and to my tongue it was a bit syrupy, but the concept was quite unique and not unpleasant.  I was told it was a common beverage served during the spring festival and cold winter months.  As my feet were thoroughly soaked and cold from melted snow on the hike, it didn’t go unappreciated.

Someone else told me there was also a chilled version of the drink that is very nice in the summer – iced coke and ginger, where it’s served cold and similarly spiced.  I’ll get back to you in a few months about this one.

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Thank you kindly, but…

 

What is a polite way of declining someone when they ask for your phone number? It takes a lot of guts to walk up to a stranger and put yourself out there – but what does one say, especially when their pretext for approaching you isn’t explicitly for a date…

“Maybe you email me next time you come to this coffee shop, and I’ll help you with Chinese and Chinese culture?”

The unfortunate thing is not just that I don’t plan on emailing him, but what happens when I show up at this coffee shop again (and dang it, it was just what I’d been looking for – a decent place to do a little studying) and he happens to be there – somewhat along the lines of,

“You didn’t email. But how lucky we meet again!”

Am I to relinquish my newfound study spot as well?

Of course, the obvious course is to just politely let him know I’m not available. “Thank you for your offer to help me with my Chinese characters (they are so homely looking, I know), but I have a boyfriend”. One is given the impression of an abrupt and unfair change in the conversation, explicitly for the sake of hurting his feelings.

It is simply providential that as I write this, I receive an email from him (yes, I gave him my real email – I wouldn’t give my phone number, even if I had one. At least this way I can keep my coffee shop, and prevent further awkward moments).

“Today is too lucky for me to meet you. You are so beautiful that I am
attracted by you deeply. But, you know, it is hard for Chinese people
to say hello to one stranger. Today I make it. @-@.”

At least now I can legitimately tell him (as he puts it clearly as being in pursuit of more than just a little language tutoring) that I appreciate his kindness, (and salute his bravery), but I am indefinitely otherwise engaged.

*sigh*

Back to practicing my characters.

-Katherine

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The Battlefield that is Bejing at New Years

It started on the first of February, with what sounds like artillery a few kilometers out. Then coming to a head on the 2nd it was if the city exploded.

Earlier that evening, tensions were getting stronger. Litter was visible throughout the streets from the explosions, and through the evening fireworks could be seen going off across the rooftops of the Hutongs, and reflected in the glass skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings. Just after midnight the background noise suddenly exploded into the foreground.

Pulling apart the blackout curtains just after midnight, I was amazed to see the entire city aglow. Car alarms could be heard up and down the streets, and the neon signs and monster LED displays that normally seemed so bright paled in the fluorescence of this new light.  This, my foreign friends, is New Years in Beijing.

Now standing at my window, I counted no less than 12 (possibly more) individual displays of pyromania, taking place in various parts of the city – none of which seemed to be from any kind of safe distance from built up structures or thoroughfares.

Over this holiday season (and it is truly a season, as fireworks have persisted throughout the day and night for the last week) a 5-star hotel burned down in Shenyang, a city further north of Beijing. A news article (see picture above) said that no fewer than 160 small fires were reported across the city over the New Year (how big is a ‘small’ fire exactly?). Apparently all this is just the price one pays for the excitement and reckless abandon everyone enjoys during the biggest of the Chinese festivals.

The amount of gunpowder that goes off during the week of New Year is simply amazing.  Fireworks aren’t just something for the night, or evening. Strings of firecrackers are set off early in the morning, and fireworks can be heard and faintly seen throughout the day.  For the last few days as we’ve walked around the city, we’ve seen red paper from firecrackers and powder burns from explosions everywhere.

While the rest of the world slowly chokes out fancy firework shows with regulation and pleas of humanitarian injustice (why spend thousands on fireworks when there are still starving in Africa?) China burns renewed with the celebrations of the Lunar New Year.

It’s quite astonishing every kind of colorful and explosive shell seems most permissible here. Fireworks that would be labeled “for professional use only”, and not even be for sale for most of us unless smuggled in from Mexico, Beijingers light and enjoy in the intersections of major roads (while cars merely pull to the side, or seemingly ignore them altogether). And this in the cement jungle that the second largest city in China.

Because of the holiday the traffic has improved tremendously.  Generally there is stop and go traffic generously spotted all around Beijing, from 7:30 in the morning to about 9 at night – the Ring roads, (the 2nd Ring rd. in particular) being the worst of it. Over New Year, however, there is a mass exit when everyone returns to their villages and families. The city becomes a ghost town for a week – and it’s wonderful.

 

If you don’t mind the cold, this could very well be the time to visit.  Except most of the normal markets and shops are closed, or close early.  If you’re a culture kind of person, and less of a shopper, think about planning this trip for next year.

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