quirkyBeijing reads (the self-promotion version)

· quirkyBeijing was mentioned as one of the Wall Street Journal’sBest of the China Blogs” for August 15th!

· I have been blogging over at CNReviews.com on what it was like in Beijing during the Olympics opening ceremony and how to get Olympic · tickets for “sold out” events.  The second post is also mentioned in the Wall Street Journal August 15th round-up!

· Weird Asia News is a compendium of exactly that.

· How the Nazis Stopped the Cultural Revolution is a terrific read by Joel Martinsen over at Danwei.

I’ve been pretty busy lately, what with the Olympics and having friends visiting over the last week, but I’ll be blogging more regularly again later this week.

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beijing natives – 北京土著

Beijing is changing, Beijing is gone, Beijing will never be the same again.

It’s only been a year since I arrived in Beijing. I only know what I know, the Beijing of today which has catapaulted itself into an Olympic city. Even the city that I know now is very different from the city I came to only a year ago. It’s hard for me to feel nostalgia for a place that I’ve only lived in for a year, but what I do miss in Beijing is the many layers of street life. It’s all gone now, cleaned up for the Olympics in the new and shiny Beijing. Who is to say that it will ever return?

This wonderful Flash animation–which is much better than the original music video–of a song by Zhang Bohong (张伯宏) captures the quickly disappearing aspects of Beijing’s ordinary day-to-day life.  From the vendors selling slices of watermelon to drinking in the hutongs, the old grandfathers and grandmothers walking in the park to one kuai bowls of tofu, it’s the Beijing that is gone.

But you will never miss what you don’t know.

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spread the Olympic culture

The Olympics are nearly here, just a few hours to go!

In the past few weeks, there have been more Olympic slogan banners around town. Political slogans in China have an interesting and turbulent history, used to spread Maoist thought and disseminate the dreams of the government to the minds of the people.

Here is a selection of Olympic slogans.  Most of these came from a ten minute walk around Xiushui (Silk Street) market.

(Note: Chaoyang is a district in Beijing.)

Translation: Brilliant Olympics,  Prosperous China.

Translation: Cheer with one voice for the Olympics to bring luck to Beijing. (Note:That’s a branded Olympic car right in front!)

Translation: Passionate Beijing, Harmonious World.

And of course…

One World, One Dream.

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加油北京!LEGO style

Photos from the HKLUG 2008 Olympics Flickr Set.

In the grand tradition of Lego versions of Lord of the Rings, The Bible, and “Thriller”, the Hong Kong LEGO Users Group (HKLUG) have created the Beijing Olympics with Legos. They say that it took 300,000 bricks and 4,500 mini figures to create. Some of the projects, including the Bird’s Nest, took 100+ hours.
If you’re in Hong Kong, you can see this yourself in Mongkok’s Grand Century Place, where the exhibition will run until August 31st.

If you are not in Hong Kong, then check out the rest of the photos in their Flickr group. There is also an excellent behind-the-scenes look over at The Brothers Brick.

(via Shanghaiist)

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a relaxing day at longmai hot springs

The main hot spring pool at Longmai.

For weeks, we’d been thinking about getting out of the city. It was hot, it was humid, it was polluted, and Beijing was simply getting on our nerves.

Dalian was our first choice, but the airfares were too high. We didn’t want to take a train trip anywhere–the hassle can kill any holidaymaking mood we had. So instead, we decided to take an overnight trip to Longmai Hot Springs Resort (龙脉温泉度假村) out in Changping District. Located in the north of Beijing and accessible by Line 13 and Line 5, Changping is a district that begins with high-rise developments to the south that gradually give way to suburbia, and then to the countryside.

Longmai itself is in Xiaotangshan (小唐山), which despite the name is actually quite flat. Xiaotangshan is where emperors used to take the waters (although, since this is Beijing, everywhere is where the emperors used to hang out.)

We had high hopes for Longmai–this review says that it’s the least tacky hot springs resort in the area. However, our dreams of a hot spring buried deep within the woods, like a Japanese hot spring, were not realized. If Longmai is the least tacky of the hot spring resorts on Xiaotangshan, then I shudder to think what the others must be like.

A quiet, “non-tacky” lane. Admittedly, this does look beautiful lit up at night.

We paid 358 RMB each for a basic room and a ticket that allowed us to go into the main hot spring complex as well as play one game each of bowling, badminton, tennis, and pool or billiards. There is also a somewhat pathetic little horse riding range, although the horses look well-cared for. Longmai also has restaurants, but the ticket is only good for 40 RMB towards your meal.

We stayed in a villa like this.

As we walked along the roads and breathed in the fresh air, we could actually hear birds chirping in the trees. At night, we could see stars. These are things that seem like luxuries after being in the industrial urban landscape of Beijing.

Beyond this communing with nature, the hot spring pools themselves are well worth the trip. Lockers (with pool slippers and a robe) and showers are available with a mandatory deposit that is returned after visiting the pools. There are a variety of pools at different degrees of heat. Some are about right for lounging around, while others are bordering on boiling. We picked one that was a good medium between the two, and as bugs flew around to their merry deaths in the water, we read books and relaxed.

Another hot spring pool. This one was heated to about 45 degrees Celsius.

The largest pool even had a huge television screen so that people could watch a movie–the one playing during our visit was one of the Infernal Affairs films–as they waded through the mineral waters. There is also a steam room, but we didn’t try that as it looked a bit crowded.

Although our hotel room was hardly worth what we paid for it–especially if you factor in that for two people it was probably about 500 RMB (the cost of a four- or even five-star hotel in a second-tier city), it was clean and sufficient for one night. There is no hot water after midnight, something we discovered when we tried to shower! It was fairly miserable, actually, and not to make a bad pun, it really put a damper on things.

The Longmai rose garden.

All the same, we would easily go to Longmai again, especially since it was so easy to get there by public transportation. We got there by subway and taxi the first time because we wanted to make sure we would get there, but on the way back we took a bus that goes directly to Tiantongyuan Bei station at the top of the Line 5 subway. Longmai was just what we needed for an overnight trip away: quiet, the air smelled amazing because of the rose garden, and the hot springs themselves were very comfortable. Just take a shower before midnight.

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quirkybeijing reads

· China’s Female Artists Quietly Emerge from the New York Times

· If you love Chinese indie music, or just love indie period, then check out NeoCha’s NEXT streaming music application.

· Hong Kong-based model Elyse Sewell’s blog has been on my reading list for a long time. She has a great sense of fun.

· Tea and the Olympics, from Tea Muse, adagio‘s excellent monthly tea newsletter.

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the view from within

I particularly love being in the front or the back of the subway. Here is the view of the subway station and the interior of the conductor’s cab in a Line 1 subway train.

Check out the old-fashioned black telephone on the counter–it’s not quite what I expected to see in 2008!

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delicious gummy popcorn


You have to wonder who on earth thought it was a good idea to make candy out of popcorn. Sour gummy popcorn.

Found at Watson’s, where it sells for 7 RMB.

And no, dear reader, I did not buy it. My stomach is churning just thinking about it. I have no problems with eating chicken feet or the silky smooth loveliness that is fish cheeks, but I draw the line at gummy popcorn!

However, a similar product in (at least I think it is, the site is blocked and the proxy server won’t let me see the photos) inspired this soliloquy from the amusingly titled blog Recipes of the Damned.

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the lost deer of china


(Photo by Jiang Jun.)

In the south of Beijing, there is a park called Nanhaizi Milu Yuan (南海子麋鹿苑) where the imperial hunting grounds used to lie.   This would be interesting in and of itself, but what is even more unusual about this park is that it is dedicated to the preservation of an endangered species: the milu.

The story of the milu (麋鹿), also known as 四不像 (the four unlikes) is a fascinating tale of how just one person can make the difference between life and death for an entire species.  It’s a story that involves an eccentric British aristocrat, a French missionary, the Boxer Rebellion, and more.  Described as having “the hoofs of a cow but not a cow, the head of a horse but not a horse, the antlers of a deer but not a deer, the body of a donkey but not a donkey,” the milu has brushed uncomfortably close to extinction several times.

The first mention of the milu appears in Chinese records more than 2000 years ago.  They appear in Chinese folktales, notably as the mount of Jiang Ziya, who appointed all of the Chinese gods and goddesses.   They were also symbols of the imperial throne and its power.

According to this article in China Today:

Bucks’ horns sprouted in spring and were shed in autumn, in line with nature’s cycle, but Chinese ancients interpreted this phenomenon as a sign from heaven, and regarded the David’s deer as an auspicious animal. Emperors believed that imperial authority was God’s will and wanted their power to be passed on forever within their dynasty, in the same way as the horns of the David’s deer would continue to be discarded and replaced. The emperors would therefore hold grand ceremonies outdoors every autumn, to observe the spectacle of David’s deer shedding their horns.

The milu used to roam on the banks of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, but since their natural habitat was open marsh, they were easy prey for hunters.  By the 19th century, when a French priest named Armand David came to know of their existence (their name in English is Père David’s Deer) , their numbers had dwindled down to an imperial herd that the emperor kept in the south of Beijing–again, as a symbol of imperial power.  In keeping with those Victorian multitaskers, Père David was both a missionary and a zoologist, and he wrote some of the first European accounts of animals like the Giant Panda and the milu.

But the milu came even closer to extinction during the Boxer Rebellion, when starving troops broke into the imperial grounds and hunted the milu for food.  At that time, they were functionally extinct in China.

Because of Père David, Europeans became curious about the milu, and some were smuggled out of China for exhibitions and breeding purposes. One person who was especially interested in the milu was Herbrand Russell, Lord Tavistock, the 11th Duke of Bedford.  After painstakingly gathering a herd of 18 milu from European zoos, he bred them on the ducal estate at Woburn Abbey, which is now also home to other conservation efforts and a safari park.   The herd grew in size until it numbered over 600 milu.  For most of the 20th century, this was the last herd of milu in the world.  All of the milu in Nanhaizi are descendants of those 18 deer.

(Image from Wild Animals Online)

It wasn’t until 1985 that the milu returned to China, in a gesture of Sino-British friendship.  After the milu began to thrive, more deer were sent over from Britain.  In this article on Ding Yuhua, China’s “father of milu”, there’s a wonderful scene when the milu return to the Dafeng Milu Nature Reserve in Jiangsu Province:

Ding Yuhua vividly remembers the day when his old lost friends came back from the dead. It was a sweltering summer day in 1986 and the young student heard the cries of his mentor Ma Jianzhang, an established expert on wildlife protection: “The milu deer have come back!”

You can also read Lord Robin Russell’s thoughts on the return of the milu in his college alumni magazine. (PDF link)

These days the milu are doing extremely well, with over 2,000 milu in China alone.  There is even a small herd that lives in the wild, after efforts were made to repatriate the milu.  They’ve been taken off the red list of endangered animals published by the World Conservation Union.  You can see them roaming around Nanhaizi, romping around in their old stomping grounds.  

But amongst all the stories you hear of animals going extinct, the milu stand out.

The story of the milu has also inspired a book, Robert Twigger’s The Extinction Club. (The reviews are extremely mixed.  The author sounds like a bit of a twat.)

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quirkyBeijing reads

· An interview with yours truly by Cedric at Comme les Chinois.

· In the village of the Yu Family, at Ben Ross’ blog.

· How do Chinese internet users express their discontent over the Weng’an incident? Why not do push-ups? From Global Voices.

· Where do your clothes come from? A slideshow on Forbes has some answers.

· Spacing Toronto has a Beijing correspondent for the summer.

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