Monday, August 31, 2009
I spent a good deal of the day today looking for a gym around my office in tribeca. In my experience tribeca is probably one of the most indulgent areas in new york city. In a city known for being super expensive, Tribeca is the epitome of glitz and excess. Down here, there are models and model look alikes strolling the streets at all times. fitness is a religion, thus its hard not to be influenced by all the attention paid to shapely figures and chiseled biceps... For myself, sitting infront of the computers 9+ hours a day has taken its toll, mainly in the from of double chins and ever increasing waistlines. Although most people still think i am faily thin, i thought it was best to stop the buldge before it becomes too much. I spent about an hour visiting the various gyms and health clubs around my office. Having learned that the popular NYSC has a membership rate of 90 dollars a month, I figure its competing gyms must have a better rate. That notion couldn't be farther from the truth. After asking around, the lowest rate was 120 dollars with 200 being the most expensive. For my average income, That is an absurd amount of money shell out just for having the privilege to run on a treadmill. Perhaps if i lived closer to the work place, then i can spend the time I saved from commuting to exercise. However given the current circumstances, the alternative to paying for the gym membership is to get up earlier in the morning and run around my neighborhood. Which can become a pain in the lower area, since i get home around 12pm and waking up extra earlier is reserved for emergencies. Or i can get a car, and drive to work, thus shaving off extra time during commute and use it towards working out, which in turn can cost more money than the gym membership. Oh the dilemma of living in nyc....
Monday, August 10, 2009
Besides the language, there are other aspect of changsha that may puzzle visitors from afar, such as the food. Quiet simply, Hunan food is spicy beyond most people's tolerance. For the average Changsha locals, if there aren't an excessive amounts of oily red and green colors in every dish, then they may very well lose their appetite. The amount of pepper versus the actual edible content in most changsha dishes is probably 3 to 1. That is, when you are done eating it, the dishes will still appear to been barely touched because of the amount of pepper that are used to serve as base. Unless you are a certain population of Mexican who eats a lot of Jalapeno, you will most likely find Hunan dishes to be punishing at first. It takes quiet a while to get use to the constant running nose, and tears as one chows down on a plate of fried pepper. Once the tongue has been throughly rinsed with pepper juice and your tongue is so numb that anymore red pepper would not affect you further, you then begin the search for whatever taste that is left in your mouth and that is perhaps the ultimate pay off of a Hunan dish.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Visiting Hunan's capital, changsha was a sweet experience for me. It has been 4 years since I went back to my Hometown. Although every time I visit Changsha there are visible changes to the city in the form of new buildings, roads and shopping districts. I nonetheless feel intimately nostalgic when I am there. I think part of the nostalgia comes from the local dialect. People often find it surprising after having conversations with me in the local dialect only to hear me tell them that i am from the states. Their sentiment is easy to understand, why after all would you keep a hard to speak local dialect in a foreign country. Probably because the changsha dialect is unique amongst chinese dialects. It's an accent that is hard to get rid of, and most changsha people who try to speak in mandarin often fail at it. Especially in public situations, its immediately recognizable that through their mandarin accents that they are from changsha. Conversely, people from other regions who come to changsha often fail to pick up the dialect. The Changsha dialect sounds pretty goofy most of the time. When its heard on TV, it often stirs laughs and jokes as the local changsha dialect isn't quiet grammatically correct when compared mandarin. The whole dialect is consisted of various slangs and words that is hard to explain. Often there are phrases in the changsha dialect that cannot be found in the chinese dictionary, they only exist in the form of phonetically based words.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Things didn't turned out the way i thought it would. To start off, I didn't get to travel to tibet. It wasn't a total disappointment, I realize that the time I saved from going there allowed me to venture to other places and connect with people whom i would have otherwise missed. Simply being away from new york is already bring me so much excitement that my enthusiasm for tibet quickly transformed into whatever that was infront of me.
Traveling can be a great eye opening experience as it puts you in all kinds of worldly situations that you typically only hear in the news. Before I even got off the plane, I was already confronted with the reality of the Swine flu scare. Apparently all visitors from foreign nations are subjected to a quick health inspection on the plane before leaving. It was both a funny and somewhat serious experience. It was not unlike a science fiction movie to see masked doctors boarding the plane with their equipment and systematically inspecting every passenger. However, It is known that if the chinese health inspectors decides you are a potential carrier of the swine flu virus, you are then subjected to a mandatory quarantine of 7 days. It goes without saying that, one can be nervous under such situation even if you are perfectly healthy. Because the possibility of losing your freedom is right there infront of you.
My 1st stop in china was the most Iconic chinese city of them all, Beijing. Experience from my previous 2005 visit in beijing was rather benign, I didn't really enjoy it that time. My lack of interest was due to the fact that all my my destinations were those designed for tourists. The forbidden city, tian an men square, great wall and various tourist HOTSPOTS made me feel some what silly, as I know they don't really account for the real beijing. Just like how the average new yorker wouldn't venture out to visit the statue of liberty every friday, I am sure the local beijingers wouldn't hang out in the cities tourist destinations monday through friday.
It would help to know someone in beijing. Luckily, a close friend "Tang" from my childhood has decided to establish himself in beijing about 3 years ago. After successfully applying for a job at SOHU.com, the chinese equivalent of google, he as since bought a car, an apartment in beijing, and most recently minted a girlfriend of the same age. Not an easy thing to do by any standards in any country one might say, and even more impressive given that his current job as a computer programmer is a far cry from what he studied in medical school. I was impressed with his focus and discipline and equally awe struck when he decided to pick me up at the airport by bringing his newly minted girlfriend of two weeks. Knowing how private and reclusive he is, I jokingly asked if his girlfriend was "rented". It broke the ice and got the conversation going between the three of us. As it turned out, they met through a women who was both his middle school teacher and her aunt. It would be a good guess that she saw the same fine qualities I speak of and decided to bring them together.
After settling in the hotel for the night, we talked about the arrangements for the next couple days. Since Tang had to work the next day, he asked his girlfriend to keep me company during the day. It was a little bit awkward since I just met her, but at the same time it was a very considerate from them both and honestly, I would have prefer her company over being by myself in a beijing. I have come to refer Tang's girlfriend as a PP, as its the alias her phone number was under. She was nice enough to lend me her phone for the duration of my trip and gave me a tour of a few newly developed districts in beijing. Through my conversations with PP I have learned that she is a women with really strong values, much like my friend Tang, she is disciplined and a workaholic. I've learned that she is the manager for a newly founded shopping channel for Hunan television. Her job is to oversee the operations of the beijing sector of the business, a very important role, for a relatively young women. I was impressed with her abilities to maintain both a very professional life and still find time to accommodate friends.
Beijing is a vast city. Its unlike any other cities i know. Whoever was responsible for the planning of the city obviously stuck to the archaic aesthetics from when china was ruled by emperors. The scale of the city all seems to resonate the vastness of Tian An Men square. Unlike new york where builds are crowded together forming an continuous skyline. there are no skyline in beijing. Despite the hundreds of thousands of new buildings built each successive year, Beijing's doesn't seem to have a city center. the typical beijing streets are unbelievably large, enough to accommodate multiple tanks rolling down the street, which is probably what the designers had in mind. The scale of city makes traveling on foot very tiresome. It takes quiet a while to get from one place to another. Its almost like LA, where owning a car is almost mandatory if you want to be able to commute efficiently. The city is without LA's gorgeous sunset and mild weather. Its rare to have clear blue sky in beijing. As the city is situated so that sandstorms form the northwest constantly makes its way towards the city. Coupled with heavy pollution, Beijing is a city colored in gray scale.
I wanted to visit the bird's nest, Vicariously I feel connected to the structures around the olympic village not only because i am chinese, but also because I was lucky enough to have worked on a project by the same architects back in new york. Its a remarkable building, and seem to have extruded from a sketchbook drawing. The birds's nest casual design makes it a inviting and friendly structure, which I am sure was a important gesture by the Chinese government. I think for many, it represents the tangible difference that has become of Chinese cities. Beijing for one has been the flagship city that symbolizes chinese pride.
Every precaution was made to ensure the the smooth appearance and stability of the Olympic event. Because so much emphasis is placed on the appearance of progress, its is then hard to ignore the occasional blunders on the part of the Chinese government. The CCTV complex is a good example. According to the official press release, it was burned due to the negelegence of a particular CCTV staff, who decided it was okay to host fireworks display close to the unfinished building. The result was catastrophic. The building, which cost the chinese an estimated 700 million RMB was badly damaged. And no one knows for sure what to do with it. The future of the building is stuck in a limbo, because according to PP, the officials don't know if the building is sound enough for repair work, or if its better off to scrap it all together and start anew. This is kind of public eyesore the Chinese government officials tried desperately to avoid, but ultimately fails to do so. The building has become a sort of comedy relief for the average citizen, it serves as a source of blame and mockery for those who are dissatisfied with the government. As PP puts it, it was the most expensive fireworks ever.
While the burned CCTV complex can be a funny conversation topic for the average Chinese citizen. For many westerners, myself included, what is even more funny are the contents on the actual TV. Never in America will you so casually see commercials for rip offs of well known products such as the iphone, be displayed so prominately and indiscreetly on national television. It's a reminder of the cultural gap that still exists between a captalist country and a one that is becoming one. I couldn't help but chuggle as I watched the iphone rip off commercial played back in my hotel room. I think most americans would shake their heads in disbelief if they saw it on U.S airwaves. The balatant nature of this legal violation is so awe inspiring that I immediately grabbed my little camera and recorded it. What is even more interesting is the quality of the commercials that was produced for such a rip off products. It's actually a decent infomercial that could have been taken seriously had it been a original product. The weird dynamics between this commercial and the actual rip off makes you wonder, if the manufacturer can produce such exact copies of a product and market it with such confidence, why can't they come up with something on their own. Surely, the technical skills are there. As the rip off phone seems to be able to mimic every feature the real iphone plus more. Is it simply because people are too lazy to design something original? This is a issue that seems to manifest itself across the board in China today. The ability to rip off a successful product like the iphone is not a straight forward process, it nontheless requires the some of the same effort that went into the real phone. Hence, China is capable of much of the same as a developed country, the real obsticle seems to exist in the attitude of the Chinese, where originality is secondary to pragmatics.