Thursday, February 26, 2009

Roboseyo's K-blog Of The Month for February '09...before it runs out. Dongchim.

Well, better toss one of these up before the month expires.

I'm going to Andong this weekend, and I'm preparing for that, while slogging through my two hardest workdays of the week (Turds day and Fried day suck for me).

However, I'll drop in a quick recommendation for the K-blog of the month before I go, and I'm pleased that this might actually be a very little-known one.

See, I was thinking about giving it to Eat Your Kimchi, seeing as they took home a handful of Golden Klog Awards...but they already got lots of attention from me earlier this month, during Golden Klog Voting and such. They have a blog, a wildly popular youtube channel (maybe that's where all their votes came from: over 500 subscribers on Youtube), a podcast, and have been putting out some really top-notch stuff.

Instead, I lay before you, someone you probably HAVEN'T heard of, because it's a very new blog (almost too new to even have appeared on the golden Klogs), but has been putting some really funny stuff out: Ladies and Gentlemen, Dongchim

Now, Dongchim, any teacher of children knows, is when a kid (hopefully a kid: grown-ups who give dongchim are best avoided) makes a little two-handed gun shape with their two index fingers, sneaks up behind you, and tries to ram those fingers right up your bung. Like this.

Apparently, Dongchim is an important enough part of Korean culture to make a statue of it.


You can play the game here, if you like, but I'm going to make you agree you're a weirdo to do it. "By clicking this link to play the dongchim game, I fully confess and acknowledge that I'm a weirdo. Weirdy weird weirdo."

But Dongchim the blog is more than just a pair of intrusive digits: it's a comedy site that's putting out some clever material so far.

My favorite so far is the report of Buddhists frustrated on their path to enlightenment flocking to Korean convenience chain store "Buy The Way" in order to purchase what they could not find through mediation and renunciation. "Desperate Buddhists Flock to Local Convenience Stores".

The site's only about two months old, so it won't take you long to go through the archives. I, for one, am glad to see new comedy blogs coming out on the K-blogosphere: as great as they are, one can only go through the Yangpa and the other Yangpa and the really old Yangpa's archives so often before wishing for new material. Fortunately Party Pooper still updates.

The other satiric K-blog I like these days is Dokdo Is Ours, but he/she/they have also had enough promotion from the golden Klogs, that it's Dongchim's turn.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the Korea Herald Today

I'm in the Korea Herald today: if you are finding my blog for the first time, because you read the article there, welcome! Take a look around if you like. On the right sidebar, you will see a guide to some of my most popular posts, and some of the posts I'm proudest to show off.

If you can't get your hands on a paper copy of The Korea Herald, you can follow this link (I hope), or read the article I wrote, reprinted here.

Be a Nate instead of a nothing

Obviously, expats would function better and enjoy their time in Korea more if they lived in a community: all humans do. The hard part is knowing where to find it. Even in densely populated Korean cities, it can be difficult for expats to get connected, and along with the language, culture and schedule barriers preventing networks from forming, there is another impediment to community which is completely surmountable: the initiative block.

My friend Evan is new in Korea: we knew each other back in Canada, and here in Korea we once had an interesting conversation. Evan's church has a couple of English services each Sunday, which attract a couple hundred people. There were a handful of people Evan had met there, either during or after church. These people had enough interest in each other that it would be nice, Evan reflected, if they could meet in other contexts than just the usual chatting semi-circle, with the possibility of an after-service coffee shop meet and greet.

In a completely different context, during my second year in Korea, I lived in a suburb of Seoul where there was a foreigner bar - a bar that had been unofficially designated the place where foreigners from the district met on Friday or Saturday nights. At that bar, it was surprising how often the same faces showed up: we knew each other by name, and had good times together over drinks; sometimes we even got each other's phone numbers and such.

However, the only activity we ever did together was trade shots. While the conversations had over a brew or a cocktail can be interesting, drinking buddy gets to be a pretty one-dimensional relationship after a while. Yet, to our detriment, nobody ever collected those phone numbers, sent out a bulletin, and suggested a hike or a brunch, instead of the same old drinking.

Drinking buddies we remained, and nothing more. When somebody left Korea, they weren't much missed, and when somebody new arrived, we weren't much excited: The beer buzz probably mattered more to most of us after a week of tiring teaching.

Nice as they might have been, I am no longer in touch with any of the people I met at that bar.

For Evan's case, things turned out better. A guy named Nate gathered the phone numbers of all the people he'd met after church, set a time and place, and invited them to meet during the week. The group is now scheduling regular meetings in a couple of locations, and moreover, building and deepening friendships. Though anyone could have done the same, everyone is glad Nate picked up the ball.

The great thing is, it doesn't take much to be a Nate instead of a nothing. Most people are interested in improving their support systems and friendships. All it takes to be a Nate is to gather those phone numbers or e-mail addresses, and set a time and place. Starting a Facebook group is easier still. All involved will be on the way toward a viable community, and a better experience of Korea.

Sure, it's a bit scary to make those first calls, but the possible benefits far outweigh the risks of losing a little face. There is nothing stopping any expat in Korea from being a Nate, instead of waiting for one to come along. Setting a time and place isn't that hard, and everyone will remember, and thank, the one who finally got the ball rolling. That person could be you!

If you know about, or are a member of a community where expats meet, connect, or support each other, drop me a line at with the word "community" in the subject line. Tell me when and where you meet, and why you think I should feature your group.

To contact Rob, e-mail or go to - Ed.


Thanks to Matt, the expat living editor, for giving me the chance to hold forth in the print media, and thanks to everyone reading: I've never met many of you, but I bet you're swell.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Roboseyo's Bliss-Out Of The Week: Lover's Day, TV On The Radio

TV On The Radio has so far not let me down once. That's pretty unprecedented, as I have a pretty high bar to clear, when it comes to bands I really, really like.

The album of theirs I heard, "Return to Cookie Mountain" was superduper cool, with a handful of tracks that approached bliss-out territory. While the album was extremely strong, song-for-song, none of them quite made The Leap into bliss-out territory. However, they sing with authority, with charisma, and with depth.

Their new album is called "Dear Science," which was just as good, maybe even better.

This song is the last track: of all places, I love albums that put a strong track last on the playlist -- give you something serious to walk away with. Too many albums are front-loaded, putting all the best songs on the beginning of the album, counting on short attention spans not to notice the suckiness at the end, but then a roboseyo who DOES listen to the end doesn't want to listen to it again. I like albums that give quality content right through. Radiohead has a few really really good last tracks on their albums: especially Kid-A, Amnesiac, and Hail To The Thief. Dear Science, is one of the strongest albums I've heard, top to bottom, in a long time. Here's another song I really like from that album. The rhythmic complexity and shifts in pace and force make the film a really interesting dynamic experience.

TV on The Radio: Dear Science,: one of the best albums of 2008, sez Roboseyo.

Shout Me Out: my second favorite song on the album. If I put a third one on, I'll have to post the whole album, though. It's just that solid.

Here's a super-cool video of one of their coolest earlier songs, performed live, a capella ('cept with bass), with hand clapping beatboxing. I've posted it here before.

Seriously, make a point of watching it.

Roboseyo's Bliss-Out One: Jens Lekman: People Who Hate People

So, Jens usually does these croony things...but then he pops of a b-side like this on a rare/unreleased whatchamacallit, and makes me bliss right out. The snappy rhythm might be what's doing it... I'm not totally sure, but this is the second wackiest bliss-out I have in my collection.

Interestingly enough, the wackiest one is ALSO by Jens Lekman. Might give you that one later.

Melissa, from Expatriate Games, did a "25 Musical Things About Me" post which inspired me to turn that stupid "25 Random Things About You" meme into "25 Songs That Make Rainbows Burst From My Eyelids" (because who really cares if I'm addicted to chocolate brownies?)

I'm working on the Youtube playlist. Bear with me.

(ps: meanwhile, Gord Sellar is also posting some really cool music these days. Don't forget to check the comments on the second one.)

By the way: saw this online... your nominees for weirdest combination of music/vocal/video ever are: Eminem, Benny Hill, and Dr. Who... huh?
(warning: it's eminem. you know. language.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bwahahaha! Korean Drug-Related Language Mishap

Had a good weekend. Did lots of fun stuff with cool people, and saw my sweet friend Danielle get married.

Then, bumming around at COEX, I saw this at the megabox:
There's apparently a movie called "Marley and Me," which is fine.

Except, in Korean, "Me" is "na" and "and" can translate into "wa". . .

and the name Marley, because of the trouble with r's and l's, sometimes gets mixed up and pronounced, "Mari" instead of having distinct sounds for the "r" and the "l"

So that this movie's name, in Korean, sounds exactly the same as the word
"Marijuana". Reading the movie listings on the chart in Korean, and coming across the word "Marijuana" in hangeul was sure startling, let me tell you.

In other news, I just saw a cute Korean comedy involving a marijuana subplot, except the "marijuana" field didn't look anything like marijuana. I don't want to name the movie, because the marijuana thing's supposed to be a hilariously surprising plot twist, but the marijuana plants looked like this:

(That's a soy crop), and . . .

well, let's just say it was pretty obvious that neither the filmmakers nor the writers knew a darn thing about marijuana, and leave it at that.

Good thing they didn't, too: wouldn't want them to be deported, you know.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Shout Out To Our Readers (and non-readers) in Australia

"Australia Mourns Bushfire Victims"

Today is the day of mourning for Australia's bushfire victims.

To all those mourning in Australia, and the Australians abroad who wish they could be home to participate in this tragedy: may the diety of your choice be with you and your family, and also the families of those who lost their lives in the fire, and may each of you be surrounded by the people you care about on this day of mourning.

The world mourns with you.

Friday, February 20, 2009

China Triposeyo: Part the Last: Hanoi

Before we get into Hanoi, there's one video -- one of my favorites, no less, which I forgot to post in the Beijing post.

As I mentioned before, Beijing was hella cold, and it took all our gear to keep everyone mostly warm. The best was this guy, just standing around at a newsstand, trying to stay warm.

He made me smile, is all.

So after a great time in China, and a bit of down-time in Korea chillin', Girlfriendoseyo and I got a chance to take a trip to Vietnam.

Soundtrack: this has nothing to do with Vietnam, but Regina Spektor is making me happy these days. On The Radio: Hit play and start reading.

Cool song, except that the melody's pretty much the same as this one. (Bowl of Oranges, by Bright Eyes)

Now, we went during the Lunar New Year holiday, got our tickets, took the plane down, and all the usual.

We got into the airport, got oriented. Now, Vietnam was quite a bit cooler than we expected -- temperature-wise. We were OK, but it wasn't quite the beachy-beach.

The first night was also the last night of serious shopping before the Lunar New Year holiday got rolling. Now, we were in the French Quarter -- the old old part of town in Hanoi, and also a totally nutso market area, to begin with, and even more so on, pretty much, the Christmas Eve equivalent in Vietnamese culture. Flowers are really important on New Year's, as are the tiny orange trees which were all over the place (and which are really difficult to make to produce oranges exactly at the lunar new year, and very expensive for a large one)...

I really like the energy in these pictures.

It was crazy busy. Too busy. Bikes everywhere, and junk and/or merchants blocking the sidewalks, so that you had no choice but to take your chances on the streets. After an hour walking around, it was too much for both of us.

The next day we piled onto a bus and headed out to Halong Bay. Yes, that's right. Halong Bay. I said it twice, so I could link to pages with information, and most importantly, photos, twice.

On the way out, we saw these flags on the side of the road. That was a little jarring to me, personally, growing up in capitalist Canada, and uber-capitalist Korea.
The houses were almost all tall and narrow and really deep, even free-standing ones that weren't competing for space on the street-front, and done up with really fun colours.
(this hotel's grey and baby blue, not TOO wacky, but a lot of buildings were yellow, red, orange -- fun colours!)

The tour guide was funny: we tourists had packed out a bus, and the guide stood up and said, "We have twenty more people to pick up" when the only remaining place to put them was either on laps or the roof. He was cool. Except when he tried to overcharge us for the Kayak ride, even after agreeing to a price before we got in the boat. (Nope, he didn't get away with that, folks. I'll pay for cool experiences, but I won't let myself get taken.)

We got on a boat, after a couple of hours on the bus. The boats were cute.

Halong Bay was misty, but still very nice.

I've mentioned how I like taking pictures of other people taking pictures of people. Right?
Some of the islands in Halong Bay have caves. Impressive.

The tour wasn't that illuminating (though the cave was well lit) -- most of it amounted to, "See those rocks? They look like a couple. See those rocks? They look like a dragon. See those rocks? They look like a rabbit."

This is the part that looked like the Madonna and Child (that's madonna mother of Christ, not Madonna the popstar) Whaddaya say?
We came back to town, and got off the bus near a lake called "Turtle Lake" right in the middle of Hanoi. It's famous and important there, and may or may not have a 300 year old giant turtle paddling around in the water. There's also a little temple/shrine in there. It's cool. Here's the lake during the day.
And here it is during the night, during the New Year's Festival countdown.
As midnight approached, and after, people were releasing these amazing paper lanterns into the sky, with a bit of burning cotton or something suspended at the bottom, to heat the air and cause it to rise. I took a ton of lovely pictures...

just lovely.

Including this one: one of the better pictures I've ever taken.

Here's a little video about the night.

It was lovely. Just lovely.

The next morning we set out and tried to have authentic Pho noodles, and on New Year's Morning, nothing, but nothing is open. Well, a few places, but not many. One we did find was a little street corner spot where the sliced meat and veggies waited in bowls, a huge pot of broth simmered, and noodles waited to be dropped in the bowl.

Different from the Pho noodles available in Seoul.That's how they do it in Hanoi, baby!
We ended up in a shop that was somehow open, and also quite charming. Girlfriendoseyo discovered the joys of french crepes (which I'd take over a crappy belgian waffle from most of those dumb waffle houses in downtown Seoul. Yech.)

But what I'd REALLY take over a dumb belgian waffle, is stuff made the way South-asians do bananas. Ever had a Thai-style banana/coconut milk dessert? Best part of the meal...and that's saying something with Thai food. Ditto for these fried bananas glazed in caramelized sugar syrup. I can't even begin to tell you how good they were, except that I'll say this: Seoul needs more people who know how to cook up a proper banana.We bummed around a coffee shop, and went onto the shrine island in the middle of the lake. It was New Year's day, so of course it was an important day for people to go and pay their respects to the Buddha, and the ancestors and such. The place was a madhouse, but it was really neat being able to attend a day that had a lot of importance for these people. Really cool, indeed.

This guy was outside the entrance to the island. I like the contrast between his face and the cow's. I don't know what Moses would have thought of all the golden cows around: it's the year of the Ox on the Chinese zodiac (which they call Year of the Buffalo, because water buffalo are more common than straight-up cows there)
This poor guy was trying to take admission tickets to let people on the island, but mostly he was just getting inundated. Look at his poor, beleaguered face.

We got tickets to the water puppet show, which was really nifty: these puppets are almost up to my hip, being operated by performers manipulating really long sticks. The stuff they can do is pretty amazing, and each of these puppets must have been really cleverly built.

The only problem with the Water Puppet show is that the theater was obviously designed for profit, and not for comfort: this lineup of (paying, so who cares) foreigners' knees gives you an idea of my degree of comfort during the last third of the show, gangly cur that I am.

We headed down to another eating district for dinner, and witnessed a scooter accident wherein the angry mom (her daughter had been knocked off the bike) tried, and nearly managed, to punch out some dude while carrying a baby on her hip. It was loud.

Then we got to the other food area . . . navigation is hard in the old quarter of Hanoi, because each street is named after what is usually sold on that street, so from one block to the next, the street might have a different name, and you might be on the right street, heading in the right direction, but without a map and a north/south orientation, you'd never know it.

Well, this other eating district was a complete washout: seriously, every place was closed. We spanned three blocks lengthwise and three sideways, and there was nothing open except one or two unsanitary-looking places serving the same Pho we'd already had that morning.

We headed back to the French Quarter, where we knew of a few places that'd be opened, and Girlfriendoseyo insisted on riding a pushcart just once, for the sake of the story. I negotiated a price, and he took us to a place called Cha Ca street.

The driver was nice, I guess. We didn't have exact change (mistake), so I needed to get change from the guy to get our agreed upon price. Without speaking any English but "beer" and "friend" and some cute body language, he pleaded for me to let him keep the change (so he could drink beer with his friends). The funny thing is, when I was insisting on getting all my change (because if he gets away with it on me, he's going to be emboldened to try something worse to rip off the next foreigner on his cart), I realized I was using the same voices and faces I used to use in trying to insist my little kiddie students obey my instructions to their fullness.

Wacky. The old guy was a rascal, though, and he made me laugh.

We went into this restaurant and got the best meal of our trip: cha ca fish cakes, fried and prepared with peanuts and some kind of magical sauce. The restaurant is called "Cha Ca La Vong" and they've been in business for about five generations now.

Happy Seyo.

Remember how I said streets in the French Quarter were named after the items sold on that street? Well. . .
If the street you operate on is named after the dish your establishment serves, you're probably doing something right.

Finally, before catching a flight home, Girlfriendoseyo and I decided, spontaneously (and traveling spontaneously is still something GFOseyo is working on), to head up to the North gate of the French Quarter, and take a look at the huge market complex. Buddy, the spontaneous decisions have been the best ones, all the way through these epic journeys.

Now the market was closed, but the north gate was lovely in the dark. Really dark, though: this picture was a four second exposure, just to catch enough light to show you something.

Some kids were letting off fireworks in the empty (New Year's Day, remember?) market parking lot, and we saw this lovely tree on the side of the road.

However, the two highlights of the walkabout were the highway overpass/gate we found at the end of a quiet alley that looked like it should have dead ended instead: it wasn't as fancy as the old market gate, but having it right in the middle of sleepy little residential streets made it really charming.
The clear winner, though, was when I saw a fancy looking gate, and felt prompted to head inside. It was a buddhist temple, and not one of those "six hundred years ago, noblemen prayed to their ancestores here" temples, but one of those "two hours ago, a delivery man paid respects to his dead father right where you're standing now" -- and somehow, that authenticity rings true. What percentage of the visitors to Notre Dame de Paris actually go to worship God? I bet less than 10%. Probably 95% of the people at this place WERE there to call out to Buddha, either for themselves, or on behalf of someone. The garden, and the rooms inside reeked of real devotion, and in a back room, I could hear what sounded like the Buddhist equivalent to one of those bible studies that filled up my teens and early twenties. It was. . . real.

and beautiful. the interior pictures didn't turn out. There were statues in there and stuff, and they were nice, but they weren't impressive: that was kind of the point, really: they DIDN'T wow us; they just created a space for people to call on Buddha. The ornate lamps were covered with plastic protective coverings.
The garden was kept, but a little wild, and there was mildew on all the structures' corners.

Finally, we made our way back to the taxi waiting to bring us back to Korea. At the airport, they warned us. . . take a look. Apparently, I can't bring guns or tripods on the plane. . .

(look just right of center) nor medieval weapons.

OK, folks. That was Hanoi, and with that, my epic Winter '08-'09 China/Vietnam Triposeyo is concluded.

Thanks for reading, if anybody still is.

Probably nobody's still reading this. I could say all kinds of stuff and nobody would notice.
Pubic hair. Boobies. Wiener.

See I bet nobody even read that, because the post is so long. You've all tuned out and are just looking at the pictures.

That's OK. Hope you liked'em.

Laters, friends.
Bum bum.

Teach English? Live in Seoul? Help a Schola' Out

I got a very polite e-mail from a researcher from the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore named Francis Leo Collins.

You see, Francis is gathering information about English teachers in the Seoul Metropolitan area, and would like some help with a survey about our backgrounds and why we are here. The Seoul Metropolitan area means Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi province: Suwon, Gimpo, Paju, Uijeongbu, etcetera.

If you're not sure whether you want to take part, well, as an incentive, if you do, you'll get a chance to win an Apple Ipod Nano, to be drawn at the completion of the survey. If you have other questions, Francis Collins' contact information is on the opening page of the survey, and you can feel free to get in touch.

So, help a schola' out, and take the five or ten minutes it takes to answer the questions.



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hang out with Roboseyo and The Hub Of Sparkle in Andong!

If you wanna eat good food, or hang out with me, or see what's sometimes called the heart of Korea's ancient culture, why not kill all three birds with one stone, and come hang out with me and my friends in Andong the weekend after next?

On February 28th to March 1st, I'll be going down to Andong, and if you'd like to join us, you're welcome to do so!

For more information, check
1. The Hub of Sparkle
2. The Hub of Sparkle Facebook Discussion Board

To join, send me a message at
or send a message to Roboseyo on Facebook
please put "Andong Trip" in the subject line.

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, R.I.P.

Mourners wait to pay respects to the late CardinalKorea is mourning the passing of Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan, one of the most respected religious leaders in the country, and a strong fighter for democracy, and critic of the dictatorial rule during the 1970s and 1980s. Korea Times' write-up called him the "Conscience of Korea".

Cardinal Kim was the one who opened Myeongdong Cathedral to shelter those protesting the dictatorship in 1987, and stood between them and the police coming to arrest them (source).

Leaders of different Buddhist orders pay their respects to Cardinal KimHis body has been in state at Myeongdong Cathedral for the last few days, and will be from 6am to midnight, until his funeral on the 20th. The line of people waiting in bone-chilling cold to pay their respects to him has snaked all the way from the Cathedral to Myeongdong Station (about a kilometer), and included President Lee Myung-Bak and former President Kim Dae-jung, as well as the top leaders of pretty much every other religious organization in Korea.

The more I know about this guy, the more I respect him; a good friend of mine is Catholic, and remembers his leadership with a lot of warmth and nostalgia: the first conversation we had after news came of his death, she was a mess.

President Lee Myung-bak pays respects.

More about Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-Hwan

Korea Times

more Korea Times, and more

Wikipedia's Cardinal Kim entry

NY Times Obituary

The Joongang Daily has a really great short look at his life story.

Chicago Sun-Times Obituary

LA Times Obituary

photos from Korea Times and English Chosun.

cross-posted at The Hub Of Sparkle

Monday, February 16, 2009

Roboseyo's Bliss-Out Of The Week: Home For A Rest

Spirit Of The West sang this song. It's just a good old drinking song, but once the fun part kicks in, it just about grabs me by the collar and hauls me on my feet to dance every time. Back in the dissolute days of my youth, this was the song that the barkeeps at my local foreigner bar knew would get me off my ass and dancing like a giddy fool every time.

The other one was Hey Ya!, but that's another bliss-out, for another week.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

China Triposeyo: Beijing

Beijing, Baby!

So we went to Beijing, after Dali, got there in about the second week of January, and dear readers, Beijing is C-O-L-D.

Best shot first: I ate a scorpion.

It was shell-y, and it was deep-fried and sprinkled with salt. . . which means that it tasted like everything tastes when it's deep-fried and sprinkled with salt.
So, we rocked into Beijing from Kunming.

Beijing Airport is big. Hella big. Overflippingwhelming. So big that when Matt, his wife, and I went there to pick up his parents, they were at the same airport, and it still took us two hours after they arrived, before we found them. (Yeah, a miscommunication played a part in that, but still...)

Two terminals. A twelve minute bus-ride apart.


See, Beijing got totally overhauled for the Olympics, and while Hong Kong was daunting because it was just so intense -- like three Kangnam's stacked on top of each other -- Beijing, especially near the Forbidden Palace, was built especially to intimidate visitors, to awe, to impress, to cow visitors into stunned submission.

And it works, dear readers. The size of the buildings, height, depth, scale -- the windows in some buildings are one and a half stories high, in order to make the buildings seem even more daunting. The fact none of the buildings pile higher than the others, makes ALL of them seem just that overpowering. The buildings are spaced out far enough that there's space to see the sky...but the epic buildings make the sky into a brooding, hovering thing that's just as overbearing as the buildings.

We took a bus tour that guided us through many of the main sites in downtown Beijing -- from the Forbidden City to the Olympic Village.

We stayed at the Peking Youth Hostel, a really nice, clean, well-kept youth hostel in an incredible location, about two blocks from a side-entrance to The Forbidden Place. Great place, very helpful workers; any time I go to Beijing, I'll sleep there.

The silk market was busy, and impressive, but intense -- all the people trying SO DARN HARD to sell us things. They spoke some English, which was very different from many other markets, but as we walked around a bit more, it became really obvious that this market was for tourists: both because of how much (relatively) they spoke English, and (moreover) the kinds of tourist prices we were quoted.

We had duck. It was good. This is how you eat it. The restaurant was pretty fancy: we got a little card saying, "This duck restaurant has been in operation since. . . something like 1860. . . and you are eating the 512 538th duck served here."

Matt's folks didn't enjoy "Take Money From The Tourists" street; later we found an outdoor market area that was a pretty area with nice buildings and a cool atmosphere: if you buy souvenirs, you may as well get them at a place that has a nice mood and is close to some cool sites/sights, rather than letting them take your money at a market.

North of the Forbidden City is an area with a lot of neat side-streets which might have been my favorite neighbourhood we visited in Beijing -- we didn't get to see a huge ton of the city, only having four days, and one of them taken up with The Great Wall, and another half-taken up by picking up Matt's folks from the Airport.

There was an awesome lake there which, if we'd had another day/evening in Beijing, would have been the only place I wanted to visit.

As it was, we did one pass, and then had to move on, but I got these nice pictures.

This might be my favorite picture from the entire trip.
While we waited at the airport for Matt's folks, who forgot to give us their incoming flight number, Michael Phelps came through the gate. Everybody went bananas, (way more than for the Taiwanese stars who'd come in a little before him), and he came through the crowd with a nice, "aw, shucks" smile, and got close enough that I could have spit on him before photographers and fans shoved me aside.

I'm not usually one to go ga-ga over a star, I don't think, but I DO love people watching, and the crowds were wildly entertaining to watch, as their idol waded through their midst.

Every day we went to this great tiny dumpling place that was totally authentic, full of locals, not a word of English spoken, no picture menus, none of that stuff, just the best dumplings I think I've had. Soft, hot hot hot in the middle, nice spicy chili dip with soy sauce, really friendly folks, and five of us could eat our fill, seriously our fill, for about eight dollars' equivalent.

This is how they made them.

Freshy fresh.

I ate the scorpion in the night food market by Wangfujing, the elite, richy-rich prestige shopping district near downtown Beijing.

They had all kinds of good things to eat.
Silkworm larvae, scorpions, grasshoppers, cicadas. Yeah.
Don't forget starfish. Way overpriced, though -- there might be an area where you can get this stuff for reasonable prices, but not here. I also have this suspicion that this whole neighbourhood used to look like this, but I bet it was all cleaned up during the Olympic lead-up.

Strawberries coated in sugar. (Also apples and kiwi), because, you know, strawberries aren't sweet enough already.
Fortunately, they DID preserve one little alley of market was all tourist stuff, souvenirs and doodads, rather than the kind of diversity it would have had back when, you know, locals shopped there.

Wangfujing also had these cool trees with fake flowers and blue lights brushing them, outside a shop. They were lovely. Fake as anything, but lovely.
There was also the first Starbucks we found since Hong Kong. That was nice. The extra warm-gear we bought in Yangshuo came in really handy. Also, they had bike crossing signs, instead of just crossing signs. They made me happy.
A big line-up of those rickshaw carts were there. They were cool. It wasn't cool being razzed by them for a ride all the time, but what can you do?

The Forbidden City: We took one pass through it, straight down the center. We didn't even look at the side buildings or the gardens or any of the living quarters or stuff: just the seven thousand throne rooms, and that wore us right out.

Starting outside, the people's monument in Tiananmen Square. This square was crazy big.

Then we went inside, and it was really big in there, too.

So big.

For good Feng Shui, entrances should line up directly like this. . . symmetry's important. There are other rules wherein perfect center-line symmetry sometimes causes energy to flow too quickly through a building. . . but anyway, the symmetry in the palace here was A-MA-ZING.

All the buildings were this impressive. And the details up close are just as impressive as the sheer scale from a distance.
I love taking pictures of people taking pictures of each other.
More of the buildings. The Great Wall took a million workers, and a hundred thousand architects, fourteen years to build it.
There were a bajillion throne rooms -- the throne room for meeting foreign dignitaries, the throne room for when the Emperor had important business, the throne room for summer, for winter, for bad weather, for legal matters, for internal affairs, for matters of war, for meeting his concubines, for meeting the empress. . . well, you get the point.
Detail work. Yeh.
These are just ramps for people to walk up or down from the throne room walkway. There are courtyards at the bottom big enough to make a proper coliseum.

These guards and other folks are exhausted. Seeing a guard sleeping like that made me smile. . . stuff like that always kills me: cracks in facades, the businessman with mustard on his tie, the gorgeous lady who loses her stiletto heel in a sidewalk crack, guards dressed up to look badass, yawning or picking their noses. . . :)

or taking a smoke break.
The walk around wiped us out, but jeez, it was amazing. Here's the north corner of the tower, from the far side of the moat.I have to go back to Beijing again, for at least two weeks. . . it was great.

And. . . The Great Wall

On the way to the great wall, they tried to get us to buy stuff, but then we went to these Ming Tombs that were really fantastic: all the old emperors were buried there, and each tomb basically went all the way up the mountainside.

These pillars were each made of one tree, and they were ridiculously huge. According to the tour guide, the Emperor basically sent a million guys to a forest way off in the south, and by the time they came back with the pillars, only about half of them had survived.

This Emperess' crown is hella old, made of beautiful gold mesh, light as anything, build half a millenium ago. Cool.
Then we made it up to the mountain, and the wall. MMM. I walked slowly up the incline, drinking everything in.

The wall was great.

Overwhelming and mind-blowing, that a structure like this, 10 000 miles long, was built 3000 years ago -- not all of it, but the beginnings. Pretty cool. Being there was one of those "I'm Alive" experiences -- that same wall I read about when I was a kid, that always showed up on the seven wonders of the world lists and stuff like that -- and here I was, walking on it, and taking crappy pictures of it with my OWN camera. Thin air. Humans made this thing. Humans did it.

So, mind-blown and exhausted, we took the 24 hour boat ride home, starting early early the morning after seeing the Great Wall. We caught a bus with the most horrible driver in the world, this obnoxious turd who smoked on the bus and honked what must have been a train whistle every time he came near another vehicle, and I swear, that bus had the speaker blaring INTO the bus instead of out. We were not happy. Getting home was nice, but it was an epic trip.

We met some cool folks in Beijing, and had some good laughs with Matt's folks. We took it a bit easier there than in Dali or Yangshuo, for the sake of Matt's folks, but we saw just enough of Beijing for me to really, really want to go back.

And that was my China Trip. After that, I came back to Korea and bummed around a bit, and then for Lunar New Year, Hanoi.

Be well, my dear readers. Hope you have enjoyed my China trip. It was fun going through it again in my own mind.

One last note:

When I travel, I like keeping a written diary, because there are some things that just don't translate into pictures. While I sure did take a lot of pictures, I also spend a lot of time jotting down everything that can't go into a jpg file: smells, smiles, stories, people, weird conversations, funny comebacks, and all that stuff.

This was the diary I bought on my second or third day, in Hong Kong. A few days after returning from Vietnam, I filled the last page, tidily finishing my record of the final leg of the trip.

Check it out.

A good trip indeed.