lardbucket: blog

3/13/2017

Now You Tell Me

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 6:24 pm

I’m apparently getting a bit more lax in remembering to take photos of foods, so my breakfast photo is a bit odd. Cereal and bacon this morning.


There were two main rentable bikes we’ve seen around. The tour guide from our Great Wall trip indicated that they both have combination locks on the rear wheel, as well as a QR code. If you scan the QR code with the right app, you’ll get the combination for the bike, and can unlock it and use it. There’s some hourly fee, apparently, but the first half hour is free (and possibly longer in some circumstances?). Apparently when you’re done, you just leave the bike in an obvious location (generally, next to a bunch of others of the same color/company), and take another scan of the QR code. We couldn’t figure out how this actually did anything other than stop charging you, as there didn’t appear to be any way to automatically lock the bike, or to track it. (Just not enough space for a decent battery and transceiver.) Apparently you pay a deposit, but the bikes appear to cost more than the deposit, so there may just be an honor system component (and/or the threat of being banned or facing legal action).

Anyway, we saw a new set of bikes out on the sidewalk today, in a bright green in contrast to the existing red or yellow bikes. These appeared to have a solar panel on them, and may be able to track themselves, and lock or unlock on their own, but we didn’t take the time to investigate. (Aside: paying for things in China is interesting. They largely still use cash, but their 100 yuan note is the largest in circulation, and trades for about $15-16, so you may need a number of them to pay for even a meal with a couple co-workers. Lots of places now accept WeChat – QR codes and some sort of bank orchestration – to avoid cash, but it’s very difficult for a foreigner to set up such an account. You appear to need a Chinese bank account, which is a bit difficult to set up, and may have to validate your identity somehow. So for most of us, it’s just cash.)


For lunch, I went with the noodles again. And again, this photo is a bit late, coming after I’d drained much of the broth. This time around, I got Xiao to order them without cilantro, which was nice.


For dinner, we went to what is apparently a chain restaurant called Big Pizza, at Alvaro’s suggestion. (Contrast Big Pizza with It’s Pizza a couple blocks away: the latter didn’t have any pizza in the dishes they advertised.)

Anyway, it’s apparently a pizza buffet, somewhat like Cici’s for those who know it in the US, but with fewer pizzas at a time and plenty more options. This ran about $10 US, which makes it a bit more than the minimum for a restaurant dinner here, but still far less than many places we’ve been.


Their labels are in English where they exist, but many are missing, hence me getting a banana custard cup while expecting a small quiche-like thing.


Alvaro and I agreed that the pizza available here was much better than that at Yummy Box. I had been warned that one of the pizzas was probably a durian pizza they were advertising, so I ended up getting that to try as well. It’s the top slice here (the other is plain cheese):


Also of note: drinks were included in the price of admission. That included a Pepsi fountain, as well as juices, soy milk, and surprisingly, bottles of beer (though it was all one beer with 2.5% ABV).


I didn’t get a picture of the rest of the selection, but there was a salad bar, a small fondue station, ice cream, chilled puddings, sushi, skewered and breaded meats, fried rice, and probably a few more things. The focus was on pizza, but the other items offered a decent variety while waiting on a new pizza. They also offered a “DIY” pizza counter where we assume you could order whatever you wanted, but it appeared as though you pretty much had to speak Mandarin to give it a go, and the pepperoni pizza was fine. 

We had what appeared to be a full moon for my second to last night in Beijing. 

3/12/2017

Markets, Part 2

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:05 pm

I had intended to do my laundry last night, but ended up waiting for this morning, as it was in use yesterday evening. This ended up taking longer than expected, but otherwise mostly worked out. Breakfast was a few of these muffin/cupcake things, a glass of orange juice, a glass of milk, a fried egg, and a piece of fried bread. 


The laundry takes quite a while: about 50 minutes for the washer, and about 40 minutes for the dryer. The dryer, however, appears to have a blocked air exhaust, as it only really gets clothes from “wet” to “damp”. I ended up sprawling my clothes out over my bed, luggage, and the small clothesline in the shower. (Luckily, having been warned of this in advance, I just washed what I will need for the rest of my trip, not everything.)


Today, we took Xiao, my coworker who knows Mandarin, to the electronics markets. I picked up an SD card my parents wanted, and we got a couple odd devices for the office to play with. 

I also managed to get a few photos of the markets, but they were largely from ends of the market where most stalls were closed for the day, so it looks a bit more abandoned than usual. (On the other hand, at both of the two large markets we went to, the first floor was almost completely devoid of signs of commerce, complete with empty storefronts that appear to have been torn out years ago.)

I do somewhat want one of those large format printers, but I have no idea what I’d do with it. 24″ is fine for now. 

There was also a Wu Mart in the basement of one of the markets, so we walked around that a bit and got some more photos. The market had a bakery section I wish someone would replicate near my house, complete with probably a few hundred different baked goods, from basically compete meals to dozens of different cookies. They also sold bulk rice and beans by the scoop, which was somewhat unexpected but not unreasonable. An impressive candy selection, too.


They also had an imported foods section, so we had a peek at the US representation for entertainment. 


For lunch, we stopped a bit late in the afternoon at a halal joint, and got some skewered meats and bread. Xiao got a mutton leg. Everything was spiced more than I was happy with, but I ended up eating it anyway. (The bread was spicy! The bread!)


After we returned, I grabbed a somewhat quick dinner at the hotel restaurant with Graham. I got beef and egg, which was fine besides the deep layer of oil(?) left at the bottom of the plate. I mostly didn’t eat down that far anyway, not being all too hungry from lunch. 


Fun fact, there are a lot of small rickshaws around, although I’m not sure I’ve gotten any photos that focus on them exclusively. They’re mostly built on a motorcycle base, often with two rear wheels, but they keep the handlebars as the steering control. 

3/11/2017

It Is Rather Great, Isn’t It?

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:26 pm

Today Graham and I met up with my parents to do a tour of the Great Wall. I got up around 6, and had a breakfast of cereal and orange juice, which somehow I forgot to photograph.

First, we went to the Temple of Heaven for a bit. Apparently it also plays host to the largest senior citizen club in China, where most people play cards for small amounts of cash. (That’s not really legal, but it’s apparently tacitly accepted in this case.)

There was also an impressive amount of detail on even relatively less ornamental portions of the Temple area.

The Temple itself (and maybe the walk to it) is smaller than that of the Forbidden City.

After that wrapped up, we headed on down to the city where we were going to the Great Wall from. The lunch was reminiscent of the dinner from Tuesday, with a wheel for a number of dishes to circulate. I had at least a bit of all of these dishes. The plate and cups were sealed, apparently to indicate they were clean. Our tour guide indicated that typically one would pay more for the sealed dishes, or you could simply get non-sealed dishes, with the implication that they would be somewhat dirty. (It was a bit difficult to tell if he was joking, and there lunch was included as part of the tour, so I couldn’t quite figure it out.

There was some mushrooms and pork (?), which were okay but not great (and somewhat difficult to identify what you were having).

Chicken and shrimp bits in a thick but mostly tasteless sauce.

A salad, which had quite a bit of dressing on all of it.

And a spicy dish with chicken. This was definitely not my favorite, although I survived without any real problems.

Finally, beef and green beans (photographed after most of the beef was gone, though).


When we made it to the wall itself, we took a gondola up, and were able to walk along it for some distance. The steps were pretty uneven and quite steep in some places as well. 

The new surveillance towers watch the old ones, as it tradition in the country.

The Great Wall is actually a series of different walls, and are mostly not actually connected, but this section does go on for quite a while.

On the way down, we could have taken the gondolas, but everyone decided to go with toboggans instead. It was a pretty decent ride, although some unaffiliated riders in front of our group did cause a traffic jam and in one case, stopped to take pictures, which the speakers in the area repeatedly warned users to not do.


For dinner, we went to a hot pot place, and got beef, mutton, potatoes, and small white mushrooms. I grabbed some orange juice, while a couple folks grabbed Coke.


I tried to do the token-operated laundry, but it was in use, so I’ll try again next morning. Luckily, I don’t actually need to wash laundry until Monday anyway. In the meantime, I’m going for a decent amount of sleep.

3/10/2017

“Chicago Style”

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 11:27 am

Today was mostly unremarkable to start with. Short breakfast of cereal and orange juice. (And more lukecold milk.)

On the way to work, I spotted someone with a DHS / ready.gov backpack, which was a little odd. (Also, note the winter jackets at something like 43 F.)

For lunch, I got some form of an omelette and some white rice. The omelette appeared to have red and green peppers and mushrooms. I picked out as many mushrooms as I could, and the remainder seemed mostly fine. 

I also had a small piece of something from Graham’s lunch, we think it may have been tripe. It tasted like gypsum to me, but I assume that wasn’t it. 

Also, the convenience store seems to sell salted coffee in a bottle, but nobody was willing to try it.

Crossing a marginally busy intersection at night is interesting: there’s the traffic that hasn’t yet cleared the intersection, the traffic that’s trying to turn into that traffic, the pedestrians who would be in the way of anyone trying to turn anyway, and then the cars that really just want to go straight. (And then the jerk taking a picture of the whole mess.)


This is also the first hotel I’ve noticed that has its own trophy case in the lobby.

For dinner, we went to a local chain of Yummy Box Pizza, recommended by Daniel. It’s a bit more of a late night establishment, but we ended up there closer to 8:30, with it being a little empty. 


Nonetheless, they have a substantial menu. Interestingly, they would not entertain any modifications to the established pizzas: despite having a thin crust pepperoni pizza and a number of deep dish pizzas, they insisted there was no way they could make a deep dish pepperoni pizza. (Also, they would only do a cheese pizza as stuffed crust, not deep dish.)


The pizzas take about 50 minutes to cook, so they also have SNES clones with 400-in-1 game cartridges at many tables. 

The pizza came after a bit and looked pretty reasonable, and I’m told the deep dish pizzas tasted reasonable (though not as good as that in Chicago).


Unfortunately, the cheese stuffed pizza was pretty lackluster: it didn’t have enough cheese, and I wasn’t a fan of the crust. After peeling off the top layer after my first slice, it was okay, but basically equivalent to a thin crust cheese pizza. I’ve definitely had thin crust pizzas with more cheese than this stuffed pizza, but oh well. 

The area we were in was a college area, with something like eight universities within walking distance. There was some pretty blatant propaganda outside.


Across the street was some sort of additional shopping area, with karaoke and possibly a few other destination-type places, but we took the subway back to the hotel, so Graham and I could go to sleep at a reasonable hour to meet up with my parents in the morning for a tour to the Great Wall. 


Incidentally, relatively close to most subway stops, there’s a small police installation, with flashing red and blue lights, and presumably somewhere you can go talk to the police if something comes up. It’s a somewhat interesting idea, I suppose. I haven’t seen any police on patrol, so either I’ve missed them, or they mostly rely on these outposts. (They also exist in places that aren’t immediately next to a subway stop, but I assume they try to be where there are large numbers of people.)

3/9/2017

A Little East, A Little West

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:09 pm

Somehow I managed to have even less time available for breakfast than before, so I got a bowl of corn flakes and forgot to take a picture. I also ended up getting another breakfast like the one Alvaro got yesterday, although this time with a sausage in the middle. It turns out that after the egg/pancake layer is done grilling, they paint the inside (the egg side) with soy sauce, then drop on some sort of chopped onion (or similar), then a leaf of lettuce, and a sausage. The sausage looks like a hot dog, but has a much sweeter taste, and is somewhat less spiced. These sausages appear to be sold lots of street vendors (and, I believe, our hotel breakfast on many days), but I’m not a huge fan of the sausage itself. Anyway, the whole thing gets wrapped up in a small bag the size of a food service glove.


I tried it all together for a couple of bites, before giving up and just going for the pancake with egg and tossing the rest. 


Given the almost two breakfasts, I initially wasn’t very hungry for lunch, but ended up getting a bowl of white rice and some roasted chicken. As with many dishes where you’d expect a meat in chunks, it is, but fully bone-in, and simply cut apart apparently at random. 


After lunch, I followed my co-workers to the convenience store and ended up with a pre-formed ice cream cone.


For dinner, nobody was feeling particularly like going anywhere, so we split up between people going to McDonald’s and people going to KFC. Alvaro had warned that the KFC he’d gone to elsewhere in China wasn’t great, but they seem to be the most popular chain in Beijing, having restaurants nearly everywhere I’ve been. (Including more than the local hot pot chain that is also pretty prolific, Xiabu Xiabu.) Apparently the KFC also wants you to know they serve coffee.


Anyway, Alvaro was right, the KFC was underwhelming. The “bucket” I got consisted of some vaguely spicy popcorn chicken, some chicken nuggets, two small hot wings (which I skipped), and a relatively small amount of fries. It was okay, but not particularly good. We also stopped by the 7-11 on the way to the hotel, wherein I apparently decided I needed yet more sugar, and got a small tube of Skittles and an orange soda.


And that’s about it. Interesting note on the Skittles packaging: it has a tearaway strip to keep it sealed before purchase, but doesn’t require a cellophane wrapper.

3/8/2017

Brewery, Part 2

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:07 pm

The preview pictures I see in my application are all breakfast, since that’s the first photo I generally post. So instead, today we have a photo of the truck that sprays down the main roads every morning. We had seen them wet at some point, but didn’t really know why until seeing this thing. I still don’t really know why, but at least I know how. We assume it’s to clean the streets, to wet them to keep down smog, or both. 


These trucks will spray through an intersection, honking as they go so you know not to get in their way. Yesterday, we were even cut off by one that cut through the intersection against a red light (though while negotiating the pedestrians for a few feet, at least it wasn’t spraying).

Anyway, another day, another rushed breakfast. I didn’t go for the fried bread today, but I did manage to get corn flakes, a part of this complete breakfast, with bacon and orange juice.


Alvaro skipped breakfast at the hotel, and decided to get something from one of the street vendors. Xiao ordered for him, and he got… something. It was constructed from an egg fried under a tortilla (or something similar), which was then folded egg side in around some lettuce and possibly some other green, and handed to him in a small plastic bag. Other options would have included a sausage inside, and possibly some sort of fish, though we weren’t sure what it was. 


For lunch, I had essentially the same ramen-like soup as yesterday. The meat was a bit different, thin slices instead of chunks. I had tried to indicate that I wanted only meat: no cilantro or radish, but apparently that didn’t work out. I mostly fished out the cilantro I could, and gave it to Graham, as I apparently do with food I don’t want.


I also grabbed some Biscoff cookies, which are a reasonable balance of somewhat sweet but not overwhelming. They appear to be imported, though, and the price reflected it. (I think I paid more than twice as much for 25 cookies as I did for 1.25 liters of orange juice the day before. Even so, it comes out to something like $3)


For dinner, we went back to Alvaro’s favorite place, the brewery. I got what was theoretically the same thing he got last time, but it came out very differently, and was much smaller. Either way, it was enough for me. I did find that my first choice of drink and appetizer were both unavailable, so I ended up with an off-menu saison, and no appetizer.


We’re not quite sure what the fruit was. We think pear served some strange way, but the purple was confusing. Either way, it looked nice. Had a nondescript fruity taste, which is consistent with a generic pear.


This is one of the more expensive restaurants we’ve been to (with the exception, I’m sure, of the restaurant yesterday), but it still worked out to about $30 a person with food and drinks, which is pretty reasonable for the US.

I am curious about the source of their music, though. It all worked fine, but I’m not sure what common thread ties together Groove Armada’s “At the River”, the original “Que Sera Sera”, and a jazz cover of “Tainted Love” (besides being somewhat quiet).

And now sleep, ever earlier.

3/7/2017

Work Outing

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:26 pm

I appear to be heading for a shorter and shorter breakfast, but it’s worked out so far. Today, fried bread, chicken nuggets, orange juice, and cereal with “I can’t believe it’s not room temperature”-style “cold milk”.


For lunch, I got what is apparently just described as noodle soup, according to Xiao. Essentially, it was the Chinese equivalent of pho or ramen. It was pretty reasonable, although it was initially very hot and needed a while to cool off. Unfortunately, while the greens I had managed to spot in advance appeared to be parsley and green onions, it was really cilantro and green onions, making parts of the dish taste like soap to me (although I’m sure it was fine for people who don’t have the “cilantro tastes like soap” gene). As with the fried rice yesterday, I was only able to make it through about half of it before getting too full.


After lunch, we went to the convenience store and I grabbed a large bottle of orange juice (which I later finished). I also saw a bottle of a real sasporilla, which I had to get. To me, it tastes like root beer mixed with bubblegum flavor, but not in a particularly bad way. I gave the rest to Graham anyway. 


For dinner, our client contacts took us out to dinner. They had hoped to order Beijing roast duck, but it was apparently not available at the restaurant we went to. Instead, we had a lot of different dishes prepared a number of ways. (We also talked a while, of course, and everyone got my blog address, so hi everyone!)


The restaurant itself was fancier than any other restaurant I’ve been in this trip, but we had a separate room, so it wasn’t a problem where we could have been underdressed. 


After that much food, I don’t know how I could have been hungry the same night, but I wanted something kind of sweet, so I opened up the chocolate filled panda crackers I got a few days ago as well. 


Again trying to get to sleep at a reasonable time, so I’ll just end with a photo of a pylon (or so) from our walk to dinner. 

3/6/2017

Not The Huts You Might Have Expected

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:40 pm

Today was relatively mundane, and I’m trying to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, so the quick summary is that people were still tired from yesterday and work is going fine. 

Breakfast included an actual glass of “cold milk” (at best, just below room temperature, but the stuff here is basically stable for months) and one of orange juice, as well as the usual garlic mashed pork bowel, fried bread, and egg. 


Lunch was yet again more rice, though I’m likely to go for something else tomorrow (did the rice today as I didn’t have any rice yesterday, trying to spread out my rice consumption).


After lunch, I ended up getting a chocolate bar at the convenience store near lunch. Haven’t finished it all, but probably will tomorrow if it’s still on the desk. 


Dinner was at a place I figured I’d recognize, Pizza Hut.


However, it’s a very different restaurant than you might expect from the US. One sample page from the menu: 


Roughly three fourths of the menu is not about pizza, but that’s what we got anyway. I went with a Hawaiian stuffed crust pizza and picked out the pineapple, as it was the most normal thing I could see on the menu (our Mandarin-speaking co-worker wasn’t available at the start of dinner, so we made do by pointing at pictures: special orders would have been tricky, although maybe possible with a translation app). We also got calimari (better than I’d expect from a Pizza Hut, but not very good), and a co-worker got steak (though I don’t think I got a photo).

3/5/2017

Less”Forbidden”, More “One Way”

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:37 pm

Today was another slow start. I had breakfast around 9:30, and talked to Xiao and Graham, then came back to my room and napped a bit and didn’t leave until roughly noon. Breakfast was fried bread, shredded potatoes, bacon, orange juice, and some corn flakes with “cold” milk (not pictured).


Alvaro and Xiao had other plans for the day, so Graham and I made our own. We intended to go see the forbidden city and Tiananmen Square, then go to the Olympic stadiums and be back at a reasonable dinner hour.

Since we wanted to take the subway around, we looked at the map and Graham pointed out that on one of the lines, we could go see the main Beijing train station by “just” going an extra 9 stops, so we went with a few score of our closest friends and did so.


The Beijing railway station is big, but that’s an understatement. To put this into a bit of perspective, the building is nearly symmetric, and you can just barely see the edge of a clock tower in the second picture. The plaza out front is also gigantic, apparently acting as a place for people to meet with traveling companions, or maybe pick up arrivals. There were also 2-3 different security services with permanent installations (fenced off areas with at least two members standing guard over the plaza) in the plaza, including what appeared to be the military, and two types of police.

We got back on the subway (after finding an entrance, having left through an exit-only path), and made our way to Tiananmen Square’s East station. Getting out there involved ending up in the middle of a bunch of police, who mostly didn’t seem interested in us. (A few seemed to ask people who might be residents if they had their IDs, but even that seemed sporadic at best.)

As best as we could tell, we needed to go to a massive queue to get to the actual square, so we got in. I wouldn’t call it so much a queue as a corral: the lane was about six people wide, and maybe a hundred yards or so long. We took about 50 minutes to actually get through. More on the security processes we encountered throughout the day later. 


After entering, we knew that we were on the imperial palace / “Forbidden City” side of the street, and although we saw some stairs that appeared to let us go to Tiananmen Square, we decided to look at the Forbidden City first, since we were already there.

That may have been a mistake. After taking the pictures we wanted out front, we crossed over the bridge to the inside and found that the bridge was one-way only: we could keep going, but we had already lost our place in the more fortified area we had to wait forever to get in to. With no other options, we decided to go on anyway.

The architecture is definitely impressive, and almost certainly more imposing in person than in photographs.


After walking through yet another apparently unlabeled (it’s possible there was a Chinese-lettering-only sign, but almost all important signs were in English) one-way path, we got to the museum for the imperial palace. A 40 yuan entry fee gets you in, and it’s definitely large enough to have been a city. I have hundreds of photographs, but I’ll settle for a few here.


Again, the photos don’t really show the scale, and I’m not sure I really got it either, as most things were intended to push people through the museum to the north. Suffice it to say, a lot of work went into building everything, complete with detailed ornamentation on most every surface.

After we left (through another pair of one-way areas), we headed back along the side streets to get back toward Tiananmen Square.


By this time, the sun was close to setting, and the queue for entry was much shorter: we only took about 25 minutes to get through.

We went in the same gate, unable to figure out a practical way to cross the street (which is effectively the width of an 8-lane highway), and hoped that the stairs we saw earlier were what we thought they were. 


Luckily, they more or less were. It turned out that we couldn’t get to the square itself, but it looked like no civilians could (at least today – there were barriers up in places that implied people could be there at some point, but we didn’t see people there earlier or then). Instead, we took pictures of what we could, including more landmarks.


Since we were there a few minutes from sunset, we decided to stick around for the flag lowering ceremony. In it, military officers lower the large flag in the square, apparently timed to the sunset: they start when the sun hits the horizon, and the flag is lowered completely at the time the sun completely goes below the horizon. It’s neat to watch, although a bus happened to block a bit of our view. 


After that, and a few nighttime shots of the square and surrounding landmarks, we went back through the subway to the Olympic stadiums. (Getting on the subway was interesting: we already had our cards and knew where we were going, while many locals didn’t.)

After our series of security checks, we made it to the row of Olympic buildings. These were quite impressive as well, and almost as imposing. (A bit less so, as we didn’t actually go in/through any of them.)


It was getting dark and a bit chilly (Graham and I both had hoodies, and it got down to 42 F), so we didn’t spend all too long going through. Even so, it was a good two kilometers or so from one station to the other, with a bit of wandering for good measure. The nearby subway stations were probably renovated (or built?) for the Olympic Games, and it shows in some of their decoration.

Anyway, after that, and getting back at 9pm, Graham and I wanted to pick up fast food and go. There were probably a few suitable choices if we knew what they were, but instead we settled on the McDonald’s on the way to our hotel, and went back to go to sleep. 

This McDonald’s had two stories inside, and a vertical conveyor belt for getting down some food items which were prepared upstairs.


As with yesterday, my lunch was a Nature Valley protein bar. My dinner was apparently doubles, but it worked out. For a bit of back story, we ordered using their electronic order screens, which have an English option. It hasn’t been reviewed that thoroughly, with text cut off everywhere, misleading menu names, and so on. Anyway, I ordered a ten piece Chicken McNuggets (as I didn’t want to gamble on other menu items I couldn’t customize), and tried to order a medium OREO McFlurry. Nope. The menu item I ordered was a bit more expensive than the small size, labeled “2 HP” in English, and appeared slightly larger on the screen. Turns out it’s just two smalls, and I got far more than I wanted. Oh well, it was cold and sweet, so it all worked out. They apparently don’t have a ten piece chicken nugget box, so I just got two of everything instead.

Anyway, it’s quite late, so I’ll get to security checkpoints another day.

3/4/2017

That Explains The Seasonal Naming

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:59 pm

Today was a bit of an interesting start, finally getting up around 9 after a number of text messages from people at a number of hours. Alvaro, Graham, and I had planned to head in toward the center of Beijing today around 11, but didn’t end up leaving until noon.

Breakfast had an egg, a scallion pancake, a fair amount of orange juice (another glass in addition to this one), and some “plain chicken nuggets”, which did indeed appear to match their naming. I also got a bowl of cereal with the “hot milk”, as Graham pointed out that it would pour if you tilted it forward. (The “cold milk” container is mounted in a way that makes tilting it difficult.)

A view of the nearby bridge, juxtaposed with a crumbling building that appeared to have been cordoned off:


To head in to the city, we decided to take the subway/light rail system, and sorted out getting reusable tickets. (The normal tickets are one-way tickets, and we didn’t know how much we’d need to buy. Somehow, their system is metered by the distance between your starting and ending stations, with each trip costing 3-9 yuan, but I have no idea how that works with single use tickets: once you’re in, you’re in. Maybe you get stuck and have to pay the difference if you try to exit outside the set of stations you could reach on your ticket?) We did a transfer on the way to an electronics market.

On one of the subway rides, there was a video ad that appeared as though it used persistence of vision and a bunch of flashing screens to create a video, although I didn’t have enough time to investigate, as both such ads we saw were pretty short and I wasn’t near the edge of the car.


At the mall the subway ended at, there were a number of standard mall shops (that I didn’t take pictures of, but they were mostly clothing, jewelry, food, fashion, and mobile phone stores, in quite a large mall: I believe about five stories including two underground, and maybe 50 shops per floor, not including all the smaller vendors in the walkways. The stores were a much higher density than I’m used to as well, perhaps 15 feet of walkway per shop. Many also only allowed customers in the hallway, both for food and various small item vendors. This appeared to allow for some shops, mostly the clothing stores, to extend behind them. If we encounter the same type of thing again, I’ll try to take more pictures. I did get a shot of a vending machine I’d not heard of before: a fresh squeezed orange juice machine that squeezes the oranges while you watch. I didn’t give it a go, but it wasn’t all that expensive: roughly $2.


After that, and a couple false starts, we got to an electronics market. I’m told it’s indeed smaller than the Shenzhen ones, but it was still quite respectable. Aisles upon aisles of vendors, each with about a 10’x10′ space (some along the edges with multiple spaces), selling whatever they wanted. In general, they had mostly “name brand” items, but it’s hard to know what the actual relationship with the brand was. Toward the entrance, there were some moderately believable Lenovo, Canon, and Wacom stores that sold products that may well have been legitimate (and had starting prices to match). Further in, you got to stores that clearly weren’t using official logos or collateral.

For the most part, I didn’t take pictures of the stalls, having been warned from what I read online that the vendors were rather unhappy if you tried to do so. Nonetheless, I got a few photos anyway.

I didn’t see anything that was outlandish on the face of it (no iPhone 10s for sale, no 128 TB SSDs, etc.), if anything it was the other direction: years-old video cards, 1 TB internal hard drives, and 8 GB USB drives were much more common. It’s hard to know the provenance of the items for sale, but one assumes that many of them were either produced in a factory after hours, failed quality control, or “fell off the back of a truck”. Some may also have been pulled from older computers, given their age. Stores seemed to break down into a few general areas: those selling cables (headphone, iPhone, coax, Ethernet, speaker wire, you name it), those selling computer cases, those selling a specific type of computer component (RAM, CPUs, hard drives, SSDs, those selling surveillance cameras, those selling packaged products (iMacs, routers, printers, etc., almost always claiming some name brand), and those offering repair services. Often, stores would offer two or so such items, mixing, say headphone and iPhone cables with a selection of USB drives.

A few of the floors were labeled on the directory as DIY, which was probably about right: if you wanted (and importantly, spoke the language sufficiently), you could assemble quite a good computer from the components within 20 meters from any given point. (There was no apparent organization to the stalls, so everything was everywhere.) That would probably also be an effective way to make sure the parts you were getting at least worked for a little while. Without photos, it’s hard to give a sense of the scale of the operations, but a bundle of 200 iPhone cables was a common sight, and many vendors had trays of hundreds of Intel CPUs or sticks of RAM in their display cases. Retail value for them would easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but I have no idea what you could get them for if you haggled effectively (or really, what you’d be getting if you did so). And then two steps or so later, the next stall, much the same thing. Repeat a couple hundred times per floor, for roughly 6 floors. Even so, almost all of the merchants there on this Saturday were terribly bored. Some played cards, some watched their kids run around, some watched movies or played games, but the foreigners wandering through generally didn’t merit much notice unless we appeared particularly interested in something. Very few vendors spoke English (perhaps one or two that called out to us), and we didn’t end up getting anything. I did attempt to purchase a USB drive for a  co-worker, but the best I could make out, the gentleman at the stall I was trying to purchase from was only there for part of it, and was unable to unlock the display case for the item I wanted. While it would have been interesting to try to get a CPU or some RAM just to see if they worked as described (if they were cheap enough), the language barrier and lack of significant reward made it not worth trying too hard.

The lower levels (which also led to a subway stop) also hosted a mobile phone extravaganza, but again with few or no prices listed, and no differentiating features on display. Almost everything looked like an iPhone, or some close variant thereof. While a cheap, unique device would be fun to play with, it was unclear whether I could find such a thing there or not: nothing really stood out.

After that, we took the subway to the Old Summer Palace. It’s currently winter, and it shows. Almost none of the vegetation was green, although it does seem like a place that would be quite interesting when things are in bloom.


It’s not a small place. The pagoda in the picture (a recent reconstruction) was on one of the smaller lakes in the bottom right of the map, and despite spending hours walking through and taking pictures, we got to maybe a third of the park. Not too bad for a $4ish admission. 

There were a number of ruins to look at, apparently from some European-style buildings dating to a few years before the US was founded, which were apparently bombed during the second opium wars.


There was also a labyrinth that fooled Alvaro, the tallest among us, four or five times. It would certainly have been challenging back when it was a garden. 


On our way out of the park, as the sun was quite low, we were in a relatively unpopulated part of the park (I’m not sure why, the ruins and scenery were just as nice), when we came upon something blocking the road. It turned out to be some sort of movie filming, with old style cars and some anxious directors. I was going to stop and take some pictures by the crew (who were in the path, with no signs or barriers – it’s not as though we snuck up on them), when someone waved us (and a couple of other Chinese tourists) past and said “go, go!”. Apparently they were resetting their scene, and wanted us to clear it quickly. We started walking, and ended up having production assistants running after us for a good third of a mile yelling “go!”. I didn’t get a chance to take pictures until we got to the other end.


After that, we made our way out of the park, pausing to note all the things one shouldn’t do inside. 

Incidentally, a fair amount of transportation is on very small vehicles carrying quite a load. This gentleman appears to be carrying a printer or so and maybe a dozen Lenovo computers, apparently all under his own power.


Anyway, after a mostly skipped lunch, we were quite hungry and ended up at a brewery where everyone ordered a fair amount of food. We did end up finishing almost all of it, though, so we felt justified. I got a fried chicken, some breaded shrimp, and a stout. The stout was surprisingly hoppy, but otherwise not too bad.

Graham got a platter with a ridiculous number of sausages, but I believe that with a little help from Alvaro, all but one disappeared by the end of the meal. 

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