Category: Uncategorized


São Paulo

Just spent a week in Brazil. Let’s briefly hit the “Will Kevin write about this” checklist:

✔ Newly Industrialized Country 1 2
✔ Have at least one “unstructured” night
✔ Traveling with nobody who knows that this blog exists

Looks like we’re good to go. As a quick disclaimer, it’s worth noting that much of what follows will be observations (and generalizations) based on a grand total of four days and three nights spent entirely in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in São Paulo. This is loosely equivalent of getting the lowdown on NYC from someone who spent a few hours in boutiques on the Upper East Side.

 

About São Paulo

The largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, São Paulo’s one of those cities where an alien could reasonably conclude that cars are the dominant life form. Conveniently, this means that you never have to wait more than twenty or so seconds to hail a cab — they are actually just everywhere, all the time — but by the same token, once you hail one, you don’t tend to do a tremendous amount of moving. For instance, my last ride in the country was a quick 19-mile trip to the airport on a Friday afternoon, which wound up taking two hours.3

The way that drivers handle São Paulo traffic is in my experience unique, and incorporates both Paris’s total disregard for lane lines and Beijing’s idea that right-of-way is determined entirely by the size of one’s vehicle.4 The latter principle is happily extended to pedestrians in São Paulo, which basically means that cars won’t stop for you. The only reason that people aren’t dying in droves is that the cars rarely break 10 or 15 mph, so they can generally be dodged.

Of course, Portuguese is the main language in Brazil, because colonizing a landmass 92 times the size of your country seemed like a reasonable thing to do back then. Just for the record, the US is only 75x bigger than England.5

When it came to dealing with Portuguese, good ol’ highschool Spanish let me read most of what I needed to, but speaking was an absolute mess. This proved frustrating because I kept thinking that I would be able to communicate in Spanish, and that WORKED about half the time — both for me, and for one of the Mexican guys who I was working with. Basically the routine was to first try English, if that fails try Spanish and hope that the Portuguese version of that word was roughly equivalent, and if that still fails pantomime or give up. You know how, in trials with rats, the absolute best way to get them to keep pressing a lever is to make that lever give them food SOME (instead of all) of the time? Same deal with Spanish communication.  Maybe, maybe this time “cena” will mean “dinner” in Portuguese. Still no? Shit.

 

Why I was there

I work at Sephora now, and the Brazilian arm of the company is looking for some inspiration from their American product and technology counterparts.

This was all well and good, and like any business trip this meant that the vast majority of my time was spent either in conference rooms or bars. I feel like if I were an entrepreneur in a wealthy São Paulo neighborhood, I would open a bar offering local specialties, and then install a large conference room — perhaps with movable walls — in one corner. For bonus points, I’d put a hotel on the second floor, so that a ‘business trip’ could easily be conducted entirely in a single building.6

To their credit, the bars in São Paulo are wonderful (aside from the occasional awful pour). In most cases, a large section of the bar is open to the outside throughout the evening, and is only canvassed shut when the bar closes for the night. They all broadcast soccer games at all times, unless rowdy Americans demand to watch the NBA finals, go Warriors woo. Sitting in one reminded me strongly of watching the 2010 World Cup in similarly-open-air bars around Houhai, a neighborhood in Beijing built around a lake. That said, I’ll take a caipirinha over baijiu any day.

A year or so back, my friend Jeff introduced me to some of his friends from Argentina, who were doing a tour of the United States at the time. Their trip, as far as I could tell, consisted of nothing but going to Walgreens for makeup, Ross for clothes, then to Target for more makeup. Seriously they went to like ten of each. I remember making fun of them for how silly it was to go to a new country and spend the whole time just buying makeup. Karma’s a bitch. Three times in three days, I found myself spending my non-bar-or-conference-room time in makeup stores. Not that I would be jumping to buy anything anyway, but Brazil’s crazy tariff policy also made nearly everything that Sephora carried substantially more expensive than it was in the U.S. The Brazilian Sephoras that I was checking out were all in some of the most opulent malls I’ve ever seen, like the JK Mall and the “Shopping Iguatemi,” which Google helpfully informs me is the oldest mall in Brazil. Now, going to said malls was a big part of why Sephora had paid for me to be in Brazil in the first place, and I get that, but part of me was just dying to get away from the friggen Louis Vuitton stores and actually see the country that I was in.

Which is why Thursday and Friday were so fun!

 

Exploring the Jardins

The VP who served as the main social nexus for the group left midway through Thursday, and nobody had stepped up to fill his shoes by that evening, so we were left to our own devices as of around 6pm. I spent about ten minutes on the hotel’s roof (São Paulo can be quite pretty), ten minutes on Google to find somewhere to go, and then I sprinted over to the Museum of Image and Sound a little over a kilometer away.7

 

Selfie with Vivian Maier / Museum of Image and Sound

The museum was cool enough. I got to learn about some Brazilian photographers and asked a guide what should be next on my list. She told me there was another museum next door (closed), and helpfully neglected to mention that short of the two museums, the street I was on had nothing but car dealership after car dealership in both directions. Since I had no mobile data, I didn’t really have a way to figure out what I was in for, and returning to the hotel just to get on WiFi seemed like a waste of time. Fast forward 40 minutes of wandering, still seeing nothing but car dealerships, and I decide to hop a cab. The guy getting out of the cab that I’m about to commandeer tells me that if I’m looking for food as well as a place where people hang out, I should really check out this great area a “few blocks”8 away. I say that sounds perfect, decline the cab, and redouble the wandering efforts.

On my way to this supposed mecca of food and human interest, I pass the first non-dealership establishment I’ve seen in like an hour. It is of course none other than a “Budweiser Mansion.” I immediately abandon all efforts to find food and spend the next seven hours pounding Bud Light Limes with São Paulo’s legendary population of bros continue on my merry way. Another mile of walking brings me to a fucking swanky Red Lobster of all places, where I succumb to my hunger and spend the next seven hours pounding Cheddar Bay Biscuits with São Paulo’s legendary population of midwestern housewives or whoever the hell eats at Red Lobster aside from my girlfriend. which although was technically a restaurant, would have almost certainly constituted a personal failure. I maintain my resolve and soldier on. Finally, at long last I arrive at the destination that the cab guy told me about. It turns out to be another fucking luxury shopping mall, boasting a Tiffany & Co and Louis Vuitton right up front, but I’m exhausted and incredibly hungry so I give up and go in and have some sort of weird indian curry with grapes in it for some reason wait whoops that’s exactly what happened and I hate myself for it.

At that point I got a text from the tech lead on my project, a nice guy named Wit who is bored and wants to grab dinner. I told him to meet me near this mall I’m in, but apparently the directions that I gave him to get to the mall send him down an incredibly sketchy street and he fears for his safety so he goes back to the hotel. Queue more running on my end. I met up with him, wandered around some more, and eventually ate dinner #2.

That’s about when I got a text to go meet up with my boss, since he’s somehow wound up at an open bar with the Australian Consul General in Brazil and his entourage. Apparently my boss’s ex-coworker, who is also in São Paulo, knows the Aussies somehow. Not one to refuse that kind of invitation I hurriedly head to the bar in question, just in time for the ”open bar” bit to expire. So I buy a pint and introduce myself to the consul, who says it’s nice to meet me but that the whole group is about to go to another bar to close out the night, and that they really have to get moving if they’re going to make it before the kitchen closes. It is a gentle-but-completely-unsubtle invitation to slam the pint immediately so that I don’t hold up the party. I comply, because Australians. They seem happy about it.

We bar hop, order dinner #3, order a tower of beer, and shoot the shit for the rest of the evening.

Turns out after his stint making satellites with Boeing, the consul (before he was consul) did a lot of exporting to China in the 90s, and he had plenty of crazy stories about doing business with moguls in the Shenzhen special economic zone. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the guy who would order multiple shipping crates of wine at a time, with his only two requests being that a) the invoice gets sent to him in a word document instead of PDF, and b) that 2/3rds of each shipment should be the cheapest possible wine, and the rest should be the most expensive wine he could find. Now I don’t know much about much but I can sure as hell swap silly China stories all day long,9 so we had a great night.

Friday was nice too — after meetings ended early for the day, and we had yet again visited another Brazilian Sephora, we were able to check out one of the big parks in São Paulo that one of the girls from Thursday night had recommended that we see before we left town. As a happy surprise, the park was home to the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, which was great in its own right, and also critically afforded us the opportunity to get one last round of caipirinhas for the road.

Can’t wait to go back! Think I’ll get the chance in a few months. Photos from the museum below the footnotes.

 

Footnotes

1: I just learned about this! But I’m looking at the blue ones on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newly_industrialized_country and they’re almost all countries that I either have visited or would love to visit. Considering an Indonesia trip this October, for instance.
2: I realize that having footnotes in a blog is more than a little obnoxious. Especially footnotes about footnotes. But hey, that’s never stopped me before.
3: We were thoroughly warned about so we knew what we were in for, but good god. This is the route.
4: Or governmental status, I suppose. My Chinese teacher told me a story once about how he lived above some sort of major government building in Beijing at one point, and there were constantly, constantly traffic accidents outside since all the government officials were used to running red lights all the time, so when there were several at the same intersection accidents were simply inevitable.
5: Special thanks to Mapfight.Appspot.Com!
6: Drop the whole shebang right next to the airport, and baby you’ve got a stew going.
7: A quick aside about sprinting around: it’s the best. You should try it, especially if you’re a) in a place where you’ll never see any of the onlookers again, b) drunk, c) late. Combining the above just enhances the experience.

Pros:
Free
Substantially faster than São Paulo cabs
Probably more trouble than it’s worth to pickpocket someone who is sprinting around
Walking is for scrubs
Museums close early

Cons:
You look like an idiot
Brazilian pickpocketers probably much faster than you
São Paulo is really humid

In all honesty, to this day I actually am constantly weighing running vs not running in my head whenever I go anywhere. Convenience vs ridicule, man. It’s rough. Anyway I was by myself in Brazil so it was full speed ahead to the Museu da Imagem e do Som.
8: 1.5 miles
9: See: basically anything else on this blog

 

Pictures from the Museum of Modern Art:

Pantyhose and ball bearings

Seuss table

It’s art, okay? I can’t caption all these.

Floor made of bathroom scales, accompanied by terrifying video. #art

Pretty hangy thing

Giant newspaper balloons + aforementioned tech lead

Ten weeks

So right now I’m in week six. That’s fine. Six is actually a pretty chill week, a down week. One of the most consistent, actually. It’s what comes next that scares me.

Here’s the thing: since at least as far back of September of 2008, my life can be pretty cleanly divided into 10-week chunks of experiences. This isn’t really anything special: for the most part, plus or minus a little noise, this is going to hold true for anybody on the quarter system. The core of the school experience was these little ten-week loops of four classes at a time: two and a half month batches of Chinese and Economics or whatever that stand out to me as discrete. Sure there was usually an empty week, part of a finals week and some break time at the end of each batch, but they don’t count. Honestly I’ve always thought that under my utterly arbitrary mental grouping of experiences, these types of breaks – all eleven “reading weeks” of my college career, for instance – fit much better with each other than they did with the quarter to which they were nominally attached.

And that cycling of the academic quarter forced plenty of other things into these nice ten-week patterns. This was literally true in, say, the case of my internship in China, which had to be basically ten weeks long to the day so that I could make it back in time for Spring quarter. And it was directly responsible for plenty of extracurricular stuff, which would shut down during reading and finals week – so I’d have ten weeks between switching roles at the magazine, or between switching schedules and committees for Special Olympics.

But then, gradually, I realized that a lot more about me was starting to synch to this pacing. I’d get sick of music after ten weeks. I’d find new shows to watch. I’d stop writing, or start it again. I’d get bored of what I was doing. I heard somewhere that kids in my generation have an average attention span of about seven minutes, because that’s roughly how long a standard TV show will go between showing you commercials. So you get used to that timing and you eventually come to expect it. Maybe what’s happening to me is the same basic premise on a bigger scale.

I think somewhere along the way I started adjusting myself to the ten-week system even when I didn’t need to. My first trip to China was supposed to last seven weeks and change, but I wound up staying two weeks extra. There was no pressure on the length in either direction, but having the whole thing wrap up at about ten weeks just seemed like the right way to go. After graduating, my stint with the investment bank earlier this summer lasted ten weeks exactly, and I couldn’t have stood staying any longer.

After the bank, I took seven weeks to find a new job. A little short of the ten, sure, but it still represented a radical departure from what I’d been doing. Ten weeks where I had never been home became seven where I never left. I got used to living without internet for the most part, which was a big adjustment which I am not eager to ever repeat. I had to deal with my drugged-up landlady on the regular and spend my afternoons hassling people to give me their time in exchange for exactly nothing. I was ashamed for weeks of my own perceived failure, a mindset which did me no favors.

But the nice part of this experiential chunking is that it naturally allows for big jarring turnarounds. If I was having a bad quarter, or a crappy internship, or a lonely stint in a foreign country, it was all cool because everything was going to be different in ten weeks and I could sorta start over. Hell, even as far back as high school, debate topics would only last for two months.

Moving to Mountain View has been one of these big turnarounds. I’m living in a better place, have a better job, have more free time and a better social circle.  I’m playing Starcraft again, which matters for reasons that I’ll be explaining in the next blog or two. Long story short, things are really good for me right now, but I’m nervous because all signs indicate that the cycling that’s been my norm for years has finally stopped.

My job at PayByGroup, my new company, isn’t an internship. There’s no deadline at the other side. It’s not like I want to leave – I’m actually really enjoying my work and I’m not actively looking for a way to get out. Pending the company failing or me getting fired, though, I’ll be here for a long time. I’m sure this is a good thing, a big part of growing up or whathaveyou. But still, there’s a departure in the framework here and I’m not sure that’s really hit me yet.

Because like I said, I’m still only in week six. The week after midterms, or the week that I got off from the Qunar job, or the calm before the storm of Pacific Crest’s Vail conference. A really nice and comfortable part of the arc that is – as far as I can see – no longer an arc.  The idea of a “next” still obviously exists because it has to, but for the first time in a while I have no clue what that means or when it happens.

Time

The issue with not writing for a few days is that it all just builds up in my head anyway, and now I have four posts that I want to throw together into one huge mess, and I think that’s probably a bad idea.

So we’ll start simple. We’ll start, as all good things should, with Nicolas Cage.

Around 10 days ago this story started spreading on the internet that some poor, genius girl had accidentally sent a potential employer a picture of ol’ NC instead of her resume. This story is only sad because I was not said employer.
Here’s what’s particularly cool about it, aside from the obvious:

I don’t even know if that’s readable at the size I compressed it down to, but honestly I don’t care.

The point is that eight people, including two in conversations that I sadly couldn’t screenshot because they were in person, saw this goofy little post that’s tangentially related to Nicolas cage, and all of them presumably had the same thought: “this has to be brought to Kevin’s attention.”

…Which is fucking awesome.
Because to me, and I think to a large extent this applies to everyone, the notion of “who I am” is mainly just a function of my friends and my interests: I’m hugely defined by the things that I like or do, and the people with whom I choose to surround myself. The screengrab-amalgam up there is a perfect example of those two things intersecting — like it or not, (the former), I have found myself in a position where liking Cage films is just one of my Things, where my friends associate those films and that actor with me and in that way it reflexively is going to impact my relationships with people and (by albeit loose extension) my interactions with the rest of the world. Other Things of mine that come to mind include, what, Starcraft, Homestuck, Daft Punk, blogging in this style, all sorts of these little hobbies and interests that I like to spend time on. Any single one of them could get a huge blog about why it’s awesome, and probably will at some point.

And I was going to write a hell of a lot more about this sort of theory of personality and external self-definition but I’m going to have to skip ahead to the part where I’m being utterly robbed of all of these things and I’m starting to feel deeply, deeply lost.
The reason I have to skip ahead is because I just got a call telling me that I’ll be needing to work a 15-hour Friday — that starts an hour early, so I need to be at the office by 7:30 — and then put in at least 24 hours of work this weekend. Which is to say, in the next three days, days normally associated with relaxation, I am going to ostensibly need to cram in a regular human being’s work week. So if this post comes across as disjointed, that’s because it is. There was originally going to be another hour’s worth of writing between the cage part and the work part, but now there isn’t.

At every time in my life before, when I’ve mentioned or even thought about “not having time” for something, I’ve always perceived that phrase as largely being bullshit. I’ve always, always been able to make time when I need it. I was always good at school and could always get my work done quickly, which meant that for about four or five hours a day at least, usually more, my entire life I’ve been able to devote, as one Aesop Rock would put it, to hobbies I have harbored based solely on the fact that they make me smile if they sound dope.
Here’s the full verse, which kills me mainly because an 8-hour day has been such a pipedream these last four weeks:

Now we the American working population
Hate the fact that eight hours a day
Is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us
And we may not hate our jobs
But we hate jobs in general
That don’t have to do with fighting our own causes
We the American working population
Hate the nine-to-five day-in day-out
When we’d rather be supporting ourselves
By being paid to perfect the pasttimes
That we have harbored based solely on the fact
That it makes us smile if it sounds dope

The short of it is: not having time is a real thing, work-life balance is a real thing. In college, if something comes up like, oh, a final exam, then hey i’ll only gchat for half an hour tonight instead of an hour and a half, or I’ll only watch three games of starcraft instead of ten, or I’ll read one chapter of whatever fucking book I’m caught up in instead of two.
But now, counting commutes, from 7:30am to generally 10 or 11 pm I am literally tied up in something that requires my full focus and energy and not only is there a very literal zero TIME for anything else, I am starting to think that because of that I’m starting to run into some real and hitherto unseen issues with focus and stability and life satisfaction or whatever; complete deprivation (due to shortness of time) of the things that I like doing combines with a new and friendless city to have some pretty fucked up impacts on my attitude and behavior. I’ve lost my context. And I can’t even talk to my friends about it, because god knows I don’t have time for them and that fucking kills me because honestly that’s the only thing I really have in the first place. So I’ll spend an hour writing this and just hope they all find it and that they all understand, that you all understand, that I will be out of touch for a little while and that is not because I want to be it’s because I don’t have that that much of a choice.

I could write till 3am tonight, and I’d love to do so, but there is work to be done.
I’d quit but I want to prove to myself I can do this, and there is a very definite end in sight.

I think things will be better after this coming Wednesday. Bear with me.

Cagematch Live

At an undisclosed private location, Zandalee begins. We just finished Vampire’s Kiss. Current standings:
1 death
1 murder
3 sex scenes
8 freak outs
1 cry
1 drunk scene

I’ve seen Zandalee before. It’s a foreign film not available in the states. You know why? Because it’s basically an hour and a half of cage having sex.
~~
That one was kinda a workout. Four sex scenes, three flip outs, one cocaine useage later we’re through it. Entering the 90s with Red Rock West starting now. Time is 11.16 pm. Morale remains high. The room is really hot, but that’s how it’s always been. Two people have tried to come in so far.
4 sex
3 flip out
1 cocaine
~~~
Red Rock West was AWESOME. It’s 12.57; we are exactly 3 minutes ahead of schedule. Like last year we’re keeping this shit locked down to a tee.
1 freakout
1 assist
1 sex
no but seriously, rrw was my favorite so far of the night, easy
Deadfall now, courtesy of burkeman. opening credits playing. apparently charlie sheen is in. WE WE WE SO EXCITED
~~~~
2:37 now. deadfall just ended
spoilers:
1 murder
1 death
7 flipouts
1 drunk
2 drugs
cage died like halfway through and the movie went significantly downhill from there. hopefully we can recover with trapped in paradise. wish us luck!
~~
4.27am
trapped in paradise is over. kinda reminiscent of rrw, in that it’s just a ton of going in and out of a small town. first ‘comedy’ of the night. but really, everything’s a comedy when you’re with cage.
2 flipouts
how tame.
and one of the flipouts was mediocre
~~
6.05 am
passed the first hurdle, i think. not even a full 24 hours left! snake eyes was solid. very solid.
1 flipout in snake eyes. pretty tame in that respect
we are all collectively dreading ‘city of angels,’ up next. we really aren’t sure we’ve got the stamina for a romance about cage returning to life in order to bone someone that he stalked as an angel, which is the plot of this one so far as i know.
~~
7.57am
…. that was precisely what it was.
goddamn.
1 sex scene. 0 flipouts. i hath wasted mine time
bringing out the dead next
~~~
10:00am
We’re running ten minutes ahead of schedule! BOTD was super fucking long and had almost no direction whatsoever. I am deeply ashamed to admit that i fell asleep for about ten minutes; it forced me to open up my coke so now i’ve had about a third of a bottle. should be wired for a while
2 drug uses
1 kill
1 freakout
~~~
Family Man time
nothing interesting happened during this movie
but it was touching
so hey
12.04 pm
windtalkers up next
~~~
2.45 pm windtalkers
92.2 kills
4 freakouts
2 drugs
this movie…err… dragged, a smidge. also it didn’t end when it was supposed to for whatever reason so we’re like fifteen minutes behind schedule now. sad days
~~
4.45pm matchstick men (review)
6 freakouts
semi-continuous drug use
PLOT TWISTS OH GOD THE PLOT TWISTS
THEY TWIST LIKE FIRE
Nah, seriously one of the better ones. And i feel way less bad about thinking that the ’14-year-old’ was cute when it turned out that she was actually like 25, so that’s a plus.
Mckenna and vanessa both came to visit!
Lord of war @ now
~~
6.41pm
we’re not quite to 24 hours, but we’re getting damn close. one more movie should do it. Lord of war was solid.
1 assisted kill
2 drugs
3 sex scenes
pretty interesting plot. good acting, obviously. long. very long.
only four more movies now, though! Cage toxicity has long since set in for everybody but morale remains relatively high. We will keep on keepin’ on. We have a strong finish lined up.
NeXt is next
~~
8:18pm
next was bad
~~~
… but it’s cool because we followed it with national treasure two, right?
oh wait.
10.20pm
so we’d all seen the movie before, consequently to make it all entertaining we deemed the entire duration of the movie shirtless time. of course several people then came in and stared at us and i dont even want to know what they were thinking but…yeah
TWO TO GO
~~~

Dear Winds,

I wasn’t really using that caution anyway.
Enjoy,
-Kevin

Just for fun, I’ve (with the help of Geoff’s Google Analytics) put together some statistics for this blog.

Before that, though, I really want to thank everybody who has kept up with the site, or even who has just checked in when I got myself in especially deep shit. I’m particularly appreciative of all the feedback that I got; it was overwhelmingly positive, and absolutely the reason that I put in the effort to keep the posts both as frequent and as (hopefully) high-quality as I was capable.

More than that, though, one of the most important goals of the blog for me was to stay connected to my friends and family while I was half the world apart; I’ve known tons of people who went on study abroad and fell off the map entirely. This effect isn’t so bad during the summer because that’s when everyone scatters; during a time when everyone else is together, though, total radio silence can be hell on friendships, and the longer it goes the worse it gets.
Accordingly, the China Match in large part existed as a way not only for people to read about eighty Chinese shenanigans but rather to bridge the 7k-mile disconnect and give people something worth starting a conversation with me about. In this it succeeded with flying colors — for every blog comment posted there were two more facebook ‘likes,’ emails, IMs, skypes, all sorts of stuff. Over the months you guys were able to start literally hundreds of conversations with questions and comments about the random happenings here without having to fall back on the ever-so-nebulous/awkward-and-tricky-to-respond-to-succinctly-in-a chat “so how’s China?” and through all of this I felt so much less alone than I would have been otherwise. It’s tough to describe how grateful I was for that, through it all.

But then, for every one person who said something there were nine who didn’t; Google tells me that since February first, this blog has somehow gotten just short of 500 unique visitors, which is dumbfounding. That number is probably six or seven times higher than I was expecting, and I’m flattered. But yeah, to those 450 unknown faces out there, thanks for reading! Oh, and if one of you mystery-readers ever catches me on Sheridan, know that “Dude, I read your blog, you’re an idiot, how’ve you been” is a completely acceptable way to say hello (=

Ok on to the actual stats, which are kinda neat —

The Cage Match has received 1,907 spam comments since January and 211 real ones, 43 of which are me responding to people. Thank god for Akismet which is a super-helpful spam filter.

It’s 80 entries counting this one and all told is a touch over 55,000 words long… which means that at least at the 250 words/page standard, the five or six of you who have read the text of the entire match, start to finish, have functionally read a 220 page book. And if a picture’s worth a thousand words…
No but seriously. That’s like seven hundred words an entry on average, and that’s including super short posts like “Mrh” and the first “heading home“; I’m sure the median word count would be even scarier but that’s a bit too much work. Come to think of it this paragraph has just been a very longwinded way to say that I’m, well, longwinded. Whatever.

492 unique viewers, 2675 pageviews, 1,151 visits. On average people stayed for about four minutes, which I’d imagine is about the time it takes to read an average post. Most people went to 2.32 pages per visit though, which seems weirdly high considering everything’s on the main one. About a third of my traffic came from people directly typing in my blog’s name into their url bar which is awesome (more than half of the 5% of people directed here through search engines were referred because they typed kevin.thecagematch.com instead of .org), because that means they were checking it on their own. The other 2/3 are from facebook. Some rough math would tell me that that’d account for 392 independent people from facebook looking at the blog at one point another — that’s like 2/3rds of my friends list. Holy hell. I’m either awful at math or you guys are completely awesome.

Huge spikes in traffic around the Jasmine Revolution and Earthquake posts, of course, and that also explains a lot of the non-facebook views because my parents threw those two around to their friends and the rest of my relatives. Overall though traffic was pretty damn stable, even discounting the spikes I still got about twenty pageviews a day, for that average of four minutes per. Crazy times.

Location wise was pretty predicable, huge shoutout to my three or four Chinese coworkers who found the blog at the end of my sojourn in Beijing and opted not to turn me in to the police; 感谢你们啊! Also, to my seventeen Canadian viewers… huh?

All said and done the feedback and viewership of this site has gone way way past my expectations; it’s really humbling, and it means a lot. The blog isn’t completely dead, but it’ll be winding down pretty dramatically for the foreseeable future. As ever there are a few posts that are perpetually in the pipes, but I’ll post statuses or something when they get published.

~

Really though, writing this blog and having it read definitely were critical in keeping me in very high spirits for 60+ days in a place where I had basically no friends. Check back every once in a while, if you like, I have a few plans in my head for new directions in which to take the site, but unlike last time I’m not going to make a bunch of pledges that I can’t follow through. There will be at least one more post though soon with pictures of the absurd decorations in my old house (feat. schwarzenegger/chan, monroe/guevara… pretty epic).

Thanks again for reading; hope you enjoyed.
-Kevin

Update: I’m home, and safe, and about to go to Ken’s Donuts which at this point almost goes without saying. All told it was almost exactly 48 hours from when I left my house in Beijing to when I touched down in Austin, and right now I couldn’t be happier. I’ve got a lot of thank-yous and wrapping ups to do, but again — donuts call, so for the time being I’ll leave you with this little rant on culture shock and nationalism that I wrote up during my four-hour layover in Houston this afternoon. At the time of writing and even now I’m more than a little exhausted so take it with a grain of salt. Oh and to my Chinese friends/coworkers reading, if you think the categorization of China is unfair in any way I wholeheartedly welcome criticism, comments, debate, etc.

~~~

Coming back through Houston elicited some weird feelings. There’s always going to be reverse culture shock with this sort of thing, sure, but before when I came through Chicago it seemed a lot milder.
Houston’s just more, eh, red-blooded-’murican than the windy city. And by this of course I refer to the presence of fat people, who are everywhere here and nowhere in Asia. That whole “sure we will put you in a wheelchair simply because you are fat and do not feel like walking around the airport” bullshit was something that I would have been happy to forget actually happened, for instance.
On the other side of it though, Houston isn’t different ENOUGH. I’ve just come from a one-party controlled security state into the Land of the Free and the first — I kid you not, the very first — announcement that I hear over the PA is about how if you joke about security procedures you will be arrested.
C’mon now, guys. Also the fact that Houston is one of the most populated cities in the States (and each person takes up relatively more volume) means that the whole ‘I am awash in a sea of people” effect hasn’t gone anywhere. Except that now I can overhear and understand all the random chatter around me; honestly it’s a little overwhelming. I’ve become pretty accustomed to really needing to focus one on speaker at a time to get comprehension but now I’m picking up snippets of three or four inane conversations at once and I almost wish that I couldn’t.

Despite this, though, there’s a reason why this country is my favorite one on the planet and I’m not sure it’s necessarily a function of being born here. My last few days in particular have highlighted that.
China and Japan are pretty much opposites — China is developing, chaotic, and boisterous. It pretty much lacks rule of law (for those with money, at least) in a lot of ways; overall it just comes off as raw and exciting, which is why it appeals to me. But as a developing country it comes with all the faults that that entails, especially with regard to just getting basic shit done; every experience is an uphill battle. From roads packed with more and more new drivers who have NO idea what they’re doing — and from what I gather from Hessler, neither the system nor the drivers themselves is improving in the slightest — to local political systems so riddled with corruption that they’re functionally unable to improve the quality of life for a huge number of people there is something about the country that is clearly very, very broken. Several coworkers and Chinese people I met who I independently asked about the state of development and the sustainability of the country’s current way of operating compared it to a sick patient who nobody knows how to cure. The problems are simply too myriad, pervasive, and interconnected to be systematically addressed. Look at the “guanxi” system of business, look at the opaque and frankly oppressive government, look at local debt and corruption; these are the very worst that China has to offer, and these are the most powerful forces in the country.

Now admittedly, I know substantially less about Japan than I do about China, but I’ve visited the country for a combined three or so weeks and I hear plenty about it from Connor, who loves comparing it to China because on paper it’s “better” by pretty much any metric you’d care to pick. That’s mainly because it’s developed and organized and well-run in every way that the middle kingdom is not. Look at yesterday’s earthquake, for instance – the last tally I heard counted deaths in the thousands. You put an 8.9 earthquake in China and you will not have 4-figure deaths. You will have six, maybe seven figure deaths especially if you put it near a coast so that you have tsunamis hitting dozens of cities. Japan is one of the most educated and efficient countries as you could ever ask for. But culturally — to me — there’s something missing. The trade-off in Japan for having everything neat and orderly, for things working when they’re supposed to work and people doing what they’re supposed to do is that you sacrifice everything that makes China fun. You can’t be loud and drunk on the street without shaming yourself (unless you’re old), you can’t find insane hole-in-the-wall stores that violate a million healthcodes but sell delicious kung-pao chicken in Tokyo. You couldn’t lie your way past world exhibition doors or try to bribe someone and be laughed away. That’d be against the rules in a county where rules matter. The important thing here is that these flaws are subjective; they aren’t actual problems but rather just the reasons why I’d rather study Mandarin than Japanese.

America, though, has the best of both worlds. We’re rich and developed and enjoy all the benefits that that confers, just as the Japanese do (aside from healthcare, where they’re kicking our asses but hey). But we also are loud and rowdy and shameless and spontaneous; America is a lot of things but culturally boring or stagnating is not one of them. There’s a reason the whole world has its eye on the states; there’s a reason our music and food and pop-culture, intolerable as the latter may be, are ubiquitous. We’re the greatest country in the world, dammit.
U.S.A.
U.S.A.
U.S.A.
God it’s good to be home.

Earthquake

Images in a gallery format because the internet here is awful and uploading them one at a time is not working right now. Will edit later

Bad news: Seems like I picked a pretty bad time to change planes in Japan.

Good news: Instead of reading about playing basketball with all my coworkers on my last day followed by a wind-down of the blog, you guys get to read about earthquakes.

So today I was supposed to be going to see my family (and finally meet my brother’s girlfriend) in Hawaii for spring break. The plan was to leave from Beijing pretty early — at the time of starting to write this, about twelve hours ago (7.30 Beijing time) — have a five-hour layover in Tokyo, then a seven or so hour flight to honolulu, another layover and then wind up in Kuai. All told it was supposed to be fifteen or so hours of flying; certainly not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination but not awful (and it’s hard to complain at all when your end destination is Hawaii). I didn’t quite make it that far, though.

I’d been in Japan maybe five minutes — having not even finished taxing — when the first one hit. For anyone out there in readerland who for whatever reason hasn’t yet experienced a high-magnitude earthquake from an airplane, allow me to describe:
It’s exactly like midair turbulence. Like, I was trying to deplane, and walking around I felt precisely the same sensation of unsteadiness that you get when you’re trying to get down the isle to a bathroom while the plane is going through a storm. So even though we were clearly grounded and stopped, my brain’s immediate reaction to the feeling was “oh. this turbulence is pretty nasty” followed by “ok wait turbulence is impossible, we’re grounded, so man I guess there must be some hell of a wind out there” to “ok there’s no way wind can be this strong and it definitely feels like we’re moving, but looking out the window we clearly — oh holy shit the entire airport is shaking and the windows look like they’re made of rubber what the christ is happening.”

Then the captain came on, said it was due to ‘seismic activity’ and then five seconds later I learned the Chinese word for earthquake. Didn’t quite expect to ever just pick that one up from daily life.
Getting off the plane, the first thing I saw was that first image below. Not so bad. Then I saw the second one. First time in my life I’ve been glad to have been seated near the back of the plane. People near the front of the plane were already off the plane in the area where shit was falling from the ceiling when the quake hit; if someone had been standing under that huge grate it would be… problematic.

For the next half hour or so, we just waited in the lobby with that second picture as the building got rocked by aftershock after aftershock. Incidentally, people are saying these were in fact entirely new earthquakes, but I don’t get the distinction. In any event, it was kinda a scary time; I realized partway through the second big quake that I was standing under a terminal directions sign that was wobbling rather severely. Rather, I didn’t realize this, but the Chinese guys next to me did and I overheard them tell each other to move. Never let anyone tell you that Mandarin isn’t a handy language to know. After that I hung out by a wall after that for a while, until they eventually unloaded everyone onto the tarmac.

So: earthquakes on a plane feel like turbulence, and earthquakes on a building feel like you’re riding a subway without holding onto anything, but earthquakes when you’re just standing on solid, flat ground are above all the most disconcerting. It almost feels like you’re dizzy, because when you start feeling movement while standing still on a huge flat expanse of asphalt your brain automatically assumes that the fault lies with it as opposed to the Earth. So you have to consciously convince yourself that your sense of balance is fine, and it’s actually the Earth moving beneath you; it’s a strange mental conversation to have.

Another bit of advice that isn’t — if you’re going to be in an airport getting hit by earthquakes, do it in Japan. Their reaction was perfect, and pretty timely. Pictures three to six are about the lengths that they went to to get everyone seated and comfortable — they had people sitting on the tarmac vehicles, on the luggage carriers, on these random couches that 300 workers in identical blue suits and white hardhats dragged out from godknowswhere. They put out buses, vans, huge plastic tarps, countless chairs. Best of all they passed out tons and tons of airport blankets and then, when they ran out of those they started handing out bath towels. I again have no clue where an airport produced hundreds of towels from, but I know that Douglas Adams would be proud.

Now, due to the “indeterminate” — read: canceled — nature of all the flights, I’m sitting in the lobby that you see in the last picture. They’re passing around candy and water and ritz crackers. I was able to get a power outlet by acting very, very fast and it’s made me incredibly popular. I’ve set up a really elaborate power-rotation so that in the past three or so hours we’ve had a dozen or so people keep a whole lot of devices sustained off of three outlets. And my laptop is the only one around with 3 usb ports so I’m charging 3 different phones at all times… the amount of camaraderie built by situations like this is pretty awesome.

As of the 9:30pm posting time of this blog, my dad has somehow managed to get me onto a flight bound for houston leaving sometime tomorrow. Also, in the last ten minutes, a flight to D.C. was allowed to take off; the runways are uncracked and operable. I am hopeful that I’ll be in the states within 24 hours. Unavoidably camping out at the airport tonight, but it’s actually kinda fun. Still more pleasant than camping in my powerless/heatless house was, anyway…

“Most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in 100 years” is what the guy next to me is reading…wow

*Addendum: WORST THING ABOUT THIS
Alright, listen. I have spent the last two+ months in a country where if an Asian person is attempting to communicate with me in English, but is obviously feeling awkward about it because their English is not very good, the absolute best way to improve the situation is to begin responding to them in Chinese and carry the conversation from there. Worst case scenario it just transfers that awkwardness and language burden onto yourself, which I’m more than happy to do because it forces me to learn.
But here, here I’m in Japan.
Japan, if you’re not aware, is not the same as China.
– God this has happened like five times now, I swear –
So these well-intentioned Japanese stewardesses will come by and try to check on me / offer me things with like, a few words of broken English
And I’ll auto-respond with a dozen words of Mandarin before I realize ‘shit not only do you have a lesser chance of knowing Chinese than you do English i bet you find this SUPER SUPER RACIST’

And then I feel deeply ashamed of myself for the next hour, until another stewardess comes by
at which point I do it again because seriously, forcing a conversation away from English into Mandarin as a defensive maneuver and selfish way to improve my own language proficiency is actually, legitimately an instinctive reaction that I no longer consciously control unless I’m thinking very very hard about it, and my mental state is not fit to think very very hard about anything right now.

Powerless

I’m breaking my don’t-blog-this-weekend rule because I’m pissed off and that is as good a reason as any. You know how a month or so ago when I was leaving for Xi’an my power went out? Because the way billpay works here is that like, you buy a certain amount of electricity and when that number gets back to zero you automatically stop getting power. There’s no reminder or anything that gets sent to you, the concept of paying a bill late doesn’t exist — it operates like gas in your car.

Almost needless to say at this point, the power’s out. Oh and Rayco announced two days ago that he’d be leaving yesterday, so when I woke up this morning he was gone and the power was dead again. And the little card by which one buys more gas is missing, and he has no idea where it is. So thusfar I’ve spent all of my last Sunday in the country searching fruitlessly for this fucking card that he misplaced, and the bank is about to close so I couldn’t get buy more power even if I found it.
Gah.

On the upside, in the event that I am indeed going to go the next four days without hot water, lights, 等等 then Hawaii is going to be that much more awesome.

So a few days ago it came to my attention that over the course of his six-year stay in China, my roommate has actually made multiple visits to North Korea. After ascertaining that he’d taken a bunch of pictures, my immediate reaction was to ask him to let me write about them. This made him very, very uncomfortable. Finally after a lengthy discussion of what I would or would not be able to say (his name, for instance), he finally — graciously — capitulated.

We'll start things off with a shot of Pyongyang, taken from the foreigners-only hotel, which is one of the tallest buildings in the city.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, is yet another shining example of the (John-Stewart-identified) phenomenon by which one can tell the inherent maliciousness of a country simply by looking at the number of positive adjectives affixed to the front of its name. See Democratic Republic of the Congo, People’s Republic of China, etc. I am pretty sure that everyone already knows that ol’ NK is not a republic, much less a democratic one, but I have it on good word that the country does actually contain some people. Who incidentally would probably prefer to not be contained by said country, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Korean Arc de Triumph. The dates are when Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Il's dad) left to fight Japan, and when he came back. The Arc stands 10 meters taller than the French one because -- lets be honest -- even North Korea wants to make France eat some humble pie now and again. Can we really blame them?

Speaking of Kim Il Sung going to fight Japan, this is a picture of the two guns that he took with him which, like everything else the original Dear Leader touched, immediately became huge propaganda symbols. The picture was taken at the Mass Games, an annual celebration which features thousands of dancers. Also 20,000 middle school students holding up little squares of color, which is how the pictures in the background are assembled. No joke. Look carefully.

Lets talk North Korean tourism for a second. The country is technically open for tourism now, but it’s pretty limited. Only about 2000 westerners visit a year, and for the most part you have to do it via flying through China. There’s nothing stopping people from the States from going, surprisingly, but there just aren’t any flights there from the states yet. Only three flights go to Pyongyang from Beijing every week, but it’s really not too difficult to catch one.
Once you get to Korea though, a few things become apparent that make it clear — this isn’t like tourism anywhere else. The only way to go to the country as a tourist is to be part of a registered and DPRK-recognized tour group. Which means you are escorted at all times — legitimately, you cant ever just leave the hotel and wander around — as a measure to keep you from talking to locals, doing journalistic stuff, etc. Oh and the currency they use isn’t tradble; you can’t exchange your USD/Pounds/Renminbi for NK won. Which means you can’t buy things at local shops, and instead have to shop exclusively at a select number of stores run by the government near that accept only foreign currencies where locals aren’t allowed to shop.

DPRK Airport. It's cool guys, Kim Il Sung has it covered.


Also kinda funny -- the country is almost completely devoid of traditional consumer advertisements. Instead there's just political propanda absolutely everywhere. The characters in red aren't even the name of that building, but rather say something that, if you are a Korean friend of mine, I'd love for you to try and translate and put in the comments if you could. Would be a huge favor, thanks!


EDIT: Resident badass and Korean Mr. David Lee was nice enough to translate: “The propaganda statement reads something along the lines of “Let us protect and support our great comrade Kim Jong Il with our political ideology and our lives!” North Korean people speak a slightly older and weirder version of Korean so it isn’t exactly accurate but you get the gist of it. The word for the protect and support part in Chinese characters is 擁衛 if that helps you any.”

While we're on the subject of Propaganda, can we talk about Kim Il Sung for a second? This is his Mausoleum, one of the most holy places in the country


To go see Kim Il Sung in his mausoleum, you have to wear your best traiditional dress if you're female, or your communist schwag if you're a dude. Moreover you have to -- and this is a rule that always applies no matter where you are or what you're doing -- wear a pin with Kim Il Sun's picture on it at all times. Am serious.


Even Kim Jong Il has to wear a pin of his father. The man is worshipped like a god.


Text: “My great nation. My motherland, forever prosper.” – David

These two guys had flowers created and named after them. They’re called Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia respectively. This flower display I think is found at the end of this really pretty subway.

De-Militarized Zone, the border between North and South Korea. Clinton said it was the scariest place in the world. The two obnoxiously blue houses are where the two sides go to have meetings and sign summits and stuff.


Reunification (North/South) monument, and traditional Hammer and Sickle communist monument with the addition of the Brush, because the DPRK is hella cultured like that.

One of the DPRK main highways. In what is certainly a nod to Seinfeld, the lanes are just so spacious!

Just dance, it'll be ok, da da de doo, just dance...

USS Pueblo. Only US military ship under the control of another country. They took it in the 60s, held 84 marines there for a year while torturing confessions out of them, and killed one. They now parade people through it for propaganda reasons...


To lighten the mood a little bit, here's some DPRK middle schoolers dressed as chickens and eggs. Also at the Mass Games (where, incidentally, no games are actually played. Just lots of acrobatics and propganda...)


Left is the flying horse that could never find a rider from traditional Korean folklore. Turned into a symbol of development after the wars of the 20th century to represent how Korea must view its attitude towards the world — for every one step forward that the world takes, Korea will ride the horse and travel ten. On the right is the Juche tower, representing the predominant political philosophy of the country. It means/stresses independence and self-reliance, and was critical into how Korea was able to adopt and assimilate communist views into its cultural tradition.

~~~~~~~

You know what's cooler than North Korea?
Nicolas Fucking Cage, that's who.
That's right, this post is the official announcement of the second Cage Match. Will be posting something about it on our homepage shortly. We already have the tentative new movie list selected; check it out:
99min – Valley Girl (1983) BACKUP
103min – Vampire’s Kiss (1988)
100min – Zandalee (1991)
98min – Red Rock West (1993)
98min – Deadfall (1993)
101min – It Could Happen To You (1994) BACKUP
111min – Trapped in Paradise (1994)
98min – Snake Eyes (1998)
114min – City of Angels (1998)
121min – Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
125min – The Family Man (2000)
134min – Windtalkers (2002)
116min – Matchstick Men (2003)
122min – Lord of War (2005)
96min – Next (2007)
124min – National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
122min – The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009)
109min – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

Now, last year, it became apparent that there are very few people stupid enough to brave 30 hours of Cage — happily, two of those people just so happened to be my roommates Ben Segal and Geoff Hill. What’s more, it turns out that thirty hours simply just wasn’t enough. So we’re doing it again. Bigger, badder, better. For Cage, these latter two naturally go hand in hand.

We’re gonna make this one as big as we can. Looking at places like LR2 for venues, even now. Will start soliciting donations for Amnesty again soon. Anyone is welcome to come and join us, as ever. It’s going to be fucking incredible and you know it.
April 1-3.
Get. Excited.

The name of this blog has never been as appropriate as it is now. So in honor of the occasion I made myself an image macro. I loves me some photoshop. Anyway, the Cage Match proudly presents:

Round 1: Kevin Vs. Xi’an

Might be a little Scott-Pilgrim-ish, but I feel like having a blog that has 'match' in its name gives me creative license. Plus I had the idea for this long before I saw that movie, but just never got around to 'shopping something up

Before I tell relate day one’s rather stupid series of adventures, though, I do want to make a correction to last post — I’m not alone. Last night made this painfully obvious. I might be halfway across the world but I’m still connected to a truly humbling amount of people who care about my well-being. My family scrambled all the fighters immediately, and my facebook and gchat and skype exploded into a gigantic web of support that I honestly can’t claim to deserve. Connor was up at five in the morning giving me his credit card info so I could buy more skype credit to call actual phones if I needed it; my parents figured out a system to wire me cash (that I hopefully won’t have to use) within a few hours; Billie offered to put me in touch with her parents’ friends at the embassies, and about a dozen or so people called me on skype or IM’d me on gmail to make sure I was ok and to ask if they could be of any help. Collectively you calmed me down, talked me through every option I had and every step I needed to take, and a whole lot more.
It was a really moving reminder that there’re a whole whole lot of people out there who care about me for god knows what reason, and in what is probably the most heartfelt remark that’s ever appeared on this blog I want to thank you all.

Saving the what-I-actually-did-for-most-of-the-first-day post for another time, I’ll just skip to last night. Having spent the day eating mass quantities of random street food in the Muslim quarter and chasing most of it with Red Wolf beer — actually pretty damn good — 9 pm found me with a stomach ache and a pretty significant buzz.
I was with this guy named Eric, but again, he probably deserves a blog post all to himself. Sparknotes — he is a 40 year old dude from shanghai who is a Nicolas Cage fan (favorite actor! no joke!); he’s christian to the point where he refuses to go inside the grounds of buddhist-related tourist attractions, eats about three lunches a day, has a traditional Chinese outlook on guests (read: pays for pretty much all my food and won’t hear a word to the contrary), and has served as my language partner and translator since about minute five in Xi’an.
Anyway. We go to a bar, at nine, which is apparently pretty common in China because the places were already packed. I go to the bathroom and when I come back he’s ordered six more beers. And yes, he’s straight and not creepy, I swear. He’s just a good dude. In any event I get increasingly intoxicated and at one point take out a hundred kuai to buy some more beers which was a bad call because a) i shouldn’t have been drinking more and b) when i put my wallet back in my pocket, i either missed or didn’t put it in very well because when the bartender came back with my change, my wallet was gone.
This was, as they say, rather distressing. I was fairly calm at first, thought i’d just dropped it or put it in a weird jacket pocket.
Wallet wasn’t anywhere on the ground or anything, we looked all over for it and the people around us helped too. Nothing doing. Checked all my pockets four times. Started to panic a little. Realized the wallet had half of last month’s salary in it, was annoyed. Shortly thereafter I realized it also had my debit and credit cards, drivers license, insurance, wildcard, etc. Started to panic in full. Was escorted to the front of the bar. Told everyone present that they should start checking people who were leaving (this is the only solution that occurred to me). They wouldn’t. So I suggested it again, a little more… err.. assertively. Shouting. Mandarin, plenty of English curse words interspersed. They didn’t quite know what to do with me, and Eric wasn’t having any luck calming me down, so they took me upstairs to meet the bar’s manager.
When he told me that there was nothing he could to to help, I kinda snapped. Maybe broke down is more fitting. I didn’t remember at the time that I had a thousand kuai in my hotel room (good thing the hotel key was in the wallet, yeah) so as far as I knew I had like 60 kuai — the change from the beer — to my name and no way to get any more. Bar manager said he’d call the police, I pulled out the exaggerated 怎么 again to ask as incredulously as possible how the hell they were supposed to do anything. He called them anyway. They showed up, and said they couldn’t do anything. To which I had a brief moment of ‘I-fucking-told-you-so,’ spiteful happiness, before I realized that they were pretty much my last hope. Somewhere in this sorta whirlwind of running back and forth through the bar, up to the room where the manager was, out to the street to talk to the cops, and back in again, Eric stopped me and asked how much cash was in the wallet. told him the truth, which was about 800 kuai, and he straight up just gave me 800 more kuai. Did I mention how much of a badass this guy is? Holy hell.
Anyway we leave the place eventually and go back to the hotel, I use the beer change to buy a new room key, and I get upstairs and write the blog post under this one. I had somehow already forgotten about that extra 800 by that point, but remembered it this morning.
Then the facebook statuses, calling home, calling banks, everything. Then the aforementioned flood of support. Then sleep, around 3:30.

Yeah. That’s a middle-aged man wearing a rabbit hood and playing a vuvuzela. You don’t know how tempted I was to just leave this up as the sole picture in today’s ‘photoblog.’ Because really, anywhere I go from here is only going to be downhill.

That said, I decided there were other pictures that were sufficiently pretty (or creepy, as the case may be) to warrant posting anyway. Today is Chinese New Year’s eve, and all the festivals are starting to kick off. If you’re interested for whatever reason, the full list of things I can go to is here. I get home on the 7th and have the 8th off, so I’ll be going to at least three more of these (there is no way in hell I’m not going to the Qianmen lantern fair, but for whatever reason that’s conveniently staggered a week off from the rest).

Just a pinch of context, to avoid confusion: The Spring Festival (Chunjie) and “Chinese New Year” are the exact same holiday; and I’ll be using the terms interchangeably. To explain the vuvuzela man as much as such a task is even possible, 2011 happens to be the year of the rabbit. As a sidenote to any of my friends in Chinese, although rabbit is “兔子,” calling it “兔子年” is a common foreigner mistake that will make people giggle at you. It’s just “兔年.”
Anyway for Chunjie everybody gets a whole bunch of time off to go to their hometown (300 million people travel at some point during this week), set off truly ludicrous amounts of fireworks, and hang out eating various types of pastries with their families. It’s pretty awesome. During the week surrounding it, temples traditionally throw these big festivals called MiaoHui — 庙会, literally Temple Assembly. As far as I can tell, these festivals’ primary purpose is to equip the entire Chinese population with surplus cheap-plastic-toy inventory. All the stuff that either couldn’t fit on the boat to the states or was too weird to be sold there, conveniently ready to buy in one place! That was the theme of the Ditan one, anyway, although the website claims it is supposed to be about romance, or something? It wasn’t just chachka, though; they had a lot of performers and handicrafts and stuff too. Was neat. Look look!

This picture only included because it's hard to articulate how off-putting it is to see the subway like this. I immediately got a very bad feeling I was doing something wrong. Where the hell was everybody?

Alright so I'm off the subway. There's YongHeGong, the temple. But is the fair inside that, or what? Don't see anyone here at all. I'll look around...

...oh.

WELCOME TO DITAN MIAOHUI WE HOPE YOU DON'T THINK OF THIS RABBIT WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO SLEEP TONIGHT

(ALSO CONSIDER THIS A CHALLENGE: BY THE END OF THE FESTIVAL YOU MUST BE CARRYING SOMETHING LARGER AND MORE POINTLESS THAN WHATEVER THE HELL THIS RABBIT IS HOLDING OR ELSE YOUR ANCESTORS WILL SHAME YOU FOR ETERNITY). On this front, the little girl on the right is doing pretty well.  And… back to pictures

Found everyone.

It's like a diablo, but isn't balanced the same way becuase it only has one end. When you finish your routine you spin it on the small end like a top. This guy second only to vuvuzela-rabbit in badassery

Part of Chunjie involves turning anything red that can feasibly be turned red. And for everything that can't, tape something red to it or hang something red on it, damn it.

Anyone with insight regarding what the hell this thing is, why it is popular, or most importantly why it is wearing what appears to be a diaper is invited to enlighten the rest of us in the comments

Lunch-on-a-stick. Snack street picked up and moved here for the day. They had their employees put on different hats, fooling precisely no one.

Really cool cymbal+dance troupe. So cool I took a video...

I spoil you.

Alright so you guys may or may not remember this, but Russell and I have a longstanding tradition of giving each other weird random crap from foreign countries. This picture demonstrates exactly the problem with this Miaohui; everything was an option. I felt like I was cheating. Those Hitler matches (this post has a good picture of them) took me forever to find, but now one store offers angry chili peppers, zombies, and bellsprout? Too many choices — I balked. I’ll find something later though, I’m sure

Hehehe. I pointed out the typo to one of the workers in the stand next door, and ended up taking to her and her buddy for like half an hour. Fun times

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