Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chinese view on weddings

I keep hearing about a mentality amongst American women where they daydream about their wedding day since they were a little girl. I find the phenomenon interesting, because as far as I can tell, Chinese women don't share it.

Last week, I was talking to my mother about how my cousin recently re-married.

Me: "Did my cousin hold a wedding this time?"

My mother: "No. He wanted to do it quickly. If he did hold a dinner or some type of event, your aunt and uncle didn't know about it."

Me: "Don't worry. When I get married, I'll have a wedding."

My mother: "Will you invite me?"


Two nights before leaving Beijing, I saw this dish on a restaurant menu: "Cold Fresh Walnuts with Cherry Blossoms". I ordered it out of curiosity.

Surprisingly, the restaurant actually had cherry blossoms on hand. Maybe it was from a can.

I learned that there's a reason why people don't usually eat cherry blossoms. They are absolutely revolting. I had to let the whole dish go to waste, because even the walnuts were tainted and thereby disgusting.

Here is a photo of food which is actually good. On the right is a stack of cucumber segments. Chinese cucumbers have more taste than American ones, and it's common to eat a whole raw cucumber as a snack.

I was amused by the translation of this restaurant name.

The translation is "American Owl Restaurant". I don't think that was the original intent behind the name "Hooters".

Friday, August 22, 2008

olympics pics

Working out of the Beijing Google office turned up unforeseen difficulties, to my dismay.

But the air of Olympics fervor throughout the city was eye-opening. Here are photos from the events I watched.

Water Cube aquatics center, built just for the Olympics.

Ceiling inside the Water Cube.

Swimmers stretching before 200-meter medley semifinals. Phelps is third from the right.

You can see the cameraman in Phelps's lane, on the far right of the photo. As each athlete was announced, he ran up to them, zooming the camera on their facial expression. In the middle of #7, he abandoned his close-ups and hightailed it back to lane 3 for Phelps. There was no footage of #8 getting introduced, because the cameraman spent all that time prepping the perfect shot of Michael Phelps.

Outside of the Bird's Nest athletics center, lit up at night.

USA vs Brazil in the women's soccer gold-medal match.

I found it interesting to watch an entire soccer game from start to finish. There is so much buildup after 90 minutes go by without a goal. By the time the ball actually lands in the net, the anticipation is extreme.

USA basketball Team of Redemption against Argentina.

The main advantage of the US team seemed to be the ability to defend without committing fouls. Argentina fouled over and over again. At one point, the US was permitted three free throws due to a foul. A few minutes later, the US was permitted four free throws for a single foul.

The fouls added up to much more than the point spread.

James Blake serving. I got to see the drama firsthand of Blake petitioning the referee over this shot (full article):

Blake powered a forehand toward Gonzalez, who was standing close to the net. The ball flew long but Blake immediately claimed it had brushed his opponent’s racket.

Television replays backed up his assertion.

But umpire Yan Kuszak saw nothing, and Gonzalez remained mute at the back of the court instead of calling a point against himself.

While tennis continues to embrace technology, with HawkEye used to settle disputes on line calls, it is not used to settle disputes such as this one.

“Playing in the Olympics, in what’s supposed to be considered a gentleman’s sport, that’s a time to call it on yourself,” said a fuming Blake in his post-match news conference. “Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn’t call it.

“If that happened the other way, I never would have finished the match because my father would have pulled me off the court if I had acted that way.

“That’s a disappointing way to exit the tournament when you not only lose the match, but you lose a little faith in your fellow competitor.”

I spent a long time afterwards reading stories of bad and good sportsmanship.

This sailing rescue is my favorite story of sportsmanship.

courtesy of Sha-mayn

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

gymnastics amazingness

This gymnastics routine is awe-inspiring.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

olympics mystery

Yesterday in Beijing, much of the Olympics buzz revolved around Liu Xiang withdrawing from the 110m hurdles.

The official story is that an old Achilles heel injury flared up two days ago.

Liu's coach Sun Haiping, who broke down in tears at a news conference yesterday, told CCTV that the sprinter had suffered a recurrence of an Achilles' tendon problem by ``pushing too hard'' when practicing starts on Aug. 16. His right ankle bears the brunt of the push from the starting blocks.

Liu said he had run a time of 12.90 seconds in practice two weeks ago -- the world record is 12.87 seconds. Attempting to run yesterday might have caused lasting damage, he said.

``If I tried to pull through, my Achilles' tendon would . . .'' he said. ``I really couldn't make it, as much as I wanted to. I couldn't describe my feelings at that moment. Do I really want to pull out of the first heat of the games? But that's the way it is.''

Most articles reporting on the injury mention the great mental stress Liu endured, from the nation's expectations. As I see it, the potential scenarios were:

a. Exactly as the official story claimed. Liu Xiang was in peak condition, but by sheer bad timing, his Achilles heel injury flared up at the last minute.

b. His injury was aggravated by the pressure. Had he not been so stressed, he would've recovered in time to race, or the injury might not have flared up at all.

c. His injury was not bad enough to cause withdrawal, but it reduced his chances of winning. Rather than face a heightened prospect of losing, he withdrew instead.

d. He wasn't injured at all. He cracked under the pressure and concocted a story about the injury.

After watching the interview with Liu Xiang and his coach, I don't think (d) is possible. The international media is presenting (a) but Beijing cab drivers seem to think it's (c).

If you have an analysis, post a comment! Unless your view on the Olympics is similar to my friend Dan.

Me: "What do you think of this Phelps legendary streak? It is pretty impressive!"

Dan: "I hear there's some athlete winning some medals, is that what you're talking about? :)"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

George W Bush enjoying the .. Olympics

This morning, Bush observed the women's volleyball Olympics match. I am amused by this photo.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

photos of duck, and an unknown celebrity

On the flight from the US to Beijing, one of my fellow passengers wore a black velvet suit, and a hat with a shiny band. It was the most attention-grabbing outfit I'd ever seen on an airplane passenger.

In the arrivals lobby, he and his friend were mobbed by a crowd of Chinese girls who clamored for autographs. The two of them stood sullenly, pressed against the elevators by the crowd. They said only a few words, in between jabbing the elevator call button.

I asked a passing airplane attendant who it was. She said he is "Bo Bo". Who is that? Nobody knows.

My friend Xian said, "Nowadays you can pay people to act like your fan. They'll greet you at the airport with a big sign, 'I LOVE YOU'. It just costs a few hundred chinese yuan per fan. This guy can't be a celebrity, or he wouldn't be wearing a shiny hat. Instead he'd be wearing a baseball cap, pulled low."

View from my desk in the Google Beijing office. I'm working from the office during most of my stay here.

Looking out any window, the eye meets a sea of 30-story buildings. At first I found this very isolating. Any of us could jump out the window, and it would make barely an iota of difference in this dense city.

View from a different window.

Chinese people share my liking for pigs. Our family friend has stickers of pigs in her kitchen, for no good reason.

Sha-mayn took me and other friends to a secluded duck restaurant. This is the bar outside the restaurant.

The restaurant itself. I like this architecture with the wooden ceiling and the skylight.

The waiter carving the duck for the table next to us, with the elegant woman.

Condiments for the duck. I've eaten duck at half my meals here.

A waitress waiting during a lull. I thought this looked very old-world.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

pressure can make diamonds ... how about gold?

China is fixated on getting gold medals in the Olympics.

The culture has always emphasized perfection. If it's not gold, it's worthless. If you're not #1, then you must be crap. My cousin's teacher once called in his parents to discuss his inadequate performance on an exam. After a long lecture, my relatives asked with fear, "What exactly did he get on the test?" The teacher's answer: 96 out of 100.

I made this visual demonstration of how it pertains to the Olympics. This is how you or I would respond to a silver medal:

Now let's look at it from the eyes of China.

The pressure is negatively affecting some of the athletes:

To learn how their athletes would handle the pressure of competing at home in the Olympics, Chinese sports officials conducted an experiment earlier this year: They invited athletes' parents to watch a gymnastics meet.

Most of the gymnasts, who have lived at their training center since they were young children, had never competed in front of their loved ones. Some could not cope.

'During the competition, some athletes didn't feel very good and even fell down from the balance beam.'

This morning, my cab driver and I had a discussion about this. In particular, we talked about Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler who won gold in Athens 2004, and who is representing China in hurdles this time too.

Liu Xiang is on billboards everywhere in Beijing, and his name is often associated with phrases like "the hopes of a nation ride on his shoulders". Or "1.4 billion people are rooting for him to win gold".

In a poll of Chinese citizens, staging a successful Olympics ranked fourth; watching Liu Xiang win gold ranked first (link).

Maybe Liu Xiang will be able to match the sky-high expectations, the way that J.K. Rowling did for the seventh book of Harry Potter. But I can't imagine the terror of those 12.86 seconds, after these months of buildup.

My dad told me once that computer programmers are not suited for sports competitions or artistic performances. "Those require precision on the day of the performance," he said. "You can't go in with the mindset of 'A mistake is fine. I'll just recompile. I'll get it right on the third try.'"

The cab driver this morning was even-keeled about the pressure on the athletes. "If I were the media," he said, "I would remind people that Liu Xiang has serious competition. If he doesn't win gold, it's not unusual. And whether he wins gold, silver, bronze, or nothing, he's put China on the map for track and field, and we should support him."

I like the sentiment quite a lot, but I don't think it would work as well for marketing.

I can't imagine a big China Mobile ad that says, "The hopes of a nation lie with him ... whether he wins gold, silver, bronze, or nothing."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

it was Dan's description which won me over

Two months ago, I wrote a post about deciding between two beds, which I labeled A and B.

Out of 40 replies on my blog and FriendFeed, three voted for A and the rest for B. Responses included:


Dan: "B displays strength and grace with good proportion. A is a napkin doodle, a napkin doodle made by somebody trapped in a loveless marriage."


I was momentarily swayed by the extreme nature of the votes, but in the end, I decided to get A. It arrived last month, and I finally had time to put it together a week ago.

Here it is in my guest bedroom. I think it looks lovely.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

the most dangerous number?

Eating brunch with my brother.

Me: "Last week I met a Googler who used to be an astronaut. He lived on the space station for six months."

Tom: "Wow, that's cool."

Me: "The space station is designed to house five people, though there were only two when he lived there."

Tom: "Did the two people speak the same language?"

Me: "Ha ha. I hope so."

Tom: "What would happen if they didn't get along?"

Me: "I assume NASA selects for people that will get along with anyone. Though, I was wondering what the most dangerous number of occupants would be. If there's only one person, they'll certainly go crazy from the loneliness. If there's two people, they might get into a fight and chase each other, knocking over equipment. If there's three, two of them might form an alliance, and the third person would feel left out."

Tom: "Two is the worst. What if they hate each other? They can't just draw a line down the middle of the space station."

Me: [laughing]

Tom: "They'll make a line of potato chips in zero-gravity. It'll be really obvious if someone crosses the line."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Tom's Olympic forecast

Over brunch at Coupa Cafe, a few hours before I fly to Beijing for the Olympics.

Tom: "China is going all out for the medals this time. They have the home advantage."

Me: "I'm looking forward to watching ping pong. Odin predicted the finals will be China vs. China."

Tom: "No, not necessarily. It could be China vs. an American-born Chinese."