Getting PUMPED in Beijing

•June 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I knew that finding a gym in Beijing would be a challenge. Even though everyone here is thrilled that the Olympics are coming. they’re not so thrilled about going to the gym themselves. People here are much less self-conscious about how they look, for better or worse. On a balmy summer night you’ll see lots of guys with their shirts lifted up revealing tummies that I’d rather not see. And so many boys here could use a trip or ten to the gym to put a little meat on their bones…

But anyway it took two days and four people’s advice to find out that gyms even existed in the neighborhood. There’s some stuff on campus, but it’s all closed because either the facilities are going to be used for the Olympics or people are training there.

I embarked on my tour to find the best place. The first was a little too uppity, you know, like when a guy tries really hard to look cool but ends up just looking tacky? There were some HUGE guys in there who must have called Barry Bonds’ personal dealer to hook them up.

Place #2 is a joint gym/pool for the housing complex across the street from campus. I walked in and asked to see the gym, and the lady pointed over to a room that was 90% empty with just one bench and maybe 3 nautilus machines. It was the saddest fitness room I’d ever seen, like it was waiting for an equipment delivery that never happened. On the other hand the pool was nice, and as far as I’ve heard it’s the only one around besides the gross pool on campus

Body BalanceAs I walked out of place #2 and started getting desperate, I walked past these girls handing out flyers. My Chinese is still a little rusty so as I kept on walking and tried to decipher the flyer, I realized that it was an ad for a gym! I ran back to the girls and they personally walked me the 10 minutes it took to get to the gym. It was OK, it’s in the basement of the tech park that houses Google and some other software companies, and it had everything I needed (although it only had exactly one machine of each kind).

There was one last place that I had to check out, and it was a dungeon. I could barely find the entrance, and as I descended (it was underground too) into the place a wave of sticky smelly heat hit me. I wanted to run out right away but the welcome desk people already saw me so I mustered up enough patience to take the tour.

After careful deliberations, I finally decided that the one in Google was the best deal, so now yours truly is a card-carrying member at 调适健身俱乐部. Well, actually they couldn’t make the card right away so technically next week I’ll be a card-carrying member.

Scaling the Great Firewall

•June 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Great Firewall of ChinaI’d heard about the Great Firewall of China, i.e. how the Chinese government blocks access to a lot of foreign websites, but this visit is the first time that it’s directly affected, and more specifically affected my blog. wordpress.com, where this blog is hosted, is blocked by the Great Firewall. Now this doesn’t make much sense to me; I know that there might be critical blogs on WordPress, but the vast majority of blogs have nothing to do with China and it seems like they should be able to just filter out the ones that they don’t like.

Anyway I’m unable to access my blog from my office because of this connerie because in order to access foreign sites at the office we have to go through a proxy. I can access the blog at the hotel by tunneling through Princeton’s servers, but since I have to pay for Internet here I’m probably only going to update the blog on the weekends. Sadness 😦

One World, One Dream

•June 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

It’s no secret that the Olympics this year are Beijing and China’s collective coming out party. No not out of the closet, but out of the last two hundred or so years of poverty and humiliation at the hands of imperialists and warlords (and some would add Communists). The leadership definitely is sparing nothing to make this a grand party, and it begins upon arrival at the new Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital Airport.

It’s larger than all the terminals of Heathrow combined and was built in the span of just three short years. In one of the (few? many?) examples of how an authoritarian government can push through extraordinary projects that would be stuck in the planning phase in London or New York, this dragon rose from the dust in such a short period of time as to astonish even its architects.

You can read more about the terminal itself here.

Unfortunately Continental actually landed at the older and much less impressive Terminal 2, and all I got to see of Terminal 3 at first was just its hazy silhouette through the Beijing smog. I decided that it was worth taking the shuttle over to the new terminal (it’s about a 15 minute shuttle ride away from the old terminals) since my return flight would probably also depart from Terminal 2.

The ride was worth it; the new terminal is really amazing. First it’s rare to see an airport any color than grey, concrete, or silver, but this airport is red and yellow and not ashamed of it. The soaring interior is weightless and magnificent, and its massive footprint is just as impressive viewed from the inside as from out. The entire structure must be about 10 stories tall, but there are only 4 occupied floors; the rest is filled by space and gives the terminal an endlessly vast atmosphere. I can only imagine what the rest of the terminal looks like, since I only got to see the main entrance hall.

On a Slow Boat to China

•June 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I got up at 6AM to finish packing and getting the room cleaned up for my sublessee.  I tried to go to Rite Aid for a few last minute items, but who knew that the pharmacies don’t open up till 7?  Even Duane Reade was still closed!  The SuperShuttle showed up 10 minutes early at 7:30AM, and I arrived at EWR around 8AM.  It’s now 9AM and I’ve been sitting at the gate for about an hour already.  Did I mention my flight leaves at 12:10PM?  I guess I’m happy I didn’t take the train because I didn’t want to lug all my bags through Penn Station, but the SuperShuttle takes getting people to the airport early way too seriously.  Now if only airlines also took being on time as seriously maybe traveling would be a less exasperating experience.

Reunions Mania

•June 9, 2008 • 1 Comment

The last two weeks it feels like I’ve been going to reunions non-stop, and I think my liver is gonna go on strike if I keep it up. First there was Princeton reunions, which is an annual extravaganza of booze, bright orange jackets, and some of the most amazing fireworks I’ve ever seen staged. I worked the LGBT party at Princeton reunions for the last couple of years and this was the first year where I could actually enjoy the festivities rather than bartending.

The day starts with the P-rade, which winds through campus down Elm Drive. Apparently it used to be held on Nassau St, but the party got so rowdy that the town forced the university to move it inside the campus gates. The parade starts with the 25th year class, then goes chronologically through all the classes starting with the oldest returning alumni, which this year I think was a guy from the class of 1924, making him 104!

The party then goes to the tents set up throughout all the courtyards. The younger alumni mill around the 5th and 10th year reunions, occasionally sneaking into the older ones to get some of the good booze. After a few hours of the tents, with a pit stop at the stadium to check out the fireworks, I hopped over to the LGBT party in Whig. It was less crowded this year than when I bartended before, though towards the end it filled up a bit more. The last stop of the night was Terrace, which I am definitely way too old for, but since it’s just once a year I made an exception. All in all a good time was had by everyone, and I went back to NY the next day exhausted but happy.

Princeton’s score: 9 out of 10.

The following week was my own 5th year reunion at Harvard, which I’d been looking forward to for a long time. Even though I still see most of my best college friends in New York all the time, there were a couple that I haven’t seen since graduation. Events kicked off on Friday night with a cocktail & dinner in Dunster courtyard. As usual, it took our posse to get the dance party started, but that is a burden I’m always willing to bear. We hit up the Kong for old time’s sake afterwards, and I had my first scorpion bowl in yeeeeears.

Saturday was ridiculously hot, and we had a crappy BBQ in the yard where everyone was trying not to drip all over their food. The food sucked, which was a recurring theme throughout the entire weekend. They didn’t even have ketchup at the BBQ! Very disappointing considering I paid $210 for four meals… and I know that a lot of people just snuck in (DZ I’m looking at you!) and that there was an open bar with decent liquor and beer, but still you can bring some ketchup to the damn BBQ!

Saturday afternoon was the BGLT thing, which was ok but a little disappointing compared to Princeton’s. It’s in the afternoon, which is stupid and made it feel more like a networking thing than a party thing, and second, well, I hate to admit it but Princeton boys are cuter.

Roxy logoSaturday night was the “Gala Dinner” in Eliot Courtyard. It cooled down just enough for people to put on their blazers and dresses, but still way too sticky to be comfortable. After paying our dues and making our appearance, DZ and I made our way for the door and went with some of his HBS friends to the Roxy in Boston, which was an awesome time. I even ran into some of BA’s friends from his old Boston days! Of course it didn’t quite live up to my fondest memory of the Roxy, which was freshman year when JY cried us into the club, but it was still fabulous. NY definitely does not hold a monopoly on cute boys.

Sunday was the last day and things ended with an elegant brunch in good ol’ Currier house. Crappy food aside (can you tell I was a little disappointed with the food? are you sure?) it was a classy affair and a good chance to relive Sunday brunch memories from college.

Harvard’s score: 6 out of 10. Minuses for the bad food and the bad scheduling. Also Princeton has the right idea with allowing everyone to mix and mingle between the classes rather than keeping each class locked up in its own event.

Let me in!

•June 2, 2008 • 3 Comments

So China seems to be taking a page from America’s playbook and has implemented very very annoying restrictions on getting a visa this year. I guess it’s timed because of the Olympics, but given the massive number of people traveling there this year shouldn’t the visa application process be simplified, not further complicated?

I showed up at the consulate to get my visa and gave them a copy of my plane ticket and my invitation letter from Tsinghua. The lady at the consulate desk, if you can call her a lady, I think her voice was deeper than mine, told me that I needed a hotel booking. I told her that I didn’t have a booking because Tsinghua is supposed to take care of my housing, at least for the first few weeks that I’m there. She said that’s a no go, and sent me away.

Now maybe I’m the idiot because I didn’t go and start the application process any earlier, but at this point it’s getting pretty late and I need to get the visa ASAP. So I asked my dad to write me a “letter of invitation” from my uncle in Beijing and I would try to apply as a pure tourist. I went back the next day with the letter and thankfully they took my papers and gave me a receipt, which (hopefully) means I should be able to pick up the visa tomorrow.

And if not, I just might start my own protest alongside the crazy Falungong people across the consulate.

Oh Yelle!

•May 5, 2008 • Leave a Comment

In the last year or so my Francophilia has taken shape as a love of French music. No I don’t mean Debussy and Ravel, but the latest wave of French house and electro-pop that was spearheaded by groups like Daft Punk and DJs like David Guetta, and has more recently seen acts like Justice and Yelle. There are also a whole bunch of DJ’s who broadcast their weekly sessions via podcasts and it’s a really convenient (and free!) way to check out new music. Some acts I recommend checking out include David Vendetta, Greg Di Mano, Bastien Sera, and David Guetta.

I found out about Yelle after hearing about the Tecktonik dance style in Têtu and checking out the videos online of Tecktonik dancers. The Tepr remix of “A Cause des Garçons” is pretty awesome and shows Tecktonik at it’s most fun, and after previewing some of Yelle’s other tracks on her debut album “Pop Up” I decided to buy the entire thing. Her songs are pretty hilarious, from “Tu es beau” which is about how a boy tries so hard to please her but can’t quite manage to close the deal, or “Mon meilleur ami” about her vibrator, or “Je veux te voir” which (according to Wikipedia) is dissing some French rappers for being misogynistic.

Shortly thereafter I found out that she was touring the USA and performing at the Highline Ballroom in NY so of course I had to check it out. I went along with CEO and GBB, and we had a smashing time. The doors opened a little late so we stood outside in the surprisingly cold May night chugging Amstel Lights. We were pretty buzzed by the time we finally got in and ready to dance! YelleThe opening act was Heartsrevolution and the singer came out holding something pink in a martini glass and clearly trashed. The singer, or rather screamer, was so loud that I ended up holding my ears through their entire act and I was cringing inside as to whether I’d come to the wrong show.

But when Yelle finally took the stage the vibe changed completely. She came out sporting her gold coat and her sexy swagger and instantly got the crowd dancing. She was backed up by Tepr on the turntable and GrandMarnier on the drums (so hot!) and they delivered an awesome set, which went through basically the entire Pop Up album, and she nailed every single song. I can’t wait for the next time they swing by the states!