Speaking of Revolution at The Beijing Police Museum

“Have you heard about the coup?”

“Only that there may have been one.”

The Professor and I were making our way through Beijing’s Police Museum, a few blocks from where a coup would have happened. We’d already broken the door of a fake interrogation cell, and almost knocked over a motorcycle. We shouldn’t have been talking about such sensitive matters as well. But we seemed to be the only visitors, and the few guards weren’t paying attention.

“I have a friend who works for a Chinese newspaper,” he continued. “I rang to ask her about it. See if she knows what happened.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, when I said the word ‘coup,’ music started playing. We’d been cut off.”

In China, you hear these things all the time. Phone calls go dead with the spoken word “jasmine.” Internet connections terminate with a search for “1989.” My blog will be blocked again in China. Certain topics don’t exist.

Sometimes the cultural revolution doesn’t exist. But at this museum, it was a cause to be championed. Over 100 Beijing police officers were wrongly executed for “counter-revolutionary” crimes. Thousands more were tortured, or sent down. The chief of police died without ever being cleared of his weak accusations.

Alongside the uniforms and badges of the executed officers, there were also horrific photos of mass executions. The photos showed men tied to stakes at the Worker’s Stadium, prepped for bullets to the head.

I felt sick. The Worker’s Stadium is a few blocks from my home. Beijing GuoAn have weekly soccer matches there. I’d seen Cui Jian, China’s revolutionary rocker, play a massive show there.

“40,000 people witnessed the executions,” a sign read. The stands were packed. For Cui Jian, the stadium had been comparatively empty.

Other pictures scattered through the museum were just as difficult. One showed a flayed woman, held upright by two Qing Dynasty men. They wore queues and skull caps, while her breasts and thighs had been carved off. Another photo showed eight women’s corpses, discarded through a house. A body found in the luggage rack of a train. Temple blasts, serial killers in training, amputations and decapitations and more.

“Look at that,” said a woman, pointing to a murder implement in a glass case. Her four-year-old son wasn’t looking. He was fixated on the Professor and me.

Not surprisingly, for all the gore and crime, there wasn’t a mention of 1989. There never is.

In China, we rarely know what’s actually going on. Take the last few weeks for example. Key politicians have disappeared, others have gone into hiding or comas. Tanks may or may not have driven along major thoroughfares. Guns may or may not have fired in the city center. We live in the capital city, and have no idea if the government is fighting a coup.

Outside on the sidewalk, undercover cops stretched into the distance. They stood innocently spaced out every 20 feet. One held a walkie talkie behind his back. Another held a fire extinguisher. When they walked, they marched. Some couldn’t help but stand at attention.

“So how do you say coup,” I asked the Professor.

“政变. 政 as in government, and 变 as in change.”

One of the undercover cops crossed the street. He signaled to another, who signaled back.

I wonder what’s happening in the city where I live.

Beijing Police Museum 北京警察博物馆
36 Dongjiaominxiang, Beijing
010-8522-5001

Two Chinese Beers The World Could Live Without

Sitting in the back of my fridge, I just found a pair of abominations: lemon juice beer and pineapple flavor beer. Where they came from, god only knows.

But it was time to get rid of them.

Brewed in Beijing — out in the chic and rural Shunyi, in fact — the Yanjing-brand lemon juice can was filled with nature. Malt, rice, hops, sugar and apparently real lemon juice… I was impressed! Granted, there was “edible flavor,” but the small print insisted “Quality Grade: Excellent.” I was sold.

And yet, it was as hideous as you’d expect. Chemical, plastic, foul, and far too sweet.

“Wow,” said Michelle. “This is great!”

Granted, she hadn’t slept in three days, and was actually hallucinating slightly. She was also sampling alongside a huge slab of chocolate cake. I don’t think that’s how professional tasters work.

“No, it’s fantastic. I really like it.”

She took another sip.

It reminded me of the Chinese nouvelle-flavored potato chips we’d tried, bizarre twists like lobster-cheese, lemon-tea, or cucumber, mass produced for virgin audiences. Those were almost all awful.

And yet the pineapple beer — Great Value brand, but ingredients in Chinese only — was even worse.

I’d suffered a fever as a small child. The same night, my mother had made pineapple upside-down cake. For years I associated pineapples with crushing sickness. This can of beer brought all of that pain flooding back.

“Whoa,” howled Michelle. “This one smells pineapple-y!” She took a sip. “Wow, it’s great! You could serve it at a picnic.”

I was seriously wondering what I’d gotten into. It was crisp and sharp and utterly foul. It overwhelmed the senses with a big rush of intense plastic pineapple sugar.

Michelle took another big bite of chocolate cake. She smiled. She was in heaven.

Beijing’s Supercool Steampunk Printing Museum

“There’s nothing like that around here,” said a shoe-repair man.

Two waitresses laughed at us, and a woman selling onions gasped. “A watermelon museum?” she asked, “Really?”

So we tried the Printing Museum instead.

It was closed. The 12-foot-tall black doors, the entire four-floor building, was firmly locked. I’d read about a great statue of the father of printing, Bi Sheng, and sprawling planographic exhibits. But it, like the Watermelon Museum, was just out of our grasp.

Until Michelle discovered an unlocked door leading into a basement.

“Let’s go!” she whispered, and rushed down. I followed, unsure.

Down a flight of stairs, through more doorways, down a corridor, and into a massive skylit hall. It was filled with machines: ball-shaking proofing presses, film linearisators, letterpress dusters, and saddle wire binding machines. 1980s computers sat discarded beside 10′-tall dinosaurs of rusting cogs and gears and levers. Presses dripped oil onto blankets shoved beneath them.

Michelle showed me the machine she prints on, then pointed to another.

“But that’s what it’s really like,” she said.

The name of the machine was only one word.

Nice.

Beijing Printing Museum, 中国印刷博物馆
Northwest corner of Qingyuan Lu Subway Stop (Line 4)
Beijing, Daxing, Xinghua Street, 黄村镇兴华北路25号
+86 10 6026 1049 ‎

Hello Kitty Dreams, Hello Awesome Reality

“You ever feel like you’re stuck in a wind-up music box?” Michelle asked. The walls were pink. The waitresses were dressed as dolls. Piano keys tinkled softly. There were balloons and glitter and an off-season Christmas tree. We were trapped in a music box.

That’s how Hello Kitty wants you to feel.

Welcome to Hello Kitty Dreams.

Chefs wear toques under Kitty-dressed walls…

Surfaces are pink or padded or bedazzled or glow…

And little girls pose dutifully over and over again.

The frilly Antoinette cuteness only gets cuter from there. His ‘n Hers Kitty-cupped cappuccinos, flecked with powdered likenesses.

A greasy chicken curry watched over by a plonk of Kitty-rice. Eyes of bean, nose of corn, bow of strawberry jam. (What culinary kawaii kitsch!!!)

And the strawberry mousse? Completely Kitty!

“Where do I start,” worried Michelle. “The ear? The bow tie?” She plunged into the cheek, a triple-stroke of chocolate whisker. Soft sponge deliciousness! And those plates? To die for!

The wonderful Sienna wrote in City Weekend, “They could serve poop, and we’d still love it… Unfortunately, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.” I was sad to read this. But on returning to Beijing, I was thrilled to find their act was perfected. This meal was glorious. Sure, no Maison Boulud… but what do you expect from a Japanese cutesy cat in a Chinese shopping mall?

At least it was better than the ads made it look:

Hello Kitty Dreams Restaurant, Shimao Mall, Gongti Beilu, Beijing, China.

Almost all of these photos were likely taken by the glorious Michelle.

Sheep Placenta AIDS Soup

Sure, every restaurant may have a maggot-filled dish called Insect Story, and what’s a Chinese restaurant without a Jacopetti-inspired Monkey Head offering (even if it is just a bowl of fried mushrooms).

I don’t know, however, of a single other Beijing restaurant that boasts acquired immune deficiency syndrome sheep placenta soup.

That’s right: AIDS soup, the most improbably-named dish at the inconsolably-named Forgotten Perfume restaurant. The small text opens with the words “A fish sex sweet,” and continues to boast this soup is great for those with “frail body, hepatosplenomegaly, and tuberculosis embolism.”

I’d also like to point out the Ecological Bullfrog Stocking…

and perhaps the meanest fish I’ve come across, the Oriental Sheatfish.

We didn’t eat there, but we were tempted. Anyone else try it out yet?

Creepy Statue in an Abandoned School (in a neighborhood that’s almost gone)

Last week, DK and I stumbled on a strange abandoned school in northern Beijing. We were looking for the city’s largest recycling center, but this mad statue was a far tastier find.

Seven demonic babes, lounging, suckling, emerging from the concrete.

“Can you imagine seeing this every day? As a kid?”

It was strange. But so was the trip.

The sprawling neighborhood, the entire neighborhood, is being demolished for new high rises. Block after block was sprayed in the graffiti’d 拆, for “demolish.” Red banners wrapped across buildings and trees read “Quickly quickly, move move” in Chinese pentameter. A man cycled by, his tricycle piled high with his bulging luggage.

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Bizarre Beijing: CityWeekend’s Tribute to AsiaObscura

Maybe you missed it, but fresh on the heels of their coverage of our taxidermy efforts, the the October issue of CityWeekend was devoted to Bizarre Beijing! Of course their research ended in the pages of AsiaObscura. Heh heh.

They recommend
– the unmissably gory Daoist statues of Dongyue Temple
– the quirk in miniature of World Park
– the wild Beijing Stamp Museum (including 3D North Korean stamps of Charles and Di)
a little-Tokyo maid cafe, and — of course…
Fake Disneyland.

See their full article here.

Or just enjoy the sweet editor’s letter below. Thanks, Sienna and CityWeekend!

Awesomely Steampunk Portable Corn Roaster

Found this fellow in an alleyway behind my house the other day, roasting corn on the side of the road.

“What’s this machine called?” I asked. I was amazed, watching him flip the cobs from one tube to another, moving them closer and further from the flame below. Constantly he was rolling the tubes, handling the cooked corn with discarded husks.

He took a while to register the stupidity of the question, before answering, “It’s a roast corn machine.” (烤玉米机) Ah.

His awesomely rusty roast corn machine was screwed on top of a large beat-up tricycle, and powered by sticks of wood and wheels of coal.

“I built it himself,” he said. Not surprising — the chimney on the top of the machine was clearly banged together from spare bits of scrap metal. He sells 200 or more ears a day, he said, with a massive bag of uncooked ears at his feet. At 4 RMB a pop (60 cents), he sold 10 or 15 while we stood there.

CityWeekend Covers AO’s Taxidermy Efforts

Yesterday morning, I exploded with glee when I realized our Pyongyang Too book had been covered in the wonderful Drawn & Quarterly — a whopping year ago!

Now if that wasn’t good enough, yesterday was also the release of the new issue of CityWeekend magazine, their back page a very fun article devoted to WooLand, me, and taxidermy! Nice!!! Thanks, CW!

Another Mind-Blowingly Incredible Menu

After the insane Cultural Revolution restaurant menu, I didn’t think I’d ever be impressed by mistranslated food titles again. Boy, was I wrong.

Below are some of my new favorite dishes from our local duck restaurant.

One dish wasn’t mistranslated at all. And it’s my favorite… spicy, awesome, and a weird unexpected bone in the middle. Oh, yes….

As seen at JingZun Peking Duck Restaurant, No 6 Building Nouth [sic], Holiday Inn Express Opposite Chunxiu Road [sic], Chaoyang District, Beijing. 010-6417-4075.

On Horse Meat Sashimi

It finally happened. We ordered the horse sashimi.

“You want what?” said the waiter, unsure.

“Horse meat,” I slurred in Chinese, that last bottle of sake harming my already-poor pronunciation. “Raw horse meat.”

The waiter looked at WooLand, who wasn’t listening, and then at me, and he finally shrugged and wrote it down. Clearly this wasn’t a dish foreigners often ordered.

马肉刺身 (Mǎròu cìshēn) is apparently a delicacy in Japan, and I’d long been dreaming of ordering it here. It’s served up sliced thin like carpaccio, with mashed ginger and scallions and onions and soy sauce. There, it’s called basashi (馬刺し).

Back home in the States, however, it’s completely illegal. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senator, has been working with The Humane Society to make sure no-one enjoys a nice plate of mare. His latest bill, pushing it further, will see that no more “children’s ponies are inhumanely transported and slaughtered, their meat shipped to places like France, Italy, and Japan for human consumption.”

Good thing I wasn’t in France, Italy or Japan!

Here in Beijing, the plate arrived an hour later, the steed gorgeously laid out with thin slices of garlic riding it like little sashimi cowboys.

“No horsin’ around here,” WooLand cried, as she carefully lifted a slice. It was a full, deep red. This is the color of meat. In Japan, the meat is called Sakura (桜), or Sakura Meat (桜肉), because it reminds people of cherry blossoms.

It was also chewy. And dripping, almost as if it had been injected with water.

“All the farmers do this,” my friend Little Yellow had told me, a few days earlier. “They inject their animals with water, so they can sell the meat for more money.” Steaks from our local grocery are heavy, but so bloated they can be ripped apart with your hands.

“I don’t think this is done to horse meat, though,” she told me later. “Beef, and pork, but not horse.”

This sliced stallion maybe was a frozen ride. That hour we waited, an hour of defrosting. I didn’t get the feeling this was a dish many people ordered.

We rolled it up tight around the garlic and scallions, and dipped it in soy sauce. Wrapped in so many flavors, like a burrito, the meat was reduced to a delivery mechanism. A thick and chewy tortilla of spicy glory. Maybe Lindsey has it right. Perhaps this is an inhumane use of a healthy children’s pony.

Next time I’ll try the donkey, and see if that’s any better.

Izaka-Ya, 4 Gongti Beilu (across from Rock and Roll Club, in the alley behind the Bookworm), Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
北京朝阳区工体北路4号

Beijing Supermarket Sells Crack, Aisle 4

We haven’t seen this Jingkelong supermarket sign ourselves, but reader Randi sent it in, adding, “Apparently, their marketing strategy is to appeal to customers at two different ends of the spectrum — or maybe this is a brilliant plan to encourage people with a bad habit to try to offset its effects.” Classic.

膨化食品 (Pénghuà shípǐn) is actually just junk food. If you’re really looking for ready rocks, ask for “可卡因” (Kěkǎyīn).

Best Skirt in the Worst Spot Possible

You may have seen my post about the Red Restaurant, where dancers, singers and audiences recreate and celebrate the years of famine and starvation of the Great Leap Forward, and the torture and slaughter of the Cultural Revolution.

Something I left out was this lady. While many were dressed in the red guard dress of the day, remembering Mao and Jiang Qing and 1970s China, she chose a different style of celebration. She wore her South Park skirt.

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Return to Fake Disneyland? Sweeeeeet!

This past weekend, AO hosted our third BeijingObscura outing: a return to the magnificent Copyright Infringement Park, aka Fake Disneyland! Thanks to everyone who made it–it wouldn’t have been the same without you, and your absolute awesomeness!!!

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Disgusting Chinglish from a Tasty Buffet

Not that many nights ago, WooLand and I were thrilled to be invited to one of the great linguistic banquets of the season. Government ministers, foreign diplomats, prominent magazine editors — it was a real who’s who of language and culture. And then we saw what was for dinner… Oh, boy… Clearly, if the linguists can’t even get this right, chinglish has nothing to worry about.

Continue reading “Disgusting Chinglish from a Tasty Buffet”