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
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.
“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.
“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?
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?
Lobster and Cheese! Melon! Lemon Tea! Chinese potato chips enter a mad world of flavors… but are they any good? I invited over a dozen wary friends, and put these crisps-of-amazement to the AsiaObscura taste test…
Oishi Melon Flavor Corn Curls
Baked, not fried! 14 minerals and vitamins! 0g Trans Fats! The box screams how healthy these chips are. The audience screamed, too. One taster actually vomited. Just a little. “God, that’s disgusting!” “It’s like a dry sponge from Lush Cosmetics!” Existing somewhere between perfume-flavored and watermelon bubble gum, these bizarre penne-shaped curls were unforgettably awful. Continue reading “The Great Chinese Chip Taste-Off”
You’ve seen those sexy collectable figurines around Asia, right? You know the ones… in Singapore malls, Beijing shopping centers, all over Japan? Nervous kids and creepy adults browsing the aisles… subtly saucy…
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.
Remember the last time we visited that wretched and bruised little street urchin, Sanmao? Oh, what dark laughs we shared.
Well, the other day I found two new Sanmao books. From 1980 and 1985, they were full of strips I’d never seen. I leapt with joy and overpaid for them — they were antiques, the old man insisted. When I flipped them open, though, I discovered something saccharine and horrible.
What? He’s benching 90? He’s a master of calligraphy? He’s… he’s… what about the blood, gore and sick Chinese humor???
From the strange reign of Empress Wu Zetian (690-705):
“Inviting the Gentleman into the Jug” – Place the victim in a large vat, and heat it to roasting temperature with fires around its base.
“The Phoenix Suns Her Wings” – Hang the prisoner by his arms and legs from a beam, and spin him.
“The Fairy Maid Presents Fruits” – Make the victim kneel, with a heavy rack around his neck. Weight it down further with large tiles.
“The Jade Maiden Mounts The Stairs” – Force the victim to stand on a high board with a rack around his neck. Pull the rack back until he keeps his balance only through great strain on his legs.
“The Brain Hoop” – Loop a rope around his head, and tighten by placing a stick inside the loop and twisting it.
Should none of these do the trick, resort to The Five Penalties – Cut the victim’s nose off, then his or her limbs, after which beat him or her to death. Then decapitate them, chop them into mincemeat, and display the remains in the public marketplace.
As reported in Sidney Shapiro‘s “The Law and Lore of China’s Criminal Justice”