Tag Archives: China

Extraordinary Eats / ,

Plucking Head Meat

Muslim Quarter, Xi’an

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Offbeat Museums / ,

The Incredible Dollhouse Explosion of Xi’an

Dark and modern and ultra-creepy, the Hanyangling Museum of Xi’an is empty of tourists, but crammed with pits of naked, two-foot-tall men. It’s something like an explosion in a doll factory, or a scene of marionette massacre.

Their silk robes and wooden swords and wooden arms rotted away centuries ago, leaving them unarmed and armless, but their little bodies (and penises) remain.

It reminded me of Gacy’s basement. A clown scene of true boy terror.

This is the mausoleum of Liu Qi, Emperor of China from 156 to 141 BC. His reign was short, but his tomb took a magnificent 28 years to build. It’s filled with thousands of pottery warriors to guard the spirit of the ancient emperor, and thousands of dogs, sheep, horses, chickens, and pigs for the pottery guards to feast on. It’s like the terracotta warriors. But unlike those, this isn’t awful. This is a place of awesome.

The mausoleum of Liu Qi, and that of his wife Empress Wang, took 28 years to build. The government have spent the last 30 digging them up, and yet they’ve barely even started. Two grassy peaks flank this 2-acre museum, and they’re thought to be filled with acres more ancient awesomeness.

I can’t wait to see what’s inside those….

/ by Dean Pickles / 5 Comments
Chinglish / ,

Restaurant Rats

Seen at Xian’s Hong Kong Star Restaurant. Or ratS tnaruatseR, as it is.

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Chinglish /

Bad Fish, Worse Than Roofies

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Extraordinary Eats / ,

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.

/ by Dean Pickles / 2 Comments
Our Weird Projects, The Taxidermy Diaries / ,

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!

/ by Dean Pickles / 6 Comments
Historical Wonders /

Cute Little Cultural Revolution “Learn Chinese” Booklet

The cultural revolution-era “Learning English” book blew my mind, but when I stumbled on this little “Learn Chinese” booklet the other day, I was touched. It represented such a different side of the Cultural Revolution.

Instead of war/hate/fear of the “Learn English” book, this one radiates with the hope, promise, and togetherness that was the one up-side of the cultural revolution. “Everyone was together then,” said a 96-year-old Maoist I met the other day. And these two kids really are.

The little Red Guard — maybe he’s a farmboy, or maybe he was sent down to work in the fields and learn from the people — cradles a rural Red Pioneer. They study characters together. “One… two… three…” “Tractor… atomizer… rice basket.”

The title, 农村儿童看图识字, means “Picture Cards for Rural Children.” One of Mao’s great plans was to educate the entire country and eradicate illiteracy. I don’t know if he really managed that — but this book was part of the effort.

There’s no publisher, date or price on the booklet, but it’s marked up with a child’s doodles, and held together with dusty string.

I laughed when I noticed the marijuana plant, or 麻, in the top left above.

“But doesn’t it make them go insane?” a Chinese coworker asked me, eyes wide, when the topic of smoking pot came up at work. “I hear it’s very dangerous,” another said. Except for a small crowd of dreadlocked Chinese hippies I hang out with sometimes, I know few locals who would admit to smoking up.

As a crop, though, you’ll find its shadow everywhere. In Guangzhou, we walked down an alleyway named “Sell Marijuana Street” (卖麻街). In Shenyang, at a national linguistic conference, my hotel grew tall and stinky plants just outside my window. And a junior farmer should definitely know how to read and write about what they grow.

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Chinglish / ,

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.

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Other Obscura /

Our Six Best China Stories!

Happy 61st 62nd birthday, China! (And happy 39th birthday, me!)

In honor of this grand celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, today we decided to sift through the AsiaObscura archives, and return to our wildest, most popular China stories of 2011! And so, in order of pageviews….

6. The Sick Collector and his 2000 Shoes
What happens when you take one creepy old man, one disgruntled housewife, and a collection of bizarre tiny shoes? After marital discord, that is. This profile of Yang Shaorong and his sick fetish brought together pornography, Polyester, and sweet sick obsession into one strange little story.

5. China’s all-time favorite (and all-time darkest?) comic book: Sanmao
Not many foreigners know about Sanmao, but in China he’s bigger than Disney. He’s Bart Simpson, Richie Rich and Charlie Brown, rolled into one dark comic burrito of bloodshed and poverty. Sanmao is a work of Chinese art, and a seriously weird 1940s comic book.

4. Inspector Black Cat: China’s Gore-Soaked Answer to Tom & Jerry
While our Sanmao story drew big audiences, it was nothing compared to the fans of “Inspector Black Cat”–a 1980s kids cartoon that coupled Tarantino with Hanna-Barbera. Blood splats across the screen, cute baby pandas are gruesomely eaten, and swords slice through innocent diners… on daytime tv.

3. Wonderland: Beijing’s Abandoned Disneyland
Crumbling castle walls and turrets, on the road to the Great Wall of China. We spent a day exploring this gorgeously decrepit amusement park, a onetime challenger for Beijing’s best theme park, and found more than just near-death-trap wells.

Plus, don’t miss our visits to Beijing’s Real Fake Disneyland, the Kingdom of the Dwarfs, and the abandoned Romance Park of the Heart — three other Chinese amusement parks that captured our hearts.

2. Relive the Cultural Revolution (aka The Weirdest Dinner Theater in Beijing)
It’s the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, all rolled into one delicious meal. The chance to experience the beatings of teachers and parents, the melting of pots and pans, the years of starvation and decade of torture, and get dessert, too. As part of the same story, don’t miss the video of the dinner show, in which landlords are executed on stage to audience cheers, or the restaurant’s incredibly bad menu. What a night!

1. 19 Incredible Taoist Gods
And of course, the Taoist gods ended up the most popular China story on AsiaObscura this year. Like that’s any surprise? We’ve covered plenty of weird Taoist temples in these pages, but this piece on the amazing bad-ass sculptures really caught some attention. If you like those, don’t miss Terrible Moments from a Taoist Temple, in which the gods slice, dice, and saw their congregation in two. It’s unforgettable.

While those were the China stories that garnered the most pageviews this year, my favorite piece on China didn’t make the top five, or even the top ten…. And since it’s my birthday today, as well as China’s, here’s that one, too:

0. A Postcard from Erenhot
Few views, few shares, and almost no comments, but it’s an AsiaObscura must-read. It’s got smugglers, whores, and dog head for breakfast… and after all, what more could a visitor be looking for?

/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Historical Wonders /

Pages from an Amazing English Textbook

Back in the cultural revolution, China was in turmoil. Almost anything could get you in trouble. Han Xin, a blacklisted artist, told me that painting the sun the wrong shade of red would mean jail time. Absolutely everything had to be in unquestionable service to Mao and a Maoist China.

The only plays were revolutionary operas and ballets. The movies were all incredible revolutionary melodramas.

And the English books? Well, they were few. But they, too, were one hundred percent revolutionary.

My good friend Ginger recently gave me this incredible English language textbook printed in June 1971, the height of the cultural revolution. It sold for 2 cents, and has 81 pages of Maoist lessons on learning English.

But why would closed-off in-focused China want to study English in 1971? I’d thought it would even be illegal. But no. “With English as a tool,” Lesson Six’s dialogue reads defensively, “we propagate Mao Tsetung Thought among the people of the world. With English as a weapon, we fight against the imperialists, revisionists and all reactionaries.”

It’s absolutely fantastic. Simple grammar is explained with military furor. “I ___ a Red Guard. She ___ a Little Red Soldier. We ___ Chairman Mao’s Red Guards.” (The appropriate forms of the verb “to be” are hand-written in.)

Class discussions are focused along themes such as “Who are our enemies?” and “How many militiamen are there in your company?”

Vocab samples include “re-educate,” “oppress,” “put [as in ‘put proletarian ideology in first place’],” and “running dog [as in ‘Defeat the U.S. Aggressors and All Their Running Dogs’].”

My favorite part of the book is the notes made by the original owner. Some of them are simple — the pronunciation of “construction” (“kan’straksan”), underlined words, lots of marks my linguist friends would probably recognize.

But then, in the middle of Lesson Eight (“The Happiest Day in My Life”), he strikes out several lines. It appears as below:

“At 10 a.m., the happiest moment came! Chairman Mao and his close comrade-in-arms Vice-Chairman Lin Piao walked up the Tien An Men rostrum. In excellent health and high spirits, Chairman Mao warmly waved to the revolutionary masses. Millions of red hearts turned to the red sun. We cheered again and again.”

Lin Biao’s Chinese name, 林彪, is scribbled out. It’s almost unreadable.

In September 1971, a few months after this book was printed, Lin Piao/Biao died in a mysterious plane crash. He was Mao’s planned successor, but Mao was a jealous and paranoid man at this time. Lin Biao may have been fleeing for fear of his life, or perhaps — as is recorded in China — fleeing from a failed coup against Mao. Perhaps he was murdered. Perhaps he died in error. It’s all very unclear. But overnight he went from national hero to national traitor. His name was struck from books like these, his deeds struck from history. I’m sure every version of this book has the same line struck out.

See below for more pictures from this curious and crazy textbook. And don’t miss a similar book I recently picked up in North Korea.

/ by Dean Pickles / 4 Comments
Holy Curiosities, Theme Parks / ,

15 More Pictures from weirdoid Tiger Balm Park

AsiaObscura friend Dawn Xiana Moon (dawnxianamoon.com) sent over a pile more pix from the absolutely incredible statues and terrifying dioramas at Tiger Balm Park aka Har Paw Villa. See our original story here, or click on her pix below for full-sized versions….

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Chinglish / ,

Possibly the Best Menu of All Time

Beijing’s Cultural Revolution Restaurant has one of the most bizarre stage shows (video here) and some entirely inappropriate fashion statements, too, but it also has one of the worst best menus I’ve yet seen. Here are some of my favorite dishes…

Classic, eh?

/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Extraordinary Eats / , ,

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

/ by Dean Pickles / 6 Comments
Strange Tourism / ,

A Postcard from Erenhot

Two small dogs are attacking a homeless man, while I’m nursing my lingering fever with sidewalk kebabs and a bottle of Yanjing beer. One of them bites at his ankle, and he hobbles away, cursing while diners beside me laugh, and the wind picks up again. I shield my face from the sand.

This is Erenhot, or Erlian (二连), Erlianhaote (二连浩特), Eriyen, or Ereen… a town on the Chinese/Mongolian border with too many names. Every passerby stares at me, and every child shouts “Hello” as I pass.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Chinglish / ,

That’s just rubbish….

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Devoted Obsession, Offbeat Museums /

This Strange Collector Has 1,000 Pairs of Shoes (and a Fetish for Foot Binding)

Yang Shaorong lives in a small Shanghai apartment. He collects women’s shoes. Tiny shoes. Shoes for bound feet.

“That’s horrible,” said the publisher of my magazine, when I mentioned Yang the collector to him. “It’s a disturbing part of Chinese history.”

I was confused. I didn’t really know much about them, or why he was so upset. So I did some reading. And the more I learned, the more nauseous I became.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 7 Comments
Extraordinary Eats /

The Parping Chicken

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Historical Wonders / ,

A Noble Slave and an Imperial Cannibal

Two and a half thousand years ago, Prince Zhong’er was hungry.

He was in exile. His state was in turmoil. He’d lost his castle, his kitchen and surely his chef as well. So what else was there to do but start eating his followers?

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/ by Dean Pickles / 1 Comment
Strange Tourism /

Hey! It’s a Foreigner!

Yesterday I wrote about Mr Li, the English teacher stuttering he was so excited to meet a foreigner.

But this is China. Passerby, seeing me, will loudly announce, “foreigner!” Strangers stare and point, kids sometimes cry out in horror. Once, on seeing me, a migrant worker dropped everything he was carrying. Wide eyes (his, I mean — mine always are), gaping mouth, a look of pure shock on his face.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 6 Comments
Historical Wonders, Offbeat Museums / ,

According to this Chinese Museum, America started the Korean war, and lost it too.

“Look at that soldier,” said a burly Dongbei redneck, shoving past me to get a better look at the painting. “He’s on fire. He’s a real man.”

His sweaty pal leaned in, and laughed. The torched soldier was still letting loose a volley of bullets from his machine gun, mowing down a row of terrified pale Americans. “That’s awesome.”

They probably didn’t realize I understood what they were saying. I didn’t stick around to find out.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 1 Comment