Monday, May 31, 2004

bravehearts on two-wheels

I have gained a healthy respect for Beijing cyclists after about one month here. Although there are dedicated bicycle lanes here, I wouldn't dare to cycle here for a million bucks!

The estimated 10 million cyclists in Beijing had left a deep impression in many visitors.

I have seen accidents here on a daily basis, either bike vs bike or bike vs cars. in fact, just saw one between a bike and a car when I was on my way back to office after lunch. luckily not fatal, cyclist still can argue with driver. a few days ago, saw a cyclist on highway riding in opposite direction! somehow they all think that they have a force field button on the bicycle.

like cyclists everywhere, Beijing cyclists always get the raw deal when they get into a car accident. This always happen when cars cut across bike lanes to turn in smaller roads and alleys. The situation got worse in the past year when hordes of new drivers get on the road. Official statistics said there were 2 million new cars (mostly in Beijing and Shanghai) in China. Generally, new drivers are regarded as deathwish drivers.

most Beijing cyclists are not recreational cyclists. They use their bike to get from point A to point B. There are massive bicycle parks (also got attendants) eveywhere. In fact, I have been told there are fewer cyclists nowadays since more people own cars or take the bus.

I've spotted bicycle shops stocking local brands and Taiwanese brands like Giant along major main-roads. of course, you can get your bike fixed or change inner tubings in neighborhoods shops for just a few "yuan" (less then S$1!)

I have seen a few recreational bikers (both angmohs and locals) on roadbikes, more often in suburbs (lower traffic). Also spotted angmoh (or lao wai) on motorbikes (Harleys or side-cars) in convoy on country roads.

I really admire their guts (cyclists and motor-cyclists) to put up with the horrendous traffic and dust to ride in the open air.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Sally taking over

Sally is having such a great time at the sitter's! She is so manja that the sitter and her sister is now fighting over who gets to sleep with Sally. Sally has many dog friends to play with and gets to go on long walks with them. Her best friends include Monty the Beagle and Brownie the Mongrel.

When Robina brings Sally over to Beijing in June, Sally will probably get to spend a lot of time at the riding school with Robina. There's lots of open space and fresh country air. There's a dog training school and grooming centre behind the stables. Sally will probably be put through some basic obedience training (which she lacks entirely!). It will be fun to see Sally's reaction when she mets a horse for the first time!

Friday, May 28, 2004

settling in

Robina is very much into horse riding now. she goes there almost every other day and sometimes stay for two sessions. she is learning quite fast and can trot the horse oredi. but most of all, she brings lots of carrots to feed the horses. in the process, she got to know the horses and riding school staff quite well.

our shipment will only arrive around next week. so must unpack and arrange the barang-barang. the apartment is not too bad n spacious enough. the other night the air-con was leaking but their maintenance people still came up quite fast even though it was about 10pm. they also turned up to help us assemble an Ikea step-ladder. their housekeeping staff was also quite efficient when they come to clean up and change bedsheet. overall, their service is quite good.

we got to know a neighbor who also keeps a dog. she's a riding enthusiast who introduced Robina to the riding school. We also discovered that a lot of locals also meet to let their dogs play in a grass patch near our apartment.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Horse riding 101

Robina and I started our riding lessons. We were at the stables today, Robina for her 2nd ride while I started my first lesson. Robina brought along a bunch of carrots to bribe the horses who gulped down the carrots like sweets.

Horse riding was very fun and exciting since you have to concentrate on maintaining your posture and balance, and at the same time learn to read the stride and tempo of your horse. otherwise it will not be you riding the horse but having the saddle smack into your rear-end at every jolt. Since it was our beginner lessons, the horse knew more about what to do than us.

since we plan to visit the steppes of Inner Mongolia, we will be more hard-working. but it will take some time before we are ready since we are still in the process of mastering the trot.

Great Wall

Robina and I visited the Great Wall. We went to a less crowded stretch of the wall at Mutianyu in order to avoid the coach-loads of tourists at the more famous Badaling stretch. It was a beautiful day, sunny and breezy so it was not too hot.

At first we didn't buy the cable car tickets, thinking that we could easily climb up to the wall from the foothills. but we were out of breath by the time we reach the entrance. Really out of practise from the Macrithie Bukit Timah Hill briskwalks! we coughed up S$10 each for the cable car ride, actually more like ski lift! we were glad of our wise decision when we saw the actual climb involved. the money was worth it, not to mention the marvellous view.

This particular stretch was constructed in the Ming Dynasty. The immense scale of the wall was staggering, to actually see the meandering battlements stretching from ridgeline to ridgeline. You can almost imagine the engineering skills and sacrifice in terms of human lives and time involved.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

shifted into apartment

after living out of our suitcase for almost three weeks, we finally shifted into our apartment! it's located in the China World Trade Centre complex and quite near to my office. there's a supermarket and foodcourt nearby for convenience.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Goose pimples

I was watching a documentary on the Chechen rebellion when the Soviet (or rather Russian) national anthem was played during the credits. Although I don't understand Russian, hearing the rousing Soviet anthem never fails to give me goose pimples. I first heard it years ago when the Red Army Chorus performed in Singapore. The movie "Hunt for Red October" also provided an onscreen rendition.

The hymn was oficially adopted as a national hymn of the Soviet Union in 1944. The music was composed by A. V. Aleksandrov (1883 - 1946), the lyrics were written by Sergey Mikhalkov and G.G. El-Registan. The lyrics were revised in 1977 removing Stalin's name. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia adopted a new National Anthem without any lyrics but the people was not enthusiastic about it. In 2000, the Russian government gave in. The melody of the old Soviet anthem was retained but new lyrics were written.

Another piece of music that has the same effect on me is "Scotland the brave" in bagpipes. It makes me yearn for the Scottish highlands and lochs and wave a claymore wildly...

what's in a name?

Robina told me today that "Sally" meant "lady" or "princess". she checked it out on the web. I didn't know that "Sally" is linked to "Sarah" (see below). quite amusing when such a goofy dog has such a dignified name...

Usage: English
Pronounced: SAL-ee
Pet form of SARAH

Usage: English, French, German, Jewish, Biblical
Pronounced: SER-a
Means "lady" or "princess" in Hebrew. This was the name of the wife of Abraham in the Old Testament. She became the mother of Isaac at the age of 90. Her name was originally Sarai, but God changed it (see Genesis 17:15).

"Robina" is obviously linked to "Robin". but I didn't know "Robin" is linked to "Robert".

Usage: English
Strictly feminine variant of ROBIN

Usage: English
Pronounced: RAH-bin
Pet form of ROBERT. Robin Hood was a legendary hero and archer of medieval England who stole from the rich to give to the poor. This name can also be given in reference to the red-breasted bird.

Usage: English, French, Scandinavian
Pronounced: RAH-burt (English), ro-BER (French)
Means "bright fame", derived from the Germanic elements hrod "fame" and beraht "bright". The Normans introduced this name to Britain.

"Alvin" had nothing to do with the Chipmunks. again I didn't know about its elvish etymiology.

Usage: English
Pronounced: AL-vin
Means "elf friend" from the Old English name Ælfwine, which was formed of the elements ælf "elf" and wine "friend".

The Elvish term was for Elf-friend is Elendili, seen for example in the name of Elendil. Those, usually among Men, who were recognised by the Elves as providing special aid or alliance.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

footloose in Beijing

As soon as we landed in Beijing, we were told by fellow Singaporean expats here to die-die must try the foot massage. Apparently the foot reflexology sessions here are cheaper and very professional. well, after going thru foot massage that were like medieval torture in Singapore, I was slightly apprehensive.

Robina and I just came back from a session this evening at a foot massage joint near our hotel. And we were glad that we went thru minimal pain and the session was actually quite enjoyable and relaxing. there are two reputable joints (Tian He Liang Zi & Ya Yun Liang Zi) less than 5min walk from our hotel, both are practically next to each other. The competition forced the price and boost the standards. we tried Ya Yun bcos we were told it's the newer joint.

Once we walked in we were impressed. The place is like a spa! the private room was comfy and brightly lit. The walk-in rate for a 90min session is about S$28, but the price is much cheaper after you sign up for membership ($20 after 6pm and $14 before 6pm). Since it was our first session, it was 2 for the price of one, meaning only $10 a piece! At first we felt strange bcos female therapist worked on me and a guy was assigned to Robina. Apparently it was "traditional".

The session starts with soaking your feet in a wooden tub (u get to choose between "ginger" or "milk bath"). The therapist empties a satchet of powder into the hot water and viola! you get to soak your feet in a warm gooey mass that's like sago pudding. After 20 mins, u are given a "warm up" arms massage to prep u. then the manicure guy comes in to trim your toe nails and remove callous (traditionally manicure is done by guys in China). No nail clippers mind u! he comes with a box of knives of various shapes. The therapist re-enters to work on your feet for 40 mins, then pummel your calfs and ends with a back massage. Both Robina and I went thru drowsiness and later felt very "awake" after the session. Overall, we got king n queen treatment for a relative cheap price while we sipped tea. quite shiok, actually!

Sunday, May 09, 2004

NUS Bio classmate spotted in the news!

our bio alumni and RSAF pilot Paul Sung is seen here in CNA report, next to Uncle Teo who's visiting our F-16 detachment in Phoenix, Arizona.

Welcome home Alex and Jo!

the intrepid Singaporean cycling duo has finally made it back to Singapore after 28,000km, 24 countries and 18 months. I've been following their incredible journey and admiring their true grit and cheerful humour. When you're feeling down or sorry for yourself, read about their travels and you will suddenly feel much better!

I especially enjoyed their stories about encountering weird connections with Singapore in some distant corner of Asia. For instance, Alex and Jo met up with this Pakistani Army LTC whose brother-in-law used to run a computer shop in Sim Lim Square!!? Or like when they spotted a poster of Singapore's Victoria Street in some makan joint in a tiny Iranian town. it's really freaky...

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Dien Bien Phu anniversary

Tomorrow will be the 50th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu! the first time a third-world colonised people managed to defeat a western colonial power in a set-piece conventional battle.

The Viet Minh, led politically by Uncle Ho Chi Minh and militarily by Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the French who had everything from warplane, tanks, artillery and even napalm! Vo, now still hale and hearty at 93, was dubbed the Vietnamese Napoleon after the battle.

Trying to lure and crush the Viet Minh in a face-to-face conventional fight after being unable to deal with their hit-and-run guerilla tactis, the French began to fortify a position on the Dien Bien Phu valley's large plain in November 1953. the French hoped to force the Viets into battle by cutting of their supplies lines near the Laotian border. Some 15,000 French, North African, pro-French Vietnamese and foreign legionnaires were airdropped to garrison DBP. But the French neglected to fortify or deploy artillery on the series of small hills around DBP, thinking that no one could haul artillery guns up the steep forested hillsides. Even if the Viets could, the French deputy (he's the artillery commander) thought that their superior artillery could blast the enemies' guns (the chap later blew himself up with a grenade).

In turn out that the Viets did everything the French thot they couldn't and more. With superhuman endurance and tenacity, they dismantled their guns and hauled them piece by piece, shell by shell up those commanding heights. Their 105mm guns eventually dominated the French positions. With that, it was virtually the end. Resupply planes could not land under the barrage. Anti-aircraft guns covered the approach. Air-dropped supplies ended up with the Viets more than the French.

Position after position were overwhelmed. In the end, the last survivors surrender on 7 May 1954. About 3,000 French troops were dead or missing (two thirds were Colonial troops) and 10,000 were captured. The price the Vietnamese paid for the victory was about three times the casualties of the French.

With that victory, the demise of western imperialism was inevitable. The Algerians soon revolted against the French. Other colonial powers like the British, Dutch and Belgians had to drop their colonies whether they liked it or not. Sadly, the Americans soon stepped into the gap left by the French in Indo-china and they made the same mistakes the French made. With the recent events in Iraq, it seems that the Americans had not learnt from their painful lesson in Vietnam. That when a people is willing to die for their land and freedom, superior technology or weaponry might not win the day.

The other day while watching CNN footage about the US Marines engaged in fire-fights outside Fallujah, Iraq, I was hit by deja vu! Except the modern unforms and souped-up M16s, it looked and felt exactly like Vietnam (minus the tropical jungle of course!). The graphic pictures about the abuse of Iraqi detainees, reminded me of the dramatic picture of the shooting of a VC suspect by a South Vietnamese officer. Could that be the sound of the tide turning?

For a classic account of the DBP battle read "Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu" by Bernard B. Fall

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

surviving northern Chinese cooking

one thing to get used to in Beijing is the TOTALLY different style of cooking. we in S'pore are used to southern Chinese style (more like Hong Kong or Teochew) of cooking which is lighter in taste and emphasised bringing the flavours of fresh ingredients. after about a week in Beijing, most of the food here is heavy on oil and salt. and most Singaporeans (and even Malaysian) here told us that it takes a lot of getting used to...

another thing to watch out for is the liberal use of Szechuan peppercorns (must pronounced in "Yan can Cook" accent!) in spicy dishes. Tried what I thought a safe dish the other night from the food court stall, Kung Pao Chicken. Bite into this unidentified black thingy, it was like a grenade of taste sensation had exploded in my mouth. my tongue was numbed, no feeling. it wasn't spicy hot, quite difficult to explain. needless to say, it was a very different dish from a S'pore Chze Char stall...

been buying dinner from a Taiwanese foodstall in the foodcourt near the hotel. was talking to the Taiwanese aunty owner and told her I was based in Taipei for a while. A few hokkien phrases also scored points. Gave the aunty feedback that I really appreciated the lighter taste of Taiwanese cooking and complained that cannot tahan local style of drenching dishes in oil and salt. She said the locals not used to Taiwanese preferences. some even asked for more salt. adoi!

another lucky find was a Hong Kong style joint taht served nice dim sum and shiok Cantonese style desserts. My cantonese was also put to good use chatting with the Hong Konger owner. can't wait for my shipment to arrive. got curry spices and even Jacobs cream crackers...drool...

Monday, May 03, 2004

Sally at the sitter's

Sally is apparently enjoying herself at the pet sitter's. she gets to enjoy daily car rides; the sitter brings Sally along to send niece to school. she also gets to play with other boarders and the sitter's own dogs; all are eunuchs.

Alvin's spiel

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