The Glory of China’s English-Language Signs

Bathroom philosophy puts a spin on it.
Bathroom philosophy puts a spin on it.  But when you think about it, really, this is spot on.  Because … what is this world that we live in?  And what is a jream?  And are they one and the same?  You could spend hours just mulling that over…

One of my great regrets about our year in China was my failure to capture the brilliance and hilarity that is the English language restaurant menu. It is worth going out to eat for that alone, even if the repercussion of said venture includes the digestion of certain unthinkable delicacies.

Well, I don’t have those awesome menu descriptions captured in all their pixelated glory, but I did snap a few signs we encountered in our day-to-day lives.

No Spitting (And this is posted, incidentally, just outside a restaurant.)
No Spitting.  Enough said.
Mall playgrounds for children take on a whole new meaning ...
Mall playgrounds for children take on a whole new meaning …
More philosophy.  This one, found inside an apartment complex.
More philosophy. This one, found inside an apartment complex.  And it worked!
Slip-and-fall mitigation at its best.  You'll want to zoom in on the sign, probably.
Slip-and-fall mitigation at its best. You’ll want to zoom in on the sign, probably.
Tianjin Tourist Board knows how to sell it.  And that neighborhood with all those restored concession houses is SO outlandish!
Tianjin Tourist Board knows how to sell it. And that neighborhood with all those restored concession houses is SO outlandish!
Masters of understatement.  This, incidentally, is posted on the Huangya Pass Great Wall of China.   And "the gap" is a chasm some hundred feet below ...
Masters of understatement. This, incidentally, is posted on the Huangya Pass Great Wall of China. And “the ditch” is a chasm some hundred feet below …
This was taken during our entrance health exam in China.
Taken during our entrance-to-China health exam.

Galaxy Mall Park, Tianjin.  What more can be said?
Galaxy Mall Park, Tianjin.  The funny thing is, this park incorporates a lot of Feng Shui —  presumably to provide a haven within the urban jungle for life-balance and reflection.  So it goes back to the whole issue of Chinese philosophy, really.  Which makes a person stop and wonder … what does it all mean?

To an American lost in a giant mall in search of an elevator while desperate for a restroom, this sign can be confusing.  (It's for the elevator.)
To an American lost in a giant mall in search of an elevator while desperate for a restroom, this sign can be confusing. (It’s for the elevator.)


Looking for a unique greeting card hailing from the Pacific isles of Tonga?

Tongan Greeting Cards Pua DesignsThen look no further!

Amy, who has been awesome enough to share her completely original Tonga-livin’ experiences here on Tonga Time … you know, things like climbing coconut trees (well, Toni gets credit for that — thanks Toni!) to making fresh coconut cream from scratch, to small, inconsequential tidbits like having a baby in Tonga!!!! … well, she’s taken her killer graphic design experience and turned it into a micro-business in the Friendly Islands!

If you get a chance, visit her new Tongan greeting cards website at Pua Designs.  Just click her logo!

(Oh, in case it wasn’t clear, I was joking about the inconsequential nature of birthing a child.  In Tonga.  In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  With a bucket and adult diapers.  Yup.  I totally could do that…)

 


We’ve moved to Balikpapan, Indonesia …

Sam at Kebun Sayur Market, Balikpapan

Sam at Kebun Sayur Market, Balikpapan

… And you can see where our priorities lie!

It has been a whirlwind since our move from Tianjin, China to here: Balikpapan, a port city on the east coast of Kalimantan (a/k/a “Borneo”) Indonesia. Folks here call it “Kal-Tim,” which is short for Kalimantan Timur (timur means east in Bahasa Indonesia).

First stop?  Pasar Kebun Sayur — a huge market selling batik, Dyak handicrafts, produce, every sort of household good and clothing item a soul can think of and … delicious food, of course!  Balikpapan’s specialty is seafood — lucky us! Continue reading


Budget Travel in Shanghai: What to Do and See

The Bund at Night cont (4)Whenever we used to think of China, more often than not, we’d think of  Shanghai.  And when we thought of Shanghai, images of 1930′s glamour, junk boats, cosmopolitan streets and seedy opium dens straight out of a Clavell novel came to mind.

Turns out, Shanghai isn’t at all like that.  It’s a modern, bustling city crammed with malls and then malls and then … more malls.  If you love to shop, you’re in heaven.  But if you were hoping for that mystical aura the name of Shanghai conjures, you may be disappointed.

That said, there is still plenty to see that does not include chain stores and tour packages.  And even though Shanghai’s known for being pricey, these activities are budget friendly. Continue reading


The [Great] Wall Less Traveled … Hiking the Huangya Pass in Tianjin’s Ji County

Huangya Pass Ji Country (35)

If you happen to be visiting the Beijing area, you probably have The Great Wall of China on your to-do list.

Of course you do.  It’s THE Great Wall!

The trouble is, which wall do you see?  People don’t talk about that so much.

In fact, the first time we planned a jaunt to “The Wall,” we were surprised to discover that it doesn’t actually exist … at least it doesn’t as one continuous structure.

Rather, there are many sections of the wall scattered across 5500 miles of northern China, each engineered under various dynasties over a period of almost 2000 years, beginning in 220 BC and ending around 1644 AD.

The point is, there’s an awful lot of wall to choose from! Continue reading


One Day and Ten Ways to Visit Hong Kong on the Cheap

Hong Kong Opening PictureIf I were a Looney Toons character, I would read the above title and promptly respond with, “Succotash!”

I would leave out the “Sufferin’” because anything containing “Hong Kong” and “On the Cheap” in one phrase is such a ludicrous combination that it wouldn’t deserve the dignity of those extra syllables.

Hong Kong is not cheap, I’d scoff silently instead.  Everybody knows that.  Even make-believe, personified cats.

These presentiments hardly bode well for a budget-traveling couple whose collective salary has been seriously compromised since spawning the bright idea of leaving our grown up jobs and working around the world.  But that’s another story.  This story is how to have a fun, spontaneous and really affordable day in Hong Kong! Continue reading


Cheers from Qingdao … Touring the Tsingtao Brewery!

Vintage Tsingtao PosterHere’s one the first lessons of living in China: Nothing is ever spelled consistently.

For instance, Qingdao, a town on China’s eastern coast, about midway between Beijing and Shanghai, is the very same as the formerly spelled Tsingtao, pronounced “Chingdow” (with the the “d” giving a slight “t” sound).  It is this same venerable town that was settled by the Germans in the late 1800s — hence the brewery — and hosts China’s largest beer festival every August. Continue reading


The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bill Murray, and … His Doppelganger?

Gellert Spa, BudapestOkay, I know this guy’s not Bill Murray.  Or … I’m pretty sure.

But the thing is, this photo was taken almost ten years ago when Sam and I were living in Germany.  We took a road trip to Budapest, Hungary, and while there, I fell completely beguiled by this gorgeous hotel and spa built in the early 1900s that was located on the Buda side of the Danube. Continue reading


Eating out in China: Of Jellyfish and Bellyfish

Image

This is a silly article written for JIN Magazine, back in March of this year.  They were kind enough to send me the pdf of the final printed version, which I've posted here for further entertainment.

This is a silly article was printed in JIN Magazine, back in March of this year. They were kind enough to send me the jpg of the final printed version, which I’ve posted here for further entertainment.

One of the great things about living in Tianjin is the assortment of places to eat. Street food, cafes, restaurants … but the highlight of dining out here remains the simple, unassuming menu. You know, the English ones. The ones with little pictures accompanying awesome captions that advertise such delicacies as “Exploding Squid Red Pepper.”

As long as the dish is freshly cooked, most of these items are worth a go, if for no other reason, than to simply say you’ve tried it. I mean, when will you ever have the chance back home to dine on “Fresh Crap with Stupid Bean Curd”? (It’s crab, incidentally. And I don’t know why the bean curd is stupid.)

But there is one item that sends a shudder down my spine at the mere memory. A foray into the adventures of Tianjin dining whose existence extends beyond the confines of space and time to haunt one in their dreams. It is an insidious concoction, simple in design yet devastating in effect. It is the infamous Belly Fish.

Specifically, a menu item at a restaurant where Sam and I dined one fateful eve. The picture in the menu looked like it was fried fish fillets. What else could it possibly be, anyway? Sam snapped a photo with my camera to translate later (we hadn’t acquired our smart phones yet) and then ordered it.

Our Belly Fish arrived in the form of eight finger-sized portions of fried matter jiggling on a plate. Something about it didn’t seem quite right.

“I don’t think that’s fried fish fillets,” Sam said.

I poked a piece with my fork. It wobbled a little in the middle. “I think it must be jellyfish,” I said. “You know, belly fish … jellyfish?”

And then, triumphant in having deciphered the mystery, I plucked it up and popped it into my mouth. The texture was unusual. Soft and squishy — almost like the batter was the only thing holding it all together – but I kept chewing anyway, daring Sam with my raised eyebrows to give it a go.

Not to be outdone, he harpooned the next piece. It kind of oozed over the plate a little, but then it was in the air and down the hatch. His expression informed me that he, too, found the experience to be … off-putting.

But we were determined not to shrink from culinary challenges during our first month in China. So we ate the whole plate. Well, almost. I think after downing all but two “fillets” we both admitted that we didn’t think we could stomach any more.

We paid our ticket and left the restaurant, both of us feeling increasingly queasy. When we made it back to our room, we translated the Chinese characters from our Belly Fish photo and discovered a surprising truth:

Possibly for the first time in the history of translated Chinese menus, our order was exactly what it purported to be. To wit, fish belly. Or fish guts. Or fish intestines, whichever you prefer. Belly Fish. I don’t know if it was simply psychosomatic or really a case of Ciguatera, but we both did feel pretty sick that night. And I just couldn’t get that soft, gloppy texture out of my head, or the lingering taste that no amount of tooth paste could conquer …

So, anyway, here’s the moral of the story: Don’t get cocky about those translated menu items. They just might come back to haunt you!