Sunday, September 30, 2007

Living in China (October 1, 2007)

So this whole week is a National Holiday for China. They're mainly celebrating the establishment of the Communist Party as the ruling power of the country after they defeated the Nationalists and forced them to flee to Taiwan back in 1949. It would be closely related to the 4th of July back at home except for the fact that the holiday lasts a week instead of a day. I doubt that they have BBQs either, but instead, they all go home or visit famous sites all over China. Because of the traveling involved, it becomes a combination of the 4th of July and Thanksgiving because traveling is the worst in this country during this whole week. I think towards the end of the week, things might calm down a bit more and we all might make another trip to Beijing.

I have a few things that I wanted to mention before I totally forget about 'em because that seems to happen a lot here. I'll see something, find it very odd, try to remember to write it down, but if I don't it turns into the norm and I don't seem to take notice anymore.
  1. All cars here are "honk happy". I swear, during the 12 years I've been driving in the States, I think I've actually honked my horn less than 10 times and usually that was a few seconds after a person pissed me off or when some guy didn't move when the light turned green. Here, people honk all of the time. They give a little doubletap when they approach a car, pedestrian, scooter, or bike rider to inform them that they are coming up from behind. They also give those hella long honks when they are trying to wade themselves through a whole mass of people on some "walking market street". When I first got here, I was hella annoyed at the fact that people were honking so much, but now I've pretty much adapted to the annoyance.
  2. I remember noticing this next one during the first few weeks of teaching. People wear the same clothes for a whole week at a time. By this I mean that on Monday if you walk into the classroom and look at what the students are wearing, they will wear that exact same outfit for the rest of the week. Only a week later, on next Monday, will you see them wearing something different. I usually wear something twice with alternating outfits before I throw the stuff in the washer, but they all pretty much take three times as long.
  3. I recently found out about this, and I suppose it's related to #2. The students don't have shower facilities in their dorms, so they must walk hella far, into the center of campus, to reach a designated shower building. So I will be walking to class in the evening and see a whole ant line of students carrying their little wash tote with shampoo and soap, going towards a building, and then see another ant line of students walking back towards the dorms with wet hair. That would be hella annoying, but the real kicker is that they have to pay 3 Jiao EACH time they shower! That's equivalent to $.04 USD but still...add that up and it's a lot of money that these poor students who are forced to pay-to-shower. Yeah this brings me to the main point; a lot of peeps here are kinda stank, but now I can understand why. Same clothes and no showering can do that to anyone, but again.
  4. Another thing I found out was that at around 11:00PM, the school shuts off power to the lights in the student dorms to save money, which means that if they want to study more, they'll have to whip out a flashlight or candles or something, just like Abe Lincoln did. Lemme tell ya, I definitely wouldn't have made it through college if all the lights were turned off at 11:00PMish. I was most productive at paper writing during 2-4AM. So yeah, what weird constraints that these peeps have to go through here.
  5. Next thing of note is that I have not seen a roll of paper towels anywhere in this country. I don't think they exist, even at a Wal-Mart. Everyone seems to use a roll of toilet paper for everything, from eating at a restaurant to cleaning up a spill. I find that very odd because paper towels are a part of everyday life, just like a chair is.
  6. The last thing of note is that 27 years of "no littering" has been deconstructed out of me within the span of a month. There are rarely any trash cans to be found anywhere on the street, but boy are there a lot of random piles of trash everywhere. These days I don't even try to find a pile, I'll literally eat something and then let gravity take its course without giving it a second thought. When in Rome I suppose. The weird thing is that the next morning, I'll discover that all of the trash piles are gone. I think each city employs a bunch of peeps to wake up super early to clean up the streets, or maybe it's magic?

War (Action 2007)

Well it's about time that these two actors were put into the same action film. Jason Statham is the badass from The Transporter series and everyone should know who Jet Li is.

For an action flick, this movie actually had an ok story, believe it or not. I was quite surprised at the non-linear plot twists that occured throughout the movie considering that the trailers made it seem like any other action film with next to no plot. There were not as many fighting sequences as I would've liked, but there were a lot of guns and a fair share of swords.

Overall, it was an above-average action movie. It wasn't quite good enough to be considered "great", but it was much better than a lot of the crap that usually comes out.
Rating - B

Saturday, September 29, 2007

That Beautiful Somewhere (Drama 2006)

Have you ever seen a film that tried to be all deep, but instead it fell flat on its face? Well if you haven't, let me please introduce you to this movie. I saw English letters while going through a DVD pile and I jumped all over it without even thinking. I really shouldn't take those kinds of chances when I'm dealing with a $.65 USD DVD, but I did and now I want my money back.

This movie was stupid. It was about some scientist, who is a bog expert, who goes to BFE to look at a dead body in a bog. She has a secret though...she has migraines. The feller in the poster is a cop who is still haunted by the fact that he killed innocent peeps during some unmentioned war and the fact that he has a morale dilemma of keeping his comatose mother on a breathing machine or not. The two meet up and then kind of hook up as they unravel the very dull mystery surrounding the dead bog body.

The whole film is as boring as it's origins: Canada. In my opinion, that beautiful somewhere is anywhere this movie is not being shown.
Rating - F

Friday, September 28, 2007

Rush Hour 3 (Action 2007)

Hopefully this will be the 3rd and final movie of this series because they really can't continue making sub-par comedies like this. When the first one came out way back in 1998, it was a pretty funny movie. Matching Chris Tucker with Jackie Chan was a great idea, but now it's close to a decade later and this type of slapstick comedy is very old news.

The plot was just a reason for the actors to change scenes, the comedy was not really funny at all, and the acting was just the same as it has always been. If you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all, so adding this film to the list is really not worth your time.

These two really need to move on to bigger and better things! I'm sure their agents can find something better than just milking this barren cow.
Rating - C

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (Comedy 2007)

Well this film was definitely not one of Adam Sandler's greatest moments. At the same time, you can't really blame the guy because the story was just that crappy. All of you know the premise of the plot and can probably predict the whole thing just by viewing the trailer once.

I still can't get over how much I'm not impressed with Jessica Biel's acting skills. Maybe it's because she'll always be under the shadow of her role in Blade: Trinity. What a shitty movie that was. Her part in this film wasn't much better though. She played this overtrusting lawyer who can't control her hormones, and of course, she was not convincing at all. As I've said before, she should really find a new career and stop causing my "crappy movie" twitch to become active.

Anyway, I did laugh a few times, but not enough to give it a funny mark. It was a plain Jane comedy which will probably impress only the simplest of minds; not really worth it though.
Rating - C

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living in China (September 23, 2007)

This will be a pretty large update since I actually did something this weekend. If you would've told me at any point in my life that I would be at a Women's FIFA World Cup Soccer match in Tianjin, China, I would've most likely said that you didn't know me very well. But as it turns out, some surprises come at you without any warning.

Late last week I was walking back from a morning class when I ran across a foreign teacher who lives across from me. He asked if I wanted to go to Tianjin with a few other peeps that weekend because they had an extra ticket for the game. I tend to decline most invitations of this nature because there are usually too many factors that are out of my control, which could lead me into being ditched in the middle of nowhere. I pondered it for the rest of the week, but in the end I said, "Fuck it, lets do this" mainly because it would be yet another out of character move and because I could say I’ve been there.

Saturday morning came along, I popped 2 Imodiums, put on my shoes, and was ready to roll. The guy organizing the whole thing had somehow hired a driver to take us to Tianjin, take us back to Yanjiao, and would be our driver while in the city ($67 USD). We were originally told an ETA of 1.5 hours, but as we kept on driving it became apparent that it would take much longer; 4 hours to be exact. We were on so many small-ass streets that it felt as though this country didn't have any major highways. We later found out that this was the "cheaper" route because the major highways required toll fees to be paid.

During the car ride we saw a bunch of the countryside; not any super ghetto inland stuff, but still small towns and villages. Below is a picture of the same street we were driving 40km/hr on, where farmers would lay out their corn to be dried. Yes, they put that shit all along the street which essentially means that they've never heard of the 5 second rule. If you ever grab a can of corn, I’d highly recommend that you look to see where it came from. If it says China, be well aware that there is a good possibility that the corn might've had a nice vacation baking on the asphalt and having small pieces of rubber and carbon monoxide spewed all over it.

As we reached the outskirts of Tianjin, our small road turned into a dirt road, which then degraded into a superbumpy-ass road. It reminded me of moguls if you've ever gone skiing. Two girls who were part of our troupe hurled into plastic bags after our little van, which rode on 13" rims, was subjugated to rally-sport-level jostling. A WRX or Evo would’ve had their work cut out for them, no joke. These are spinners on an old-ass Toyota van, just in case you can't tell.

When we reached the interior of Tianjin, I could feel that the air was much more polluted than Beijing. Breathing became more of a chore, while my eyes started to feel the same way they did when forest fires burned during the Arizona summers. The second thing I noticed was that traffic was dramatically worse. Of course I expected nobody to pay any attention to traffic laws, but there seemed to be a bunch more people and a nice deluge of cars everywhere you went. I don’t know if this phenomenon was unique to this city or if it’s the same in Beijing, because I’m usually walking along the street there, but however you look at it, getting places in a car took a very long time. Tianjin also doesn’t have a subway system, so that might be a factor, but who cares since I have no intention of returning for a second visit.

After we reached our hostel ($15 USD/Night) and got settled in, we went to the nearest sit-down place around the corner. Here is where I tasted the yummiest dish I’ve had since I got here. Below is a pic of all the dishes, but you can probably guess which one I gunned for; it was damn good. Too bad we couldn’t kidnap the chef so that he could make this same dish for me every night.

After munching, we tried to find a shopping place that was listed in our copy of Lonely Planet: China. It sucked because our driver was totally from Yanjiao and didn’t really know where we were going. We stopped for directions around 5 times, but in the end, we defaulted to a place that we so happened to come across. There were a bunch of tour buses parked there, so we had a good feeling that it was some sort of shopping area.

After we got our fill of shopping and walking around, we were driven to the game. At first we thought that a huge Gravitron-looking building was the stadium, but it turned out to be some small stadium or convention center. The real stadium for the soccer match was huge; probably the largest structure I’ve ever been in.

We took our seats and pretty much chilled while waiting for the game to start. They sold overpriced sodas and bottled waters, but they didn’t have any nachos, hot dogs, beer, or candy from what I was able to tell. I think they had some miscellaneous snack foods, but nothing that caught my eye. They had a ton of peeps who were working there for the event; much more than they would ever need, but they were there nonetheless. When the game started, the whole stadium was pretty deserted. The bottom deck was more-less filled with varying density levels, but the upper deck was completely deserted for the most part. Our area on the upper deck had a bit more scattering of peeps, but yeah, not the turnout you would expect from a World Cup game ($7.89 USD/Ticket).

The score was 0-0 come the half, but then the US team put 3 on the board in the second half and ended up acein’ England all together. Those peeps were athletes though, running back and forth for 90 full minutes…crazy. We then jetted out early to beat the exiting rush.

We grabbed a cab and asked the driver to take us to some American-like sports bar that had burgers and stuff (Lonely Planet again), but he got lost and had to stop and chat with 3 other cabbies to ask for directions. In the end, he kept on saying that the place no longer existed and he dropped us off at the closest corner he could. We wandered into a restaurant-looking building and was ushered into a room that was kinda like a place you would take a date to. When the waitress came around to take our orders, she said something about how there would be a $200 RMB minimum. Of course being the cheap bastards we are, we promptly stood up and left. The look on the waitress’s face was memorable as she looked as though we had just snuffed the most happenin’ place in town. Interestingly enough, there were no other patrons in the whole restaurant from what I could see. Here is a pic of the first fool who had no idea where to take us.

After that we, grabbed another taxi and asked him to take us to the bar district. He also had no fucking clue where that was, so he had to call up someone on his celly and stop and ask a few fellow cabbies. We did finally reach a place that looked like what we were looking for, but the weird thing was that it seemed very deserted. It was around 10:30PM-11:00PM but every bar in the area seemed to be dead. We went into two places and the second place actually had some peeps in there. It also had these 3 really sleazy-looking old white guys who were totally checking out some of the local girls dancing on the dance floor. It was really disconcerting to witness that, because these guys looked like Grade-A child molesters. The girls there were straight-up dirty, hooker-level sluts, the locals were all overly plastered, and the music was awful. After half an hour or so, we left the bar and started walking in the direction of where we thought the hostel was. After going down multiple blocks, we decided to wave down a cab because we had no idea where we were going.

Everything was fine for a while, but then out of nowhere the GF of one of the guys with us totally starts yelling to the cabbie that he was going the wrong way. The whole conversation was in Chinese and I understood a better part of it, so that’s good, but it was nuts though. The cabbie kept on saying that we were on the right road and that she had no idea what she was talking about. When the argument escalated, the cabbie pulled over to the side of the road, called up his boss, and got confirmation that he was indeed on the right road. The cabbie then called our hostel’s front desk and they also confirmed the route. The girl with us was saying stuff like “We’re not going to pay you if we end up in the wrong place…” That of course pissed off the cabbie even further. She was totally maddoggin’ the taxi driver while yelling out “throw down-level” insults. Insane I tell ya. The funniest part of the whole thing is that after we got back on the road, our hostel came into view within seconds and we were literally one block away from where we needed to be when we first pulled over to fight about the street address. Yeah, so that was one whole day. It was probably the busiest I’ve ever been during a 16hr period.

After we all went to sleep, the traffic could still be heard outside the window. That incessant street noise never stopped because throughout the night, I kept on waking up because of random honking or loud big rigs driving by. I don’t know what people see in this town; I'd be immediately planning a move out.

The next morning the driver came to pick us up and we all headed back on the road home. We took the more expensive route, but it was well worth it because we were on an actual highway and did not have to go through No Man’s Land.

When we reached the outskirts of our town, we hit a snag in the road. I have a video of the whole thing, but unfortunately my crappy Internet connection is preventing a 50MB upload to take place. I’ll have to do it some other time. In a nutshell, we were on a small, 2-lane road, the main section of the road was under construction, and there was only a small dirt path along the side that allowed for only one car to pass at a time. Traffic was moderately busy and going smoothly in both directions, until you hit this one lane predicament. In a normal country where people obey traffic laws and when cops are called to direct traffic at the slightest change from the norm, this was a preventable problem, but in China it creates one huge problem. All you have to do is make a mental map of the situation and factor in that all drivers here are selfish; what do you have? You have cars coming from opposite directions, totally facing each other because both sides wanted to go across the dirt path and now traffic has totally stopped. Yeah, there was even a cop-looking person on scene and he just stood there, not doing a damn thing. It took probably 30-45min for a few cars to “give up the stalemate” and back up to let one side cross over. Even when the system seemed to be working again, you would have some random fucknut try to selfishly cross over and would end up face to face with another car, recreating the same problem.

The weekend excursion was pretty good overall. Lonely Planet really needs to update their books, that's one thing we discovered. But we also found out that Tianjin is a city where taxi drivers don’t know where anything is, where the air is nasty, and where overpopulation is made very apparent when you drive. The food was definitely better than anything Yanjiao has to offer, but that’s the only plus. A fellow teacher’s comment pretty much sums up my opinion of that place, “Tianjin should be short for Shithole of the North.”

TMNT (Animated Action 2007)

For an animated cartoon, this movie was on par with my expectations. The story was very simple, the action was ok, and the CG graphics were a great improvement compared to the old school cartoons of yore.

I probably would've enjoyed this film more if I were 9 years old, but watching it now seems a little drab. That's probably the reason why I don't watch cartoons, Pixar films excluded of course.

I really wouldn't recommend wasting any time on this though. The satisfaction is equivalent to that of watching any 30min after school cartoon show.
Rating - C

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (RTS PC Game 2007)

Besides Bioshock, this was the only other installed game on my lappy prior to coming over here. Sad thing is that I have not found a pirate computer game place, or even any real retail games for that matter. I'm sure I would have to head into Beijing for that.

Like one would expect, this is the exact same game as all of the others of this series except for different units, abilities, and of course better graphics. Like all RTS games that have a decent story, the campaign mode was pretty fun as well as the thousands of skirmish sessions that I've had with the AI.

One thing that I did not enjoy was the fact that the computer totally cheats when you put it on Hard or Brutal mode. Of course the computer is just following a fixed set of pre-programed commands, macros, and probably a bunch of IF-THEN statements, but whatever. Even when clicking super fast and having the whole base-building process memorized, I was still unable to get my forces up to a defensible state before the AI would send wave after wave of "expensive" forces to decimate my positions. I totally think that they either start out with a ton more money or their units are programmed to hit harder.

Either way, the game was fun and I definitely had my fill. I doubt this lappy will be able to handle anything else that will come out in the near future. Hopefully Starcraft II is not released prior to my return to the States. It'll be back to a desktop or a console/laptop setup next time around. Even though it's not cost-effective to buy a desktop in terms of resale, as long as they keep making games for it, I'll still want to try stuff out.
Rating - Mid

The Number 23 (Thriller 2007)

I would say that Jim Carrey's inability to act in a non-comedic role can be blamed on the fact that he has pigeon holed himself into a corner. We all see him as Ace Ventura, because that's what made him famous. Yes, he was in In Living Color, but that was also a comedic role.

Although he tried, I don't think he can really pull off anything in the thriller genre. He was pretty good in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I think that was more of a fluke than real acting, mostly because the plot in that film was what drove the whole thing.

This movie was a little odd. It wasn't so much a thriller as it was a drama of watching a person go off the deep end. I was pretty bored throughout the whole film, so it will definitely not leave an imprint in my memory.
Rating - C

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Punisher (Action 2004)

There surely isn't a shortage of crappy movies out there. As expected, this was a piecer. The funny thing is that these movie makers aren't even making films out of cool peeps like X-Force, X-Factor, or even Wetworks. We're currently looking at boring, non-super powered humans. What's so exciting about that?

Anyway, this immediately goes into the bargain bin, right next to other crappy comic movies. Plot was way too simplistic, action was numbing, and it honestly didn't even feel like a movie. I wouldn't watch this again even if I was in jail.
Rating - D

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rise (Action 2007)

Do you know how to tell if a movie is B quality verses A? The answer is when you have a vampire movie where the vampires don't have any cool powers because it would cost too much money to pay for the special effects.

As one would expect, this film was a bottom of the barrel piece of shit. It can be accurately compared to the leftovers of a 7-layer bean dip. Hopefully Lucy Liu got paid enough money for her work here so that she can afford a can of Jif Peanut Butter to put on her wheat bread and survive, until she accepts another piece of shit role to pay for the next can. Get another damn career!

Rating - F

Living in China (September 16, 2007)

So the Internet is down this morning and of course I have no contact information to call to get it fixed. Hopefully it’s affecting the whole area so maybe a Chinese-speaking person is in the complaining mood and can get it handled. Yeah, and while they’re at it perhaps they can inquire as to why we are limited to a 3-12kbps connection speed. I haven’t dealt with this level of bandwidth since modem days, and that was close to 10 years ago.

So yesterday a few co-workers and I took a little trip to Beijing to go shopping. We were each on a mission to find specific stuff: One of them wanted a French press coffee thingie, real coffee beans, and peanut butter, and the other wanted a Firewire cable. I wanted a big jacket for winter so all of those items were at different locations on the subway line.

Our first stop was a Wal-Mart Supercenter. We found it attached to a huge-ass building, but it was actually a very large underground Wallyworld. It essentially had everything that a real Wal-Mart would have but with an Asian twist to the foods and stuff inside of it. By doing price comparisons with the grocery store in Yanjiao, everything was around 10 jiao cheaper, which is their version of a dime. But using the right calculations it actually equaled to $.013 US, so a little bit more than a penny. Me being the cheap bastard that I am, totally bought a bunch-o Diet Pepsi’s at this lower price. We also found some real coffee beans in the Import section, but the best that could be done was getting it already ground up and vacuum sealed. Note that most of the coffee here are mixes and only mixes. I haven’t been in the whole coffee scene for a long time, but I guess that’s the bottom of the barrel stuff.

Our next stop was this shopping area that was supposed to be more of the real China and less modern and commercial. Who knows why anyone would want to go to that, but I just followed along. When we got there, it was the exact opposite, because we soon found ourselves in a large shopping mall that looked like it coulda been in any major American city. Crap thing was that the prices were also the same as the US, except even more expensive, so we sat down and ate a bit of something, but one of our troupe started feeling like crap health-wise.

We hurried over to the Silk Market which is not really a "silk market". It was this one building that had been sectioned off into 3-4 floors, with a ton of people speaking very crappy English, trying to sell you stuff. When I first came to China in March, they had this same setup in the Old Town market of Shanghai. Anyway, we shopped there for a an hour or so and I got all I needed. I purchased a knock off Columbia winter jacket for $59 US; bargained down from $302 US. I also got a pair of totally counterfeit Pumas for $13. I don’t remember what the starting price was, cuz I just kept on waving a $100 Yuan note in front of him until he bit like a fish. It will be interesting to see how long each of these items last. Although they look ok from the exterior, I'm totally thinking the that shabby quality will soon reveal itself. Yeah and I forgot to mention that this Silk Market was a drop off point for all of the foreign tourist buses, so almost everyone wandering around as white; some from Canada, some from Europe, and a bunch of Americans. It was just like being home again.

After our shopping was finished, we got a little table at this outside café and I ordered some Perrier water. It cost around $3.30 US, so that was totally more expensive than prices back in the States. At this point, one of the peeps who came along was getting a lot worse health-wise so we decided to head back to the nest. Unfortunately, we were unable to find an electronics shop w/ a Firewire cable.

When we were a few blocks away from our destination, this Audi tried to do something stupid and totally created a traffic jam that prevented 2 buses from proceeding down the street. It was insane to watch the whole thing, but at least it totally showed what happens when no traffic laws are obeyed and the number of cars are increased by a ton (rush hour).

When we got back it turns out that my fellow teacher had a 101 degree fever, feeling hella cold, and all of his joints were hurting. Hopefully he’ll be ok or else he’ll have an interesting story from the inside of a Chinese hospital.