…You poor, stupid fool.  Well, maybe that’s unfair.  After all, it’s been nearly a year since you’ve been inside the place, and it can’t possibly be as bad as you remember it.  Maybe it was just a few bad memories, grown worse with time.  Besides, geographically it’s the closest place that’s open, and you only need to pick up a few things.  “How bad can it be?” you think to yourself, and set off down the street.


You have passed the third McDonald’s on the block, and stand in front of the entrance to the main part of the building.


Oh, no, wait.  It’s blockaded.


Next door down should do it.


Okay.  You think you remember the way.  You choose the escalators to the right.  Coming up to the second, or first floor, depending on which sign you look at (they use both systems of floor numbering interchangeably here, after all) you see a couple standing around their child, smiling.  How cute.  Oh, wait, no.  The kid’s pissing on the floor.  You step out of the way of the approaching stream, and try to pretend you didn’t just witness what you just did as you attempt to gain entrance to the supermarket section of the floor.  The spinning barricade, if you remember correctly, is on the other side of the building.  Fuck it, just use the closed checkout lane ahead of you.  One of them only has a chain across it.


First off, toothpaste.  It’s near the laundry section.  Look from a distance until you see the brand you want.  Wait, what are you doing?  You tried to get a closer look at the brands available, and you caught the attention of the display ladies.  One of them starts approaching you with a box of toothpaste, a brand you don’t recognize.  The others follow suit, squawking in incomprehensible Guangdong-accented Chinese.  If you listen closely, you think some of it sounds familiar…


“such toothpaste”


“very clean”


“much value”




Snap out of it!  Shit, you’re surrounded.  Grab the box you want off the shelf.  Close enough.  Whatever the flavor is, it’ll taste at least marginally better than tooth decay.  Now wave your arms, shout BU YAO BU YAO, and push your way through.  As persistent as these ladies are, they’re none too sturdy, and you can break through them with relative ease, until you are back to relative peace and relative quiet.


Now, the next thing you need should be on the next floor.  The problem is, this floor doesn’t always seem to exist.  Sometimes you’ll go up a floor, and find yourself two floors up.  Space and time don’t work the way you’re used to.  Fortunately you must have remembered your sacrifice to Cthulhu today, because it only takes ten minutes to find the moving ramp up, behind a stack of boxes labeled “SILKWORM WARM.”


You dodge a pair of unsupervised children, whose heads are dangerously at crotch height, and navigate a maze of shiny electronics and noisy demonstrations, until you find a water bottle.  No, not that one, not that one…Hooray!  Just what you were looking for.  You grab precisely three binders from the “Back to School” section, and find the ramp up to the foodstuffs section.  It is broken, stationary, and this revelation has shattered the mind of a fellow shopper.  She stands with her cart blocking the entrance and her mouth agape.  After a few moments, the gears start to turn and she decides that dammit, this situation might not have been on any exam, but maybe if she pushes the cart straight ahead it’ll get her to the next floor.  You follow behind slowly, silent, seething.


Peanut butter would be nice.  You circle the store three times.  The third time you pass where the peanut butter should be, it is actually there.  There is one jar on the shelf that isn’t de-laminated and shedding plastic flakes.  It’s not the kind you were looking for, but beggars can’t be choosers.  ParknShop used to have ridiculously overpriced cheese, but one day, it disappeared.  Today, there is some cheese.  Not the same brand, and more expensive than you remember.  You go to take a closer look.  A bespectacled girl, young but old enough to know better, shoves in front of you to get something she could have more easily reached by nearly any other means.  It’s okay though.  You’re a foreigner, and as such you are invisible to Chinese people.  Unless they’re staring at you, in which case you are all they can see until they remember they have an iPhone.


You hold your breath through the dried fish display and finish shopping.  You find a checkout line that looks like it might be shorter than the others.  It’s hard to tell.  Finally, your turn comes.  The checkout lady fumbles through your basket, gets to the binders, notices something is amiss with the UPC tag on one of them, tosses it aside.  You need three, not two, and when you try to express the idea that she can just scan one twice, since it’s the same exact damn product, she shrugs and shakes her head.  The feeling of dread in your stomach intensifies.  She takes your card, swipes it, notices an error.  It’s an old card, and it doesn’t always read correctly.  Usually swiping it slowly in the opposite direction works just fi–no, wait.  she’s swiping it faster and faster.  By this point, she doesn’t seem to be trying to get the machine to read the card as much as she is trying to go through the motions of pretending to as quickly as possible.  You try to show her what you’ve seen to work at every other store you’ve been to, but suddenly she stops, looks blankly in your general direction, and says three words that could almost pass for English.


“You Have Cash?”


Remembering your past experiences with counterfeit change, you don’t even bother to check.  Resisting the urge to flip the basket off the checkout counter, you throw your hands up and storm off towards the escalators.  The kid’s pee from earlier has now spread into an unavoidable slick mess covering the width of the passageway.  In your frustration, you had forgotten about it.  It’s okay, you don’t really need your tailbone, do you?


Fuck ParknShop.

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Gripes

Rachelle and I have been swamped lately, but I need to keep in the habit of blogging.  So I figure I’ll share my experience with another of the strange fruits of southeast Asia — the Durian.

The durian is known as “The King of Fruits.”  It is large, spiky, and stinky.  You could probably kill someone with one, but the reason they’re banned from some places is the smell.  When I first arrived in China I thought durians smelled a little off – it’s kind of difficult to describe the smell, but most people unfamiliar with it would describe it as a stink of some fashion.  The smell eventually grew on me, though, and I worked up the courage to try some durian candy I found in our local Park’n'shop.  The candy was both sweet and garlicky, and I had sulfurous burps which reminded me of garlic and vulcanized rubber for some time after.  Despite my description, it wasn’t bad per se, and the more I tried, the more it grew on me.  And so, when I got to speaking with one of my Chinese teacher friends on the subject of spiky deathfruit, and she invited me to have some real durian, I knew I could not decline, especially as the peak season for durian (in the summer months) was drawing to a close.

And so it was that I found myself standing in front of a rather large display of durian on a side street under a highway interchange (“They have the best durian”), trying to make sense of how my friend was choosing a good fruit.

Can you tell the difference?  Neither can I.

Can you tell the difference? Neither can I.

After she had found one and had the shop owner break it open and package the flesh, we went to a nearby park to enjoy our stinky bounty.  The elderly Chinese walking around the park and slapping themselves stared in amazement at a foreigner in their park–especially one eating such a fruit!–but we paid them no mind and begun to dig in.



Durian flesh, ideally, is supposed to be soft and creamy, with a texture reminiscent of a firm custard.  Ours wasn’t perfect, so there were some bits of flesh that were firm and mostly flavorless (the white parts).  The taste is harder to describe than the smell–it’s slightly sweet, definitely sulfurous, with a hint of onion somewhere in there.  If you can get past the first few bites, it’s said, you’ll be hooked, and I found myself eating more and more, until my face was messy with durian pulp and all we had left were the pits.  The seeds are large and woody, and are supposed to be edible when cooked, but not really worth the trouble.

My friend brought out a bag of mangosteens.  Durians supposedly raise heat in the body (according to traditional Chinese medicine), so it is customary to follow durian with a cooling fruit, like mangosteen.

These are mangosteens.

These are mangosteens.

You cannot eat the outer shell–it is woody and so bitterly astringent that you would immediately regret such an attempt.  Generally, you can use your nails to pull it apart, or crack it open with a firm twist, trying to get as little juice as possible on your clothes (it stains!) or on the flesh inside (detracts from the flavor).  Once it’s opened, you can eat the squishy white flesh, being careful of the seeds in the larger segments, and enjoy a flavor that kind of reminds me of pear and grape, only sweeter and lighter.

It was dark by then, so my friend and I went to the local artist and hipster neighborhood for one more tasty anomaly.



Chocolate and wasabi cheesecake.  Where is your god now.


21 Dec

It was a December evening like any other.  Rachelle and I had gotten back from a snack run at our new favorite store (to be described in a future post), and were preparing to watch a Harry Potter movie on Pearl.

“We need to get the apartment clean so I can get work done tomorrow,” she explained, adding, “Make sure you take out the trashes.”

“Yes, dear,” I rolled my eyes as I gathered up the trash bags from the kitchen and headed for the front door.  Uh-oh.  The knob turned, but the latch stayed in place.   We were stuck.

After unsuccessfully fiddling with the latch, we decided to call a friend who was better able to explain the situation to the front desk than I could with my broken Chinese.  We finally got through to someone, and she called us back after a few minutes to tell us they were sending someone up.  A moment later we heard someone at the door.  After some back-and-forth, we established that we would need a little more help.  Rachelle and I looked at each other, excited to use the appropriate movie reference.  “Call the locksmith!”

And of course, after a few more minutes we heard more footsteps and some more fiddling with the door, followed by some talking, and a knock on the door next to us.  “What are they doing now?” Rachelle inquired.

“I don’t know, maybe he needs a good lock to look at to plan his attack,” I replied.  Moments later our cellphone rang.  It was our friend, telling us that he was on our balcony.  I looked out back, but there was nobody there.  Then Rachelle saw him.  Outside our front window.


Hanging from this.

Our window, by the way, is on the fourth floor.


It’s kind of a long way down.

Before Rachelle could get to the window to open it, he reached up, opened the window, and climbed through with his bag of tools in his other hand.  Which raises the question, just how the hell was he holding on, anyway?  Our surprise had barely started to wear off by the time he got the doorknob removed and started to remove the jammed latch.


Everyday superhero at work.

He soon had the whole assembly replaced and even tightened the hinges so the door didn’t catch on the frame anymore.  We got our new key and he started to gather his stuff.  I offered him a beer (the least I could do for such heroics), but he declined.  Well, that’s more for me, I guess.





25 Oct

This is not Chris.  He is enjoying a day of relaxation and full-belly-happy happiness.  I just finished the prep work for the Enchilada dinner complete with three bottles of red wine. Soon our friends, Jing and Yang will come over and they’re not much for drinking, so Chris and I will have to finish the bottles ourselves. Too bad.  Anyhow.  He’s amazing, wonderful, loving and super generous.  I’m forever grateful that we crossed paths.  Here’s our menu for you curious peeps:

Chicken Enchiladas (rice beans)

Salad (yay, we don’t often make salad because it’s pricey and time consuming)

and for the big finish: Raspberry lemon filled Devil’s food cake (homemade, in my not-so-easy-China-bake oven!)

Pictures will appear in a later post, but for now I think he looks amazing in this one, so I’ll share it.


Rachelle made him pose too many times, got this great photo.

Rachelle made him pose too many times, got this great photo.


24 Sep

Well, aside from celebrating my first year in China this month, there’s another special date I’m celebrating today, in fact.  That’s right, two years ago today, I married my wonderful wife Rachelle.

We were lying in bed last night and suddenly Rachelle was like, “Wait, our anniversary, what’s the date?” and I was all, “Oh shit, we almost forgot!” and Rachelle was like, “No, I think today’s only the 23rd so it’s tomorrow!”  Close call.

Who would have thought that that baseball game four years ago would lead to such adventures?  I got her some anniversary baozi from the restaurant downstairs for breakfast.  They didn’t have her favorite oat and honey buns so I settled on black sesame, which is also tasty.  Hooray for team Ophums!  Rigel wanted in on the festivities so she hopped up on the bed and started digging on my leg.  Ow.  That adorable little shit.

Sick day.

8 Aug

This weekend I had the beginnings of a sore throat.  It got worse, then a little better, then I think I had a slight fever, then it went away, and now I’m coughing.  Every time I start coughing after an illness, it tends to last for weeks to months, so this time I’m going to try and actually rest and take some medicine (of the Chinese variety, since that’s what’s most available), and hopefully it’ll go away more quickly.

On the plus side, I found generic beer at the supermarket yesterday.



I am sitting in a Starbucks in a mall which has an honest-to-Odin Walmart as an anchor. Of course there’s a McDonald’s here. There are at least two. One is right next door to the Dairy Queen and around the corner from the KFC. There’s another one right upstairs, in case the escalator was too far for you. Congratulations, you’ve out-American’d America. ‘MURIC–I mean, CHINER!

But I’ve had to go all over the place just to find a place with decent Internet.  I can’t load the Amazon Webstore interface from campus for some stupid reason or other, and the closest Starbucks wouldn’t assign me an IP.  I got here, and I’m pretty sure they’re blocking all non-Chinese DNS servers.  I managed to manually add the one everyone else was using, but it doesn’t give any responses for my VPN server (big surprise) so I’m still behind the GFW.

Nothing ever works quite right in this country.  The Internet sucks, my umbrella broke the day I bought it, and I am sitting on objectively the worst chair.  There is a spring slowly pushing through my sphincter.

This is one of those days where my love/hate relationship with China is solidly on the “hate” side.  Excuse me while I punt this screaming child through the window.

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Gripes

So last week I had to go to Shanghai to do some work.  Originally, I was going to take a train, but not only have they not yet built a high-speed line between Guangzhou and Shanghai yet (so the only option is an overnight sleeper train), but all the seats were sold out a week in advance.  Therefore, I had no choice but to book a flight online.

At that time, the only flight available that wasn’t at a ridiculous time or stupid expensive (I would be reimbursed, yes, but until then I have to float the costs myself) was a flight to Hangzhou, connecting with the high-speed rail to Shanghai Hongqiao Station.


Heroes of China

15 Jul

Chinese history is full of heroic figures, from the ancient founding emperors, to the genius strategies of Zhuge Liang in the Three Kingdoms era, to modern China’s George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine all rolled up into one–the venerable Dr. Sun Yat-sen himself.  One might think the days of such great figures are far in the past, but my experience on the Metro last night convinced me that the tradition of great heroes is still alive and well in China to this day.
At most of the Metro stations in Guangzhou, the floor in front of the doors to the trains are marked so that the area is divided into two or three sections, with arrows denoting which sections are for boarding the train, and which sections are reserved for people exiting.  This is pointless in light of the Ancient Chinese Traditional mindset of “Whateva, whateva, I do what I want,” and people will pile up in front of the door as densely as Chinese physics will allow, and of course trying to board or exit the train is in fact more of a contact sport than anything else.  Such was the case last night; although the station was less crowded than it often is, a group of ladies in front of me had started the crowd off by spilling into the exit lane as the train approached.
A young transit guard standing nearby decided he would have none of that.  He strode over the the women, who were starting to be joined by other scofflaws in the group, and although I don’t remember his exact words, they were to the effect of, “Please wait over there,” as he gestured for them to stand back and clear the area.  Of course, this had little effect, as a uniform of any sort in China has the approximate effect of an Invisibility Cloak.  But he persisted, raising his voice and advancing on the group while making little pushing gestures with his hands, and to my surprise, the crowd moved, vaguely conforming to the approximate shape of the denoted area.
The train arrived, and the wall of people inside appeared shocked and confused at the lack of a corresponding wall in front of them.  They stood there for a moment, still braced for an impact that never came.  “Exit the car,” the transit guard said, in the same mildly authoritative tone he had just affected.  The people in the train, bewildered, began to file out of the car.  The people outside waited until there was enough space, and then peacefully boarded.  It was a thing of beauty.  I didn’t even take an elbow to the rib or accidentally palm a fat woman’s breast in the process, nor did I have to frantically grab at my bag to keep it by my side.
I thought to myself, “Anonymous transit guard, when your shift is done, you should head to the nearest C-Store and get yourself an ice-cold 青岛啤酒.  You’ve earned it.

I would like to share with you one of my favorite new discoveries since moving to China–fried dace with salted black beans.  It sometimes uses fish other than dace, like sardines, and there are other things it can be canned with other than black beans, but that will be noted on the can.  You can’t read Chinese?  Well I guess that’s your own fault.  It comes in a can like this:



  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Food