The West invades China

Materialism invades China! Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that capitalism has won...


What could be less Western than Ikea?


And look at this: the shopping channel in China, which is selling toy pigs (2007 is the Year of the Pig)!


I finished Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, on the plane back from China. It is a searing novel, although it ends happily. Its intensity reminded me of The Things They Carried (which is another novel that I read while traveling). I don't know how Ms. Gaitskill accomplished it, but the novel switches back and forth between times seamlessly: there are only a few places where a paragraph's point in time is ambiguous.

Terra cotta soldiers

While in Xi'an, we visited the famous terra-cotta soldiers that were created for the Qin emperor's tomb. Amazing! It was a little disappointing when we learned that all of the items had been reassembled and refired; for some reason I thought that they had been carefully dug out of the ground.

Lucky numbers

Can you tell that this elevator panel is in China? The 13th floor is missing, as is traditional in Western buildings. Note that 4, 14, and 24 are also missing. The number 4 is unlucky because it sounds like the Chinese character for "dead".

Beijing/Los Angeles

After spending some time in Beijing, I decided that LA and BJ should be sister cities. They share many important characteristics of modern cities: traffic, sprawl, and smog. The first two are linked, of course, and contribute significantly to the third.
One noticeable change in China since the first time I went (in 2001) is that the number of cars has increased dramatically. In 2001, bicycles still outnumbered cars in Beijing. In 2007, cars vastly outnumber bicycles.

How different is China?

This shot was taken out of a window in the same building as the Red Gate Gallery. Can you tell that it is in China? I can't.

Red Gate Gallery

I visited a modern art gallery called the Red Gate Gallery. It is next to the Ming City Wall Site Park, inside the building shown in the picture. My favorite painting in the gallery was the one below, Silk Road by Zheng Xuewu.

Chairman Mao

Inside the same building as the Red Gate Gallery were some interesting historical items that depict various periods in Beijing's history. This calligraphy is a wonderful piece of work, and demonstrates the power of Chairman Mao's personality. Too bad I can't read Chinese!

Ming City Wall Site Park

This photo is of a pretty little city park that contains the last remnants of the Beijing city wall. Chairman Mao ordered the entire wall torn down, and this is the last remaining piece, unfortunately; otherwise, it would be a wonderful tourist attraction today! Note the Marriott's odd architecture in the background.


While on vacation in China, I read Turing, by Christos Papadimitriou. The author is a computer science professor at Berkeley (whose theory textbooks are widely used), and this book is really a novel for programmers. Overall, it was an interesting read: it does a good job of explaining the many levels of software and hardware that comprise a computer system. As a novel, I was not so convinced: it tried to hard to be learned, the love story was unconvincing, and the basic mystery of how the Turing AI was created was not discussed.

Vere Chocolate

I bought some chocolate from Vere for Valentine's Day (before leaving for China, of course). They manufacture some wonderful chocolates: not too sweet, like most standard chocolates!

Captain Alatriste

I finished reading Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, while on vacation. It was an enjoyable and fast read: very reminiscent of Dumas' novels about the Three Musketeers. I would have like to have read this book in the original Spanish (if I could read Spanish, that is).
Highly recommended light reading!

Animal Liberation

I finished Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer while on a plane to China. The book presents a compelling argument as to why we should not eat animals. Although it is not the primary reason I am eating more vegetarian, it certainly lends philosophical support. I have found it difficult to entirely give up meat, especially when we were on vacation in China. I suppose that the primary reason for this is that our society has evolved to use meat as a means of displaying wealth, since meat used to be relatively rare. As a result, large celebratory meals often have a fair amount of meat. Since we were in China for Chinese New Year, we had several such meals!

Emotional Intelligence

I've been reading parts of Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence.
Wikipedia has an interesting discussion about this topic. Overall, it talks about a lot of commonsense stuff, but maybe that's easy to see in hindsight. Some of the claims in the book about how society was deteriorating seem completely overblown: the book implies that a lack of emotional intelligence was responsible for many societal ills.


We saw Company, which is a great musical. It should win lots of awards! Each member of the cast sings and plays at least one instrument, modulo the lead and one other character. The music and songs were good (some were memorable), but they weren't extraordinary. Some of the actors were amazing, though. The singer who played the lead role (Bobby), Raul Esparza, has a wonderful voice. The singer who played the oldest female role (Joanne), Barbara Walsh, was simply stunning.

Nutrition information

Here's a useful table that summarizes how much information various restaurant chains provide online about their meals. Very interesting: I wouldn't have thought, for example, that Chipotle would do such a poor job.

Pan's Labyrinth

We watched Pan's Labyrinth, which was a beautiful film. I still can't figure out whether it was more of a fairy tale or more of a war movie. Of course, we Americans can't relate to the Spanish Civil War in the same way that Spaniards would, so such speculation is probably fruitless.