Archive | May, 2012

Chinese authorities clean up and crack down

21 May

A fruit shop on Huixin Dongjie until perhaps yesterday

Shops gutted, street food stalls swept away, blue-suited and red-armbanded chengguan (City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau) prowl the side-streets just around the corner from Chicken Feet’s King  ready to nab any donkey cart salesman they spy.

It’s not an uncommon sight in Beijing. Back in August, in late December, and again around the time of the Spring Festival in February, CFK saw local shops scarper for a couple of weeks as the local government went on a brief drive to create a harmonious society. Every time they were gone for a week. Every time, they popped up again once the bout of zealousness had subsided.

Broken glass litters outside the old chuan'r 'n' Korean noodle place

But this time looks serious. Today I walked past what is known as “Second Alley” on Huixin Dongjie to see broken glass, boarded windows and official notices pasted to walls. Nearby shopkeepers confirm that the woman who sold steamed stuffed buns there, together with her two neighbours, one who makes big jianbings and the other little jianbings, were all cleared out by the police one or two days ago. The chuan’r shop there where I ate one of my first meals in China on a metal stool under an umbrella in the baking August heat  has been gutted. So has the fruit stall next to it. Many of the long-haulers on China Daily are saying they haven’t seen a crackdown on this scale since the 2008 Olympics – the last time China and its government felt the need to look serious to the Chinese people and to the rest of the world.

It’s not just Huixin Dongjie’s local filth who are narrowing their eyes at wrongdoers – definitely not. A week ago, I received the following warning in an email from my language school:

“Several news items from trustworthy sources have reported that starting yesterday, the police are cracking down on ‘visitors who commit crimes, outstay their visas or gain illegal employment” in a 100 day move to ‘clean up the city’.

“I would like to stress that it is of the utmost importance in the coming 3 months to be careful in your behaviour… People who are not registered in your apartment should not be allowed to stay overnight, do not walk drunk on the streets or make a lot of noise, and surely refrain from smoking a joint, prostitution, or other violations of Chinese law.”

Anyone who has read the news in China will know straight away where this apparently Victorian warning stems from.

On May 10, a video of a British man molesting  a Chinese girl outside a mall in Xuanwumen, Beijing was posted online.  Click here to see it – it’s grim viewing.

For a few moments, you get the Brit horribly raping the poor girl. Then the Chinese guys holding the camera phone start to beat the shit out of him. There follows a few moments of the Brit lying unconscious in the middle of the road. Heavy breathing in the background is punctuated with angry Chinese. My Chinese language skills are ropey at the best of times, but I can at least understand the words “foreigner”, “China” and “shabi” (the equivalent of something like “that fucking cunt”) – which is pretty much all you need to work out the jist of what they are saying.

The video went viral and it hit the Chinese nerve of xenophobic distrust hard. A lot of foreign guys I know found it impossible to get taxis in the days that followed, which was obviously annoying for them. But that wasn’t the main issue.

The incident has been quoted in every media release about the visa crackdown. It has formed the central official pretext for the purge of nasty foreigners who have outstayed their welcome. Who knows whether this guy was on a dodgy visa or not, or whether he’d been doing drugs or drinking? He was foreign, and doing bad things in a foreign way.

It’s no secret that autumn will see the party changeover at the 18th National People’s Congress. The potential for instability at a time when both Premier Wen Jiabao and President and Secretary Hu Jintao are stepping down is undeniable. We’ve seen a few reactions to moments of potential instability so far – take the blind activist Chen Guangcheng, or the Bo Xilai scandal.

I’m just speculating here. But everything that is currently facing this crackdown – revolting foreigner behaviour, dirty dumpling stands, fruit stalls operating without a licence – all seem to have a similar “smell”, if you can call it that. They are all unclean.

They are all unharmonious.

No doubt the outgoing team wants to walk out looking as harmonious as possible to Chinese people and to the rest of the world.

I don’t want to be a pessimist. But I fear that the government, both local and central, has plenty more harmony planned as autumn draws near.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for 冰激凌!

3 May

I likes ice cream, yes I does

Summer is definitely ycumen in down Chicken Feet’s way. I get a smug sense of satisfaction when I take a glance at the BBC weather report for the UK and see 10 degrees, 11 degrees, 9 degrees, and rain-cloud-rain from start to finish. Then I turn my gaze outside, adjust my eyes to squint through the pollution, and see the SUN shining. According to the little thingy on my computer desktop, it is 30 degrees outside today.

Time, I think, for an ice cream…

Ah, ice cream, 冰激凌, bingjiling. My vice, my cigarettes-and-pills equivalent, my guilty pleasure that I engage in more than any other.

I am living proof of a survey that was splashed around during a dry news week in March that ice cream is as addictive as cocaine. Not a day goes by when I do not have at least one, two or three helpings of the stuff. And while the current sunny weather makes this a perfect time to do a post about ices, it should be noted that for me, ice cream is a year-round necessity. Indeed, there is nothing more comforting on a snowy day than a solid Magnum classic.

The thing about the ice cream addiction in Beijing is that, other than a vague whisper of “minute on the lips, lifetime on the hips” in the back of my mind and the knowledge that I am giving myself a considerably higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, there is little incentive to stop my endless rampage through the rum ‘n’ raisin.

I have the same excuse as smokers have in Beijing – they’re just so cheap. Not if you go fancy – a so-called “gelato” scooped into a cone near Houhai lake will set you back 15 RMB minimum per scoop, while a Cold Stone is at least 30 RMB. But stick to the stick (pun-tastic), and you’re looking at around 2 to 8 RMB (20-80p).

But the main reason I don’t want to give up is there is so much variety in China. As my loyal readers will know, I cannot resist trying out weird and wonderful foods. And in China, weird and wonderful certainly extends to ice creams.

And so, dear readers, Chicken Feet’s King puts his waistline on the line to bring to you a guide to the oddest of the Chinese ices and the best of Beijing’s 冰激凌…

The classics

Blueberry milk (left) and Vienetta-on-a-stick (right)

Bingjiling beginners might wish to start cautiously. For the truly tentative, there are the standard Magnums and Cornettos (I recommend the Tiramisu magnum), and often a couple of Haagen-Dasz offerings too.

For those ready to branch out just a little, try Vienetta on a stick, a decent slice of everyone’s favourite log of ice cream on – you guessed it – an ice cream stick. The big advantage (or drawback, depending on how you look at it) is that you don’t end up eating an entire loaf in one sitting without realising it.

 

The Chinese classics

Green tea flavour Mr Whippy

If you’re ready to branch out into the Orient, how about going for one of the top Chinese flavours? Green tea (usually in an attractive pale green colour)? Red bean (many foreigners loathe it, I love it)?  Aloe vera (and you thought ice cream GAVE you spots!)?

 

 

 

Tutti frutti

Fruit ice cream in China isn’t just a shot of strawberry flavouring. Most fruit-flavour ice creams you buy come with big fat chunks of fruit in them. Who cares that these chunks in themselves are unlikely to be real fruit? It tastes damn good. What’s more, the flavour varieties are endless. Apple, blueberry, hawthorn, mango, melon…

Vegetarian

Pea in its packet

If the fruit lollies weren’t quite five-a-day enough, then there are the veggies too. The top two are pea and sweetcorn.

The latter looks frighteningly like an actual corn on the cob, with an outer layer of thin wafer decorated with kernel details and encasing a filling of slightly sweetcorn-flavoured ice cream.

The former is an appropriate snot green colour, and tastes about as good as it looks or sounds.

Pea in all its glory

Both tried. Both tested. Both since avoided.

Still on my list is purple potato flavour, though I predict it will ming just as much.

 

 

 

 

Healthy

Missed breakfast? Find the baking Beijing summer too hot for your usual morning porridge? Don’t panic. Pop round to your local corner shop and buy yourself an oats and yoghurt ice cream.

And prepare to feel properly stuffed after eating.

Gimmick

Sucker for marketing? Moi?

And finally we arrive where Chinese marketing so excels – the ridiculous, cutesy, the thing that makes you roll your eyes and think “who on Earth would buy that…?” before you spot the Chinese guy next to you snaffling one from the freezer.

A case in point is the new Nestle banana.

This ice cream caused a storm when it arrived at my local 7/11 a month or two ago. Within two hours, every second person on the street was clutching one and wrappers littered the pavement.

This is an ice cream you can PEEL. Yes, actually, really PEEL! The jelly outer layer PEELS back to the “banana” of ice cream within.

Oddly enough, neither the peel nor the ice cream actually tastes of banana. But then that’s not the point, is it?


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