Being away from “home” at Christmas is a strange thing, especially when it's not generally a celebrated tradition in the country in which you are residing or travelling. Every year, the holidays have come around and festivity has visibly infected the population like a Christmas Ebola virus, especially when the classic Coca Cola advert first appears on your TV set.
Let’s face it. Whether this is your first Christmas in Hangzhou or your 15th, celebrating one’s own traditions far away from home can be a difficult if not near impossible task. Some people give up all together. Other’s make a bit of effort on Christmas Eve -- maybe finding a nice restaurant or something. But this year the MORE team is here to push you out of your winter doldrums, and change your inner bah hum bug Scrooge into a Hangzhouvian who appreciates this magical and spiritual time of year, no matter your beliefs. Taking our cues from Christmas Carols, we have scoured Hangzhou for 10 ways to help you embrace the holiday spirit and spice-up your holidays.
In our region, November is truly the bridge between autumn-weather and winter-weather. The average temperature in Hangzhou is around 12C, which is cool and comfortable if you hail from a northern clime and brisk if you don’t. If you’re into wooly jumpers, tights, chunky socks, tweed blazers, microfleece, and boots, this is the month for you. (If you’re more the t-shirt, sandals, and shorts type, get out now while you still have a chance.) During November we have on average five hours of sunlight per day, and can expect to have no more than seven wet days over the course of the entire month.
Here are two things I know about lobsters.
(1) If you flip a lobster onto its back and repeatedly stroke its underside, you can put it to sleep. I do not know whether this is actually putting the lobster to sleep, or tranquilizing it, or freaking it out so much that it goes into a kind of paralytic shock. I also don’t know lobster anatomy well enough to know what one might be stoking when one strokes a lobster’s underside. But I do know that rubbing a lobster the right way knocks-out the lobster, and that – if you want – you can stand a knocked-out lobster on its head.
The amount of digital ink that was spilled during Jack Ma’s US roadshow was staggering, and while the Amazon-sized torrent has slowed-down to a Qiantang trickle, there’s nary a week that passes without another commentary about, analysis of, or paean to Hangzhou’s e-commerce savant. Here on the mainland, both mainstream media and Wechatter have given reportage a distinctly nationalistic flavor. Little to be wondered at: for many Chinese observers, Wall Street’s $25 billion dollar bet on Ma is seen a kind of validation of China, its peoples, and their potency.
Sheep’s-head fiddle, guitar, dancer, vocals, bass, all kinds national instruments, ethnic percussion, and woodwind; these elements constitute The Herdsman Band. Enter Yunnan, a magnificent and majestic land from the great Nujiang canyon, alongside which runs the mighty Mekong, back up north to Mojiang. There are the lands of the Pumi, the Lahu, and the Hani, where they hold singing completions for the sole purpose of passing on this great tradition. The mysterious, multi-ethnic composition of the band and the original non-material cultural heritage, walking all the way to the ancient nomadic music, singing all the way to the ancestral rhythms… Listening to the Herdsman Band allows one to feel the rhythm of the nation, experience a return to nature. One is touched by the most fanatical dance between heaven and earth, whereby \old memories pass from generation to generation.
China used to be a very different place to the one it is today. In 1949, Mao Zedong - commonly known as Chairman Mao - and his political party, the Communist Party of China, assumed power of the People's Republic of China. Since then, nothing has been the same.
Nothing prepares you for the deft ability of this Japanese instrumental post-rock band to convey raw emotions without a single lyric. In an age of frilly pop concoctions that can barely sing without auto tune, the music scene feels like it has a bad case of ADHD. Our lives are pleasantly or unpleasantly numb to the sounds of real life. MONO is just the drug to punch a whole through the fog. Like real emotions, MONO’s songs begin soft and gentle only to roar to life in a wave like crescendo of intensity that reverberates through you. Influenced by experimental rock and shoegazing genres, classical music, minimalism, film soundtracks such as the work of Henryk Gorecki, and the American band Sonic Youth. Their sound is infused with the lead and rhythm guitar’s reverb, distortion, and delay “noise” that gives a highly emotional quality to their work. They have been likened to the Scottish band Mogwai but that is an oversimplification of the nuances of this band, which seeks to transcend genre.
Two things. First, this is not an advertorial. We were not compensated for these two pages. We paid, and we are neither contractually nor ethically obliged to pull punches or gild lilies. Second, our hour-long ride on a vintage motorcycle was one of the most interesting things we’ve done in Shanghai in a very long time -- and had it not been we’d not be reporting on it.
Setting up a business, finding reliable administrative staff and a workspace can be a very difficult task - the latter being a legal requirement in China - especially when you consider that just navigating the bus routes around Hangzhou can result in a brain melting experience.
“Macau is a city of duality. Its fortresses, churches and the food of its former Portuguese colonial masters speak to a uniquely Mediterranean style on the China coast, intermixed with alleys, temples and shines. On the other hand, it’s also the ‘Vegas of the East’ – the Special Administrative Region of Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal.” - Lonely Planet
Every week, from Wednesday to Sunday at 9.30 to 1.30am, a funk, soul and Latin influenced 4-piece band, create a huge feel-good vibe around Eudora bar and restaurant with their own funky sound and energetic performances. I originally went as a spectator, but after only ten minutes of unrelenting head nodding, foot tapping (and maybe a cheeky bit of body popping) to the funky sound of a uniquely covered version of Superstition by Stevie Wonder, I knew I would be leaving a fan.
25-year-old Beijing native folk ballad singer/songwriter Song Dongye(宋冬野) ain’t handsome, ain’t fashionable, ain’t got an athletic body, in fact he is a bit chubby, standing tall and strong, sporting a clean crew cut, black T-shirt and casual shorts. Song Dongye looks more like a passers-by than a celebrity. From being relatively unknown to a popular name on the lists of performers for music festivals, Song Dongye was pulled out of the rut by one song—“Miss Dong."
The most striking thing, from a geographical point of view, which is to be seen along the China coast is the recurrent phenomenon which we are about to describe. The rugged coast line, the many bays, the chain of islands fringing the coast, the whole gamut of geological and geographical forms which one encounters in an intimate coastwise journey, are all very striking and grand, and yet they are static—passive, after all. Notable as they are, they are but silent witnesses of those restless and resistless forces which have brought them into being.
Much as we loved our Giant Turtle King, we didn’t buy another one – nor did we opt for a Giant Elm, even though the “Vespai” brand is making some gorgeous classic Vespa-style reproductions with 70+ watts of power under the saddle. We went with a “Little Turtle King(小鬼王)”. Here’s why:
Spend enough time in China and you’ll no doubt experience all kinds of Chinese cuisine, meet all kinds of people, and see all sorts of amazing sites, but every year the Dragon Boat Festival comes and goes and what did you do to celebrate it? Eat zongzi? Yeah, they are super yummy, but honestly you can get those anytime. How often do you get the opportunity to get behind the oar of a dragon-shaped boat and compete for pride and glory?
This month, I present to you a present, part two of a two part series exploring different places to explore next month, in case you plan to leave this place during your summer leave. Ahem. Sticking with the theme of the Philippines and Indonesia, let’s dive into one of my all-time favorite past-times: scuba diving.
His hands were not what we expected. They were scrubbed for lunch, yes, but they were not the callous knots of hardwood we thought they would be, given that this custom jewelry designer and craftsman found himself at the jeweler’s bench by way of mig welding and armor-making, and that his weekly routine includes kickboxing.
Craning one’s neck upwards to watch human activity was never easy, but it is increasingly difficult in an age where our chins are often tucked tightly into our bosoms, eyes locked onto the screens of our smartphones. The force of Fuerza Bruta isn’t especially brutal, but it is literally a pain in the neck.
I love my heavy leather wingtip boots, but I don’t wear them in July, or with a dinner jacket; a fine sherry is a wonderful thing, but I don’t have a glass of it with my morning oatmeal; and while I adore the finale of Saint-Saen’s Symphony No. 3, I don’t blast it while serving a romantic home-cooked dinner for two. I mean, if ever I were to cook a romantic dinner for two. Last time I tried that (Aberdeen, Scotland, 1995) didn’t work out so well. Turns out that girls are not the fans of lentil porridge I’d thought they were.
It’s not easy starting your own business, especially in China. Between the language barrier and the intricate regulations that can overwhelm even the most adept laowai, registering your business in Hangzhou can be a nightmare, and that’s just the first step.
Case-in-point: Turner Sparks has come a long way since he arrived in China as an English teacher in 2004. From that job, the entrepreneurial Sparks pivoted into other pursuits, including bringing Mister Softee to China, before starting China’s first stand-up comedy group in 2009. In anticipation for his upcoming show at Shares Bar this month, we sat down with Sparks to discuss comedy, his views on China, and everything else in between.
According to a “comprehensive business index” formulated by CBN Weekly, Hangzhou “is now recognized as a super city with comprehensive capacity and potential.” Fourteen other municipalities are in fact now recognized as ”new first-tier cities” including Chengdu, Nanjing, Wuhan, Tianjin, Xi’an, Chongqing, Qingdao, and Dalian.
Wang Wen is one of the few rock bands in China that consistently surprises with every new album release. They are one of the bands that shaped the Chinese indie scene for the last decade and they have been the most prominent instrumental rock band in China. With seven albums released over the past 15 years, they have definitely put in the time. They’ve already toured Europe twice and their music has been featured in films and advertisements, including a very successful Nike campaign. I had a chance to catch up with them ahead of their spring tour, which brings them through Hangzhou, playing at 9 Club on June 21st.
Outside the workshop, a motley aggregation of fiberglass molds throw shadows upon the concrete walkway, which is grey and cold but punctuated at random intervals by bright green weeds. There are giant warriors with thick hands holding tight their weapons. A small flock of life-sized sheep. An enormous stag. Some figures are distinctly Greco-Roman, pulled from the pages of Bullfinch’s Mythology, others, from The Romance of Three Kindgoms, making this perhaps the most international mingling Hangzhou has ever known.
She doesn’t have a name, but she is dear to me. White and shiny, with gleaming faux chrome and fake LV upholstery on the saddle, this is my battery-powered plastic pinto. Ever-ready to whiz through the city streets with speed and style, the 60-volt, 1500 watt motor of my Duracell Ducati hums like an electric typewriter on an aluminum tabletop. Sprightly as an arthritic leopard and as nimble as three-legged mountain goat, she cruises through the metropolitan tangle of spokes and shoes with the grace and power of a largemouth bass swimming in vegetable oil. She is sexy. She is illegal. And she is now in someone else’s possession.
If you compare it to the majority of wineries around the world, Gaja is unique and fascinating. In reality, very few wineries are individually owned. They are instead run by a large corporation, hiring wine-making experts and enthusiasts to build a brand and market it.
Lately, there’s been something odd going on with the taxis in Hangzhou. One Saturday morning in March, on a particularly nice day, I’m out looking for a taxi at my usual spot. Sometimes it can be difficult there, but I rarely wait more than 10 minutes.
International whisky expert, sommelier, and “Keeper of the Quaich” Stephen Notman has surely had better days. We know. We’ve stumbled at the lectern, choked on-air, and crashed-and-burned on-stage more times than we care to remember.
“Mai Jia is described in the publisher’s blurb of this absorbing and unusual book as ‘the most popular writer in the world that you’ve never heard of.’ Now, with the translation of his 2005 debut being published in the west
It is a fact: The egg preceded the chicken. Unfortunately, explaining why is well beyond the scope of this article. Readers are invited to take as scientific gospel the words of Samuel Butler, “A chicken is simply an egg’s way of making another egg,” and ponder instead the question: Where does Hangzhou get all its eggs? In short: A chicken’s ass. For those of you, however, looking for a more detailed and possibly more accurate explanation, the following is for you.
Finding Yoga Summit is no easy feat.
Trudge along the steps from Wushan Square until your gut tells you to take a left up a winding road, then slowly make your way up the incline until you come across more steps hidden between two traditional-looking buildings. Slowly but surely, the scene around you will transform from the ubiquitous bustling crowd found anywhere in China to a calm serenity that is unique to Hangzhou. You can almost hear yourself breathing now. Surrounded by greenery all around, you walk past families playing games under the cool shade as you make your way deeper into the trees. Your gut once again tugs and tells you the increasing number of tai chi practitioners means you must be getting closer. With a calm quiet surrounding you, this environment was made for yoga.
All was quiet on our western front. And eastern. In fact every front was conspicuously quieter than it should have been that evening, given the season in question. The air did not smell of sulfur and carbon and chlorine, or vibrate gratuitously with the report of recreational ordnance. Fireballs of blue and yellow and green did not rain down on balconies, or ricochet off buildings, or bounce upon the roofs and bonnets of cars. The ground was not sprinkled with the red, singed paper tesserae that decorate the sidewalks on Chinese New Year. The Year of the Horse arrived with a sprightly cantor, not thundering gallop; and the collective din of the annual snap, crackle, and pop was less of a bang than a whimper.
Hollywood has done a great job of immortalizing an unforgettable collection of tropes to live by (and to die by, if you recall any of those over-the-top death scenes) especially when it comes to personal bodily phenomena that most people can relate to, but don’t necessarily feel comfortable discussing in mixed company. From intestinal rumblings that result in explosive gaseous evacuations from either of two orifices, to the equally exaggerated effect of liquid regurgitation, it’s all about something violently spewing forth from the human body, while appreciative laughs from the audience fill the room.
It’s not every day you meet someone who has traveled across all 33 provinces of China, let alone an expat. Covering over 35,000 miles (that’s 56,000 km for the non-Americans) on his two-year journey, Tom Carter has rightfully earned the recognition of being “one of China’s foremost explorers” by The World of Chinese magazine. From his two-year journey came his first book, CHINA: Portrait of a People, hailed as one of the most comprehensive books of photography on modern China ever published by a single author.
In any given English dictionary, the word love falls pretty much in the middle. ‘L’ is the 12th letter of the English alphabet and ‘o’ the 15th; and when one factors in the regrettable paucity of ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’ words, that places love very nearly at the nucleus of the lexicon, or, if you prefer, at the center of its pulsating heart. Whether you consult Webster, the OED, or any lesser compendium, you will always locate love after locust, loop, and loser, nestled snugly between law and lye. It lingers somewhere between joy and nocturnal, and on any given day of the week it can be found minding its own business at the crossroads of abyss and zenith. Love appears after haemophilia, homewrecker, and hysteria, and before parasites, parturition, and paternity. Always. Without exception.
Thoughts like these repeat over and over as James Zheng pushes to keep up the momentum, struggling to bike uphill. Already at a height of more than 5,000km above sea level, he ignores the elevation-induced nausea forming in his stomach as he reaches the end of a roughly 140km biking day.
Days like these are tough for James and his biking team, which consists of himself and three co-workers, Austin, A-Sen, and A-Kun. A former personal trainer, James and his buddies embarked on an intensive seven-day bike ride from Qinghai to Lhasa last August. Spanning approximately 1,200 km from start to finish, the long days of biking were rewarded with breathtaking view of the plains, mountains, and local life they passed along the way.
If this is your first Chinese New Year, you are in for a crazy treat. The chaos of New Years Eve in China is unlike anything in the world. My first experience with fireworks, like other Americans, was a 4th of July display. They occur yearly, under controlled circumstances, in a large field, with airspace and people cleared for one mile. They obtain police permits and follow strict city ordinances, ensuring ambulances and fire trucks are nearby. In China however, these explosives can be purchased by anyone and ignited anywhere: on busy streets, in small alleys between 20-story apartment complexes, from rooftops.
We’ve yet to work out how best to say ‘2014’ in Chinese, because ‘14’ (yao si) is a homonym for yao si, 要死 – “want to die,” and as you very likely know, four is more or less a taboo number in these parts. (The lift in our building not only skips ‘13’ but also ‘14’, leaving residents stranded on the improbable 12Ath and 12Bth floors. That’s just silly.)
There are vacation destinations where you will have something planned every day: Day 1 is the Eiffel Tower, Day 2 is the Louvre, Day 3 is the Notre Dame Cathedral. There are vacation destinations where every day is an adventure, a whirlwind of photographs and experiences that, in retrospect, almost seem too distant to be reality. And then, there’s the island of Boracay in the Philippines.
My first Chinese teacher was every Beijing taxi driver who ever had the privilege of toting my foreignness around town. The dialogue between laowai and shifu follows a predictable pattern. First, laowai demonstrates advanced Chinese proficiency by saying “ni hao.” Shifu then complements laowai as speaking very standard Chinese, and subsequently peppers laowai with questions about his homeland. Eventually this conversation turns to food and he is forced to explain which is better, Chinese or Western food. For me, this is when my hands get thrown up in the air and I try, in vain, to explain you cannot compare one cuisine with the other. Food is good, awesome, and also delicious. It is among my favorite things to eat. I sometimes eat it with every meal.
Laifu was eaten recently. We presume that this was not her fault, but one never really knows with these sorts of things. Whatever the case, there was little or nothing Laifu could have done to change either the prejudices or the appetites of her owner, who being both local and a carnivore is quite probably beyond fault, or not worth the effort of faulting. Up to now we had held him in reasonably high regard, or at least reasonably low disregard. We’re not sure how we feel about him now, but what’s done is done.