Warnings in June 2015

I finally break down and buy a coffee maker from Taobao (101.93RMB), and I sprinkle a bit of my Illy (118RMB/250g.) on top of the cheap stuff (50RMB/500g.) to make the “perfect” cup. After a quick shower, I go out on my balcony and have a cigarette (20RMB/pack). About half an hour later, three more butts hit the ashtray, and I’m starting to get hungry. My mind drifts to when I was in Koh Chang, Thailand eating a superb bowl of green spicy vegetable curry (110THB/bowl) on the beachside wondering how the hell they make it so nice. But it’s too cool to realistically think about being on a beach somewhere, let alone getting herbs that are picked from the back garden. My brain shifts to a spring day in New York. I’m on a street corner devouring a hot dog (2.50USD) with those brownish onions they put on them. Why they are that color escapes me, but I know that they’re delish. It’s breakfast time, however, and what’s better than an English breakfast in London (7GBP)? I personally like to eat mine by scooping my beans onto the sunny-side up egg and shoveling it into my mouth with the toast. That’s just me though. Or maybe a nice espresso (free) and a nice freshly made croissant (1EUR) at my friend’s place in Castelnau-De-Montmiral, France? Surely nothing is better than that. I dunk the flaky treat into the small cup half full of dark liquid gold the way my other friend, and former partner in crime, from Ardèche taught me to do. Reflecting on friends, my head is now in Tokyo, Japan where we are eating dinner (15,000JPY/three people) on a narrow winding street at, what quite possibly is, the smallest restaurant I’ve ever been in.  This local place is frequented by my friend, and we’re treated like gold which is the farthest thing from being a crime.

Gold, I ponder. No, the tequila (300MXN/bottle) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico isn’t gold the way I pictured it would be, but instead the stuff we drink is clear. I down about five fantastic carnitas (12MXN/each) from the street cart after a half a bottle of the aforementioned. That pork must have been cooked in broth that’s more than a hundred years old. It’s really that good. Pork is good. And with that notion, my cabeza is finally in Barcelona, Spain. It’s nine at night, and the restaurant on the plaza is virtually empty. The music coming from the busker is low. Did we chose a bad one (28EUR/person)? An hour and a half later, we’re bursting at the seams from all the wonderful ham. The place is finally starting to fill up, and the guy on the guitar (1EUR/tip) starts to pick it up a bit. In the end, it isn’t a poor choice indeed.

As always, we’ve got a handful of new and exciting restaurants in this month’s magazine. So go with your pengyoumen and enjoy. May you one day be in some faraway land dreaming about them.

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in May 2015

Back in December I wrote a bit about WeChat, and the benefits of using it. This month I’m going to give you all a few tips I’ve learned since then. Before I do that, excuse me if I’ve got to recap. At the end of last year, I told you all how I translate other people’s Chinese moments into English. Moments, as we’ve all found out are not translatable. I simply copy and paste them into a chat to myself. Hit send and then translate it from there. Big problem solved. Now I’m going to explain how to write in near perfect Chinese. You change your WeChat settings by hitting the “Me” button, then hitting the “Settings” button. Next press the “General” button, and finally change your language to the first one that’s written in Chinese after you hit the “Language” button. The first one is simplified Chinese. Then whenever you want to write something in Chinese, just write it in a message to yourself, hit the “翻译” button, and wham, it’ll change it into Chinese. Copy and paste that into a chat to whoever you’re writing to or whatever moment you’re creating, and you’ll look like a genius. Keep in mind however, that the translate function only works so well, so keep what you’re writing very simple. Also remember how you changed your settings into Chinese because you’ll have to do the reverse to get it back into whatever language you’re going back to.

Next is one of the more difficult things I’ve had to solve. I used to have a problem when I was trying to reply to somebody who only likes one of my moments. Because you can’t get that automatic @blahblah to appear when somebody only likes a moment, but sometimes you’ve got something you want to direct at somebody. Now that’s easy when their name is in English because you can just type it out, but a bit trickier when it’s in Chinese, and you can’t read it. I have found a way however. You hit the person’s name, and their previous moments show up, then you hit the little square pic of them, hit the three dots on the top right, finally hit “Set Remarks and Tags” and their name will show up under the “Alias” header. From there, you can finally copy and paste their name.

And finally for my last trick. I sometimes have pics that don’t look right when they are side by side, but look much better when they are placed one on top of another. To place two pics one on top of the other, you take a screenshot with your phone, and crop it just so that the white part shows. Then you’ve got a totally white photo. Then in your moments, you first add the photo you want to be on top followed by the white photo, with the third one being the one you want to have on the bottom, and another fourth one of the white photo. Magic! Done!

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in April 2015

I wake up and thank the Buddha that it’s not raining. I live on the first floor in one of those “romantic” places with a tiny garden out back. It looked cool when we first went to see it. I thought, great, we can strip the old wooden doors, put a new coat of paint on them, and it would be fantastic. Then we can plant the flowers and chili peppers I’ve always wanted to plant. Up until now however, none of this has been done. The screws won’t come out of the doors, and no matter how many times I have people weed my garden, the unwanted greenery keeps coming back in full force. Having said that, it is bright outside, meaning that the musty smell has all but gone, and the walls aren’t moist, and the flying ants haven’t woken up from their winter nap just yet, so all is pleasant. After doing my morning thing, I walk outside, and am hit by my first real sensory smack in the nose of the day. It’s a mix of dirt, staleness, and the slightest smell of laundry detergent. People have all hung out their sheets to dry in the morning. The Happy Birthday jingle plays in the distance. You know, the street soakers. One is coming my way. I’ve got nobody to impress today, so rather than run from the water stream or pick up my feet as the bicyclists do, I lean into it a bit. I inhale through my large nose, and try to enjoy it all. It makes me a little wet if not invigorated by life. Down the road a tad farther, I pass the duck head and jiaozi place. I wonder how long those heads at the bottom of that big steel plate have been simmering in those hot and spicy juices. They must clean out that seasoned cooking vessel every now and then, right?

I’m not in the mood to think about these small details, so I just enjoy the scent emanating from the broth stewing with all of those duck brains and eyes inside their fragile skull. When I walk closer, I can hear the sounds of people sucking out all of those good morsels for breakfast. What a way to start the day. There is an old lady starting a fire with little sticks and whatnot in one of those metal pots for lack of a better word. She drops in the cylindrical piece of coal in to it with tongs, and out pours the black smoke. For some reason, I like this better than the smell coming out of the tailpipe of those poorly tuned buses. A cat is sunning herself on the sidewalk near the bike repair guy who’s dabbing a drop or two of rubber cement onto a tire tube which looks as if it has been repaired numerous times. All I can think about is going home again to start my garden. Wouldn’t that be just Spring-like?

by Tim Hoerle

This is the tenth anniversary of me writing this column. I have heard, at times, it has upset some people, but I also know that sometimes, it has made one or two of you laugh. I regret the former. Here’s to more of the later.

Warnings in March 2015

It is freezing. The kind of cold that makes me not want to take a shower no matter how much I need it. You’d think that after all these years, the cold would be something I would get used to, but no. The floor in the bathroom just kills me. Why I don’t wear slippers is beyond me. I sit on the toilet checking my WeChat. I put on my long johns and the rest of my clothes. I finally go outside after drinking a French pressed coffee. I refuse to buy a coffee machine around here because they just cost too much. Not as if the French press is any cheaper, but it somehow feels more justified. The wind is blowing as it does in winter, and the cigarette doesn’t help, although I seem to think that it will. The sun is shining with a glaring intensity. Leaves are beneath my feet and cat poo isn’t far off. The neighborhood dog doesn’t blink an eye as I pass. Nevertheless, I am shivering, mostly because of the draft flowing up my legs in the spaces between my low socks and the bottom of my thermal underwear. I can’t get used to drying my clothes three or four days in advance either. I’ve run out of heavy socks and am wearing my summertime ones. My thick socks are still hanging on the string outside. I also refuse to buy a clothes dryer here because they are just too expensive. A clothes line is much cheaper. Is anything here inexpensive anymore? I drop two kuai into the tin container outside of the youtiao makers shop on Xixi Road, and get a hot one without saying a word. The street is being dug up once again, and my shoes get splattered with mud as I carelessly step on a paving stone the wrong way.

On to Hangda Road where I give a man a fiver for a pink chilled bottle of Vitamin water from the unplugged fridge without uttering a single word. Somehow, drinking this makes me feel healthy although it doesn’t add anything to my warmth. Folks are vying for taxis although it is nine in the morning, and they all should be in work already. I watch as a bus drives by, full of people with blank looks on their faces. Walking toward Shuguang Road, I wonder why the French Maples always seem to be shedding their bark. A man’s erhu is sitting idly before him, but I still drop a small note into his box. Usually he is pulling his bow, but it is cold. A little kid is strolling down the street with her grandma. Shouldn’t she be in school? Though I walk quickly, I barely make it across the road before the walk light starts blinking orange. Past the library, I am finally on Baishaquan. The street sweepers are making piles of leaves. Fumbling for my keys, and then, careful not to break one in the cold lock, the door opens. Spring, please come!

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in February 2015

Believe it or not, I can remember the day clearly. Surrounded by all kinds of fabrics, what seemed like millions of buttons, and spool upon spool of thread, I had only just gotten started. The stuff was scattered everywhere, and I had no idea how anyone could navigate their way around it all, but somehow, whenever I asked for a certain thing, the middle-aged man knew how to find it.  That’s right, the seamstress was a guy. What should I have called him? A seam-er? That’s one thing that initially drew me to this place. Guys and girls didn’t fit my stereotype. How surprised was I when I found out that the metal shop owner, hands covered and caked with grease, was a woman. She, however, thought nothing of it. Back to the seamstress’ kiosk. I had just watched the movie “The Piano”, and I felt inspired to have a period shirt made. Then, one of those moments hit me. When I speak in Chinese, I typically think in Chinese. It’s often like thinking in black and white, or in good or bad, for lack of a better vocabulary, but it’s in Chinese nevertheless. Occasionally, I have to switch back to English, to gather my thoughts, and translate directly. Then it smacked me in the face. I just couldn’t articulate what was on my mind in any language, let alone Chinese. Now I’ve found myself in that exact situation many times since then, but that time stands out in my mind.

It was like the first time I had a drink of Calvados. I thought I had experienced every type of liquor out there, but no, not this apple juice from the gods. Despite my troubles, a couple of days later, I had my hands on my new awesome shirt. I felt like I was one of those dudes on a car restoration television show. I almost shed a tear at the sight of this shirt. After that memorable experience, I decided to get tons of other stuff custom made. It wasn’t like I was spending my time shopping for groceries, or cooking at home or anything. I got wall sconces made, a hand carved mahogany box done, many other different kinds of clothing sewn, and one of the coolest Halloween costumes I’d ever worn, put together.  Nowadays, I’ve got to go a little farther outside of town to find a custom shop, but they are still around. Isn’t that the beauty of living around here? When people ask me what it was like to live here years ago, I simply reply that it was like a town just a couple of hours away is now. Or the future? Just go to a bigger city, and it can be seen there. Either that or you could just visit an astrologer. And what better a time than now is it to find a star gazer. Welcome, year of the goat. May you be able to customize all of the things you can’t even say.

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in January 2015

I don’t have to tell anybody that it’s the end of the year. Resolutions? I gave up on those a very long time ago, but one thing I’ve gotten into the habit of doing is to review my last year—kind of like a wrap-up. Before going into the positives, I’m going to delve into the negatives. What didn’t I learn in 2014? A lot, that’s for certain: I didn’t learn how to speak French, to shave on a regular basis, to let myself not be annoyed by people who open up to me too quickly, to use Excel, to be able to bench over 200 pounds. Some things are easier to do than others, but nevertheless, some things still escape me. I mean how hard is it to take a razor to my skin once every other day? Other things? I can’t seem to be able to quit smoking no matter how hard I “try”. I am unable to turn off my ears when people are talking across the room. I still get sensory overload whenever I walk down an aisle in the supermarket that has a lot of things written in small English print. Anytime a Chinese person speaks to me in English, I always try to translate it into Chinese. These habits I would like to change. I will not, however, resolve to make that kind of turnaround. All I can do is to look at the things I’ve learned over the past year.

What exactly are those? Vocabulary: waiter in French, mink in Chinese, credenza in English. I’ve learned that a bottle of Jägermeister a day doesn’t keep the doctor away. I can finally remember all twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. I’m now comfortable when bidding on an item at auction. I know the difference between a real and a fake Griswold cast iron skillet. I think I’ve finally figured out how to cook a hamburger on the grill that not only will people eat, but will also pay money for. More vocabulary: shit in French, karma in Chinese, aioli in English. I’ve reaccustomed myself to driving again. Picking up the difference between the Doobie Brothers and the Allman Brothers helps. Now I realize that some of this newly acquired knowledge is totally useless, but it makes me more comfortable nevertheless, not to mention the fact that it sometimes makes me a bit of cash, or rather not lose so much dough.  Speaking of losing, I’ve also regained, what I thought was, a long lost ability to shed a few pounds.

Maybe next year I’ll be able to order goat with a bit of aioli made on a real iron skillet in a French restaurant, drink it with only one glass of wine, pay for it with my newly saved money, input those expenses into an Excel document, and wonder if karma will bite me in the ass, and get me served some shit placed on the credenza instead. But hey, one step at a time right? Happy New Year guys.

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in December 2014

If I were a Chinese language teacher in university, the first thing I would tell my students to do is to join Wechat. I, personally, have learned more characters by using this thing over the past two years than I’d learned in the previous eighteen. Wechat’s translate function is anything but perfect, but it still does wonders for me. It’s not only a great way to learn Chinese, it’s also a great way to become closer to the people you think you know. I’ve got my seemingly reserved friends who are constantly post selfies, like they are schizophrenic or something. I’m sure their cameras burn away their batteries taking all those pics of themselves. Then I’ve got the family guys. You know the ones who put up shots of their children without reservation? I’ve also noticed the machine-gunners, the people who don’t post for days or months, and then all of a sudden send a barrage of posts all back to back. Then they are silent again to the point where you think they are on their death bed or something. Then you’ve got the foreigners who only write in Chinese, and the Chinese people who only write in English. The link masters are anything but few and far between. No text can ever flow from their own fingers. And who carries a phone into a gym? A lot of the people I know do, and they surely enjoy sharing their pain, and or progress with me. Drinkers like to focus their phones on their half empty bottle before it goes blurry. And now that there is a video function, I’ve observed some folks who will only take those. Good-morning, positive people are a penny a dozen with their sunny breakfast shots.

Speaking of food, do some people do anything with their lives except eat and take pictures of the half-eaten grub on their plates? I personally enjoy the aforementioned people. I hate the negative people. I’ll take that copper penny over a dime any day. Does that make me a negative guy? Two negatives make a positive, right? Do we really need to be reminded constantly how this chengguan smashed that yangrou dealer’s barbecue, or how that bus ran over this baby three times?

Finally, you’ve got the newbies who’ll accept anybody as a contact, the prudes who’ll accept nobody, the cheapies who’ll add any place then delete them once their deal has been had, and the opportunists who do nothing but promote themselves. Plato once went on about how there are three types of people: the heroes, the spectators, and the pickpockets. Obviously, he didn’t have Wechat back then.

Alright, away from the stereotypes and back to the learning. One tip I’ve learned is to text myself. Though the translate function doesn’t work on “moments,” I always copy and paste the moments I’m interested in understanding into a message to myself, therefore enabling it to get switched into English. Enjoy that, be merry, and have happy holidays.

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in November 2014

I always wonder how people make their money. It’s easy to see that the dude on the street collecting empty water bottles has to collect around thirty bottles just to make enough money to buy a decent bag of fangbianmian. Because, to eat anything cheaper than a bag of three kuai Kang Shifu would mean you’re really poor.

But what about his rent? Does that guy still live with his parents, and if so where do they get their money from? How about that dude who doesn’t have a full-time job, yet is having a second child? Hell, the dude I’m thinking of doesn’t even have a steady part-time job. And then there’s the fly who is in the bar every night, spending what seems like tons of cash. He doesn’t answer his phone till one o’clock at the earliest. Does he have some sort of clandestine job with some government, or what?

There was once a man who was supervising a group of workers zhuanxiu-ing (because: there’s no way to translate that word) an apartment I used to live in. He said he would never be able to pay back the personal loan he once took out to start a factory that went belly-up. No matter how much money he made, he would always be in debt, according to him anyway.

There’s another youngish guy who washes his Panamera right next to our office at least four times a week during the daytime. Did that guy make a good bet on some kind of business? And if so, why isn’t he spending more time working on that, rather than spending all of his time watching other people take a sponge to his car?

There’s another person I know, who was broke many times in his life, yet seems to live the high life, and rarely puts in twenty hours a week. I know for sure that he doesn’t have some kind of trust fund or inheritance. Why does he get to fly first class, and eat caviar, when another friend I have is busier than a one-legged monkey in a banana kicking competition making barely enough to buy the peanuts for breakfast? Then I’ve got the secretive friends, you know, the ones who keep their jobs hidden. They just disappear for months at a time, and when they return, they always have big smiles on their faces, and pay for sushi at Hatsune. What do they have some sort of consulting business in Indonesia or something? What exactly are they building over there anyway? Do some people have the Midas touch, and some the opposite? 

It’s strange that we meet so many people from so many different countries, and backgrounds, with different “jobs.” I mean, really now, how does that one mate from Sweden really make enough money to support his family shipping flash-frozen asparagus? Or how does that “old” man from Texas pull in enough dough trucking fresh shrimp?

Try them one day, and you might find out.

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in October 2014

Relationships. With the plethora of my friends getting recently married, I’ve been thinking about them a lot these days.

The first relationship I knew was that between my mom and dad. She was the daughter of an Austrian/German mom, and a Norwegian/Swedish dad, and he was the son of an Irish mom, and a German/English dad. They were both from Staten Island, New York, and things seemed fine until, well, until it ended. Then came number two, my stepdad, who was from Bayonne, New Jersey, and was fully Italian. They didn’t eat meat on Fridays, and gorged on eels on Christmas Eve. I got used to the eels. It was then that I moved here, and the real strangeness began. I was told that, in heaven, all men were married to Japanese women, lived in America, and had Cantonese for dinner. (Wife: stop reading here.) I went out with a Japanese woman for a while, had been brought-up in the US, and had feasted on Guangdong cai many times, but could never put the three together. Then again, things are easier dreamt about than done.

There was this twenty-something year-old guy who was introduced to the forty-something year-old cousin of his then thirty-something year-old girlfriend in bed. That girlfriend then married the sixty-something boss of the boyfriend. It gets weirder. (Children: stop reading here.) Along came this man-and- wife married couple, from some little European country, who started off as childhood sweethearts. She propositioned a local guy from some small African nation in the bathroom of a bar. Another big English honcho from some other place in Africa shows up to have a laugh at the fact that he’s moving to yet another country without his wife, who is from somewhere down south, with whom he hasn’t lived in years.

Though I tell my daughter that being untruthful is what writing is all about, I really couldn’t make this stuff up. There was the self-proclaimed, barely literate, millionaire who had a son with a doctorate degree holder. The incredibly successful artist who’s with the tool maker. The Chinese-speaking Alaskan who’s with the country bumpkin who can barely speak her native tongue. The German footballer who has three kids with a Russian girl he was once married to in the north somewhere. Could you imagine those kinds of weekend visits? Being conducted in four languages? I know a former “construction” supervisor from Texas who’s married to a former circus performer from West Asia. Sorry, even with auto-spell, I can never get the name of her country correct. Finally, I once met an iconic person from Virginia who speaks Chinese and Japanese, now lives in Thailand, and can hardly have a relationship with himself. Tricky things that relationships are.

What ever happened to the old days when a young Austrian farmer meets a younger Austrian seamstress, has three kids, and lives happily ever after on the hillside? Well, I guess they simply ended, and I love it for sure.

by Tim Hoerle

Warnings in September 2014

So I went to this swanky outdoor store to get the best hiking boots available. After all, I would be taking some mean adventures. Three hundred dollars later, I had these high-tech Italian leather dreams on my feet. I was ready to go. About two months later, I was putting these things to great use when I was five hours into a climb up the Yellow Mountain. My feet were feeling as good as I could expect, but I kept staring in disbelief at the high-heeled shoes all of these old women were wearing. Were they stupid, or was I just a wimp? One more hour up, and two more down. When I woke up the next day, I was in anguishing pain. The wrinkled ladies must have shared my feelings, but they had three hundred dollars more in their pockets. Who was the stupid one now?

Flash forward, a number of years later, and we were staying at a trucker’s hotel in some Sichuan backwater. My boots had to be put outside because, though the room smelled like a thousand years of trucking feet, and ball sweat, my shoes smelled worse. The next evening, just after dusk, we heard the rocks begin to fall. The road was landslid [sic.] in, but our driver insisted we could make it. After a bit of investigation, my friend, the van driver, and I all decided, after nearly being pelted by a few falling stones, that it would be best to camp the night out on the side of the road. A few hours later, and I found myself outside the mianbao che on my back trying to sleep. There were too many people in the little vehicle to get comfortable. Shortly thereafter, I was joined by my friend, who said his snoring was waking everybody up. It was freezing. Our chattering teeth were loud enough to keep the yaks awake. As dawn arrived, I pulled my eyelids free of my icicle laden eyelashes only to focus upon a woman who had her face just a foot or so away from mine. Her face was covered in black cloth, and she looked like, well like a yak herder, which was what she was. She screamed. I screamed like a little girl. My smelly feet were numb.

Rewind a few years. I was on one of those buses with wooden seats equipped with an air horn from hell, and I just couldn’t get a wink. Twisting and turning, we were something like eight hours into our twenty four hour long journey down to Xishuangbanna.  The ancient dude next to me had been asleep the whole time. I thought he actually might be dead. He didn’t move. Until, that was, that the bus stopped for a meal, whereupon he got off, went to the outside back of the bus, dropped his pants, and took a shit. He got back on and continued to sleep, in his sandals, three hundred dollars richer than me.

By Tim Hoerle