Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Shanghai: Bikes and Cardboard

This is apparently how the recycling industry works in China: People ride around on bikes, and pick up recyclables wherever they might find it, and haul it to wherever it goes.

Also apparently recyclable - chickens:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Of Shanghai: No, it's not the Happy Fish Waterslide Pavilion

So we figured we should have some pictures of some real Chinese-looking stuff here. On our first day in town, we went to see the centuries-old Yuyuan Garden in the center of Shanghai. It is, I gather, quite old, and has very Chinese-looking scenes of pagodas and ponds like the above. But the highlight, really, was the fun names. Perhaps they could just be translated with more panache, or maybe it really is that they give things names that we find ridiculous.

In any case, it's good to know that the the Ming-dynasty Chinese were well-balanced enough to know that you don't always want a Tower of Happiness. Sometimes you're feeling chill and just want a Hall of Mildness.

And, sadly, the "Big Rockery" is not the place where Mötley Crue hangs out while in China. It's actually just a big pile of rocks. And if you're heading to the Happy Fish Water Side Pavilion, don't expect the fish to be doing big happy leaps out of the water. They just sort of sit there, and don't look all that happy at all. So, yes, China was great, but there were some disappointments.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Of Shanghai

We were in China! Three wonderful days in Shanghai! I guess Shanghai is "China Lite" or something and if we were serious we would have gone to Wuhan or Shenyang or somewhere without such a grand tradition of Westerners pillaging or setting up Prada outlets or whatever. But we had friends to visit in Shanghai and don't really know anyone in Chengdu. And we weren't really looking for "roughing it" on this trip anyway.

So, we have a few days of China pictures coming up. We had a great time in Shanghai, but I feel like we didn't accumulate many anecdotes to accompany the pictures. Unless you count stories about visitors peeing inside the American pavilion at the Shanghai World Fair this year... but we didn't witness that, we just heard about it, so we can't really claim it as our own story, let alone elaborate.

On an unrelated note, we didn't buy any Chairman Mao dishes, but we could have:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Home Again

Greetings, Hollamaniacs. We're back from our epic Kabul--Shanghai-Maui-Molokai-Tokyo-Delhi-Kabul R&R trip, and ready to regale you with boring stories about it. As with last time, we'll try to keep it limited to the stuff rather that an average reader might find amusing rather than just showing the world our holiday snapshots. But we, like anyone, love our own holiday snaps, so somebody say "uncle" if we cross the line.

A few notes gleaned from our extensive air travel on this trip. First of all, there is a dangerous Airline Food Gap opening between us and the rising powers of Asia. If left unchecked, the superiority of the food on Air India and China Southern could seriously hamper the competitiveness of American industry. Darn but Air India doesn't offer some tasty food in those little airline serving dishes. United, you've been warned.

Oh, also, Air India has these old planes and a lot of the interior is kind of falling apart. But they still manage to have the kind of movie system in Economy Class where you can start and stop any of the movies on offer whenever you want, as opposed to United, which on the not-insubstantial flight from Japan to Hawaii and back still has the old-fashioned system where the movies start on their own and you have to decide to watch a movie at the moment that the movies are starting or you're out of luck. (For their part, I don't think China Southern had any kind of movie system at all, but I'm still giving them some props just for being an actual airline -- when we bought the tickets we weren't entirely sure.)

And yet despite this, our several flights on Air India were never more than half full. I would guess the flight from Tokyo to Delhi was at most 20% occupied. Ten hours is a long way to fly a plane that's mostly empty. Which of course means there must be some ridiculous subsidy scheme going on because I don't see how Air India could stay in business serving tasty meals and buying snazzy movie systems for a bunch of empty seats. So maybe United deserves some slack, too. Not too much. But a little.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Gone Fishin'

Greetings Loyal Readers:

Once again we are away from Kabul on one of the fabulous R&R vacations they provide us suffering civilians. And once again, we failed to get anything ready for posting while we are away. We're currently posting from a friend's computer in Shanghai (and note that the Chinese government has blocked its people's access to the Holla, perhaps recognizing our steady progress toward world domination. The 21st century may belong to China but the early smart money is on the Holla in the 22nd.) We may have some down time during which we'll post from the road. But just as likely, you'll have to manage without regular Holla updates until the 24th. Don't cry, it will be here before you know it!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

In Which We Welcome 2011

Embassy Kabul celebrated the New Year as we celebrate almost every week: hosting visiting dignitaries. They in turn brought press delegations and inspired subtle suggestions that we Embassy staff should not be too boisterous because, after all, it's still a war zone. Apparently our public affairs experts determined it would not be a PR "win" to show off drunken diplomats whooping it up in Afghanistan, even on New Year's Eve.

Nevertheless, there was a bonfire on the dirt patch behind the chancery (known as the "soccer field" because apparently people were allowed to play soccer there before it, like every other open space bigger than a postage stamp, was fenced off for mysterious construction-related purposes). And somehow, the Embassy owns a New Year's Eve dropping-ball contraption - our own little slice of Times Square, New York here at Dirt Square, Kabul. A small but hardy band of revelers enjoyed the fire, counted as the ball dropped, and sipped champagne with maximum possible restraint and decorum one can muster while wearing novelty 2011 eyeglasses.

The mainstream media, it turns out in the end, were not at all interested in what we were up to.