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Published September 30, 2007

你好 (Hello)! Not even the Chinese government can silence me! I’m back (in my blog, not stateside) after roughly a month in China. Things are finally starting to slow down a bit now, so I can discuss my recent “adventures” in Beijing and Shijiazhuang.

I spent my first week in China touring all of Beijing’s historical sites and chugging can after can of aloe juice. The Great Wall (above, duh), the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven…all of them were as impressive as you’d expect. Yeah, there’s not much else I can say about all of these locations, so I’ll let my photos speak for themselves. My only major gripe would be the “Beijing Olympics ’08” signs plastered over everything. It’s fine to be excited for the Olympics, but it seems tacky to advertise at ancient historical locations.

On the last day in Beijing, my group and I visited the Beijing Zoo, which may contain the most depressing assortment of animals ever assembled. A three-armed lemur, pandas having seizures, various wolves and tigers slowly dying in the intense heat – all of these animals just seemed miserable. The Chinese tourists just seemed to be exacerbating the problem. We witnessed some kid taunting the grizzly bears by dangling food from a plastic bag above their pen, and thin layers of garbage layered many of the cages at the zoo. If you find yourself in China in the near future, I suggest leaving this abominable animal prison off your itinerary.

After our week of debauchery in China’s capital, a couple of my fellow foreign teachers and I took a train ride to our new home, Shijiazhuang. Upon entering my apartment (below-left), I was horrified to see my hard-as-a-rock mattress, a very leaky toilet, and a lack of a dryer, but I’ve slowly adjusted to my accommodations since then. Compared to Beijing, there isn’t as much to do in Shijiazhuang, as this city is much younger. There are a few temples just outside the city and some clubs contained within, but I will definitely be traveling elsewhere when my teaching load decreases in December. It’s very dirty here too, which is due to the city’s rapid expansion. Still, I’ve been having a good time. Great restaurants are everywhere, and I’ve become addicted to the mysterious “Donkey” burgers found in one of the local alleyways. Also of interest is a delicious vitamin drink (below-right) that tastes exactly like liquified Pop-tarts. Trust me – it’s the new dnL.

Seeing as this podcast’s main focus is video gaming, I’d love to tell you about all of the crazy Chinese games I’ve been playing. Unfortunately, there’s not much here for console gamers. I perused Shijiazhuang’s humongous electronics district, but the majority of the store shelves were dominated by cell phones. In one of the bigger electronic stores, “Ego” (think Best Buy, only much more chaotic and smokier), I did find a few aisles filled with some imported games, but I’m waiting for my first paycheck before I go on a shopping spree. Oddly enough, the Sega Genesis had a large presence, with such rare games as Herzog Zwei, Phantasy Star IV, and “Super Mario,” which you know is legit. I almost purchased a PSone while I was there, as some pirated editions of Vagrant Story, Xenogears, Valkyrie Profile, and Persona 2 were on hand.

I don’t see the game market expanding any time soon, considering how expensive games are here. For instance, the Nintendo DS costs about 600 RMB here, which is roughly $75 in the U.S. Not too bad, until you consider that the average monthly salary here is about 1000-2000 RMB. The cheap cost of PC gaming (free, if you know where to look) also factors into the limited sales, as well as piracy in general. (*EDIT* I also forgot to take into account that consoles are essentially banned here. The market is very unofficial) Most of my students are big Counter-Strike players, but they have only a vague understanding of DS or the PS2. Slow sales haven’t stopped some companies from trying. Nintendo’s Chinese line of products (sold under the name “IQue”) are out here supposedly, and I’m desperately trying to find the Chinese equivalent of the N64. It functions similarly to the old Famicom’s disk-drive in that you can download new games to your old cartridges. Oh, and I need to find one of these now too.

Even if I don’t have any consoles to turn on for a long time, I did discover a Chinese arcade below one of the many shopping malls. Most of the cabinets (circa 1998) house such classic games as King of Fighters ’97, Bust-a-Move, and Daytona USA 2. The only modern machine is an out-of-order House of the Dead 4, but it’s too much of a money-hog to be worthwhile anyway. Taking on a random Chinese guy’s Iori (and winning) was pretty darn sweet.

After three weeks of teaching, I’m enjoying a week off for China’s National Holiday. On Tuesday, I’m heading to Hong Kong to renew my visa, but I should have plenty of time for sight-seeing and what-have-you. I’m sorry that it took my so long to blog (blame my bootleg “The Shield” DVDs that I purchased for only 50 RMB), but you can rest assured that you’ll be hearing from me sooner rather than later (in both the blog AND the podcast).

*Next time, I’ll discuss teaching, transportation, and much more about the actual city.

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