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January, 2015:

Invasion of the Oreos

Oreos have invaded the China market. And like many things that enter a new market, Oreos have mutated.

Just one kind of Oreo would be too boring.

Just one kind of Oreo would be too boring.

In addition, because it’s China, the mutation is over the top. We have many flavors of Oreo to choose from: original flavor, reduced sugar, green tea (blech), banana (blech), “ice cream” (what the heck?), strawberry-blueberry (intriguing), reverse (white cookie, chocolate stuff), lemon cheesecake (I had to buy that one to try it, sounds good), “birthday cake” (is that even a flavor?), grape-peach, vanilla, strawberry, and double chocolate.

At the very least, you have to admit that they’re bravely trying new approaches to the market.

The cutest tangerines in the world

This is a local variety of tangerine. Aren’t they adorable?

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The fanciest brown bag lunch

There are occasional brownbag lunch meetings at the consulate, during which we have discussions about this or that. Today, the CG hosted a brown bag for all new first and second tour officers, to discuss anything that we had on our minds. The CG is the Consulate General, the head of the consulate. If this were an embassy, he would be the ambassador. In addition to being an accomplished foreign service officer, he is also a very good manager, and a very pleasant person as well. He is generous with his time, sharing his experiences, and giving advice to new officers.

Today’s brownbag lunch was held in the CG’s residence, which is on the grounds of the consulate. We occasionally have events there, usually in the sunroom at the back of the residence. Today’s event was held in the CG’s dining room, however. When I walked into the dining room and saw that the table was set with China, tablecloth, wine glasses, the works, I felt a little funny about what I had brought for lunch.

Several people had ordered lunch from the local Subway. I brought my own lunch. I didn’t have the chance to eat my lunch that I brought yesterday, so I had my lunch from yesterday today. My brownbag lunch looked kind of funny sitting on the CG’s good China.

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Leftover peanut butter and jelly, eaten on fine China. Ah, the luxurious life of a modern diplomat.

Harbin Ice Festival 2: Snow Sculptures

Another part of the ice festival is the snow sculptures. I liked this more than the ice sculptures: they were less over-the-top, they were displayed in a park, there were a lot fewer people, and there was a lot of variety. It also helped that it was a beautiful day with very low air pollution (we could even see the blue sky!).

The upcoming year will be the year of the ram, so there were a lot of sheep designs.

The upcoming year will be the year of the ram, so there were a lot of sheep designs.

Side view of the sheep sculpture.

Side view of the sheep sculpture.

A disappointingly large number of sculptures were of western things like Disney.

A disappointingly large number of sculptures were of western things like Disney.

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Western fairy tale

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Something about fast food society.

No, that's not made of snow. It's part of the park's permanent landscaping.

No, that’s not made of snow. It’s part of the park’s permanent landscaping.

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Lion Dance!

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Lotus pods

 

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Chinese phoenix

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Erm

Erm,…

 

Erm

Erm,…

At least Darwin is appreciated somewhere!

At least Darwin is appreciated somewhere!

Einstein

The genius Einstein, and some snow sculpture in the background.

"The gift of the apple:" see Newton, Adam and Eve, and Apple Computer's icon?

“The gift of the apple:” see Newton, Adam and Eve on the left, and Apple Computer’s icon on the right?

The Unbuyable Book

I read a few different news stories about a novel that was published in China last June  The book is called “Smog Is Coming,” and it’s apparently an allegory for pollution, corruption and the current state of Chinese politics.

"Smog is Coming"

“Smog is Coming”

According to this news report, the novel tells a story about taking advantage of smog to commit crime.

“Using the polluted skies as his cloak, a masked burglar in ‘Smog Is Coming’ exploits  the nightly blanket of haze to cloud security camera lenses as he commits a string of break-ins. It was a scenario that Li said he took from real life.

Published last June, the novel touches on fraud and bureaucracy and their impact on air pollution, and according to China Daily, online excerpts have received tens of millions of page views.”

Intrigued, I decided to look for it in the local bookstore.

It wasn’t available at the store. The clerk said that she could try to order it for me, and took my phone number. However, a short time later, she called me back and said that the store couldn’t order it.

I tried another store in town, and had no luck. Even Amazon’s China store doesn’t have it online.

For a book that is generating so much interest, its unavailability is a mystery. I guess that the government isn’t happy with the story, and is “discouraging its dissemination.”

Yes, that van is driving on the river

It gets pretty cold up in Harbin.

The van wasn't just driving on the ice, it was driving FAST on the ice.

The van wasn’t just driving on the ice, it was driving FAST on the ice.

Robot Hat

Hats are not only something to keep you warm, they’re a fashion statement as well. Here’s a cute little robot hat that I saw on a little boy last week.

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The “Chinese Dream”

The government has been talking up this thing that they call the “Chinese Dream,” analogous to the American Dream, I guess. There has been a shortage of details about exactly what this dream consists of, but that little detail doesn’t stop the government from encouraging everyone to pursue it. I guess it isn’t necessary to define something before it exists?

"Rush toward the Chinese Dream with the Communist Party!"

“Rush toward the Chinese Dream with the Communist Party!”

Hard to argue with this sentiment

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I actually prefer the Chinese version: “Civilized behavior doesn’t have bystanders. Everyone puts it into practice.”

The Strange and Wonderful Underground Mall

There is an underground mall in Shenyang. Someone told me that it was originally a bomb shelter, but it’s been privatized, and now it’s additional real estate. Because it’s cheap real estate, what gets sold there is strange and cheap. Imagine the dollar store on acid.

From the street, the entrance to the underground looks like the entrance to a subway station.

From the street, the entrance to the underground looks like the entrance to a subway station.

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As soon as you enter, you're greeted with stairs or an escalator.

As soon as you enter, you’re greeted with stairs or an escalator.

The underground mall is, well, a mall.

The underground mall is, well, a mall.

Shops selling all kinds of kitch, clothing, cosmetics, you name it. I got a cell phone screen protector for US$4.

Shops selling all kinds of kitch, clothing, cosmetics, you name it. I got a cell phone screen protector for US$4.

Hallway in the underground.

Hallway in the underground.

Strange products are sold in the underground. "Pleasure to talk to you" indeed!

Strange products are sold in the underground. “Pleasure to talk to you” indeed!

Seating.

Seating.

Business is apparently not good for everyone. Coffee Time is over.

Business is apparently not good for everyone. Coffee Time is over.

Bakery

Bakery

For some reasons, some sections are not contiguous. You have to go up and exit, then you can go down to the next section.

For some reasons, some sections are not contiguous. You have to go up and exit, then you can go down to the next section.

Going down!

Going down!

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This section reminds me of the night market in Taiwan: narrow and crowded.

This section reminds me of the night market in Taiwan: narrow and crowded.

A central hub. It looks spacious, and it's hard to believe that it's several stories underground.

A central hub. It looks spacious, and it’s hard to believe that it’s several stories underground.