Turks and Their Rugs

Imagine a Sultan from your history classes, with the poufy clothes and that large headpiece, seated in a domed throne room. Amongst the huge marble pillars that hold up the chamber, just how many rugs and how many colors have you imagined rolled out along the floor and covering the walls? That elegance transcends the Ottoman Empire to daily life in Turkey, and there isn’t a single craft that Turks take more pride in than their rugs. Turkish apartments are adorned with rugs that have been passed down generations, and the quality of Turkish rugs is unmatched when it comes to the intricacy of their patterned weaves and the level of effort put into producing each one.

The modern day version

When I’d moved into my first apartment in Izmir, I’d needed to wait an extra day for the rugs to be properly cleaned and ready. While they weren’t the Hereke rugs that foreign leaders are given when they first visit Turkey, it’d still been worth the wait as I’d watched my landlord decorate the bare apartment with rugs of every shape and color. Over a year later, I’ve gotten lucky enough to tour one of the government subsidized rug Corps in Cappadocia, and to even buy one of my own! Well, my family had bought it, but a major and awkward part of the sales pitch had been that it would eventually become mine… morbid implications intended.

The finest

The Turkish rug industry is still very much a cottage industry in that rugs of all kinds are made in villages at the homes of families dedicated to the craft. These rugs make their way to major cities to be sold by either middle man, or what’s called a Corp (we’ll get to that later). Those middle men are the carpet sellers on the streets of downtown Istanbul who will try lead you to one of their shops. They line the corridors of the Grand Bazaar, approach you outside of whichever monument you’re near, and heckle you as you pass by their small shops in the tourist area of Sultanahmet. You can count on at least several approaching you every day, and don’t be surprised if they’re pushy as hell.

Death of a carpet salesman

When a carpet seller approaches you as you’re sightseeing, it’s all so obvious from the get-go that they’re only out to make a sale. They’ll try to break down your defensiveness with small talk or compliments, and some will even offer to give you a free tour of whichever museum or mosque you’re nearby. Expect them to chide you if you’re not being open enough to a casual conversation, because damn are they persistent. They’ll say or offer just about anything to eventually get you into one of their shops. Carpet sellers are essentially the used car salesmen of the rug industry, and with that comes lemons and suckers. It’s not that their rugs aren’t necessarily good, it’s just that that who knows what you’re actually buying, or how much it had originally been purchased for. It’s for this reason that carpet sellers are listed among the common tourist scams of Turkey.

Wanna make a rug look old and ornate? Lay it out in the harsh sun and let tourists walk over it before one eventually buys it for quadruple its worth

This is where the aforementioned Corps come in. Corps are the rug wholesaler institutions which the Turkish government have subsidized in an effort to curb the migration of village people to major cities in Turkey. This migration is fueled by the desire for better jobs and the comforts of city life, but more often than not results in poverty and struggle for the villagers that move. As the refugee crisis continues to worsen and further stretch the Turkish welfare networks thin, Ankara has begun to take a financial interest in the rug industry. Weaving co-ops have been established in villages with modern looms and equipment, and master weavers have been employed to provide vocational training and ensure quality. Wages are subsidized and materials are provided for the production of these rugs. The Corps are the outlets at which these village rugs get sold, and overall this social welfare program has created artisan opportunities for village people that allow them a chance at prosperity without ever having to move. And for the savvy buyer, they offer trustworthy and quality rugs at an equitable price. It’s the crop sharing of textiles, sans carpet-baggers (heh).

The master weavers

The Corps

And the subsidized silk

Silk, wool, or cotton, it’s the material as well as the level of stitching that affect a rug’s price. One that could cover your living room floor might be a fraction of the price of one that could only barely cover your laptop, and it all comes down to the intricacy of the patterns and how many knots are in each square inch. They’re graded from level 1 to level 10, and a level 10 the size of your table could take several years to complete by a master weaver. A level 4 is your standard village quality, while anything finer than a level 7 must have been knitted by hand. You very much get what you pay for, and if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from Turkey, then a rug will be well worth your money and carry-on room. Just remember to haggle no matter where you’re shopping! And be patient, if one of your parents is purchasing it…

A Grand Bazaar rug merchant; “Half the price? Still a 500% profit”

Subsidized Sailing

This isn’t the first time I’ve wrote about this, and it won’t be the last… Last week, the novelty of being a foreigner in Mainland China got me special treatment. The foreign price is a double edged sword; sometimes you get charged more by a repairman because he assumes you don’t know any better, and sometimes a gym practically harasses you to work out there at a discounted price because your presence will make it seem more international. And do I even need to mention the ESL industry as a whole? This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and it’s not that I’m actually surprised to have competed in a 5 day sailing competition at a remote lake resort for only 50USD with all expenses paid… it’s just that this is by far the strangest example of the foreign price that I’ve seen here yet.

The foreign price can get you far

It all started when an obscenely rich factory owner’s 3 daughters each got accepted into high schools and a university abroad. Schooling abroad probably sounds like the rich part of this scenario, but the number of kids is what had really jumped out at me, because holy shit is that pertinent in the only country in the world where multiple children is a determinant of extreme wealth. Their mother felt that they needed to get as much international experience as possible beforehand to prepare them for living abroad, and so she did what anybody with loads of money would do; she threw cash around. After enrolling the girls in the Gaochun Lake Sailing Competition, she’d rented 3 sailboats, 3 captains, 3 crews of foreigners. A boat for each girl, a captain to sail it, and a bunch of expats to “acclimate” them throughout those 5 days, because why not?

Crew 1: Rich Chinese girl, yours truly and the crew, and our captain

Crew 2 of 3

“Mate, have you ever sailed before? The National Week Holiday is coming up and there’s this event outside the city that’s at a 90% discount if you’re a foreign passport holder,” asked the British guy who shared an office with me. Having spent most of my middle and high school summers sailing around Lake Champlain (LINK), and having had no issues whatsoever with milking my novelty as much as possible, I’d been down.

Like riding a bike

Gaochun Lake, Jiangsu Province

What a way to spend Golden Week

What a week it had been. We’d arrived at a lake resort with the agent who’d found us all to check into extravagant rooms at an upscale lakeside hotel, and our incoming meal was an all you can eat crab buffet. The sailing competition began with several days of sailing classes, and every day out on the lake was ended with a nice dinner at some fancy restaurant. The last day of the trip consisted of a 10 boat race veering through a buoy course, and culminated in an awards ceremony with a massive buffet and all you can drink craft beer, thanks to the sponsorship of Nanjing’s very own Master Gao Craft Brewery. Local news stations were there with cameras and naturally they’d bee-lined for us to get an interview. Fame, IPAs, and medals for all of us, as they’d paraded us up onto the stage to bow and get photographed.

Crab feasts

Interviews with local news stations


The Gaochun Concert Hall that hosted our end of race gala

Craft beer and a feast

Up on stage representing the American Speed

Out of all of the motivating factors that had led to us standing up in front of the crowds, in the concert hall that had hosted our end of race gala, we’d never really been aware of the main reason for which we’d even been there. Free promotion with international faces had been the obvious push for the sailing club, but those teenage girls on each boat had been more or less an overlooked mystery to us until the final night. The agent who had found us had touted her role as part of Jiangsu Province’s international cultural exchange program, and so we’d just assumed this whole trip had been government funded. Little did we know that those timid girls we’d mostly ignored at every dinner and their discerning mother with the designer hand bags had been the real force behind our presence. To save face on behalf of the mother, it hadn’t been until the final night that the agent told us about the mother having paid for all of us, and wow had she paid a lot! I guess I would’ve been more friendly and helpful if I’d known what the foreign price had actually been buying.

The American Speed… aptly named


A Terrible Night’s Sleep on a Chinese Sleeper Bus

It’s only 170RMB they said. It’s the most convenient way to get to Yangshuo they said. By the time you wake up you’ll be there they said. At least, that was the idea.

Rich or poor, there’s a method for everybody when it comes to traveling in China. The speed trains were booked out for weeks, and flying was either going to be too expensive or too time restrictive for a spontaneous weekend getaway, so at the time, taking a night bus had sounded like the best option for getting out of the city one Friday afternoon. Dirt cheap and set to arrive productively early at 8am, I’d boarded the 36 bed tour bus around 9pm, looking forward to falling asleep to movies and waking up well rested for a weekend of hiking and exploring in the mountains of Yangshuo.



As soon as I’d crawled up into my bunk, I realized this wasn’t gonna be the relaxing ride I’d been hoping for. Whether it was due to the fact that I was literally several inches too tall for the length of the bed, or the many, many times I’d banged a knob or a funny bone against metal and corners while shifting or repositioning myself, or how every time the bus hit a bump, my body bounced upwards, smashing my shins against the lip of the foot cubby… within the first ten minutes it had become dismally clear that I wouldn’t be getting much sleep.




But still, I’d tried to think positively and make the best of it by padding my shins with clothing from my pack, and using the blankets provided to cushion the wooden foot cubby of the passenger behind me, which my head had overextended onto. And then the man underneath me’s phone went off, ringer set all the way up to “inconsiderately loud,” to which he answered befittingly, shouting into his phone to overcome the increasingly poor cell service. The whole bus had already sounded like a hot June night near a pond, with text alerts going off like Spring Peeper Frogs, but those could be blocked out by headphones easily enough. This guy and his ten decibel conversation though, definitely wasn’t.


They say the first scratch on a new car always hurts the most, but that isn’t the case when it comes to sleep deprivation. Besides the ten or so phone calls I hadn’t been able to sleep through, each of which consisted more or less of the person shouting about they hadn’t arrived yet, and ironically enough mentioning just as loudly how they were on a sleeper bus, the bus had also stopped about every 2 hours to pick up and drop off passengers, none of whom passed by me quietly or thoughtfully. Bags occasionally slapped against my bunk and whichever part of me that was slightly sticking out to make room for the rest of me, raucous announcements of arrival were made into phones, and most of the men exiting were in such a hurry to smoke that they’d already lit up as they passed by me. By the time I’d gotten off the bus and driven to my hotel, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep.


Budget travel comes at a price


Whoever said ‘It’s the journey that matters, not the destination,’ clearly never took a night bus to Yangshuo. But damn, this place was worth it

Unbelievable Yangshuo


There’s no question why this is one of China’s top 5 tourist destinations


Buddhist temple style hotels


Untouched nature


The perfect destination for a romantic getaway




Plenty of tourists, rain or shine


Plenty of shopping and drinking for the tourists


Strange foods for the tourists, as well as the staff


This was during the off-season…




Fishermen villages




Boat tours up the LiJiang river






Typically tacky photo ops




The Silver Caves







Amazingly fresh air



Unforgettable. There will always be a part of me that never left these mountains that one weekend away from Shenzhen 

An Unexpected Downside of Living in Southern China

You’d think an area that’s hitting 80 degrees or above 8 months out of the year would be a great place to live. For all intents and purposes, Shenzhen is 100% better than what I’d experienced in Beijing; beaches and ocean breezes, cleaner air and better weather than Northern China (not counting the occasional Typhoon of course), greenery and wildlife infiltrating every street, overall higher wages in the ESL industry, and a close proximity to Hong Kong and Macau that ensures some awesome weekend adventures while also guaranteeing a higher degree of civility and manners in the people.



Shenzhen is an incredibly modern city, and compared to the rest of China it’s more progressive, polite and adaptive. Shenzhen’s rapid growth from a small fishing port of roughly 80,000 people in the 80’s to the 12 million plus metropolis that it is now has had some great advantages, allowing it to have been designed from the ground up and built based on modern ideologies and efficiency, rather than as a reaction to time and growth like so many of the other major cities in China; Beijing is constantly being torn down and rebuilt as it attempts to keep up with the 21st century, trapping the city in a continuous state of half splendor and half dilapidation. For how well Shenzhen’s design and expansion had been planned out, nobody had ever thought to include heating systems in the buildings. But for a city that’s more southern than Florida, you wouldn’t think that it’d be an issue… right? Fuck that. Wrong.


Look at those beautiful, heaterless buildings

It’s mid February and tonight my apartment is 35 degrees. I’m wrapped in blankets as I write this, shivering and letting out a visible mist with every breath. The toilet had resembled a cauldron when I peed earlier, steam literally rising out of it. Even though the summers here are sweltering and dance around triple digit temperatures everyday, and even though three quarters of the year is T-shirt and shorts weather, what nobody tells you about South China is that 2 months of that same year are bone chillingly cold. Those ocean breezes are no longer your friend, and the combination of low temperatures, lack of heating and high humidity will cut through any clothing and burrow deep into your muscles until they ache. There couldn’t have been a worse way of finding all of this out than having just flown back from touring the balmy South East of Asia. I’d had no way of preparing for this either; nobody packing for the South ever includes winter clothing! To their credit, my Chinese coworkers had tried to warn me it would get cold down here, but because they wear coats when it’s 70 degrees outside, naturally I had ignored everything they said. Since there isn’t a knob or dial in my apartment that raises the heat like anywhere else I’ve ever lived, my only option is to invest in one of the few space heaters that hasn’t sold out yet… if, of course, I can find a way to stomach the price gouging of an item that will be irrelevant by the end of this month. Can I just go back to Thailand?


Instead of a picture of my steaming toilet, I’ll show you where the frigid death blows in from

Vacationing in Shut-down Bangkok; The Protest From a Backpacker’s POV


The barricaded express-way into Asoke

On any normal day, hundreds of thousands of cars would have driven over the spot where I’d stood to take the above photo, and the realization of this as I’d walked along that same highway, now devoid of traffic, had created a surreal feeling straight out of a dystopian movie. It was just one of the many essential roadways in Bangkok that has been blocked off and barricaded into desertion by “Yellow Shirt” protestors, and it led directly into one of their largest encampments. Sparked by the alleged corruption within Thailand’s royal family and those that have helped to enable it, this developing uprising has already brought large portions of the city to a standstill, as people continue to arrive from all over the country and claim the streets in an Occupy fashion. Major intersections and parks within these occupied areas, commonly referred to as Shutdown Zones, have been transformed into rebel outposts of various sizes, and the growing infrastructures of food and medical supplies at each have made it very clear that the Yellow Shirts are preparing to entrench themselves for as long as it could take to force the current regime to step down.


Just one of the hundreds of protest banners hanging within Bangkok’s Shutdown Zones

To get onto the highway, I’d needed to pass through a makeshift checkpoint made out of several mountains of tires and piled-up wooden debris, navigating the sections of road that had been ripped apart to prevent anything larger than a motorcycle from driving further. Members of the renegade militia stood at attention within, searching through the belongings of anybody who attempted to enter. In addition to the pat-downs and frisking, Thai nationals were also forced to present their government issued IDs, which I’m assuming was in an effort to screen for anyone who might’ve come with ill-intentions. Most of the guards had been wearing what looked to be bullet proof vests with batons strapped at their sides, and every single one of them had covered their face with either a shirt or a scarf. As powerful of a photo as this would’ve been, if they hadn’t wanted to show their faces, I highly doubt they would’ve taken kindly to being photographed either; these guys looked way too ominous to risk getting my iPhone confiscated, or worse.


The checkpoints weren’t nearly as ominous at 11am


One of the many propaganda trucks roaming and deafening the streets of Bangkok

There were Military Emergency Stations directly outside of the entry checkpoints, manned by soldiers who anxiously bided their time while sitting on munitions crates, and once inside the Shutdown Zone, the vacant streets were patrolled by pickup trucks with half a dozen or so masked men in each, most of whom were sitting attentively in the back looking outwards. Inside the occupied areas as well as outside of them in everyday Bangkok, what I can only describe as propaganda trucks were also making their rounds, carrying masses of chanting yellow shirts throughout the city to distribute informative pamphlets and spread their message. Each truck had been adorned with Thai flags and anti-establishment banners, affixed with huge speakers that were blaring protest rhetoric and the National Anthem of Thailand loud enough to be heard from several blocks away, as well as potentially split your ear drums if the truck drove directly past you. In the center of this particular Shutdown Zone was debatably the largest protest camp of the movement, and as I made my way inward towards it, the morale became practically tangible.


Borrowed with permission from the most knowledgeable Farang in the city. I’d highly suggest checking out his blog, stickmanbangkok.com, for more in-depth information on both the protests and life in Bangkok

I’d arrived at one of the hearts of the protest, where the once major intersection in front of the popular Asoke Market had been transformed into a massive rally, complete with an improvised stage, loudspeakers, and big screen televisions that the Yellow-Shirt leaders were using to broadcast their message. All across the area and further than you could see in any one direction, Thai protestors had set up campsites and created small communal living areas in-between their tents, entertaining themselves with portable TVs, radios, card games, alcohol, and BBQ. Medical stations and cantinas selling essential supplies were randomly interspersed throughout the area, and the major pathways that ran from one end of the Shutdown Zone to the other were lined with vendors on either side, funding their occupation of Bangkok’s roads and highways by selling street food, souvenirs, protest paraphernalia, and counterfeit goods. As I passed by a group of foreigners with yellow armbands on, each labeled ‘Journalist’ in bold black letters along with its Thai meaning underneath, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Occupy Wall Street movement that we’d had back in the States. That same optimism was here in Bangkok, and while anger and injustice were what had caused this movement to begin, it instead seemed to be fueling itself off of hope and grassroots communalism. As I’d walked through the Shutdown Zone’s community and witnessed how the rally had brought all of these strangers together in a common goal, regardless of how completely ignorant I’d been about the conflict’s origins and who’d done what to whom, I could feel the electrical passion and nationalism flowing through the air, and I realized that I really wanted these people to win.



I definitely picked up a Shutdown Bangkok T-shirt while passing through

Even though Bangkok’s Shutdown Movement has come off as positive and progressive so far, it had been obvious while walking through the protest rally that the hopeful tension in the air could also easily snap with the right provocation, devolving from peaceful demonstration into violence and rioting at just a moment’s notice. The Shutdown Zone checkpoints and the immediate areas around them had been noticeably militarized, and it was quite clear that both sides had not only acknowledged this outcome, but begun preparing for its contingency as well. How this standoff plays out will largely hinge on an important upcoming election, which just so happens to take place only several days from now, as well as conveniently and safely after I’ll have left Bangkok! Depending on its results, the protests in Bangkok could either peacefully dissipate, or erupt into turmoil, as working class protestors and guerrilla-esque rebels take action against Bangkok’s upper-class-backed police force via the very same deserted highway that I’d just photographed.


Foresight: A++

For further information about Bangkok’s ongoing protests, not just the perspective a travel wandering through the chanting crowds, here’s where I would suggest looking first:

Stickman Bangkok

BBC’s 60 Second Summary

“Bring your clothes, food and necessities for our victory may take months. Bangkok residents should clear their work before the New Year. We will shut down and occupy Bangkok a few days after the New Year. We won’t leave even a single inch to let people in the Thaksin regime to abuse us. Bangkok people who feel uncomfortable will have time to maneuver, leaving those with the hearts to fight to join hands in wiping out the Thaksin regime.” – Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the Yellow Shirt resistance


The Wanfujing Night Market


Normally if a fellow foreigner living in Beijing were to ask me “should I go to Wanfujing?” I would tell them that whatever they needed could probably be found somewhere else in Beijing with less hassle. I don’t really care for Wanfujing, and have left the area thoroughly annoyed about two thirds of the times I’ve went. Pickpockets, prostitutes and tea house scammers are notoriously common in this area, and for the most part Wanfujing is a taxi sinkhole; a place where the drivers will attempt to charge you astronomical prices in the ballpark of 200-300RMB for a 40RMB trip because they don’t think you know any better. That being said, I’m an expat familiar with China and therefore have different expectations than a normal tourist, which leads to my personal disdain. Wanfujing is home to some of the most famous hotels in Beijing, and because of this it has become the number one tourist area in Beijing. There’s English everywhere, dining is tourist-friendly and simple, most business owners are better able to help foreigners, and there are a lot of great cultural seminars nearby for an interested traveler to attend. The area is incredibly convenient for somebody staying in Beijing short term, and so long as they’re wary of scams and don’t mind paying a tad bit extra for things, it’s a good place for them to enjoy themselves during their travels. If you’re planning to visit Beijing and want an easy, enjoyable area to stay at, then Wanfujing would be my recommendation. And even for the experienced expat and the biased, sometimes arrogant blogger, Wanfujing has some cool stuff to offer; its giant foreign book stores, a large, ornate Eastern-orthodox church, and the Wanfujing Night Markets.

Wanfujing’s night markets are a must do for anybody in Beijing, and by far one of the most culture shocking and fascinating experiences you can have in Beijing. The night markets, which are open from 4pm to around 9pm, consist of two different locations; The first is an alley way bazaar called Snack Street, full of popular Chinese snacks, tourist souvenirs and strange goods that you can’t find anywhere in the city. The other location, which I plan to focus on in this blog article, is two blocks North on Donghuamen street and sells any exotic food you can imagine.


The exotic food market on Donghuamen


The alley bazaar Snack Street’s entrance



Besides the usual street foods of wraps, noodles, and chuar meats that you can get all over Beijing and other Chinese cities, the Wanfujing Night Market is where you can eat cat, dog, snake, horse and just about any insect you could imagine. Some of the food here is stomach turning, while other snacks are surprisingly delicious… Fried scorpions turned out to be amazing! It’s a very fun experience to go and look, and if you’re brave enough try something exotic. You might not walk away satisfied, but you will forever retain bragging rites during stories to come. As a zoology major, I felt it was my academic duty to try every animal possible, and I hope my reviews make you hungry!



Uncooked snake amongst squid tentacles and silk worm pupae

On the left is snake chuar, which was chewy, salty and a little stringy, but had a very good, almost jerkyish, flavor. The right chuar stick is dog meat, which was fatty and had a dull flavor. I wasn’t very impressed with dog, but it could’ve been a bad cut of meat. Not shown was the cat and horse chuars. The horse was tender but had a grainy texture, and tasted a lot like really tender beef with a little bit of gaminess. Horse is definitely worth eating again. Cat was incredibly tender, on par with fish, and almost tasted like lamb or goat. The cat was hands down some of the best meat I’ve ever had in my life, comparable to sashimi.


After deep frying the stick of live Scorpions, they added some spices and handed it over. I was a little hesitant but I gotta say, they were pretty good! Crunchy and tough but full of protein, and fried Chitin tastes a lot like KFC crispy chicken skin. I went and got seconds. The larger scorpions had a lot more juice inside, and it tasted way too stale and scuzzy for my comfort. The smaller ones were a lot more enjoyable, and never made my stomach turn upside down.



I only ate the fried crabs, I had no clue how to deal with the shells of the cray fish and tiger prawn. Plus, I wasn’t confidant that deep frying them would adequately cook their meat through those thick shells. The fried crab was good but a hassle. They’d never deshelled it, so you were expected to chew it and spit out the shell bits, and I honestly think it would’ve been easier to tie a cherry stem in my mouth than navigate that mess. The final result was a lot of lost meat and some cuts in my mouth, not to mention several fragments of shell going down the hatch by accident. I suggest getting the fried shrimps instead, they’re just as tasty but much more manageable.


I also left these guys alone because of their shells
I wasn’t in the mood to bust them open on the sidewalk


The silk worm pupae were like little grenades of ipecac, and the second I’d managed to break through the first one’s leathery casing and actually bite into it, a briny, uncomfortably warm, foul tasting liquid spurted into my mouth… as well as onto a guy passing by. The tan liquid was a milky consistency and just hot enough to skeeve somebody out, tasting like stale water and the worst cunnilingus ever. Being a good sport and wanting to have an informed opinion for all of you, I decided that I needed to try a second one before I could call it. The next one tasted just as bad, was never swallowed and quickly gagged back out of my mouth. The Chinese nearby were thoroughly amused by the sight of a foreigner spitting up onto the sidewalk, and I did it shamelessly… Silk worm pupae are foul.


You can buy your own lamb leg for 40RMB. Obviously this was a must, though they’re deceivingly thin and have a lot more bone and tendon than it appears. The meat was great though and it still ended up being a large meal, as well as a greasy, messy one. I felt like Haggar the Horrible walking around that day.



The squid tentacles were only okay, the spicy soy sauce they were drenched in helped a lot with their rubbery, briny tastelessness. They were quite the jaw work out though, and really weren’t appetizing at all. Maybe if they had been deep fried they would’ve tasted better, but that option wasn’t available here. So many Chinese people fiend for squid too, but they just weren’t for me.


The shark fillets were totally worth it, well spiced and deep fried, they tasted a lot like codfish with an after taste of chicken. I didn’t expect them to be so tender either. I could’ve filled up on them, they reminded me of an American fish fry mixed with KFC.



If eating strange animals isn’t up your alley, the night market had a large vegetarian section for the Buddhists. Every and any type of tofu could be found here; some were candied, some were boiled, some were braised, and the majority of them were eventually fried. I was too busy moving through the animal kingdom though to spend anytime here; too many potential pets to eat and creepy crawlies to fry.


Overall, no exotic food was over 40RMB, with the lamb leg being the most expensive. Most were about 20RMB a stick, and all of it was very affordable. I’d filled up on animals that people keep for pets, and had eaten creatures that make women and girly men scream… It was an interesting and fulfilling day. And for anybody reading this who’s annoyed that I’d eaten fido or whisker’s distant Asian cousin, take solace in the karmic diarrhea I’d had the next day. I’m not sure if it’d been from the snakes or the silk worm pupae, but there were definitely some consequences for my gluttony.

These were some of the foods that I never got a chance to try, so look forward to part two one day:

Qianmen Dajie



This is the Church Street from Burlington, VT of Beijing, Boston’s Quincy Market in the East. Just south of Tiananmen Square, this wide street has been sectioned off to prevent vehicle-through traffic and create a venue for nearby tourists to shop and eat. Each side of Qianmen dajie is lined with western businesses set into ancient style architecture to create a unique market street for the pedestrian tourists. In between the street’s authentic walls are crowds of shoppers walking through another type of commerce, street hockers positioned up and down the large road with all kinds of knickknacks to sell. The street is incredibly active as people come in and out of stores, while salespeople demonstrate their toys, kites, and airplanes throughout the foot traffic. I’ve never been one to shop unless it’s at the Silk Market, but if you want the finer goods like Rolex, Nike, Calvin Klein, Nikon, Zara, H&M or… KFC?

Only in China would a KFC be next door to a Rolex store…

This is the place to come for an interesting and fun way to do any non-counterfeit shopping.DSC_0958


The Beijing Acrobats at Chaoyang Theater


After seeing this show, I fully understand how Chinese Acrobatic shows have become world famous. Lasting about an hour and a half, each of the 7 acts had my full attention, as these incredibly skilled acrobats preformed dangerous feats of finesse and astounding physical prowess. As a fitness enthusiast, watching the things these people could do with their bodies had my jaw in my lap, and my eyes glued. These amazing tricks ranged from hopping down stairs on one hand with their body in the air, to spinning multiple towels and balanced umbrellas on their toes. Near super human balance was shown as a girl created a tower of stacked chairs from beneath herself, often balancing on her hands or toes atop an unstable chair as she situated the next one under her body. After balancing 10 girls on one bike, they managed to fit 8 motorcyclists into one steel cage ball, who dangerously whizzed around each other in multiple neon illuminated circles. Throughout the whole show, beautiful oriental flags were waved as powerful orchestral scores filled the room, with Chinese idols and symbolism incorporated into each act. All in all it was an amazing performance, on par with other world class acts like Circus du Soleil, for an affordable price of 380RMB a seat (though cheaper seats in the front were available, as well as more expensive balcony seats). These acrobats perform every night of the week, often mixing in different acts, and it is a must see for anybody in Beijing! Check out http://www.chaoyangtheatre.com for more information. Be way of other websites that offer discounted tickets, I suggest going to the venue and buying them in person to avoid any scams. These pictures cannot do it justice, but they should give you an idea just how spectacular this show is… Enjoy!


The Infamous Tea House Scam

You’re new to Beijing, and have decided you’re gonna go out and see the sights. Here are some totally possible, potentially normal situations that you could find yourself in:

As you’re walking around tourist areas, a polite young guy approaches you and tells you that he’s a college student and would love you to take you out to lunch in order to practice his English. He’s really polite, looks well dressed, and even offers to show you around Beijing afterwards. How awesome would it be if a friendly, English-speaking local were to show you the hidden gems of the city and all of the best spots that you’d have never known about?! Definitely not an offer to turn down, you think to yourself.

A cute young girl, or even a group of them, comes up to you, shyly asking if you’d like to grab some coffee or food. Maybe she thinks you’re handsome, wants to learn more about your culture, or is looking to improve her English; whatever, it doesn’t really matter because she seems nice, comes off interested in you and is very attractive, plus you’ve read before that many of these girls want foreign boyfriends. You smile to yourself while thinking how lucky you are to have this opportunity, and would be more than happy to buy her lunch and see where it goes.

When you smile and say yes, accepting their kind offers, they tell you about a nearby restaurant or cafe with great food that they could take you too. The place isn’t down some dark alley or underneath a stairwell either, instead it’s out in the open and facing the street like a normal, reputable business; not at all sketchy and a place you yourself might’ve walked into if you’d still been on your own. When you get there, you’re even lucky enough to be able to get a private room to eat in. The menu has good prices, and this is shaping up to be a really cool time!

Honestly ask yourself; if the title of this article hadn’t had scam in it, could you see yourself ending up in that private room without having had any inklings of danger? The answer I’m going to guess you’ve come to is exactly why the Teahouse scam has been so effective on tourists and travelers, as well as why I feel the need to inform you.

Hopefully you’re reading this before you’ve accepted one of these tempting offers; the people who’ve approached you are scumbag scam artists and only want to lead you into a trap. Even people who’ve been living in Beijing for years have been duped by this scam; letting their guards down because it’s actually really common to meet somebody on the street who legitimately wants to be your friend and doesn’t have any plans to shake you down. And let’s face it… most Chinese just aren’t very intimidating to a westerner, making it a lot easier to never get any instinctual warnings before it’s too late.


Recently I was approached while doing the Night Market article.
See the guy who’s circled? He’s an asshole.

Once the bill comes, you will find that the 100RMB meal you’ve just eaten is actually 2000USD, and the waiter who has come to collect the payment has two large men next to him. That private room you’d thought you were so lucky to get has suddenly turned into a prison, and you’re not leaving until you’ve paid up; the threat of getting the shit beaten out of you or worse has been made frighteningly clear to you as those two large thugs block the doorway. What happens from here depends on the place you’re being scammed at, I’ve heard and read many different stories. Your pockets will almost always be emptied, and any expensive phones or cameras that you have with you will get taken away, forcibly if need be. Knives could be pulled and bats could be brandished, and it’s fully possibly that they might even start the shakedown with several punches to your face, skipping those annoying stages of the robbery where you attempt to reason or plead your way out of it. If you don’t have the money, it’s not going to be a simple “let ’em go and find a richer mark” situation either; worst case scenario, you’ll get severally beaten to make a point, and overall it’s standard practice for you to be escorted to an ATM or your hotel room in order to make good on your debt. Even worse, if you’re in a group, not only will all of you be shaken down, but only one of you is going to be allowed to leave. The rest of you will be kept in that room under the threat of violence, ensuring that the person who’d been sent out will return quickly and alone, with whatever cash and valuables they could gather in order to trade for your safety. Even after everything is done and you’ve been allowed to leave, it’s very possible that one of the thugs will follow you back to where you’re staying, making it very clear that they know where you’re at if you were to ever contact the authorities.

These scams are not new, and while originally worked out of tea houses, hence their name, they’ve taken place at all manner of venues; including apartment showings, the “special inventory” rooms of some small shops, various bars, and even some private “art galleries.” The fact that they’ve been being conducted out of brick and mortar establishments that are easily returned to and probably incredibly hard for a victim to forget… one must wonder how they’ve been allowed to continue. In far too many retellings of this scam, the police had refused to help victims based on very conspicuous reasons, or they just never bothered to look into the crime or give any updates once it’d been reported. This has led to the common belief that many of the cops in those areas have been paid to look the other way, and frighteningly enough, it’s only been further proven by the vicious beatings that multiple scam victims have received shortly after filing police reports… And even having moved to a new hotel that they’d just so happened to notify those cops about.

It’s practically impossible to give any advice on how to handle this scam because, for the most part, by the time you’re reading anything on it, it has already happened to you. I only hope that from the information in this article, you will be able to recognize and avoid the scam before you’re ever forced to learn about it the hard way. One consistent tip that I can give you though is that credit card companies are all too familiar with this scam, and most victims have had great success in getting the charges reversed. For the day that I hope never comes, and you slip up and find yourself in this kind of situation; don’t risk your wellbeing with these animals and just pay everything you can with your credit card, and afterwards call to work out reversing everything as soon as you’re safe.

A final word on keeping yourself safe in the future, be incredibly wary of being lead anywhere, not just in China but all of Asia. This scam is the oldest one in the book as far as tourists go, and there are hundreds of variations off the same idea, in practically any city or country you could travel to. This goes for lady bars which are incredibly popular in China and the most of Asia, as well as spots with cheap counterfeit goods, and overall just about anything that involves somebody approaching you and trying to reel you in so to speak. The more they want you to go there, the less you probably should. And if you feel that you absolutely must meet with somebody, then do it on your terms, and choose the venue yourself instead of being lead to one.