Daily Archives: April 11, 2011

9 posts

NBA Playoffs Preview: Eastern Conference

Apologies in advance to fans of Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers. Your teams are decent but aren’t worth talking about (remember these words when all three of them push their opponents to seven games).
Pure Sex Appeal


The Chicago Bulls: Unless you live under a rock there’s no question that this season’s biggest surprise has been the fantastic showing by the Chicago Bulls. After back-to-back .500 seasons and getting clowned by LeBron James and his crew of flunkies, the Bulls went out and pulled off one of the best Plan B’s in sports history. By pairing basketball-obsessed coach Tom Thibodeau with humble-bot Derrick Rose, the Bulls established a locker room where maximum effort was expected and defense a priority.
TV Analyst Ramblings:

  • It’s the Defense, Stupid: The Bulls have been #1 in defensive efficiency for the majority of the season. In the playoffs where the pace slows to a crawl and half-court offense reigns supreme, can the Bulls keep their rotations tight and continue to contest shots?
  • Bulls Bountiful Bigs Banging Boards: Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have combined to miss over 60 games, but thanks to incredible depth the Bulls’ rebounding has not missed a beat. However, both starters are going to need to play much better offensively than they have in the past month in order for an extended playoff run.
  • The Man from Sudan: Luol Deng has been a much-maligend player for the duration of his Bulls tenure. He’s gone from overrated to underrated to overrated to now the second most important player on a possible title team. Deng is the only non-Rose player who can create his own shot, and his ability to play huge minutes while providing elite defense has been a major factor for Chicago’s success.
  • Do You Know Who This Kid Is?: Derrick Rose is good at basketball, to explain why would be futile.
Like a Bosh

The Miami Heatles: Oh, LeBron James. Little did anyone know that your incredibly self-absorbed and idiotic “Decision” would have been the greatest thing to happen to the NBA since baggy shorts. Thanks to one person’s delusion that no one would be upset about taking a televised dump on the city of Cleveland, the NBA’s ratings have skyrocketed. In the post-Jordan era this has been one of the most successful seasons yet.
TV Analyst Ramblings:

  • In Miami, Basketball is 3-on-5: By now everyone knows about the incredible talent and production of the Heat’s 3 big stars. Bosh, Wade and James are not only incredibly gifted two-way players but they’re also efficient. The problem all season has been, what the hell happens when Miami faces a good defense that can take those 3 guys out of their element? The answer, not so much. The Heat have the worst bench in the league on a PPG basis, and thanks to salary cap constraints haven’t been able to find any impact players to pair with their stars.
  • Boys Don’t Cry: Miami’s struggles against elite teams has been well-documented. Other than sweeping the season series over the Lakers, they have not fared well against the league’s top teams. Even worse is that they seem to choke in every big game, and that the rest of the sports world seems to revel in their missteps. With two of the best closers in the game it was assumed Miami would handle crunch-time with ease, but it hasn’t been the case. Will the Heat actually run plays that work well (like say, a James/Wade pick and roll) or will they just keep forcing each guy to isolate every time?


I got nothing.

The Boston Celtics:  2008-2011 record before the All-Star game: 116-43. After the All-Star Game: 50-33. Injuries, age, trades and inconsistent play have put the Celtics on a roller-coaster ride for the past three seasons. They have ranged from the clear-cut best team in the league to a team that no one fears. A shocking deadline deal that sent starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City has seemingly sent the team, famously close-knit, into a tailspin. But this is a veteran group that encountered similar struggles last year and almost won the title.
TV Analyst Ramblings

  • Rajon Rondo, defunct Alien Cyborg: While the media fixates on the Boston Three Party of Pierce, Garnett and Allen, the dirty little secret about Boston is that they live and die based on the play of Rajon Rondo. A late 1st round pick who wasn’t supposed to amount to much has turned into one of the game’s best passers and a strong defender. He also has a worse jumpshot than my dad is a gaping piece of shit, but that’s another story. His play since the All-Star break has noticeably dipped and without a rejuvenated Rondo don’t expect Boston to get very far.
  • Will Shaq See the Court?: 74 year old Shaquille O’Neal made another pit-stop on the “Fuck I gotta get more rings than Kobe before I retire” tour when he signed with Boston. It was actually a match made in heaven as he accepted a reserve role and gave the Celtics one of the deepest benches in the league. However, Shaq has only played 37 games this year and last week injured himself by walking down the court (no joke).

The New York Knicks: I’m going to just come out and say it, I hate the Knicks. They are annoying, their fans are annoying, the Garden is annoying, Spike Lee is annoying, the admiration people have for this franchise is annoying. They don’t play any defense, Carmelo Anthony is one of the more overrated stars in recent memory and Amar’e Stoudemire gets less rebounds on a per minute basis than a barstool.

That said, they’re incredibly fun to watch and there are few arenas in the NBA that can get as rowdy as MSG. Mike D’Antoni is a gifted offensive coach who apparently lost the part of the brain that tells you basketball is also about preventing the opponent from scoring. Knicks fans have been suffering for quite some time and I think I can live in an age where Isiah Thomas isn’t running the most valuable NBA franchise into the ground. Also, Walt Frazier is a gift from heaven, everyone should cherish him.

Predictions: Bulls, Heat, Celtics, Magic all make it to the 2nd round. Bulls and Heat square off in the Conference Finals, Miami wins in 7 games.


Back In Black

If you were a betting type, you could invite me to a social event and be certain I’ll show up in black.   I have worn black almost exclusively for the last two decades, ever since escaping from my parents’ home.   I almost bought a black wedding dress.

I was not tapped by the beauty fairy with her magical wand of loveliness.   I’ve always leaned toward the chubby. I have a round face, with a soft jawline.  My hair is thick and frizzy, reminiscent of a dandelion in July.

In school, I longed to slip away from elementary society and find a nice corner in which to read, rather than present my bulk for bullying to my classmates.  This was not okay for my social butterfly mother, who wanted her daughters to sparkle and not take after her introvert husband in any way.  I was forced into tap dance lessons, led by a man called Mr. Bill who adored costumes so bright they could be seen from Venus.  My mother loved neon pink shirts and teal pants and anything that deposited a kitten or a puppy on my early-developing chest.

We really entered the canyon of horror when my mother, who never trained or worked as a hair stylist, thought it would be a fine idea to perm my hair.   I wound up spending several years with burns on my neck and scalp, and being the only Irish Catholic girl in school with an Afro.  Even the parochial school uniform didn’t give me a chance to blend in with that hair.

One of my most vivid school memories is showing up for a field trip in a lime-green tennis dress – with matching shorts!  The top was too tight, as my mother refused to believe her baby was developing, making my panic-attack breathing even harder to pull off.

Things descended in high school, where the fashion stakes were raised.  I observed, like Margaret Mead, other girls actually going to the mall to buy their own clothes.  They picked them out!   By themselves!  I was given a pink button-down shirt – even the collar buttoned down – to wear with purple corduroy pants and a purple sweater vest.   That earned me the title of Grape Ape.  I was given a weird stretch knit unitard item, styled with a turtleneck and wide green stripes across the chest, which really did wonders for my D-cups.  My mother was like a mad scientist, cruising K-Mart and Bradlees and Sears for clothes:  More polyester! More ruffles!  More flowers!  More stripes!  Ooooh! Polka dots!

Years after my escape, years after I started earning my own money and doing my own shopping,  filling my closet with black sweaters, and skirts, and boots, and tights, my mother was still giving me hideous bright clothing, trying to lure me into her toxic rainbow.  On my 25th birthday, I opened a box of pink flowers, meant to be worn as a shirt.  My grandmother could take no more.  “Noreen,” she said to my mother, taking a long drag on her Tarryton 100s, “she doesn’t wear that shit, for Chrissakes.  Give her money.”

Now, I dip my toe into the color pool every now and then.  At the age of 37, I have purchased a purple dress.  And a blue one!  Even though my husband tells me I look beautiful in color, I feel  gigantic and swollen in color, like I’m lumbering through my day.  I can’t shake that girl in the lime-green dress, and how she felt, and how she yearned for a dark suit of armor.


Weekend Box Office: Russell Brand Could Kiss You Right Now!

Blech. I can’t imagine what a Russell Brand kiss would be like. I imagine sort of like the mashing of sweetly decaying mango with the hairy tickle of an ape called Trudy.

You guys, though — you guys think he’s a movie God derived straight from Zeus’s naughty place. Behold what you’ve done.

1) Hop — $21.7 Million

A drunk bunny living in a penthouse. He’s walking the streets of New York City hoping to find love, a purpose, possibly a mother figure conjured out of a shrewish Mary Poppins person but with less singing, and more commentary than is comfortable about his sexual exploits. Since the biggest fear a drunk bunny can ever have is being a destitute drunk bunny, he needs to find a wife. Preferably one who’s obviously in the rages of a severe career meltdown to have thought hanging out with a drunk bunny, and his bevy of unfunny jokes about being a stunted toddler, was the way to say to the world, “Hey, I’m not just the wife of an actor whose best movie was being the best friend of another actor. Oh, no! I’m my own person. I’m funny. See! I’m funny!” cry, garble, cry, crumple-face. But the drunk bunny doesn’t want Jennifer Garner as his love interest. No, he wants Greta Gerwig, strange, indie, earnest-faced sibling-esque Gerwig, with whom he actually has no romantic chemistry, mostly because the world is really all about him, and his silly pants, and his Silly-Putty face-mush, and his desperate, all consuming need for us to love him, his bunny feet, and his dervish of random banter resulting in the destruction of comedy as we know it.

2) Arthur — $12.6 Million

Russell Brand (in a top hat no less!) and James Marsden are roommates! This dynamic duo team of Bosom Buddies is all about rock and roll, chicks (like literally) and Holiday Jesus marshmallow fun! R.Bro and J.Dude are going to set the world on fire with their ability to woo the likes of any upright standing female, from popstars to c-list actresses. No one will ever be better at catching the ladies than these two. Except they need to have access, and a ladies-only apartment building is just the place. Uh-oh…but they’re guys. What will they do? Well, of course dress up as women and move in! Hopefully no one will notice the two broad shouldered, coarse-haired, gigantic ladies with Adam apples the size of the Chrysler building. Of course they won’t. But every time these two lotharios come in close contact with the unsuspecting ladies, something wonky happens and oops what do you know hijinks ensue complete with make-up, pantyhose, and wigs made from the regenerating scalp Donald Trump keeps in a hyperbaric chamber. While Brand falls all over himself with his palsy-ridden, elastic bones — Marsden will keep the ladies entertained with his shirtless meanderings and mouth as wide as two Julia Roberts mandibles full of Velociraptor teeth and the skinless skulls of various paparazzi!

(Does it really matter that these two movies are completely different? No. It’s all interchangeable really. America has made no distinction between Russell Brand and the existence of movies that he isn’t the star of.)

3) Hanna — $12.3 Million

A blond snow princess will break all your body bones and then run for hours. This movie should have been titled, Hanna Will Run Nonstop — Pop Your Tibia — And Then Run Some More. The End. No, seriously, this was really it. Oh, some people will be all angry weird because she’s a running, bone-crunching machine. I imagine there are uses for these types of teenagers in the world. Instead of texting, sexting, and twittering their Facebooks off and the like, they should be trained to dislocate shoulders. I think this could be a useful trade. Sort of like working for the DMV. The people at the DMV secretly love their jobs, especially watching you walk from line to line, just to say that you don’t have Form B, or you didn’t fill out section 17a, and then send you back to line 4, which hasn’t moved in over an hour because line 6, which you’re currently in, sends everyone back to line 4. Yes, yes, I think there is joy in this. And so would there be for patella-punching teens. Imagine the DMV with more Kung Fu and broken kneecaps! Fantastic. Teens need an outlet, I think. I’d rather they slap an eardrum than let the bastion of exploitation named Teen Mom decide their futures. Right? Right.

4) Soul Surfer — $11.1 million

Well, obviously, if you want to see some sort of religious movie that stars a vicious non-human creature than you should see Hop, or Russell Brand and James Marsden yukking it up, or Peter Scolari doing dinner theatre in Albuquerque while he writes threatening messages to Tom Hanks. No, no, that’s not it. You should probably see this little movie about a girl with one arm and prayer. Or maybe not. This country is sad. We don’t like miracle sea-limbs. We’d much rather see a drunk vaudevillian carnival carney with Land of the Lost Chaka-brows. Yes, that’s it. Sorry soul-surfing teen with your celestial surf board. You’re really no match for the anointed, walking Katy Perry tattoo. He’s really that unstoppable. Maybe if you crash into him with your board and can maybe pop some patellas, like the snow princess who may have burst from Eric Bana’s boring loins, you may stand a chance of dethroning our new president, King Hairy Chuckle-Pants.

5) Insidious — $9.7 Million

Have they really tried to rid the house of all evil? Not just the little evils that live in the basement, or the attic, or under the sink. But all the little dusty evils under the bed? Because obviously, when they work their way up to the bed proper, they get caught in the mattress folds and then you have an infestation. That’s what leads to possession. It’s not really the evil you can see and hear. It’s the teeny, tiny, little evils that you can take with you to your office. The ones that stick to your desk chair and the carpeting. Next thing you know, you need an exorcism in your bedroom, and then at your office, because all the evils have procreated and multiplied. Now you have evils and devils. The devils…yeah, those are just the worst. They just impregnate everything. Next thing you know you have to burn your sheets, because you can’t just wash out the devil. You literally have to set it on fire and then buy all new things. But you better make sure you’ve completely rid the house of everything, or they’ll just come back, with more and more, because they’re so stubborn those evils and the devils. So just be sure you get it all.

Apropos of Nothing:

Your Highness came in sixth place raking in $9.5 million, which means Natalie Portman’s brilliant Oscar follow-up was this close to getting in the top five this weekend, which would have meant at least something redeemable, maybe. To not even get on the board means starring in this movie was as bad a decision as she thought it would be. She’ll laugh it off, though. And when someone brings it up, she’ll look really tight in the face and remark how genius she thinks James Franco is and how much she’d like to work with him in the future on a more serious project. To which Franco will say, “Bong! Pass it over.”

Passover Recipes: Matzo Ball Soup, Charoset, and Macaroons

One week from today, my home will be filling up with the smells of Seder dinner.  Chicken soup will be simmering on the stove.  Brisket will be roasting in the oven.  The food processor will be chopping up apples and walnuts.  My husband will be snacking on macaroons.

What is a Seder Dinner?

The Seder dinner is a tradition for the first night, or for some people the first two nights, of Passover.  Seder, which is a Hebrew word meaning order, is an evening of rituals, such as eating matzo and bitter herbs, drinking four cups of wine (many of us have adapted that ritual to four sips), telling the story of Exodus and eating the Seder meal.

Yehuda Matzos: flickr

During the Seder, and the following eight days of Passover, we remember the Exodus when our ancestors escaped from being slaves in Egypt.  We eat matzo and refrain from eating other grains because our ancestors did not have time to let their bread rise.  We eat bitter herbs to remember the bitterness in their lives.  We eat charoset to remember the mortar they used to build the pyramids.

What Is Not Eaten?

I could write an entire post on what is or is not kosher for Passover.  This is the quick overview.

The foods that can not be eaten on Passover are called chametz: wheat, spelt, oats, barley, and rye.  Many Jewish people of European descent, including me, also do not eat kitniyot: corn, rice, legumes and some seeds.  The reason?  The quick answer is we deny ourselves foods our ancestors were not able to eat during the Exodus and the only food containing grain we eat is matzo.  Matzo is unleavened bread, almost like a large cracker, made from only flour and water and baked for less than 18 minutes.  Matzo can be ground into matzo meal to be used in many recipes during Passover.  A fine matzo meal is similar to a course flour, while a course matzo meal is similar to bread crumbs.  There are a few reasons many of us refrain from eating kitniyot, but it is basically to prevent accidentally eating chametz.

Many Jewish people who do not keep regularly keep kosher follow the general rules of Kashrut, dietary law, during Passover.  That means we do not eat pork or other meat from animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud.  We do not mix meat and dairy.  We only eat seafood that has fins and scales, which means we do not eat shellfish.  This website has a good overview.

Seder Plate: flickr

Some Traditional Recipes

I am sharing with you a few of my favorite traditional  Passover recipes.  I’ll be making these and many other foods for my Seder dinner.  Please share your own favorites in the comments.  Maybe you can help me decide what side dish is missing from my menu.

My Mom’s Chicken Soup

Whether you are making this soup for Passover or just everyday enjoyment, the recipe depends on using kosher chickens.  Kosher chickens are soaked and salted before packaging and that makes a significant difference in the taste.

Makes 12 cups of soup

  • 2 kosher chickens, each 3 lbs plus, cut into quarters (include the neck and any organs – they will add lots of flavor)
  • About 14 cups water
  • 3 large carrots, cleaned and cut in thirds
  • 1 large white turnip, cleaned not peeled; cut in half
  • 1 large parsnip. cleaned
  • 4 stalks celery, each cut in half
  • 1 whole onion, peeled
  • 3 leeks
  • 1-1/2  bunch parsley
  • 1 -1/2 bunch dill
  • Salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons to one tablespoon)

Clean chicken thoroughly. Cut away excess fat and discard. Pour boiling water over chickens prior to putting in pot.  Put chickens in a large stock pot and pour water up to about ¼ of an inch over the chickens.  Bring to a boil and skim off fat and scum during the first 10 minutes of boiling.  Lower heat to allow stock to simmer.  After one hour, remove about half the chicken. (This chicken will make great chicken salad, the chicken that cooks the whole time will have lost most its flavor.)  Add carrots, white turnip and parsnip.  Bring back to boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes before adding celery, onion and leeks.  Bring to a boil once again, lower heat and simmer for another 10 minutes before adding parsley and dill.  Bring to a boil for a final time and simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the soup before serving so you have a clear broth.  I strain it from the ladle as I pour each bowl.  In my family, we serve the soup with one large matzo ball and a piece of carrot.  Some people like to shred some of the chicken and add it to the soup.  As a child, it was a treat to get the neck or the gizzards.

For the matzo balls, my mother always told me there is no better recipe than the recipe on the side of the box of Manischewitz matzo meal.  We are a family that believes matzo balls should float, not sink.


Adapted from The Complete Passover Cookbook, Frances R. AvRutick

  • 4 apples, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks (many people peel the apples, but why cut away all that fiber?)
  • 1 cup chopped or ground walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 6 teaspoons kosher red wine or grape juice

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.  Ideally, the charoset should resemble a chunky mortar, as it should remind us of the mortars used to build the Egyptian pyramids.  Some people prefer a chunkier charoset.

Charoset is my favorite Passover food.  Every Passover, I wonder why I don’t make charoset throughout the year.  It is simple and delicious.  But I know that, in my heart, I want to keep charoset special so I only allow myself the cinnamon apple goodness during the eight days of Passover.

Coconut Macaroons

This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown’s Toasty Coconut Macaroons.

  • 4 large egg whites
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 8 ounces unsweetened coconut
  • 12 oz semi-sweet dairy-free chocolate chips
  • 1 oz vegetable shortening

Bring eggs to room temperature.  Whip eggs, a pinch of salt and vanilla until they stiffen.  Add sugar in three parts and continue to whip until very stiff.  Fold in the coconut, being very careful not to over mix.  You want to keep the mixture as light and fluffy as possible.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Drop batter onto paper using a teaspoon.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, checking periodically to makes sure they do not burn.  You want a nice golden color on the top, but the cookie won’t be too firm.

In a double broiler, or a metal bowl over a pot of about 2 inches slightly bowling water, melt the chocolate chips with the shortening.  Dip the cookies in the chocolate so the chocolate covers about half the cookie and let dry on parchment paper.

(Special thanks to DahlELama for making sure this Reform Penguin didn’t make any mistakes)

Matzoh Ball Photo: Flickr

MomCrocker and DadCrocker + Stereo = Lunacy

Living with Mom and Dad in the Ancestral Family Split-Level was quite an experience, and law school was boggling. When I moved back home after college, I was unprepared for the efforts of my Old People to stay young.

I don’t know if it’s a Scot thing or a Milanese thing, but we all tend to sing when we think we’re alone and are doing a domestic task.  Mine tend to come from VH-1’s Top 20, and Mom and Dad tend to Motown, since in 1961 that was the thing.

The central staircase of a split-level separates the living areas by function, which is cool.  It also enables one to spy on what’s going on on other levels without being seen.

So, when I came home from work and discovered that my Jamiroquai CD was missing from my car, I was a tad startled to hear it blasting from the stereo in the dining room.


She had her friend Pam in the living room and was dusting.  There was wine – a huge bottle of Pinot Grigio.  She sang “You know this spooky is for real!” and Pam folded up on the sofa in a pile of giggles.  I stood there on the stairs to the den with my jaw unhinged as Mom pranced around with a can of Pledge.  Canned Heat with lemon freshness. “I threw my caution to the wi-hi-hind!  Oh. Hi. I borrowed your CD.  Do you want some wine?”

“Mom, I think you’ve had enough for both of us.”  The crazy bitch was actually speaking LOLcat.

Finally, I tottered out to the terrace and called my friend Bill.  After telling him what was up, I asked if I could move in with him.  “My Mom sings ‘Stairway To Heaven’ when she dusts.” he informed me. “You’re better off.”

Then, the next day, I was watching HGTV in the den with the kitty, and Dad was working in the garage with the door open just a bit.  It was just enough to hear him yell along with Boston “I closed mah eyes and she slipped away-ayyy-hay! She slipped away-AY-HAY! It’s moar than a feeeeeling (moar than a feeling) when I hear that old song play woo-ooh-ooh-hoo!” The cat cocked an ear in that general direction, then shook his head, like “Christ, make it stop.”  My sentiments exactly.

I peeked in, and there he was at his workbench – making a goddam birdhouse, so that the goddam blue jays have a haven from which to dive-bomb our outdoor meals.

“Are both of you batshit?” I asked him.

“Maybe, a little.”

“Great. That looks terrific for me and my future.”


Don’t get me wrong.  If I had boring Old People I’d be bored and more than slightly irritated.  I just wish they were a little less musical about it.

And I’m so glad I live 20 minutes away now, with my Cap’n.  Though he thinks I’m a bit kooky when he catches me singing Colbie Callait to the cats.

Question of the Day: Who’s Your Favorite Movie Director?

OK, movie buffs film geeks, we know you read Cahiers Du Cinema every week and masturbate to Akira Kurosawa retrospectives. So let’s talk auteurs…

Who’s your favorite movie director?

So don’t give us a laundry list. Let’s hear the one director whose movies you’d want to have on a dessert desert deserted island.

Since I’m a child of the 90s and still fondly remember going to see Pulp Fiction at the movie theater there on Rt. 30 in Wayne, I’m going with Tarantino. I still consider “ENGLISH MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU SPEAK IT? to be right up there with the greatest all-time movie lines.

So who’s your favorite director?

Traveling The Roads Less Taken In The People’s Republic of China

I recently lived for a few years in the central region (Chongqing Municipality) of the People’s Republic of China. Here are some tips I learned for living and traveling in the less- or non-westernized regions of China.

1. Your hostel or hotel must be approved for foreigner accommodation. This is true all over China, but you might run into more Chinese-only places in areas where fewer foreigners visit or live. All big foreign-chain hotels are approved for foreigners and  JangJiang Inn/Hotel is a nationwide, approved Chinese hotel chain. Using an online hostel finder will usually bring up results for foreigner-approved hostels, and hostels display a plaque if they are approved. However, if you are searching onsite, you might run across a place that refuses to let you stay there. This might be why.

2. You are required to register with the local police within 24 hours of arrival in an urban area and 72 hours in a rural area. If you stay in a foreigner-approved hotel or hostel they will take care of this for you; this means when you check in, they will make a copy of your passport and visa and might ask you which city you arrived from and where you are going next. (Those questions are on the form they fill out to give to the police, but they aren’t always asked.) I was told informally this law was only applicable if you will be there for more than 72 hours, but I was always registered even if I stayed only one night. If you don’t stay in a hotel or hostel, you are responsible for the registration.  If you are working, your visa sponsor will usually help you register guests staying with you.

3. The custom in China is to shower before bed, so in smaller hotels or hostels, hot water might be available only at night. A hostel will usually advertise if hot water is available 24 hours a day. I just usually asked when checking in so I could plan my hot water usage. However, electric teapots and/or hot water dispensers are available in every room and/or floor.

4. The Chinese government uses the Yangtze River as a horizontal dividing line for determining who gets indoor central heat and who doesn’t. If you live below the Yangtze, heat is not provided. Foreign business and hotels usually provide their own heat, but restaurants, homes, local shops and work places are not heated. (My work building and apartment weren’t heated.) It got down to about 35 degrees in my city; not freezing, but cold enough to require wearing a coat 24 hours a day in the winter.

5. University campuses have guest hotels (and sometimes foreign student dormitories) on campus they’ll rent out for much cheaper than a city hotel. They aren’t advertised that I’m aware of, but if you go on campus and ask anyone where the hotel or overseas dormitory is, you’ll be directed to it. The front desk will help you.

6. Travel restrictions to Tibetan or Uyghur areas are usually strictly  enforced. It can change quickly, so verify before you leave for these areas they are still accessible to foreigners. Your country’s consulate is a good resource for this information.

7. Two common scams:

  • If you speak English, an English-speaking local will invite you to go with them to a KTV (karaoke) or teahouse to practice their English with you. They’ll run up a bill of expensive liquor or tea and then take off, leaving you responsible for the bill. (The teahouse/KTV splits the money with the inviter.)
  • In a shop, if you pick something up to examine it more closely, you’ll be accused of damaging it in some way. Or, if you walk by a breakable object, it will break behind you and you‘ll be accused of breaking it. The police will be called and you’ll be offered a chance to avoid being arrested by paying large fine. (The police split the fine with the shop owner.)

7. A few miscellaneous tips:

  • Beauty salons or massage parlors with pink lights double as brothels.
  • Assume KTVs with peepholes instead of windows on the room doors are doubling as brothel/drug spots.
  • Be aware your hotel might let the local brothel know your hotel room number;  you’ll get a call later that night offering services. I never heard of this happening in a hostel, though.
  • Train and long distance bus service is convenient and reliable. The CRH are the newer high-speed train lines and I highly recommend them, when available.
  • Giving a taxi driver a cigarette when you get in the taxi can go a long way toward not getting ripped off.
  • Locals sit in the front seat of taxis, not the backseat. Getting in the front seat and offering the driver a cigarette can go an even longer way toward not getting ripped off.
  • If you think you’re getting ripped off by a taxi driver, write down their license ID number on the dashboard AND the taxi car number on the trunk; you’ll need both to file a complaint. And the driver might stop trying to rip you off if he sees you writing down his ID number. (Ask your hotel/hostel/host how to file a complaint, if needed.)
  • It is common for locals you’ve just met to ask you for your phone number or invite you to a meal. (Once while hiking, a friend and I came across a farmer and his wife who gave us snacks and invited us to spend the night at their farm.)
  • It might require restraint to stop yourself from zurbittzing the cute baby cheeks, but it can be done.  (Barely!)


If you have any questions about of these things or about something I didn’t address, please feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll answer your questions.