"Hand Shredded Ass Meat" is an unusual translation of an item at a Beijing noodle restaurant NBC's Bo Gu saw recently.
By Bo Gu, NBC News
BEIJING – Overseas tourists often find the menus here befuddling, for good reason.
After all, what Westerner has experience with foods like these? “Cowboy leg,” “Hand-shredded ass meat,” “Red-burned lion head,” “Strange flavor noodles,” “Blow-up flatfish with no result,” or “Tofu made by woman with freckles.”
As proud as the Chinese people are of their thousands of years of gastronomic culture, even a Chinese native can feel disoriented when going to another province, given all the different styles of cooking. Many of the food names, often unique to different provinces, get lost in translation, especially in booming cities starting to embrace overseas tourists.
With few English speakers, restaurants usually translate their menus word by word directly from an English-Chinese dictionary. Or they just Google the Chinese characters. A photo that made the rounds online a few years ago got a chuckle from a lot of people: a restaurant with a large “page not found” sign above its door as its English name.
But the Beijing Municipal government hopes to end such unintended jokes with its new guidebook intended for the public and restaurants alike, “Enjoy Culinary Delights: The English Translation of Chinese Menus.”
The effort began in 2006 with a “Beijing speaks English” campaign. By the 2008 Summer Olympics, officials had created a draft guide with translations for major restaurants to meet the demand for arriving athletes and tourists.
“After 2008, we felt like the book was in a good demand, so we kept working on it and collected more menus. Finally we translated over 2,000 Chinese dish names,” said Xiang Ping, deputy chief of the “Beijing speaks English” committee, in an interview with NBC News.
The cover of the new guidebook, "Enjoy culinary delights: the English translation of Chinese menus," that hopes to make it easier for foreigners to make sense of restaurant menus in Beijing.
Some of the dishes kept their original names, which people familiar with Chinese food may understand: jiaozi, baozi, mantou, tofu or wonton.
Some more complicated dishes come with both Chinese pronunciations and explanations: “fotiaoqiang” (steamed abalone with shark’s fin and fish maw in broth); “youtiao” (deep-fried dough sticks); “lvdagunr” (glutinous rice rolls stuffed with red bean paste), and “aiwowo” (steamed rice cakes with sweet stuffing).
Chen Lin, a 90-year-old retired English professor from Beijing Foreign Language University, was the chief consultant for the book. He told NBC News that about 20 other experts – like English teachers and professors, translators, expats who have lived in China for a long time, culinary experts and people from the media – helped develop the final version.
So next time you're in Beijing and you are confronted with a menu item like "hand shredded ass meat," hopefully you can crack open the book to get some guidance. It means "hand shredded donkey meat."
Armed with a device that looks like an old transistor radio, some Beijing residents are recording pollution levels and posting them online. It's an act that borders on subversion.
The government keeps secret all data on the fine particles that shroud China's capital in a health-threatening smog most days. But as they grow more prosperous, Chinese are demanding the right to know what the government does not tell them: just how polluted their city is.
"If people know what their air is like, they are more likely to take action," said Wang Qiuxia, a researcher at local environment group Green Beagle, who shows interested residents how to test pollution on a locally made monitoring machine. Continue reading.
Andy Wong / AP
Tan Liang carries a PM2.5 detector towards a garbage-burning facility located near his residential compound in Beijing on Dec. 3, 2011.
Andy Wong / AP
Wang Qiuxia, right, a volunteer from an environmental group, teaches Cheng Jing, left, how to operate the PM2.5 detector in Beijing on Dec. 7, 2011.
The claim was quickly denied by Beijing, but the mere suggestion that China was willing or capable of such an embargo sent shockwaves through U.S. businesses, economic planners and Pentagon strategists.
That’s because a similar embargo against the United States could seriously threaten America’s ability to source elements used in the manufacture of everything from hybrid car engines to the precision laser-guided smart bombs used by the military.
An April 2010 Government Accountability Office study put the shift to Chinese dominance in the rare earth minerals market in stark terms: “The United States previously performed all stages of the rare earth material supply chain, but now most rare earth materials processing is performed in China, giving it a dominant position that could affect worldwide supply and prices.”
The report spells out the consequences of China’s near monopoly of the supply of rare earth minerals, but also notes that rebuilding a U.S. rare earth supply chain could take as long as 15 years and would require “securing capital investments in processing infrastructure, developing new technologies, and acquiring patents, which are currently held by international companies.”
The embarrassing revelation that critical parts for top American military weapon systems such as General Dynamics’s M1A2 Abrams tank and Lockheed Martin’s Aegis SPY-1 radar brought about a call for congressional hearings on the issue, but it could be decades before an American supply chain for rare earth materials is rebuilt.
Change of dominance The United States was not always so dependent on other countries for its mineral needs.
During the post-World War II era, as the need for uranium for atomic weapons to compete in the Cold War arms race grew, a rush of mineral prospecting took place throughout the southwest United States.
The discovery of sizable deposits of rare earth minerals, like flourocarbonate bastnaesite in the U.S. during the 1940s, proved to be of little use for uranium enrichment for bombs. But an element derived from bastnaesite, europium, was found to be essential for the production of the cathode ray tubes required for early color televisions.
With that, the industry exploded in the United States as major mineral companies like Molycorp Minerals took the lead in the extraction and trade of rare earth metals. Other American conglomerates – notably General Motors, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin Corp – quickly developed new uses for the metals, among them sophisticated new lasers, night-vision goggles and improved radar.
Despite a wealth of rare earth minerals in the U.S., the manufacture of the minerals has become dominated by China.
In an intriguing report written earlier this year for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, researchers looked into the 1995 sale of Magnequench. The company was formed in 1986 by GM to manufacture neodymium-iron-boron magnets – powerful magnets that are used in everything from car engines to electrical power steering.
In 1995, two Chinese companies, likely seeing the potential military application of the product and catching GM as it was attempting to break into the Chinese market, acquired Magnequench for $70 million. The sale was approved by the U.S. government with the stipulation that the buyers keep the company in its hometown of Anderson, Indiana for five years.
The day after that deal expired in 2002, the Chinese company shut down the entire operation, shipped all its manufacturing equipment and resumed operations in China.
The research report noted, “In less than one decade, the permanent magnet market experienced a complete shift in leadership.”
The Magnequench sale represented a titanic shift in the competitive advantage of the United States and set the scene for the loss of America’s manufacturing dominance in the rare earth mineral industry.
Coal-carrying trucks often wait for days, not only in traffic but also to unload their supplies outside a power station in Hebei.
SOMEWHERE ON THE G6 HIGHWAY IN INNER MONGOLIA – It seemed like a good, if basic, plan for covering the story.
"The traffic jam is hitting cars going south in the direction towards Beijing so we'll be okay, driving north, filming it along the way from the other side of the median," I repeated one more time to no one in particular as we drove out towards Inner Mongolia.
Except that there was no traffic jam.
Certainly not the one dubbed "China's monster traffic jam" on Twitter and by Western media. Not the one that reportedly lasted ten days, spanned two provinces, stretched over 60 miles, and spawned a local economy.
Virtually overnight, local authorities had managed to disperse the congestion – about 120 miles northwest from Beijing – so by the time we reached the area, all we encountered were the garden-variety traffic jams here and there.
The birth of a jam The mega-backup on National Expressway 110 (or G110) had begun on August 14. ("Expressway" is a rather exalted name for what at times, far away from the capital, was no more than a two-lane dirt path.)
Even under the best circumstances, the G110 is susceptible to gridlock. Every day, thousands of trucks, carrying eight tons or more, bear down on the expressway. The G110 also attracts commercial vehicles because it's free – unlike the main highway which charges by vehicle weight and distance travelled.
All this traffic has, ahem, taken its toll on the road, and earlier this month authorities decided to undertake repairs on a section close to Beijing.
By Adrienne Mong/NBC News
China relies on coal for seventy percent of its energy needs.
Feeling the commuter pain Closing off parts of the thruway ground everything down to a snail's pace. Some sections reported speeds of no more than a third of a mile a day, if at all.
This being China, a local economy sprouted up almost immediately, with hawkers selling food and drink to motorists trapped on the road. Price gouging inevitably followed, provoking widespread complaints –surprisingly more so than the traffic jam itself, which many people were resigned to accept.
"There's always traffic," was the refrain several drivers told me.
As residents of Beijing, we couldn't be more sympathetic.
Congestion has spiked in the past year despite efforts to manage the flow, prompting most of us in the NBC News Beijing bureau to become hardcore cyclists. A recent study by IBM revealed that workers in the Chinese capital suffer the worst "commuter pain" – more than those in Mexico City, Johannesburg, or New Delhi.
And the pain could become more acute. State media reported this week that average driving speeds could dip below nine miles an hour if Beijing continues to add 1,900 new cars a day to its roads.
But back to the expressway from Inner Mongolia, where rail transport also compounds the problem. Not enough rail links tie the interior to the coastline cities and the south.
And there's a rapidly growing need for rail transport. The main cargo being ferried out from Inner Mongolia?
Energy needs create bottlenecks China, after all, still relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy demands. Moreover, the newly minted world's second-largest economy needs energy to keep fuelling its growth.
And Inner Mongolia has become the new coal-king province, overtaking Shanxi Province – where thousands of dangerous illegal mines have been shut down over the past couple of years in a government crackdown.
"It's all coal being transported here," a truck driver called Zhao from Harbin told me.
We were standing near a toll booth on the main highway running from the provincial capital Hohhot back towards Beijing. Zhao makes around ninety dollars a trip driving his coal truck. As he spoke, his arm swept across the expanse of coal-carrying trucks behind him.
And by virtue of the fact they're willing to be inspected on the main highway and to pay a toll, those vehicles could be presumed to be carrying coal from legal sources. According to the Beijing News, trucks transporting coal from illegal mines are taking the G110 because they can avoid checkpoints run by cargo inspectors.
Chasing the coal So here we were, hurtling north and west, towards what my colleague Ed Flanagan had dubbed the "abyss" of China's breakneck economic development, only to run into one of the country's other formidable quirks: marshalling the resources of a police state.
Everywhere we drove, police manned toll booths, weighing stations, and highway entrance ramps – all part of a massive and successful effort to get rid of the monster traffic jam.
So by the time we'd arrived at the 60-mile stretch, there was no sign of an unusual backup.
Beijing Public Security reports that in recent years there has been a growth rate of about 100,000 dogs a year. By mid-2010 the total number of dogs registered with the Beijing police was around 900,000 – but of course, that doesn’t take into account all the unregistered dogs.
Along with the burgeoning dog ownership, the market for veterinary care – as well as dog grooming - has catapulted. And as the middle class is willing to spend more on their pets, a unique service has become the newest fashion trend: dyeing dogs’ fur.
The dogs – mostly white-haired chow-chows, poodles, and bichon frises – are often dyed to look like other animals such as pandas, donkeys, raccoons. Or they simply have their ears and tails dyed in bright colors.
Photo courtesy of Jianwen Pet Beautician School
A dog who had a tough guy look painted on him – down to the toe nails.
We visited the Jianwen Pet Beautician School in northern Beijing and watched a white poodle named Laifu get his coiffure colored.
After being styled to have a carrot-orange tail and a red Chinese shirt, Laifu’s dog-fashion obsessed owner wanted to have a pair of blue-green-yellow butterfly wings painted on his back.
Laifu cooperated well, standing there for a few hours without barking or showing any sign of pain. He’s probably used to it.
Check out more dogs getting dye jobs in this video above.
BEIJING — At first, it looked like an earthquake had struck Laogucheng.
Piles of rubble from collapsed buildings, exposed rebar, shattered tiles and bricks, debris everywhere in Beijing’s far western district of Shijingshan.
But this was no quake zone.
Scrawled on the remaining walls was the Chinese character for demolish, “cai.” Government slogans printed in neat red characters ran along half-standing buildings: “The earlier you tear down your home, the sooner you will benefit” or “Communist Party members should take the lead to demolish first.”
Photo by Adrienne Mong/NBC News
The Chinese character for demolish, "cai," is scrawled on the remains of buildings throughout Laogucheng.
Laogucheng is now better known as a demolition area only a handful of miles from Chang’an Jie, or the Avenue of Perpetual Peace, which cuts through the heart of Beijing.
The majority of the community’s homes and most of its shops have been knocked down since last summer to make way for a new development.
“This place had bad infrastructure, a very dense population and a lot of illegal buildings,” said Li Guo Chen, Chief Demolition Director of the Shijingshan District Government. “Security was also a big problem. Therefore, the district government considers it a very important project to rebuild and improve the whole area.”
The plan is to construct high-rise apartment buildings – some of which will be allocated to the current residents – with commercial and retail space for lease.
“About 70 percent of the residents have moved out,” continued Li. “Which proves our plan is recognized by the community.”
Not so fast.
Resisting resettlement Not with holdouts like Liang Shenli, a 61-year-old retired businessman who lives in Laogucheng with his wife and son.
“I’m not leaving, because they are unwilling to negotiate the terms on a fair basis,” said Liang, referring to local officials. Like many of his neighbours, the homeowner said the compensation package he’s been offered is based on an inaccurate calculation of the land he says he owns. The original terms don’t include the garden extension he built years ago and shortchanges him on the market value of the property.
Moreover, Liang and others say they’ve come under pressure to accept the initial terms and to move as quickly as possible. “Look at this neighbourhood,” he said, his arm sweeping across two city blocks’ equivalent of rubble. “The roads are unpassable. No one comes to pick up the garbage. They might not have applied pressure, but they’re making it uncomfortable for us to continue living here.”
Some residents also mentioned rocks thrown at the windows of their homes “It is a little scary,” said Liang. “You don’t feel safe.”
“It’s not true,” said Li, the Shijingshan official interviewed by NBC News. Without addressing the question about interrupted power, he said the main road was blocked, which prevented trucks from entering the area to remove garbage and debris.
Li also said no one would be forced to move, but he maintained confidence that the stragglers would soon come around. “Some may not agree and need time to understand,” he said. “We believe with our careful and patient work, they will eventually agree.”
Across Beijing, just north of the Forbidden City, yet another neighbourhood risks being demolished, but this one has attracted widespread attention because of its historic value.
Save the hutongs Old Beijing, as it’s commonly known, encompasses dozens of hutongs, or alleyways, that date back to the Yuan Dynasty more than 700 years ago. It’s also home to the Drum and Bell Towers, two imposing but elegant edifices that loom over the one-story buildings in the area. Built in 1272, they were used to tell time in the ancient capital during China’s final three dynasties (Yuan, Ming, Qing).
“It’s one of the few areas that’s still left in Old Beijing with great cultural and historical value,” says He Shuzhong, a conservationist who founded the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre. “Their cultural value is as high as the Forbidden City.”
Photo by Adrienne Mong/NBC News
Traditional hutongs, which could be razed, line the streets of Old Beijing below the Drum and Bell Towers.
The area also has great commercial value.
Local newspapers have reported plans to raze many of the hutongs surrounding the towers to make way for a new development. The $73 million facelift would include a massive underground complex composed of parking lots, shops and a museum. Above ground, a public square would replace the hutongs and ancient courtyard homes.
“Of course, there are many problems there, like hygiene, the dense population, unreasonable transport system, bad tourism routes [that cut through the hutongs] and poor commercial facilities,” said He. “But these problems should be solved through management and gradual planning” and, especially, discussion with the local residents.
But none of the people we interviewed in hutongs around the Bell Tower had been informed of any municipal re-development plans. What little they knew, several of them said, came from the newspaper reports.
“We haven’t been told anything by anyone,” said one woman who was washing clothes in a plastic tub on the sidewalk (one of the charms of the neighborhood is that life in the hutong is lived out in the hutong). “Everyone is talking about it, but nobody knows the exact date for the demolition.”
The absence of information has only served to create anxiety and suspicion among the hutong dwellers – many whose families have lived here for several generations. Although some said they would consider moving given fair compensation for their property, many still refuse to consider the idea on principle.
Take 48-year-old Liu Hongqian, who was smoking a cigarette outside the courtyard he’s lived in all his life.
“I definitely won’t move if they want us out as far as the Sixth Ring Road,” he said, referring to one of the suburbs farthest out of central Beijing. “If you live that far, you have to buy a car, how much gas do you have to use every day? We make so little money.”
Liu also dismissed the notion of having a modern new apartment with amenities. “I feel more comfortable here even if I only have a 100-square-foot room.”
Another resident, who would only give his surname, put it succinctly. “City dwellers are being moved out to the countryside while migrant workers from the countryside are moving into the city,” said Mr. Sha, referring to the mass migration of people from rural areas looking for jobs in urban centers.
But, overwhelmingly, there was the sense of distrust – that whatever the government or developers promised, there was no guarantee of being treated fairly.
The great land grab After all, land grabs have become widespread across China for years now, stoked by soaring property prices, especially in growing urban centers. Developers, often backed by local authorities, seize or buy old homes at extremely low prices for redevelopment and, in the process, enrich municipal governments or local officials. (See this nifty Explainer.)
Occupants refusing to resettle have resorted to a wide variety of forms of resistance. One of the more creative tactics was deployed — literally — by a 56-year-old farmer living on the outskirts of Wuhan city in Hubei Province.
After chasing off an earlier eviction attempt with the help of rockets, Yang Youde built a cannon out of a wheelbarrow and pipes, which uses ammunition made from fireworks, to wage war with a group of 100-something men who tried to toss him off his farmland late last month.
A local government official was quoted in the China Daily as saying authorities have offered Yang just over $19,000 for his fields, but the farmer reckons it’s worth at least five times as much. Yang said he’s been forced to protect himself because demolition workers hired by the developer had threatened to use force on him after compensation negotiations with the local authorities had faltered in March.