Step Forward For Civilization

Visiting a public restroom anywhere in the world can be a gamble. Sometimes one is pleasantly surprised: At the Icon Grill in Seattle male patrons are encouraged by a multimedia display featuring scenes of waterfalls, floods and running faucets all set to classical music.

I haven’t come across anything similar here in China but I do get a kick every time I visit JUSCO, one of the large department stores in Qingdao. Posted above every urinal is the phrase “Step Forward for Civilization” in both Chinese and English. Apparently the powers that be believe that if we men could just be a little more tidy when taking care of business the world would be a much better place.

Maybe they’re right.

Get on the Bus?

Earth Day came and went here in Qingdao without so much as a litter pickup party. It is very easy to feel discouraged about the current and future state of the environment here in China. One thing we all can do to help is use more public transportation.

Should you every find yourself in China you might be inclined, perhaps in an effort to reduce your carbon footprint, to take the bus. In my experience this can be somewhat traumatic. Maybe you just want to save money, why spend 30 yuan ($4) on a taxi when you can spend 2 and take the bus. Remember, that 28 yuan could be used for a decent meal, a couple of beers, or a whole stack of pirated DVDs. To save you the expense and years of therapy I offer this simple overview of taking the bus in China.

Of course the bus will be crowded, everywhere in China is crowded. Current estimates put the population at 1.3 billion. I think this number is a bit low, I could swear there were at least a billion people on the bus with me last week.

Just getting on the bus can be a challenge, school children and old people will scratch and claw their way along with office workers and government lackeys to squeeze through the narrow front door. If entry through the front door seems impossible it is common practice to hand you fare to someone else to put into the fare box and enter through the back door. Keep in mind that the bus may not stop completely during this process.

There is almost no chance you will be able to find a seat. This is because people who have a seat never leave the bus, their families toss water and sandwiches trough the windows as they pass by. Charlie had nothing on these guys.

Imagine yourself standing, squeezed into a contortionist’s position, you head bent against the hand rail and some stranger’s buttocks uncomfortably close to your crotch. At least you made it on and in 40 to 60 minutes you will arrive at you destination. Of course your spine will never be the same again, but you have done your part for the enviroment You close your eyes and picture yourself sitting back with a beer, watching a pirated DVD when the unimaginable happens: someone farts.

I am a big advocate of public transportation. When living in Seattle I was a proud participant in the Ballard in Motion campaign, and have to tote bag to prove it. Still, I shutter each Tuesday and Wednesday morning I climb aboard the #321 to my university teaching job.
Man in a Truck

The Red Cross and The Rainbow

The Red Cross and The Rainbow

Originally uploaded by Stewsnews.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is located in Geneva, Switzerland. The Museum tells the often moving and sometimes depressing origins of the organization, from the battlefield of Solferino to worldwide relief efforts today. I happened to capture this rainbow over the museum during my visit back in February. For more information visit their website:

Olympic Security English

I recently came across a book with the intriguing title “Olympic Security English.” With chapters ranging from “Giving Directions” to “Dealing with Brawls” this text covers all the bases. It is good to know the police will be prepared in 2008. Here is an excerpt:

At the Lost and Found Office:
Foreigner: Hello, officer.
Police: Hello, sir!
F: I’m Joe Kennedy. I’ve been notified to come here for my lost wallet.
P: Please give me the Report on Lost Article.
F: Okay. Here you are.
P: To make sure, will you tell me what’s in the wallet?
F: It’s black and rectangular.
P: What’s in it?
F: 300 US dollars, 3000 yuan, 2 telephone cards, and 3 credit cards.
P: Anything else?
F: And a photo of my wife and daughter.
P: Absolutely right! Here is your wallet. Please sign your name on the Report on Lost Article.
F: All right. It’s really incredible! A lost wallet can be recovered! Only in Beijing can this be possible!
P: The taxi driver found it and sent it here.
F: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your efforts.

While I am certainly happy for Mr. Kennedy, I have some serious doubts as to the veracity of this exchange. Only in Beijing indeed.

For more on the book check out: Book will help police converse with English speakers and Beijing police learning ‘Olympic Security English’.
Breezy Security

Not to miss Swiss

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Europe was taking the ferry across Lake Lucerne to the small town of Brunnen. My father and I were looking for a little relief from the city life and picked a random out of the way place based on the description in our guide book. It was a fortuitous decision.

We stayed at the lovely Hotel Alpina, which was by far the nicest place we stayed in Switzerland, and a bargain to boot! The owner, Stéphane, was super friendly and very helpful. Originally we were only planning of staying one night but as soon as we set our bags down we made it two.

During the next two days we toured the nearby town of Schwyz, home of Victorinox factory, road a funicular up a mountain and a cable car down the other side. We found a great Swiss/Thai restaurant which was so nice we ate there twice.

About a month after returning home my father received a hand written note from Stéphane thanking us for our visit and welcoming us back anytime. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend staying a few nights. Below are some (slightly squeezed) photos from the area.

Swiss Peaks


Blue Cow

Espresso Hell

I guess Dante forgot to mention this particular circle. It is reserved for rude baristas and coffee shop patrons who order complicated drinks and refuse to tip. I came across this machine in the Zürich train station. Click on the photo for a larger version.

Espresso Hell

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I am still in the process of making cosmetic changes to the site. For now I am using the vSlider theme from with a slightly modified color scheme. Please bear with me as I try and make improvements. Comments are back up and running with an extra spam filter in place, let’s hope it works!

The new colors are only temporary, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Even though I am living in the home of China’s most famous beer I doubt I’ll be able to locate any of the green variety. Oh well.