Wednesday, October 31, 2012


... (Child Scene Investigation)

I love stumbling across our children's play scenes and trying to guess what they were thinking. This week my wife and I came upon this set-up created by our daughter Lani.

A few minutes earlier it had been a vibrant and innocent piece of play dreamed up through the imagination of a seven-year-old.

Seen through the eyes of adults, however, it all led to just one question: What the hell happened here?

It was time to go all CSI. It's been harrowing, but after many long nights of analysis, we've tried to piece it together.

1. CCTV stills show the scene at 10.10am on October 30.
At first it appears a run-of-the-mill bedroom.
But closer inspection shows it's ...

2. ... the dental room at a Beijing medical clinic (which may
well be where the mother of a sweet, innocent-looking
seven-year-old works, hence the free stickers).

3. But now the aerial shot shows the room for what it is:
a scene of utter carnage. We see eight adult persons, all
deceased. There are signs of a struggle, including
upturned furniture and some equipment having been
cast to the floor.

4. But what's the deal with this thing: Some
sort of clock, perhaps? A pressure gauge for
some kind of tank? And who left the open
umbrella? And why is it right beside the bed?

5. We had the smaller items
dusted and sent to the
lab. And of course we
checked the bed for

6. Two female victims lie entwined in close proximity to
the only survivor. Has he just returned and discovered them?
Or is he just standing there staring at them? One of the
victims - a female Caucasian with red hair, blue eyes,
standing seven centimetres tall and with enormous feet -
has her legs in the air with her dress hitched up.
This also suggests a struggle. It is interesting to note the
sole survivor is the dentist. He is also a hedgehog.

7. To his rear lies a sickening mass of four
other victims, laid out in a sort of ritualised
line formation. Three of them are identified
as members of a royal family. Was
Lani recreating one of those scenes
of dental surgery regicide the kids all
seem to be into these days? Had she read
a book at school about how the Romanovs
slain at the start of the Russian
Revolution? At the dentist's?

8. At the back of the surgey lies a deceased member
of a Chinese tribal group.

- Are we dealing with an ethnic minority killer
here Elliot? Is he targeting the Miao - one of
China's 56 distinct ethnic groups, with all that
lovely hair and beadwork?

- Sick bastard! Think I'll go completely postal
on his ass.

- Easy Elliot! You're a good cop - but you're also a real
whackjob. You've got more issues than Newsweek
for God's sake. You're off the case! Again!

9. The presence of the Miao doll
raises one important question:
If you're going to give your kids
dolls, must they be politically
correct Chinese ethnic minority
dolls? Can't they be tall and skinny
with long hair and pointy breasts
like my sister used to have?
But wait - what's that tiny but
tell-tale detail in the right

Hmmmm ... 

10. Poor stiff. This guy tried to get to the
toilet but didn't make it. Maybe we're
looking at poisoning?

11. Now a new development. At 10.15am, we see
the dentist losing his footing, apparently woozy.

12. He falls down, possibly drunk or high on laughing gas.
It's then we notice he's not wearing any pants.

- Eight stiffs an' a dentist wit' no pants?
Think we got ourselves a perp'. Cuff
the hog an' take him downtown.

So there it is. Another one wrapped up by this no-nonsense team in the neat 48 minutes. But still there are questions that remain unanswered and lend themselves to a sequel:

Did the hedgehog-dentist really gas his victims? Why didn't he just use a drill? Or gnaw them to death?

Why was there a bed, toilet and sink in a dentist's room?

And why didn't our child pack up her toys when she had finished?!

And could this man ...

... also be this man?

And could this man ...

... be this man?!

Tune in, readers, when we find out all the answers right here at some stage in the future!

Monday, October 29, 2012


AS I’ve said before, part of the fun of living in expat land is tapping into rich, vibrant cultures from all corners of the earth.

I said it only last week in fact when, for United Nations day, kids at Beijing’s international schools wore national costumes and sampled each other’s food, art and heritage.

And then there’s Halloween, where we get to dress like weirdos and eat lollies for a weekend. Thank you, America.

I have softened in my opposition to this festival. Still, in my enthusiasm on the weekend I must admit to making some rookie errors, involving sick children and my own, it seems, somewhat questionable costume. I thought the point was to look scary. Apparently there are limits, as you’ll see later.

Our family resisted Beijing Halloween in the past, despite pressure from our disbelieving US expat friends. Primarily, they couldn’t believe:

1. That Australians didn’t do Halloween;

2. That when Halloween was placed on our doorstep in Beijing, my wife Stef and I would still deny our kids the chance to dress like ghouls and stuff themselves with sugar.

But after relenting last year, it’s easily become my favourite international hurrah.

I still feel a little guilty about observing this festival and not others. You can keep Ramadan, for that sounds like not much fun at all. But I’ve never done anything, for example, to mark the Day of Vesak, the day on which Buddha achieved the rare trifecta of being born, dying, and achieving enlightenment. And not only did I atone for nothing last Yom Kippur, I probably made things a lot worse.

But still, it’s remarkable how the right amount of chocolate can assuage guilt. I’d still hate to see it take root in Australia. We have our own celebrations linked to our own identity. Every first Tuesday of November there’s the Melbourne Cup, where little kids don’t dress up as monsters, but gamble money on horses. And then April 25 is ANZAC Day, where we remember our fallen soldiers and play two-up, a time-honoured game whose essence is, err, gambling.

But here in Beijing, Halloween is not as scary to me as it once was.

Our friend Stephanie, a serious
news producer and fully grown
woman, stepping out as a bunch
of grapes. She's also our valued
Halloween organiser-in-chief.

And later on, when things
started getting crazy ...
The grape grope.

Amy the Pregnant Witch, and
Chris the Ferocious, Beer-Guzzling
Crocodile. Amy looked good,
but I thought she could have done
better as a heavily pregnant
Halloween devotee.

Like this basketball fan I found on
the web.

Or this one!

I took the kids trick or treating on Saturday night around our old apartment compound. Our seven-year-old Lani kind of got into the American-ness of it all, by going as a Cherokee squaw. Five-year-old Evie was, like so many other girls here, a princess.

What a great night! With Stef at work I got to chaperone the girls while they built reserves of sweets as if stockpiling for the imminent winter. It was a nice chance for them to spend time with similarly costumed friends. I was, however, a little disappointed by the lack of horror. Mostly this night involved kids knocking on doors and being given candy by little old ladies.

This all changed when we happened upon the apartment of my Russian friend. I know him from the compound sauna, and I know that, like me, he broke a limb once and it didn’t heal properly. Whereas I have an odd-looking ankle, his is a more obvious bent forearm. On Halloween he didn’t let it go to waste, God bless him. Let’s just say that when the kids knocked on his door, he scared the living bejeezus out of them.

The Russian is coming!
God he made some noise.
Only the brave kids got
his candy.

Apart from this, Evie was over the moon. She’d been on a three-month lolly ban for what, without needing to go into detail, has become known as The Salt-Water Taffy Incident. But with her ban ending on Halloween, all night long she went gleefully collecting booty. I was happy for her to eat one or two, remembering she’d still have to eat dinner.

Evie had served her ban admirably, without complaint. And when we got home she duly looked up at her mother and said: “Mummy – I think I’m going to throw up.”

Immediately it was panic stations. For me. In these situations, it’s not the sick child who gets in trouble, it’s the dad. I assured my wife I had kept a tight rein on consumption, that I’d only noticed Evie eating one or two treats all night. I looked in her candy bag to confirm this, and found about 15 empty wrappers. It was enough to not only sicken a child but a horse.

You know how parents worry about what their kids get up to on a Saturday night without telling them? Well my kid is FIVE. And I was right there with her. I still don’t know how she did it. I guess some credit is due.

I was reminded of my friend Andrew. I thought he’d like Halloween as much as the next American, but his mother had an unusual tradition. A health food freak, she'd allow her kids to eat candy after trick-or-treating, but then anything leftover next morning would be thrown out. The natural effect of this is that all Andrew remembers now of childhood Halloweens is eating himself sick every October 31.

With Evie writhing on the couch I instinctively sprang into a plan of action I like to call “cover-up mode”. Without unnecessarily burdening her mother, I threw Evie's wrappers in the bin, begged her not to throw up, and asked experienced American friends what to do. “Forget dinner – she’s had her calorie intake,” texted one. Thankfully Evie held strong. It’s marvelous how well the five-year-old stomach can respond to the threat of another candy ban.

This is just part of the kids' booty the next day. In fact,
so special was it that these unaccustomed Australian
children decided it was too good to merely eat.

So first, they decided to sort it.

Evie's categories. Not much space
for the dreaded 'musely bars'.

Lani even decided to tape hers to the relevant
section. This made it harder to get at, kind of
running counter to the whole purpose of
Halloween. Weird kids. In fact, one American
mum reported later that Lani had handed some
lollies back at her front door, saying she already
had enough. It was not a condition shared
by her little sister.

Sunday was the adults’ chance to dress up too, with a Halloween party at a city hotel.

This time Lani was Super Girl, Evie was again a candy-gorging princess, while Stef was a witch. I’d ummed and aahed about my costume when we’d been shopping. I thought about going as a priest, or a hunchback, or a zombie. Instead I simply threw together a few things – a hat, a fake moustache and some funny glasses – and voila.

For such little outlay, the results, I thought, were spectacular. But as we got to the party it seemed they were a little too spectacular, too effective a transformation for some.

“Your outfit looks silly,” said Lola, aged 9.

“I really, really don’t like it,” said Bill, 45.

To put it delicately, my look in that hotel didn’t so much disturb children as it did the parents of children. Were we out in the real world it would be hard to say exactly where I belonged. But the consensus was the police would insist it wasn’t within 500 metres of a school.

All afternoon I felt friends shying away with shivers up their spines. And make no mistake – this was a new feeling for me. I left with Amy the Pregnant Witch rubbing her tightly-shut eyes saying she was trying to get the image of me out of her mind.

I guess this Halloween I learned ‘scary’ was one thing but ‘creepy’ quite another. Maybe I won’t “throw something together” next year, but will instead go for something pre-made, safe, or “boring”.

The author normally looks like someone you would
gladly have around your kids. 

However ... 

What can I say? I chose the moustache and glasses.
It was the hat that added that not-to-be-trusted edge.
And that was chosen by my wife.

Surely here are two types you wouldn't leave your kids with.

But someone did.

Trouble was, I still had to do normal things
like eat lunch. The wider shot shows I
happened to be at the table alone. Still, I
insist I wasn't as creepy as some Halloween
revellers ...

Like this guy I found on the web ...

* Sorry we were late today, owing to continuing internet trouble behind the Great Firewall of China ahead of next month's glorious five-yearly Consultative People's Congress of the Consultative Party of the People's Communist Community of China (CPCCPPCCC).

There'll be more on Thursday, readers! And tune in again on Monday for yet another teaser about the great unknown Chinese invention and our first Royal Round-up, which keeps getting put-off because of unforeseen bouts of dress-ups.

Thursday, October 25, 2012



Here's what was spotted on a fancy black sports car. Of course there's no finer way of highlighting the fact you own a prestige car than by plastering it with words ...

A lot of words.

To save your eyes, it says:

High Society Saloon Gallery

"We, cooedinate brand for of "JUNCTION PRODUCE" VIPCAR,
are proug of be fod bakaog ressively to make foll use of sensibility
the tradition for sucn as sterity cerinss rambunctiousness
and austers elegance in which only prestige car has.
By so doing, we, Junction Produce would like to aim the way to the p
VIP dress up and we want toabe nly the first and last mermeroy kng
by succeeding tdishnoint from everlastig to everlasting"

Just what they're trying to say about this vehicle is anyone's guess. But anyone who wants their car to combine tradition, dress-ups and rambunctiousness is OK in our book. We wish them well.

(NOTE: This was sent in by much-appreciated pic contributor Sandy Go. Thanks Sandy. Which reminds me, I once had occasion to look at the good lady's facebook page in order to retrieve another photo, whereupon I discovered that previously, Sandy Go lived in San Diego. Surely this is the finest coincidence of names since Queen Victoria visited Victoria, or that trip to central Asia that time by my mate Dave Turkmenistan. In any case it is my fervent hope that Sandy's middle name starts with an A.)

And by the look of this vehicle ...

... you've got to take the occupants seriously.

No, go on. Take them seriously. 


Here's what was on offer on Taobao, China's version of eBay this week.

No, it was. Look!

Yours for a song at RMB45,000 ($US7,200), this Soviet-built MiG-15!

We thought these things were only sold on the Black Market, on Black Street, in the Black District. But we were wrong. The vendor, from the eastern city of Wuxi, didn't happen to mention whether he'd shot down the MiG-15 himself, had it given to him, or bought it on eBayski. In any case, don't ask questions: It's a steal and a fighter-jet renovator's dream!*

(* Delivery could be tricky.)


And the winner of the "Most rules for riding an escalator" award ... China!

Surely it's just an escalator.

But wait - there's more. At another mall, there was a more modern version of the same thing.

And if you're still unsure about taking that first step, simply call this number!

But be careful you're using a cellphone when you're allowed to ...

At this time of year, Beijing's not a bad place to be. There's usually some wind to blow the smog away, and city's trees are a festival of colour.

But it's getting a little chilly to do this ...

He's fishing. Like a lot of men do along this canal. Yes,
you could say the water's a bit green. With bits of stuff
in it. Catching fish out of it is one thing, but you sure
wouldn't fancy a swim in it, would you?

These guys do!

Say what you like about guys like this, swimming amidst the ice in Beijing's Lake Houhai ...

For me, the boys of summer get the vote for bravery.

Most days in summer, you'll see these avid green-water
swimmers in the Liangmahe canal, and others like it
around the city. They are either mental, have rock-hard
constitutions,  or they just get sick a lot.
One thing's for sure, they don't care what people think!

* That's all for this week readers. And, might I say, it's been torturous. Operating on the internet in China lately has been an experience that makes you want to learn how to tie a noose. My sources tell me it's because the five-yearly Communist Party Congress is coming up. Prior to such things, the government's internet filter - not to want to get too technical about it - goes berserk. If you, like me, are a Beijing resident driven crazy by slow internet speeds, I'm told the only thing to do is grin and bear it until the Congress is over. It starts on November 8 and lasts for about a week (they don't like to announce an end date. They'll finish when they finish.)

I'll (hopefully) bring you more on Monday, with that same piece I promised you but didn't deliver last week: Our first Royal Round-up featuring one remarkable, little-known Chinese invention!