Slipping on a Banana Peel

November 18, 2007

So, I’m sitting in my favourite coffeeshop, the Bridge Cafe, all nice and cozy with the lovely Chinese and odd expat around me








No PC should be without it

October 1, 2007

(via G33K)

Lucky me

September 28, 2007

30 scientists attending a conference are stuck in the conference building, when outside it’s pouring. They need to get to a reception at a hotel half a mile down the road. Ten of them have umbrellas, 20 do not.

Chinese Communism: Send a secretary to drive out, get 30 umbrellas, and bring them back.

European Communism: Take umbrellas from everyone, send them to the hotel without an umbrella.

Stalinist Communism: Collect the 10 umbrellas available. Cut each in one third. Give each person 1/3 of an umbrella, send them to the hotel.

(then realize this was stupid, and slaughter the 10 scientists with their own umbrellas so that the truth never comes out. Distribute the umbrellas to government officials for their collections).


September 24, 2007

We’re having a conference this week, which is great. Exhausting, since it starts at 9 AM and ends at 8 PM (including lunch 12-14 and dinner 18-20, I kid you not), but great. I was one of the “chairs” of the reception dinner, which in effect meant making a short speech. I am not naturally inclined to give speeches, but I figured I have no choice so I should try to make the best of it. I sat for a while to write it in advance so I won’t embarrass myself. In the end it worked out pretty well. Here is the speech:

Hello Everyone, Cheers!

They say you should start a talk with a joke. Ask any of my friends, and they’ll tell you that I can’t tell jokes, so this concludes my talk.

Well, I guess not. So allow me to quote Seinfeld in lieu of a joke. There’s an episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine gets three new friends. Later on that episode, Jerry, George and Kramer get to meet them. Dramatic music plays in the background, suspense builds up, and, as you would expect if you watched enough Seinfeld, they turn out to look exactly like Jerry, George and Kramer, except for some very subtle differences. And so, Jerry starts referring to them as Bizzaro-Jerry, Bizzaro-George, and Bizzaro-Kramer. So, I don’t know whether you noticed by now, but China is such a bizzro-place. I fondly refer to China as bizzaro-world, because everything here is so big and so varied that anything from the west can be found here, except that is just a little bit different. So you could say that this institute, is a Bizarro-IAS; and you could say that this university is a Bizzaro-Princeton; and the desserts are actually bizzaro-deserts, and as many of you found, the restrooms are bizzaro-restrooms. And so on. (By the way, important piece of information: there’s a western bathroom on the 2nd floor).

Well, so I’d like to welcome you to our Bizzaro-world. To those who haven’t met me yet, come over and say Hello. I very recently arrived to the institute. I arrived only two weeks ago, and this is my first time in China, so I really didn’t know what to expect. And I can tell you that it’s been splendid so far, and looks like it will be spledid for the rest of my stay here. Many of you will find out this week how amazing the food is here, how nice and good-natured the people are, and how interesting Beijing is. What many of you may not know, is how much the institute is a good atmosphere for work. There’s no worries, we don’t have to take care of too much. All of the facilities are there, and we just have to sit and do great research. It’s very centered about collaborative work. The people here have, in a very short amount of time, generated an environment geared towards sustaining research. You can see it in this conference, and working here is just like this as well. You just have to show up and do research.

This institute strongly relies on its students, postdocs and visitors. When more people come and contribute, there’s more joint work and a more vibrant atmosphere. The institute is offering an amazing number of postdoc positions (I think 8 open positions currently), and there’s a very large number of visitors all the time. I encourage you all to come and apply to postdoc positions and to come to visit here. The institute has a big budget for visitors, and we’re actively recruiting people to come. If we haven’t talked to you about coming yet, then it just means we failed in our job, so come over and talk to us and let’s arrange a visit. Also, you can feel free to speak to us either in person or over email about coming for visits, and also to ask us about how it is being here, and how we can help you to come here.

So, to conclude, I expect you all after leaving this room to go submit an application to a postdoc here next year. And if you don’t do that, then to talk to us, and to arrange a visit.

Thanks Again.


By the way, According to The Jerry Seinfeld Dictionary of Terms and Phrases bizzaro-Jerry (or any proper name) means: “1) the exact opposite of everything that is associated (ie. his/her friends, mannerisms, the layout of his/her apartment, etc.) with a given person 2) when a person (usually a loser) does the exact opposite of everything he/she usually does to realize success (and sometimes failure)”

The transcript of the episode is here or here.

Maybe after all I’m just a boy from a small village in the Szechuan province

September 10, 2007

It’s funny that after all of the gourmet meals and French cooking and Peking duck and multiple-course meals and everything, I’m still happiest with a bowl of rice and meat, with a some steaming-hot Dim-sum on the side.

And, for the curious, here are the particulars: My favorite late-night dinner since I got here is to go eat in a small restaurant just next to the university. I order a bowl of rice with some spicy beef, and Dim-sum on the side. The beef is fried in a spicy sauce along with a local type of mushrooms, somewhat similar to Shitake mushrooms. The beef and mushrooms are served on top of a bowl of rice, and in the bowl you also get some steamed leeks, and a fried egg. (This makes me think the restaurant is Korean, but that’s hardly conclusive evidence). On the side, I order a dish of six steamed Pork Dim-sum, with a vinegar-based dip on the side. The Dim-Sum have a kind of soup inside of them, which pours in your mount when you bite them. The entire treat costs 2.5 US dollars.

I love living here.

נאצים בישראל (או: סתם גזענות זה לא חדשות, אבל צלב קרס זה כבר גוואעלט) י

September 10, 2007

כתבו כבר הרבה על העניין הזה עם הניאו-נאצים מ”פתח תקווה”, אז אני אסתפק בכמה לינקים, ובציטוט של תגובה שלי באחד מהבלוגים.

אז מי כתב? בין השאר, כוסית עם אובססיית שואה, מקס הזועם, קלינגר, ונדב

ואם כבר בענייני “פתח תקווה” עסקינן, אז חלקכם יתהו למה פתח-תקווה נכתבת בגרשיים. אז זהו, זה כי היא לא קיימת. פרטים אצל עמוס, אהוד, שוב קלינגר, ורבים אחרים (חפשו “פתח תקווה לא קיימת” בגוגל).

לבסוף, אני רוצה לפרסם כאן תגובה שהגבתי לאחת מהמגיבות אצל קלינגר (תנסו להגיד את זה 10 פעמים רצוף). התגובה לא רהוטה במיוחד, ומאד מתלהמת, אבל משום מה היא מוצאת חן בעיני. הדיון (אם ניתן לקרוא לו כך) המקורי כאן. והנה התגובה (קצת ערוכה):   י


פלי, את גזענית וחשוכה במסווה של דמוקרטית. הטענות שלך נשמעות טוב עד שמסתכלים ורואים שאת מתרצת תירוצים שנשמעים חצי-סבירים כדי להצדיק את הגזענות שלך. ובאופן ספציפי: (ציטוטים מהתגובה שלך באותיות איטלקיות)

. אתה אומר שישראל מבצעת פשעי שנאה. זה בולשיט. אבל גם אם זה היה נכון, מה אתה מציע, לשלול לרמטכ”ל את האזרחות? דבר לעניין.

דמגוגיה. אני מציע לקחת את ששת מליון אזרחי המדינה היהודים, ולהעביר אותם סדנת חינוך שמסבירה להם שהם חיו במדינה גזענית ומנצלת במשך 40 שנה, והטרור שהם חוטפים עכשיו הוא, באופן חלקי, אשמתם. ואז להסביר להם שאם הם לא יתחילו לתת יחס שווה למיעוטים, אז כדאי שהם יתרגלו כבר עכשיו לשנאה ולפשע ולטרור, ושיתרגלו לחיות עם חברות שמירה כי כך זה יהיה עכשיו, כמו במדינות דרום-אמריקה, שבהן על העשירים שומרים, והעניים הורגים זה את זה, ואין שום דבר באמצע. שבדרך שאזרחי ישראל הולכים בה, יפריטו גם את המשטרה, ואז לא יהיה אפילו מי שישמור על התחת הגזעני שלהם כי הכרישים הגדולים רוצים עוד קצת להתעשר. להסביר להם שכשהפלו את האתיופים הם שתקו, וכשהפלו את הערבים הם שתקו, ועכשיו כשבאים למחוץ את כל מעמד הביניים, אין מי שיגן עליהם. שזה מה שקורה כשחיים במדינה לא-סוציאליסטית וגזענית (שני הסימפטומים, “חוסר סוציאליזם” ו”גזענות” קשורים מאד זה לזה: שניהם סימפטומים של חוסר הומניזם, חוסר כבוד לאדם בהיותו אדם).

אז לא, פלי, לא רוצים לפטר את הרמטכ”ל. הוא רק ממלא את הפקודות של הממשלה והציבור. רוצים לחנך מחדש את הציבור.

וכמובן שלא נצליח, כי בסופו של יום הציבור מורכב מאנשים כמוך (או פחות רהוטים ופחות מתרצים, אבל עדיין גזענים).

2. יש ועוד איך הבדל בין פשע שנאה אחד למשנהו. יש פשעי שנאה שהם חלק בלתי נפרד מהחברה האנושית, הם קיימים בכל מדינה וצריך תמיד לצמצם את היקפם, גם אם בלתי אפשרי לחסל אותם לחלוטין. אלה למשל אלימות כלפי הומואים ואלימות על רקע גזע.

שוב דמגוגיה. מה עם אונס? טני בטוח שיש לך טיעון טוב מאד למה אונס כן ניתן להפסיק ואלימות כלפי הומואים לא. וזה כי את אישה, ולא הומו. ואת בעיקר אנוכית ושונאת את השונה ממך. הפלורליזם מגיע אל המיעוטים שאת שייכת אליהם, ונגמר שם.

אז אונס, ניתן להפסיק או לא? את שונאת הומואים, אבל לא נעים לך לאמר את זה, אז את מאשימה את הציבור. לא ניתן לחסל כלום בטווח הקרוב, אך ניתן לצמצם מאד פשעי שינאה מכל סוג. אבל זה רק נכון במדינה שבעצמה לא מתנהגת באופן גזעני. (אחרת הענישה מוטה, האכיפה מוטה, יש אישור שבשתיקה לגזענות, והשוויון הלך פייפן).

אז לכי תכתבי טוקבקים. את דווקא טובה בזה. אבל כשיהיה כאן ממש רע, אל תשכחו שאנחנו הזהרנו.

Peking Duck: It’s really that good

September 7, 2007

By the way, the dish* should be called Beijing Duck nowadays, but old habits die hard.

Link to the excellent entry on Peking Duck in Wikipedia. Very interesting, and a must-read. Unless you’re in China, and then it’s a must-not-read, since Wikipedia is illegal. I kid you not. (Well, not illegal, but blocked).
Anyway, Peking duck is really that good. We had it in a restaurant of a 100-year-old chain. The skin was crispy and delicious (and we dipped it in sugar, yipee!), the meat was savory and duckish, the duck was Chinese and seems to have spoken fluent Mandarin and Cantonese before its early demise. The side-dishes were traditional. And the whole thing was a treat. Meals here are long. This pone was a 1:30-hour lunch. (the company included 7 people). Dinners often tend to stretch out to 2 hours. It’s the Chinese way. And the most important thing: we got a certificate for the duck. (More pics here). Yipee for us!

And, so that no-one thinks all I do here is eat and blog, I even did some research in the last two days, and I have some new results together with a visiting faculty member here. Let this be the beginning of a great year for research.

And I’m also busy writing, of course.

You can read how the government makes sure that taxes are collected, here.

Two courses more than the Italians

September 6, 2007

We had an unbelievable 9-course lunch today at a restaurant near the university:

I. Appetizers:

1. Fried Bamboo-shoot. Yum, spicy!
2. Water-nuts of some sort, stuffed with rice, in sweet sauce. (Honestly: That’s a far guess. I didn’t really manage to understand what it was)

II. Duck and Mushroom Soup. Very Chinese flavor.

III. Mains and sides:

4. Steamed Asparagus (both the white and green varieties).

5. A great friend Tofu Dish, in spicy sauce

6. The high-point: Chinese-style cooked fish. They cook it intact, to preserve the juices, in a spicy brown sauce, that I think included Miso or something similar to Miso. You eat it by tearing pieces off with your chopsticks (skin and all). The thing is extraordinary, and very hard to describe. For more about Chinese Fish-cooking Here


7. Papaya, steamed, served in its original shell, partially emptied, and filled with a whitish sweetish substance, which I couldn’t exactly recognize. It’s served with milk and honey which you pour in according to taste. You scrape the papaya from the shell, and eat it with the savoury liquids. One of the best desserts I have ever had.

8. Whipped-Cream filled rice-balls: Huge rice balls (Japanese style — those who know Japanese desserts know what I’m talking about) filled with freshly-made whipped cream. Yummy.

9. Chinese Baklava. Indeed. Leaf-dough pastries, filled with pumpkin mash. This looks and feels exactly like a Baklava, except that the filling is made of (possibly sweetened) Pumpkin. I don’t think it’s a coincidence: the Arabs probably brought Baklava around here, and this is probably a local adaptation. It’s not that surprising: during the Ottoman empire, the Turks spread as far as Mongolia.

I had this lunch with a Professor here, who I may write about on another occasion. Yes, she paid for the whole thing. No, I wasn’t happy about it. Yes, food is very cheap here. No, this restaurant didn’t look particularly cheap (in local standards).

Oh my God, everyone is Chinese! :)

September 5, 2007

(I got here two days ago, and wrote most of this text then, but I only got around to editing and posting it now).

First of all: I have a big, comfortable and brand-new office, on the 6th floor, with what appears to be a view of the academic/hi-tech district of the city. And that’s the most important thing, period. :)

When I got here, I was introduced to my office, to my apartment, etcetera. The only thing I wasn’t introduced to are the students and staff. The staff is mostly on vacation until the school-year starts (in two weeks). The students are here, but I wasn’t introduced to them. They’re keeping their distance, probably due to the not-yet-justified Dr. title that is prefixed to my name around here (I ceased complaining about that after the first day, since things seem to work differently over here). So I’m going through the students one by one, introducing myself, saying hi. (And trying to memorize their names, which for me is even difficult in the west). They’re somewhat reluctant to talk about their research (due to organizational norms, I presume) , but I hope to gain some progress by running a student seminar throughout the year, and by just hanging around.

On a related note, when I asked if the head of the institute is in the country, calling him by his first name, the secretary whom I asked (who was showing me around) didn’t understand what I wanted. When I said his full name, a couple of long second passed until it dawned on her that I’m referring to Prof. so-and-so…

I had my first few meals in China. All in casual Chinese restaurants a few minutes’ walk from the office. Chinese meat soup; dim-sum; a couple of different dishes of meat in pepper sauce with rice; extremely good pickles, marinated in huge amounts of garlic; and so on. The food here is very good. At home I pay steep prices for food which is not as good as this. And these have been, so far, just random places. I can’t wait to Chinese Gourmet. (We’re having Lunch on Friday in a fancy Chinese place… can’t wait). The restaurants are invariably pretty clean, and kitchen hygiene seems to be better than in Israel. This is a rich neighborhood, and I guess that’s probably part of the reason.

All of the restaurants in which I’ve eaten are near the east gate of the university, which, strangely, is on the south wall of the university. (They have some weird fascination with the gates of the university here. Maybe it’s the great-wall effect?). The food costs half as much as in Israel. I did have a chopstick disaster on the first day here, when I had soup: I thought I’ll be fine with my reasonable chopstick skills (by western standards, of course). But I wasn’t prepared to slippery soup-noodles with plastic chopsticks. After a series of bloopers, one of the waiters came by with a fork. It was quite embarrassing, and I bravely tried to go on with the chopsticks, but pretty quickly gave up and settled for the fork, like a Chinese pre-schooler. That’s probably going to be remembered as the low-point of my stay in China. Since then, however, I have fared very well with chopsticks. I respect them and they treat me nicely. I often image that the Chinese are secretly looking at me and admiring my western chopstick skills.

It’s very relaxed here, and people are nice and outgoing. The campus is huge and green, and reminds me of a somewhat run-down version of UC Berkeley. I live about 10-minutes walk from the office, in a somewhat scruffy-looking building. 5th floor, no elevator. But the apartment itself looks great. Greatly refurbished. Air-conditioned living room, air-conditioned bedroom, another spare bedroom (not air-conditioned), washing machine (no dryer), nice cloest space. The bathroom is a little scruffy, but all in all – <borat>A great success!</borat> The weird thing, though, is that there is no shower to speak of. There’s a shower head, and a drain in the floor, and a shower curtain, but no shower doors. One showers inside the bathroom, near the sink. I quickly gained the habit of brushing my teeth beforehand.

As I mentioned, everyone is relaxed (except their attitude to foreigners, i.e. to me, which is quite stressed out). It’s much calmer here on the street than in Israel, and I haven’t seen any confrontational scene or behavior since I got here.

The driving, however, is insane. Every car honks on average once every 30 seconds. Seeing as the roads are quite busy, the situation is nuts. (They’re honking quite gently, though. Not violently, just their way of saying “move on now, I have to get home”). They drive like maniacs, and I still haven’t realized what’s the road-signal that says one can cross the street. There are pedestrian lights, but so far I haven’t seen any correlation between it and cars stopping to give way.

The internet is censored, but I managed to bypass the great firewall of you-know-who quite easily. The bypass is not perfect, though, and I sometimes have to do strange browser-acrobatics in order to get what I want. This block is really anachronistic. After al, it’s not like I’m going to be involved in any activity against the regime or anything. I just want to access wikipedia and BBC. (Not to mention a few blogs, which for some reason the firewall blocks). My general stance on all of this is: The people here have a firm belief in “not rocking the boat”. The culture here is very different from mine, and I’m very foreign here, so I’m definitely going to go with the “not my country, not my problem” approach.

I have a great office, and it’s going to be very comfortable working in here. There’s also at least one secretary who is in charge of helping the “foreign experts” (as they call us) manage things in the Chinese-speaking environment, and this is very relieving.

The neighborhood is pretty crowded, and although this is considered “the foreigner’s neighborhood” in China, the Chinese still outnumber the foreigners in the street by maybe 200 to 1. The most important thing: Everyone can chillax — I have a Starbucks nearby! When I saw it, I was very relieved. I can now order my Venti iced Americanos (two shots). I could say that I was never more thankful of a Starbucks, but then I would be lying, as people who have been with me in Istanbul or in Salt Lake City can attest.

Things have generally been easier than I have anticipated, but some things are harder. One thing is that everyone is Chinese. This means that I can’t “read them” the way I read westerners (even westerners who don’t speak English). The other thing is that I forgot how hard it is living in a place where you don’t speak the local language, and people generally don’t speak English. I’m a very verbal person, and it’s difficult to not be able to communicate, except in body language. I was never good at communicating in this way, but I guess this is the time to learn. I’m going to learn Chinese, but it’s going to be a long time before I’ll be able to use it for anything practical, I think. The upside of being in China is that I get the speacial treatment reserved for foreigners, which is one of the great advantages of living here. I’ve always longed for special treatment, but in the West you can’t ask for it.

On a different note, here are a few nuggets:

Would Jules Verne have written about a Segway? Might have.

A great text, which captures the current mainstream state of mind in Israel quite nicely: It’s hunting season (English), and the original in Hebrew


September 2, 2007


So, the 15:00 flight to Istanbul was delayed to 17:15 (gate C2). And the 17:20 flight to Istanbul (my flight) is currently delayed to 18:00 (gate C1).

I have this feeling that they were missing a plane for some reason (say, technical problems), and they’re making each flight’s passengers wait for the next coming flight. (this is a traditional Israeli custom, whose name roughly translates to “each day eating yesterday’s bread”).

Oh, and I can’t take booze from Israel to China through Turkey, because the crazy Turks decided, for some odd reason, to not allow liquids through their airport. Maybe they want us to only buy booze/perfume/etc. at their airport if we’re connecting over there? Sounds outragous, and strangely fitting of the Turks. (Third-world mentality).

On the other hand, I managed to get a fire-exit seat for the 9-hour flight from Istanbul to Beijing, so really I can’t complain. (Or can I?)

Terminal, je t’aime., I love you Terminal, Natbag two-thousand….