Veganuary in Beijing (originally appeared in TimeOut Beijing)

Veganuary is the latest in portmanteau awareness campaigns, mixing ‘vegan’ and ‘January’ to implore you to eat vegan for the next 31 days. And while, admittedly, these two words don’t make the most natural aural blend, in overall principle it’s a pretty commendable challenge.
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For anyone unfamiliar with or only half up-to-speed on veganism, it’s the practice of avoiding meat, dairy, eggs or any other product derived from animals. Masochistic, we know.
But there’s a method to this madness, and it’s not all applesauce and hippie nonsense.
It’s long been reported that mass meat farming and consumption have a negative effect on our environment and bodies, not to mention on the animals themselves. So all those reasons you’re going meat-free on Mondays – it applies for veganism, too. It’s just better.
Why? Because eggs, milk, yogurt and even honey have their own detrimental footprint that you might be concerned about. Even if you’re not, if you could cut something adverse out of your diet, wouldn’t it make sense to at least try doing it, see how it felt? For even just a month?
And that’s where Veganuary comes in.
So, if you’re so inclined, or maybe just too lazy to commit to a whole twelve months of resolution-keeping, here are some of our favourite vegan haunts around Beijing (yes, really!) to keep you going through the month.

The Veggie Table

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This place deserves a parade thrown by the vegans of Beijing. An uncompromising kitchen stocks and prepares only vegan ingredients, so there’s virtually no chance of accidentally ingesting some egg on their watch. But beyond the sterling ethics of the back of house, there’s also an impressive and innovative Western menu at play that shouldn’t scare off your non-vegan buddies from joining you for dinner.
Shiitake mushroom burger, grilled PB&J, double chocolate cake – pretty much everything here hits the mark in terms of flavour and good karma to boot. We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the ace up their green sleeve, vegan pizza (with cheese!). Get down to Wudaoying Hutong and get to know this place this month.
The Veggie Table 19 Wudaoying Hutong, Lama Temple, Dongcheng district.See full address here.

SUHU – Vegetarian Tiger

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One of a few Chinese vegan offerings in Wudaokou, this well-hidden restaurant serves up an extensive menu of mock meat dishes, among other things, that will test the limits of what you thought you knew about bean curd gastronomy. Black pepper spare ribs, curry-flavoured shengjian biao, salmon sashimi – the people behind the menu at SUHU are sorcerers of soy and gluten. To really see what the kitchen’s made of, order the whole fish, a painstakingly constructed dish of fish-shaped wheat gluten that’s wrapped in seaweed and laced with mushrooms and other cooked veggie bits, then doused in a thick hoisin sauce and topped with peanuts. So real yet so fake – it’s never tasted so good eating green.
SUHU – Vegetarian Tiger 203 Southeast Huyuan Office Building, 88 Shuangqing Lu, Haidian district. See full address here.

High Mountain Tea

This small unassuming tea shop on Yonghegong Lu takes vegan at-home cuisine to unimaginable new places. Rest no longer on the laurels of wok-fried veggies, High Mountain Tea’s stock of dairy-free meat alternatives is affordable and insanely varied for all your cooking desires. Chicken sausage, meat floss, cuttlefish balls — you name it and it’ll likely be hiding on the shelves or in the freezer case here. Bust out your inner Nigella without harming a single living creature.
High Mountain Tea 35 Yongehegong Dajie, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng district.See full address here.
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Besides our listed favourites, there’s also way more vegan options in Beijing than you might think. With the world’s largest Buddhist population (who traditionally follow a vegan diet), China is teeming with Buddhist temples that either offer their own dairy-free menu or have neighbouring vegan restaurants to accommodate visitors.
If that wasn’t enough to get on board with Veganuary, here’s five more reasons from some of Britain’s funniest vegans.

10 things you forgot happened this year (originally appeared in TimeOut Beijing)

If you’re already doing your research on what to do and where to go this New Year’s Eve, it can only mean one thing – yet another year in Beijing has gone barreling past us quicker than a fleet of madcap bikes.

And what a year it was. There were highs, there were lows, there were even buses with wi-fi by the end of it. But if it’s all gone by just a bit too fast for you to really grasp, we’ve combed over some of our favourite blog posts of the year to remind you just what went down in 2014.

Starting in the winter of 2014, Beijing foreigners and locals alike took to the streets to dance and lip-sync like nobody was watching to Pharrell Williams’s hit single ‘Happy’. The clip went viral on social media.

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But the video earned the wrath of our then-nightlife editor Jared Cline for its poorly-worded accompanying description (‘Some choose to hate, we chose to love… This is how Beijingers reacted to… smog.’)
‘This sort of happiness, painted as a direct response to an international-headline-making crisis, is turning a blind eye, plain and simple,’ Jared wrote.

”Happy’ in Beijing’ is not an accurate portrayal of how Beijingers reacted to the smog, as they claim. Turn off the cameras and see if anyone is still dancing… For music, how about the sound of throat-clearing and phlegm splattering on pavement?’

It looked like Beijingers had gotten over their hopeless love of toxic smog by springtime, when many of them lamented the loss of hundreds of iconic red lanterns from Gui Jie (Ghost Street) in May.

Rumoured to be part of a fire prevention campaign, the lanterns were swiftly taken down over a weekend, giving the once charmingly illuminated street a darker – dare we say more ghostly – feel… well, apart from all the neon and flashing lights, obviously.

Things brightened up by July though, when the promise of an up-and-coming Beijing-based sitcom made headlines across China.

No Pets or Foreigners, created by Johannesburg-born actor Murray Clive Walker, outlines “the misadventures of two foreigners and a Chinese landlord and his daughter as they attempt, and mostly fail, to bridge the cultural gap.”

Although Walker’s premise seemingly had all the ingredients of a recipe for sitcom success – two clueless laowai, “a lot of toilet humour”, a director with “awesome guanxi” – the moderate buzz that surrounded this show appeared to have subsided by the summer.

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If that wasn’t enough to turn your stomach, August turned out two of Beijing’s biggest food stories of the year.

The well-loved Two Guys and a Pie store closed its doors early in the month, breaking the hearts of Australians across the capital.

To make matters worse (or better, depending how you like it), McDonalds suffered a spoiled meat scandal that saw all its beef products removed from their menu for several weeks.

It became a summer of woefully slim pickings for many late night fast food fiends. Supplies of McChicken sandwiches and chicken drumsticks were quickly picked over during the day, leaving only the much-maligned Filet-o-Fish at the end of the night for dispirited drunken revellers.

And while it’s hard to imagine anything more serious than a Big Mac famine, remember that time Chinese police raided then piss-tested an entire nightclub?

In a move that left many Beijingers awkwardly tugging at their collars, a mid-August raid on nightclub 2 Kolegas ended with the arrest of nine people for testing positive for drugs. Five of the arrestees were foreigners, who were deported faster than you can sing, “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie…”.

Autumn had the displeasure of seeing one of its most historic hutong districts destroyed when Gulou was razed in September. An on-going revitalisation project that had slowly been dismantling the alleyways over the years eventually claimed not only the Drum and Bell courtyard, but much of the surrounding area as well.

The Drum and Bell courtyard closure was only temporary, however, yielding to a more contemporary and gaudier square.

But that wasn’t the last place that would unexpectedly shut down in 2014.

Amid alleged concerns about possible embarrassments during APEC, the Yen Fetish Halloween party was prematurely shut down leaving costumed party-goers all dressed up and with nowhere to rave. Refunds were offered, but Halloween was ruined and with nothing more to show for it than a sky as blue as Alec Baldwin’s eyes.

And that was the year 2014, at least according to our pick of the blog posts. But if we’ve left out anything, feel free to give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Beijing’s famous Yashow Market closes for repairs (originally appeared in TimeOut Beijing)

It’s the end of an era. Effective from December 31, the famous Yashow clothing market will empty its stalls and shutter its doors to make way for a wave of renovations that will put the beloved tourist attraction on par with the rest of its glitzy Sanlitun neighbours.
The market, which opened 12 years ago and has remained virtually untouched since, is home to some 700 shops, selling everything from clothing to telescope equipment. Shop owners were told the renovations would see needed repairs to pipes and bathrooms, as well as significantly increasing the size of stalls. This upgrade won’t come free though, with merchants told to expect sizeable hikes in rental rates after the three-month closure.
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Yashow tenants like Amy, a jewellery store owner who opened her shop just over a year ago, haven’t been told how much their new rents will be but expect it to be three to four times higher than at present. She’s undecided if she’ll return at that price, as business hasn’t been good enough of late. ‘There aren’t as many customers as before, maybe because foreigners aren’t coming to Beijing or they’ve found a different market. The extra space will not make enough difference for some people.’
Chopstick vendor Zou Wei has operated his business out of Yashow since its doors opened in 2002. While he has a strong attachment to the marketplace, he says he runs another shop and is unsure if he’ll be able to afford the new rent. ‘I think many shop owners don’t know their decision yet; it’s probably half-half how many will stay or go.’
While the proposed changes could mean bad news for many shop owners, the rush to liquidate inventory has meant cut-rate prices for bargain-hungry shoppers. Flip, a 27-year-old management consultant, took advantage of the clearance sale frenzy to grab several last-minute Christmas presents, including a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book. When asked what impact the closure will have on him he answers, ‘My mom definitely has that much less of a reason to come visit me in Beijing again.’
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Beijing’s most inspirational people of 2014 (originally appeared in TimeOut Beijing)

Over here at Time Out Beijing, we believe in leaving things on a high note. So, with the year just about to come to a close, it’s time to look back at the five most inspirational people we met in 2014.

Kim Lee

This crusader against domestic violence made headlines in 2013 when she won her spousal abuse court case against then-husband Li Yang.
Since then, Lee has become the voice of a growing movement against domestic violence in China, donating her time and alimony to protect women from abuse.

Xiao Meili

In what some are dubbing ‘the year of the feminist’, sexual assault activist Xiao Meili stood out.
Horrified by reports of sexual abuse in Chinese schools, Xiao took to the streets in 2014 to raise awareness of the issue, walking more than 2000km from Beijing to Guangzhou to petition better protection for women and children from local governments.

Chan Koonchung

Blacklisted author Chan Koonchung has been treading a fine line in China since the 2009 publication of his thinly-veiled critique of contemporary China,The Fat Years.
While this best-selling novel was banned in the Mainland, Chan has been permitted to remain and work in Beijing – although this didn’t stop him from releasing yet another boundary-pushing novel in 2014, this time on the taboo subject of Tibet.

Evan Osnos

The second author on our list, as well as one of our picks for China’s best books in 2014, won the National Book Award for his nonfiction account of the changing minds of China.
Drawing from his experiences over an eight-year stint reporting from Beijing, journalist Osnos seeks to inform and enlighten international audiences on an often-misunderstood country.

Ai Weiwei

Possibly the world’s most famous Beijinger, Ai Weiwei has long made headlines for his fearlessly dissident artwork.
After a protracted case in 2011 over charges of alleged tax evasion, Ai continues to live and work in Beijing, remaining hopeful for the future of his hometown.
Feel like celebrating a truly inspirational year? Check out our New Year’s Eve in Beijing section for the best things on offer this December 31.

Microwave Festival 2014

Motorised feathers, self-propelling charcoal, 3D sound waves – that’s just a sampling of some of the unique media on display currently at Hong Kong’s curiously named 2014 Microwave International New Media Festival.

The annual celebration of multimedia art form – the first and only of its kind in Hong Kong – will enjoy its longest run to date this year, holding 15 events over four weeks in venues across the city.

“It’s really exciting because we worked with Independent Curators International this year to involve curators from around the world,” said Mandy Wong, communications manager for the event. “We have 35 curators who have each hand-picked a ‘must-see in your lifetime’ piece, so it’s very diverse this year.”

What began as an offshoot of the local video art institution Videotage in 1996, the Microwave Festival quickly established itself as a bastion of new media creativity, artworks founded in cutting-edge technology.

“We were a bunch of artists here in Hong Kong, but we wanted to see video art from around the world,” explained festival founder Ellen Pau. “That’s actually where the festival name comes from, because video signals were transmitted by the media – satellites and microwaves. That was our platform to exchange art and ideas.”

And while some legislators may lament the recent occupation of its downtown core by a generation of Hong Kong’s younger inhabitants, this year’s theme is all about an open interaction with the city.

“It’s ‘Living Architecture,’ how we interact with buildings and architecture,” said Wong. “All of these vertical plans of structure, it’s really art. Like frozen music all around us.”

Pau described this year’s festival as “the art of material and structure from algorithms – we think about how digital technology changes how we build and how we live within that architecture.”

Events will include exhibitions, film screenings, artist symposiums, and a variety of workshops on topics like urban gardening. Featured guests include cult classic European architectural filmmakers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine.

But although this will be Microwave’s largest event to date, it’s unclear if pro-democracy demonstrations will hamper attendance rates. Last year’s festival, a space-themed ‘‘Terra 0’’ exhibition that incorporated astronautic materials and simulated “scents of the moon,” had an average of 2,000 visitors a day, according to Pau.

When asked about the possibility of Microwave Festival losing numbers this year, Pau said she isn’t too worried. “There could be less people because of the protests, but then again there’s less traffic,” she laughed. “We have banners and posters…This year we’ve got ads in the MTR. If people know about it, they will come.”

Festivalgoer David Farmer said that’s exactly why he’s there. “I’m just here for the week on business, so I didn’t really know what to do. I saw a poster for it somewhere and I like this kind of art so I came out. It’s visually very impressive.”

“We really have developed that ‘arts festival’ feel since we first began, “ explained Pau with a smile. “Every year we try and get more flexible; we see more different people coming out.”

Clockenflap 2014 (as featured on Hong Wrong)

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies…” And with that bizarrely sedative tune, the Flaming Lips’cover of Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds was the psychedelic swan song that brought Clockenflap 2014 to a surreal close.

The three-day arts and music festival, arguably Hong Kong’s premier annual music event, expected to see record numbers of festival-goers this year. The turnout was undoubtedly boosted by high-profile acts like Kool & The Gang and Tenacious D.

Friday night was all about letting Glasgow flourish, as both synthpop darlings Chrvches and post-rock heavyweights Mogwai performed impressive sets at the Harbourflap main stage (though the cringe factor was strong as Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry’s made the baffling decision to address the Hong Kongese crowd in Mandarin). It was The Vaccines’ infectiously high-energy indie rock blowout at Replay stage that earned the prize of best atmosphere of the night, or at the very least, sweatiest.

Chvurches

Chvurches

By most accounts, Saturday wasn’t widely anticipated as a lineup you simply couldn’t miss; yet with afternoon sets from French electronic duo Nôze in the Electriq tent, ska-tastic Sultan Ali & The Red stripes at Replay, and aptly named gypsy rockers The Turbans on the Your Mum stage, one would have been well-advised to make the rounds during the day.

Brett Domino Trio

Brett Domino Trio

Saturday evening proved to be a lesson in contrast between stages. Ambient rockers Jagwar Ma, the velvety voice of Nightmares on Wax, and the gloriously hirsute Travis all delivered mellowed out yet entirely moving sets, while larger musical ensembles like Latin-influenced Ozomatli and disco legends Kool & The Gang gave up a slew of up-tempo, hip-jiggling numbers.

Kool & the Gang

Kool & the Gang

Travis

Travis

UK genre-blenders Rudimental did the expected and ended the night on an impossibly high note with their own brand of beautifully crafted and sophisticated music – their end of the night sing-along to Feel the Love had Flappers young and old alike swaying arms in the air, eyes closed and smiles wide.

Sunday started off on the sunnier side of the bed, a welcome sight for the many who had arrived unprepared for the misty grimness of Saturday. Noteworthy performances included the virtually indescribable life force that is Dan Deacon – so vast and consuming was his sound vortex that scheduled acts on nearby stages could barely start their sets, expectantly waiting for a break in his flow of beats to summon a crowd of their own. Still, it was that brand of madcap musical mischief that produced one of the weekend’s unparalleled highlights, an interpretative dance mosh pit.

Britain’s Nitin Sawney was a welcome comedown from the participatory antics of Deacon, but it was homegrown talent that produced some of the better performances of the night. Oh! Nulla (an offshoot of post-hardcore locals The Lovesong) turned out a compelling show, while My Little Airport performed with an emotion and charm that transcended lyricist language.

Nitin Sawhney

Nitin Sawhney

Openly gay and leather-clad Le1f delivered his own unique brand of rap and grind, catering to the twerk-aholics of Clockenflap who may have been hoping for a Miley Cyrus cameo during The Flaming Lips’ set. Instead it was Tenacious D’s Jack Black who was on cameo duty, making a (not so) surprise appearance on-stage as the famously eccentric Wayne Coyne belted out that old Beatles ode to hallucinogens while confetti rained down on exhausted and contented festival-goers.

Le1f

Le1f

And while it was not without its hitches (the Harbourflap jumbo screen dying halfway through Tenacious D’s set, overpriced food, more boozed-up middle schoolers than you could shake a fist at – which I did, on several occasions), the 2014 Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival was a resounding success by any measure.

Inside the Firewall: Unfiltered News of Hong Kong Trickles into China

SHANGHAI – Despite reports of record-high censorship on Chinese social media this week, many mainlanders are still able to access news coverage of the Hong Kong Occupy Central protests across a wide variety of platforms.

The wide-scale protests, which officially began September 28, led to one of the largest crackdowns on information-sharing platforms in both Hong Kong and mainland China, most notably the popular image-based app Instagram.

“I woke up one day and saw one of my classmates had posted a message about it on Instagram,” recounts Helen Song, a student at Shanghai International Studies University. “Then I tried it and found it was blocked.”

Instagram was blocked from mainland users the day after the Occupy Central protests began.

Instagram was blocked from mainland users the day after the Occupy Central protests began.

Habal K., who asked that his last name not be used, had also been using Instagram to glean information about the protests using keyword-grouped collections of photos, known as hashtags. “I used the hashtags to find out more about it, I saw the tear gas and all the police photos. It’s very interesting. But now, you can’t see anything at all.”

While the swift shutdown of Instagram weakened the stream of news to those inside China’s notorious firewall, many have turned to other social media platforms to access reports on the conflict.

“I searched it on the Internet but all I got were just some typical clichés from Xinhua news agency,” says Song. “So now we use VPN (virtual private networks) to look for more information. I read PhoenixNet as well.”

Habal says he used QQ, a Chinese instant-messaging software, to access news about the protests. “There are many posts about it in the blogging section,” he says, giving a demonstration of the app on his mobile phone. “Yes they can censor some of them, but there are too many and I’ve been able to read a little about it.”

Yoyo Huang, a tutor at an English language center, says she uses Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-style platform, when possible. Still, she complains that censorship is rife these days: “I will see something that mentions Hong Kong…. It’s gone quite soon after. More and more things are disappearing; it’s getting worse.”

Huang isn’t incorrect. Information gathered by social media watchdog groups demonstrate the recent spike in removed articles from Weibo, more than twice the amount recorded during other controversial news stories this year, such as the Tiananmen Square protests in Hong Kong on June 4.

Graph showing increased Weibo deletions since April 2014 (courtesy: weiboscope.com)

Graph showing increased Weibo deletions since April 2014 (source: weiboscope.com)

Still, interested readers on the mainland have options available to them, some hidden in plain sight.

Daniel Rechtschaffen, an American teacher who has lived in Shanghai for a year, says he notices no difference in Hong Kong coverage on mainstream English news websites like CNN or BBC. “There’s a ton of reporting being done, especially CNN. I’d say every other article on the CNN website is about the Occupy Central protests.”

Rechtschaffen says more attention is paid to Chinese-language forums, however. “If you compare [Chinese-language] WeiXin (WeChat) to [English-language] WhatsApp, they monitor the first way more. They want to know if similar homegrown protests are being organized over here.”

Regardless of how it is accessed, it’s evident that many mainland residents remain interested in the story of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy. With Occupy Central protests about to pass the one-week mark, this story is anything but old news for many in China.