Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thai Fighter

This is not a Grub Club post, but it IS about food.  Unfortunately it isn't my week to pick, and even if it were, the Thai food event at Kempinski started after last week's dinner and before this week's.  Also, I'm not sure how many of my Grubbies would have sprung for a 45,000 tugrug buffet.
This seems to have been an unforeseen benefit of the Community of Democracies meeting.  The Thai prime minister and a bunch of business representatives (or cronies, as I would prefer to call them, whether accurately or not) were in town for it, and Thai food week was the result.
I don't really consider myself a foodie, in spite of all the Grub Club posts this year.  I like spicy food that satisfies.  I will put up with expensive restaurants with minimalist decor for the sake of my loved ones, but it's not really my thing.  But even an unrefined palate such as mine appreciated the food tonight.  After months of eating at Bangkok, which is the best Thai place in town but nowhere near the best I've had, I was in heaven.  Everything was so rich and flavorful and fresh.  They included a drink in the price, and dessert as well; I chose the slice of pumpkin with coconut cream.  I have no idea how something so simple could be so delicious but it was. 

Also, well staged, Kempinski.  They held the event in their Kharakorum restaurant (named after Chinggis' capital), and the decorations (which I assume are the normal ones, being Mongolian in nature) went really well with Thai - the walls are painted bright red with lots of gold accents.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Of the People, By the People

Democracy's come to town.  To be exactly precise, it arrived here in 1990, as communist regimes around the world began to fold.  This is important because the Community of Democracies are having a conference here this weekend.

What does this mean to me?  Not a whole lot.  I am a fairly straightforward person when it comes to politics.  I don't have time for them.  I don't care about them.  It is sad and I should probably be ashamed, but I don't vote - I figure if I can't be bothered to find out what the issues are and where the candidates stand on them, I have no business voting (and, for the record, JFK agreed with me).  And as an asocial butterfly, I don't spend a lot of time forming connections with powerful people, of whom there are undoubtedly a few in town right now.  If you are interested in what the conference is about, you can check out Info Mongolia.  But for me - politically disinterested and socially untethered - this conference mostly meant photo ops.
Sukhbaatar Square and the parliament building were decked out in their finest, and the Peace Bridge has the Mongolian flag and the Community of Democracies flag flying all along its length.  Additional measures have been taken to keep things running smoothly, mostly more cops out and about and traffic restrictions - only odd-numbered plates can drive today and last Friday, even-numbered plates yesterday and tomorrow.  There were a couple of shopping closures, as well, but Merkuri wasn't one of them, so I wasn't too concerned.
After two years in a country that needs no introduction, it was a breath of fresh air to see some protestors.  These guys were calling for an end to political persecution in Mongolia.  Apparently we've still got a political prisoner locked up somewhere.  I tried to find out who he (or she, I suppose) was, but Google is failing to dig up the truth on this one.  That's pretty much all I have for you this weekend...except for this:
Gold cars?!?  What the?!?  Please note that these aren't even the same car.  What are the odds that I would see TWO gold cars in a city this size in the space of about three months? 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Grub Club: Aseana

I am in so much trouble it's not even funny.  I could not be in more trouble even if David Duchovny (aka, X-Files' Fox Mulder) showed up nekkid on my doorstep.  Guess what is coming to Ulaanbaatar?
Have you ever had a cinnabon?  This place is more evil than the Evil One.  It is more evil than my Dark Lord and Master.  It is gooey, buttery, cinnamon-y, sugary goodness.  And they are putting it on the 6th floor of the State Department Store.  My mouth dropped open on my way up the escalators today as I went looking for a ink pad (we're trying do-it-yourself fingerprinting this week, since that is apparently the only way I'm going to be able to get my background check...thanks for nothing, US Embassy of UB!)  Did I ever mourn the lack of fast food here?  Lies.  All lies.  It's probably a good thing that I'm going to be eating nothing but rice for the next four months, because I will need to lose some weight before this place opens.  And I apparently need to start doing my stationery shopping elsewhere.
Now that I've got that monumental news out of the way - for our dinner tonight PE chose a restaurant in a ger, Aseana.  I was really glad she picked it - Five and I have been trying to sell it to someone for ages - because it's right next to the church and I've been curious about it.  The owner's a Malaysian guy who just puts whatever he likes to make on the menu.  They just recently opened a second restaurant behind the Chinggis Hotel, and he has homes in a couple of different places, so they must do pretty well for themselves.
It seems like every time we go to a southeast Asian restaurant I regret not ordering the fried rice, so this time I yielded to Five's influence from the get-go, and ordered the Indonesian fried rice and the egg roti with curry (above).  And I was stuffed afterwards, although I wouldn't have minded having a lemon to squeeze over it or something spicy to add to it.
Three of us ordered the pad thai, and that was good, too.  Fearless Leader doused his in hot sauce, but I liked the flavor even without anything extra on it.
We have been deprived of pho for many, many moons, and since PE took the job for next year in Ho Chi Minh City, we've all been talking about how good the food will be.  I believe this had some bearing on why Engrish went with the pho.  She wasn't that impressed by it.  PE had a small family emergency, and had to leave the country, so she wasn't able to weigh in with her opinion.
We always rate these restaurants on atmosphere as well as food quality.  I've got to say, I like the inside of a ger for a restaurant.  It had lots of heaters, and besides keeping us nice and toasty warm (cause guess what, guys?  It snowed again last night!) it caused the most alluring glow on my face, which Domestic Goddess kept exclaiming over, so I had her snap a picture.  Now that I'm looking at it, I kind of think I look like El Greco's Magdalene that's in the Nelson-Atkins.  Okay, maybe not really.

James, the owner, thought we were some of his regulars, and when PE called to make the reservation, he kept this location open just for us, which meant closing the Chinggis Hotel restaurant for the night, since he only has two chefs.  If you take a bus going west toward the airport (12 from Zaisan, or 11, 38, 45, or 51 and maybe a few others from downtown), get off at the second stop on Chinggis Avenue, cross the street, and walk back east about half a block.  This location is only supposed to be open from 11-4, so get there early or miss out.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How We Do Siberia on the Steppe

I intended this school year to write about something different in UB every week.  I haven't done too badly, although keeping up with my China trips has slowed me down some.  Still, there are lots of museums and places to check out in UB that I haven't seen yet, and even more I haven't discovered (who the hell knew there was a Black Box theater here???  Not this girl, and some of my favorite plays - Bloody Poetry, Waiting for Godot - have been performed in such spaces!)  Today I get to check one off: the Victims of Political Persecution Museum.
It's housed in an unassuming building down the street (southwards) from the ballet theater, and is not much visited.  There's not a whole lot to see and much of the text is in Mongolian, but this is a part of their history that shouldn't be forgotten.  At the beginning of Mongolia's own cultural revolution the population was about 800,000, according to one of their labels.  On the first floor, there are statistics for each aimag, telling how many people were executed, or imprisoned, and for how long.  If you add them all up, it doesn't look like as many as died during other communist regimes (who need not be named just now), but when most aimags executed 1500-2000 people, and there are 21 of them, that adds up to a significant part of the population.
I'm an art teacher; I notice art.  I truly love the traditional style of painting here, and purchased my own Mongolian painting last fall (you'll get to see it next week if I follow through with my plan to finally write the blog I promised Babysis about my home).  I think my favorite - if that word is appropriate in this instance - artifact in the museum is a painting done in the traditional style, showing scenes from the purges.  It is a jarring contrast between the beauty of the style and composition and the ugliness of the subject matter.
The skulls brought me to tears.  So many of the victims were Buddhist monks (communism being not so big a fan of the opiate of the masses).  Over the years, mass graves have been discovered.  The bullet holes in the skulls are telling.
And of course, no persecution would be complete without propaganda.  The last couple of years I did a unit on propaganda with my fifth graders during their exhibition.  We talked about the power of words and images, and how artists can use this power for both good and evil.  We talked particularly about the absurdity of Nazi propaganda from WWII, and how the artists of those images parodied racial characteristics and caricatured people, and encouraged them to remember how wrong we know those to be based on our experiences with our own classmates.  As I mentioned, the group most targeted in early communist Mongolia were the Buddhist monks.  So, class, what do you suppose is the message the artist is trying to communicate in this poster?  And based on your experience, do you think this is a true message, or not?
Speaking of religion, it's the 20th anniversary of the Mormon church in Mongolia.  I ran into one of my sisters on Wednesday when I was getting a manicure, and she mentioned a performance at the circus - that it was a Mongolian cultural performance with all the performers being LDS.  Well, I figured a free performance was not something that comes around all the time, so I invited a lot of people to go, but one of my new friends, let's call him Spike, was the only one who took me up on it.  It turned out being more religion than he was up for (there was more choir singing than Mongolian performances), and didn't quite make it halfway.  Also, the seats in the middle have NO legroom.  And whoever was running the lights had them pointed right in our eyes.  But I was glad that I went.  It was really cool to see a Mormon girl doing contortionism, because it's not exactly the most modest art form, and as a sometimes belly dancer I like seeing my sisters do what they're passionate about even if it might cause the Utah contingent to cringe.  It was also interesting to note my own reaction to having Spike along.  I've talked about my religion with non-Mormons a lot, usually - ironically - in bars, and brought people to church with me occasionally, although I make them invite themselves.  And it is always weird for me to think about what they must think of us.  We have some beliefs that are not exactly standard, and I would be lying if I didn't say that there are times when the standards of the church are a battle for me.  But...I BELIEVE THESE THINGS ARE TRUE!  I believe that the hard things I have to do make me a better person, they make me happy, they keep me safe, and - said it before and I'll say it again - I know for a fact that I never could have left my home and family to go wandering the world alone if I hadn't known my Heavenly Father would go with me wherever I go.  It is hard and I struggle but I wouldn't trade it for all the beautiful men-in-tights in the world (the ballet is on the schedule for tomorrow :)

This day has been long and I am exhausted.  This morning began bright and early.  I mean, TRULY bright and early.  Instead of getting up at 6 and puttering around on the internet for an hour and going back to bed, I puttered for 20 minutes then got ready to go HIKING.  Yes, at bloody 6:30 in the morning.  It was WONDERFUL!  This seemed like a particularly good idea this week because I had the wonderful news this week that a lot of the permit restrictions on visiting Tibet have been lifted, and I no longer have to have a group of 4 other Americans to go with.  So my own personal Himalayan expedition is going forward as originally intended!  I don't know if you realize how happy this makes me - going to Tibet this summer was a huge influence on my decision to get the 1-year visa and mop up my China "bucket list."  It's been something I've prayed about and dreamed about and even gnashed my teeth over a little.  Miracles DO come true!  Anyways, Engrish decided to try something new and went with me, and had to agree that it was not a bad way to start your weekend at all.

Also, this morning I just passed 3333 views on this blog.  The crazy thing is that over 1000 of those views have been in 2013, and 2054 since moving to Mongolia.  It was a shock last fall to find out that my colleagues were actually reading what I had to say, and that I had somehow managed to gain myself a loyal Mongolian reader, whom I've bumped into up here on the hill twice (this is unbelievable because my blog has been blocked from search engines since April 2010, when the head of lower primary suggested it might be wise to change the settings so as not to vent my feelings about the school quite so publicly).  In the last month I changed those settings, and I have been amazed to see views from countries where I don't really know anyone...it's easy to guess that it's my Swiss cousins accounting for my Swiss views, or that the Peruvian ones are either the Evil One or her hubby, but I don't think the one person I know in Germany has visited 92 times!  Anyways, it's great to know I'm not just shouting into the void, or rather, that someone besides me and my seven official readers is getting some enjoyment out of my ramblings.  Feel free to drop me a comment if you're reading and ask me questions or tell me what you like, or even what you don't.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Grub Club: Guantanamera

Before I start talking about food, let me say that this week has been killing me!  I'm trying lots of new things with my students - animation with 6th grade, felting with 9th, and the 7th grade is challenging no matter what they are doing - and then there was snow!  Monday morning (Evilness Day, the day that the world was graced with the Evil One 36 years ago) I got up for my walk and saw the following outside my window:
It was ridiculous how much snow was coming down.  Even more ridiculous was the fact that Five was out there walking in it.  I apparently have more sense than her because I went back to bed.
As for Grub Club, something that may not be apparent from my posts is the spirit of competitiveness that some of us may bring to it.  So far, Domestic Goddess leading us to Caucasia had been the title holder for best find.  If you go by scores, it's possible that Fearless Leader unseated her last week with Le Triskell, but besides the fact that he didn't come up with it by himself AND he gets our office Wonder Woman to make his reservations for him, everyone knows that picking a French restaurant is cheating.  I mean, they've turned eating into a fine art.  Coming from that experience, most restaurants in UB are not going to be able to compete (I mean, just look at this bread.  Not only is it NOT fresh baguette served with fresh butter but the presentation isn't as nice, either), but Domestic Goddess brought a fierce contender with the newly opened Cuban restaurant, Guantanamera.
Plastic sword-dueling is optional
We were greeted as we came in the door by the owner, who was muy attentive to us throughout the meal.  He even aerated Fearless Leader's wine for him, so he didn't have to worry about straining his wrist.
Is that a look of worry? 
Now, since none of us have been to Cuba, it is hard to say how authentic the food was.  If my Cuban-Saudi daughter from Bahrain had been there, she might have been able to tell us.  It was delicious, but not as spicy as I was hoping (have I mentioned before that I love spicy food?  Oh yes, yes I do).
Mad Science started with this salad.  Colorful and flavorful.  I have a feeling this could have made a whole meal.
Domestic Goddess LOVED her Cuban sandwich (aka, ham and cheese).  She ate half of it, and asked the rest be packed up for her son.  Then when our order got a little screwed up and another one came out, she told them to pack that one up, too.  Lunch tomorrow = sorted.
I love black beans, so I ordered the black bean soup first.  It was drizzled with olive oil, which was a pleasantly surprising combination of flavors.  I always associate olive oil with Greek cooking, and to an extent, Italian and Arabic.  But this was lovely, too.
This post has a LOT of pictures, because the food was really beautiful (and maybe because I encourage people to fight over whose food will be in the blog...I have left out Fearless Leader's heart-shaped carrot just to spite him for being so mean to me).  Here are a couple of dishes that Five split with Engrish (who usually shares with PE but has revealed herself to be fickle).  Several people agreed that Five had the best main dish.
I, on the other hand, spent a long time after my soup drinking my coke and staring at an empty plate.  It happens to us all, at one point or another - everyone gets a turn to be the one whose food got forgotten.  It's inevitable when you have a group of eight people ordering.  Life goes on, and eventually my Sunday chicken rice dish showed up.
I haven't been such a fan of rice since I was an ignorant yokel just learning about Chinese food.  I'm blaming this on Five, who, in true Filipina fashion, believes that no meal is complete without it.
Guantanamera also has a small but killer selection of desserts.  I opted for the pumpkin flan, which had a subtle sweetness.  Domestic Goddess chose to finish her dinner off with this coffee thing (yes, I use the word "thing" a lot - you try remembering the names of all the dishes eight people order!)  Engrish went for coffee, too, but had rum in hers...lots of rum.  Which hopefully means that she's not upstairs unable to sleep.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Muslim Quarter Mishap

I'm sick of writing about China but I want to tie up a few things first, so this will be my last blog for this trip, and a little scatterbrained.  Please bear with me if I go on any birdwalks.  I got into Shanghai two weeks ago last night, and went to JoAnn and Michael's for some catching up and dropping my stuff off.  And then I was out the door again.  My flight to Xi'An was at 7:30 the next morning, over in freaking Pudong, and I've become terrified of missing flights since last summer's debacle (which I didn't write about, it seems...basically my alarm failed and the taxi either didn't come or didn't call up, and so I missed my flight back to Iowa, a mistake that cost me $1,200).  So I saw them off to bed before walking to the New Star Sauna, an authentic Korean bath house down the street from my old school, where I spent about 3 hours going from the hot room to the hot bath to a cool shower.  Rinse and repeat.

Unfortunately, I had a pretty bad headache the next day, and my Korean friends would have told me it was from the toxins released from the hot/cold treatment.  Whatever the case, I got to Xi'An and was not in the best mood.  I tried to get a taxi from the airport to stop by Emperor Jing-Di's tomb, but he tried to tell me it would cost 600 kuai running the meter.  I hadn't done as much research on this point as I should have, but I was pretty sure that was bullshit, so I got out of his taxi and went to buy a ticket for the bus instead (and it turned out I was right - the taxi the hotel called for me when I went back to the airport only cost 150 kuai).  When the bus stopped it was in the heart of old Xi'An, and I really didn't care.  I wanted to get to my hostel - a good one called Qixian - and leave my stuff.  I wanted a meal that did not consist of a red bean bun (I don't eat red bean anything - it was the last thing I ate before I got violently ill my first Christmas in Korea, and even the smell of it kind of makes me want to hurl).  And I wanted a damn aspirin.  Eventually I got to the hostel and got something for my headache, but had failed to find anyplace I wanted to eat.  But as I started wandering the old town, I decided I could live without a proper meal for now.

I had all sorts of things I was going to go do.  I wanted to bike along the city wall and see the drum tower and the bell tower and the Forest of Stelae.  But I just couldn't be bothered.  I guess it's possible to get China fatigue even when you don't live there.  Instead I wandered my way through side streets until I reached the Muslim Quarter.  I've lived and traveled in the Middle East, and was really curious to know what it would look like in China.  There are actually a couple of different Islamic minorities in China - Xinjiang province is much better known for it, but these are a different people, the Hui.

I've always found Xinjiang cuisine to be the expected outcome of mixing Arabic food with Chinese food, and the mosques in Xi'An were the same, except with architecture.  If you took Chinese buildings and tried to build a mosque out of them, you'd get something that looks like the mosques of Xi'An.  I was fascinated by them, because while they looked Chinese, if you know what to look for in Islamic architecture, you'd see those things as well.
Islam forbids the depiction of any creature with a soul.  This over the centuries has resulted in beautiful geometric patterns as well as floral decorative motifs.
The Qu'ran, of course, is important.  You will see it prominently displayed in mosques, as well as depicted, as it is here.
I found it interesting and funny to consider that Chinese Muslims can read and speak two of what I consider to be the most difficult languages in the world - Arabic and Mandarin.  Arabic phrases are also carved into the decorative motifs.

And then there is the matter of one of the most recognizable aspects of Islamic architecture: the minaret.  A minaret is where the call to prayer is given from (five times a day...starting at times at four-freaking-thirty in the morning, so if you are considering living in the Middle East, I hope you are a heavy sleeper, or living on the right side of the building!), and is usually a tall tower at one or more corners of the mosque.  The minaret at the Great Mosque of Xi'An looks like nothing so much as a 3-floor pagoda.  It's clever, and is just another example of the amalgamation of the two cultures that created it.

Well, while wandering and finding the two mosques (there is a smaller one that I stumbled on - the first few pictures are from it) I passed some really delicious street food.  I don't eat very much street food.  Sometimes it just looks unappetizing, and you don't have to tell me that it comes with risks.  I'd eaten it once with Meen in Shanghai, and occasionally I'd get my favorite Taiwanese breakfast sandwich thing outside the fabric market there, and having had no bad experiences with it, I decided to try these delicious things.
 First there was the shwarma thing.  Instead of flatbread it came in a bun thing.  It was delicious.
Then I tried some noodles.  I only had like, two bites, because they were cold - I thought they would be fried, and was seriously mistaken.  They also came served in a bag, so they were hard to eat and walk.
My favorite was probably the fried, spicy tofu.  It was cooked with cilantro - mmmm!  Have I mentioned how much I love tofu?  Because I do.  They gave you a little skewer to stab them with.
Also my favorite (I can have two, because this was sweet, and thus, a dessert) was the fried banana on a stick.  I love hot bananas, and it got bonus points for calling to mind Arrested Development's banana stand.
And, because I'd heard Five and Domestic Goddess raving about the sugar cane juice I never tried outside the fabric market, I decided I'd wash it all down with that.  I didn't care for it.  It is sweet, but not too sweet, and has an organic taste to it.  Give me a pure chemical coke anytime!  Anyways, I just don't think of China when I think about juice.  Thailand, of course, and the Middle East as well (there are days when I'd kill for the banana-orange juices I used to order from the Yum Yum Tree in Bahrain).  I shouldn't knock China's juice, but...yeah.  Not my favorite.

Well, like I said, street food does have its risks.  This point was driven home particularly clearly when I woke up at five in the morning with all the food I'd eaten in the last 24 hours coming out of one end or another.  It is not the worst case of food poisoning I've ever had (see the above reference to red bean...I thought I was going to die), but it was definitely the most inconvenient.  I pulled it together and made it to the terracotta warriors anyways, but I didn't end up seeing the bell tower, or the drum tower, or the city walls (other than as I was passing through them), because I went back to my room and fell asleep as soon as we got back, and holding it together that long was trying.  And strangely enough, I'm kind of okay with that.  I've seen enough city walls, and towers of one kind or another, and museums and temples and such that I don't feel cheated.

I still would have liked to see Jing-Di's tomb, but sometimes you just have to write things off for a loss.  Damn taxi drivers.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Qin Shi Huang's Revenge

A long time ago, in a country not too far away, I had a friend named...let's call him Lick (that's a Korean joke).  Lick went to Beijing, and he got amoebic dysentery while he was there.  Being unwilling to miss out on all the things he went there to see, he tried not to let this stop him.  But while he was out shopping one day, he really, REALLY had to go, and the result was catastrophic.  Let's just leave it at the fact that you don't want to have explosive diarrhea when a squatty potty is your only option.
This little memory ran through my head as I was attempting to get myself together last Monday.  I didn't want to be the girl who went to Xi'An and DIDN'T see the terracotta warriors.  I also didn't want to be the girl who "redecorated" the bathroom at the site of the terracotta warriors.  And it's a big site - this was the biggest of the three pits, and there is no bathroom in any of the buildings.  So I felt like this was a legitimate concern.  Did I let it stop me?  Obviously not.  However, I didn't get much out of the other things we saw - Banpo neolithic village or Emperor Qin's tomb, and I only ate a little rice at the lunch, which was part of the price of the tour, and that was a shame since we had to drive over some really sketchy roads to get there.  I honestly wasn't that interested in them, so it wasn't that big a loss.
On the trip over, our guide - who went by the English name "Coffee" - asked if we knew that the terracotta warriors were in pieces.  He then went on to relate that nobody knows who broke them, but that there is speculation that it was done after he died by a rebel general, Xiang Yu.  I asked if he wouldn't have had to dig the warriors up to do that.  Poor Coffee didn't have an answer to that, and awkwardly moved on with his lecture.  Yes, yes, shame on me.
Peppermint was pretty impressed by the warriors and asked me to take her picture with them.  She was looking a lot better that day than I was, and I figured one of us deserved to have a commemorative photo.  Nobody asked me what I was doing this time.

You probably have heard all about the warriors.  You know no two are alike, although the bodies were very similar in a lot of them.  What can I possibly say to add to your knowledge?  Not a whole lot.  And unfortunately I was too sick to come up with any witty comments or snide remarks.  Once we made it to the site, I went off on my own from my tour group - I wanted to follow the advice of Lonely Planet and work my way from Pit 3 backwards to Pit 1.  I didn't quite manage it; what I thought was Pit 3 was actually the on-site museum, which had some neat stuff, including the two bronze chariots they unearthed here.  Oops.  Pit 3 was supposed to have been the "command center" and so I was kicking myself a little for not getting to see it, but hell, at least I made it there.  Also very cool to see was the restoration experts at work.  They reminded me of all my puzzle-loving friends and how much they might enjoy working here.  Belynda would, at any rate, if her comments when we were looking at ruins in Egypt are anything to go by.  Anyways, it was another China moment crossed off my list, and I was ready as hell to get to Shanghai.

Under the Big Top

I'm not really a circus-goer.  When we were walking to the circus here in UB two and a half weeks ago, we discussed when we'd last seen the circus, and I couldn't remember (later I did - it was the North Korean circus at Geumgangsan.  How about those bragging rights?)  But EVERYONE has told me by now how great ERA is.  First a colleague at SUIS Gubei, but then no one wanted to go see it with me.  And then after I left, apparently all my friends went without me.  Even Domestic Goddess said it was good.  So I went off on my own last Thursday to experience it for myself.
It was...eah.  Don't get me wrong, the performers were very talented and it was well orchestrated.  However, it was a bit of a letdown from the international circus I saw here.  Also, I'd seen a LOT of the acts performed in one performance or another in Harbin or Chengdu.  For the price I paid - and I paid more than the minimum $50 seats - I was expecting more.
It had a kind of time-based theme, and they tried to interpret a movement through time in China.  The guy in the top picture wheeled his bike out with this giant pot, out of which came four contortionists (who knows how the hell they all fit in there???)  He sort of broke up or refereed a gang fight between these guys, who battled it out via jumping through hoops.  The guys China sent to the circus here that did this act were better than these guys, though.
I did find myself impressed by some of the acts.  Anyone gutsy enough to do the above stunt is pretty fricking awesome in my eyes.  I mean, seriously, you could kill yourself doing that.  I would, at any rate.
And at least one of the acts would NOT have been legal in the States.  I've never seen motorcycles in a cage.  Hell, I've never even seen ONE motorcycle doing this, let alone the seven they had going.  I may have been convinced these guys were going to die, and I was glad I wasn't in the splash zone.  Because seven motorcycles in a globe would have caused some bloodshed.
Having come from Xi'An earlier in the week, their costumes impressed me almost as much as their stunt.  If you can't tell, their design is based on the armor that the terracotta warriors wear. 

ERA is on line 1 (the red line) at Shanghai Circus World.  None of the signs tell you which exit to take, but if you take a look around once you're out, you'll figure out where it is pretty quickly.  Tickets were 300, 400, and 600 kuai, and I had no problem showing up and buying a good seat.  I did, on the other hand, have a hard time finding a restaurant that sold coke where I could go and have a sit while I waited for the show to start.