China, one week in
I’ve been here in China for a full week now, and have already seen a ridiculous number of places. Until Friday, we’d been mainly doing work-related stuff, traveling to various cities and places to do so. The first night we stayed in Beijing, then the next morning we were up bright and early to catch a plane to Dalian. On Monday we took the train ride to hell to Tangshan, with a trip to Tianjin on Wednesday. We came back to Beijing on Thursday, thinking we were done with work, but it looks Tuesday morning we’re heading off to Shanghai. We’ve been touristing it up here in Beijing for the weekend and it’s been pretty cool so far.
The fight night in Beijing (北京) we stayed at a hotel near the somewhat famous Wangfujing area, walking around and getting our first taste of shopping and bargaining at tourist traps in China. Also we got our first taste of the air pollution and dust in this country, which is pretty bad at times. You walk around hacking and coughing like you’ve been chain-smoking 10 packs of cigarettes (which a lot of the guys here do), then have no choice but to spit all over the place (which a lot of the guys and women here do). Nothing says sexy like a woman hocking a loogie right in the middle of the road. Goo.
We got Peking Duck for our first meal, in a fancy-seeming restaurant. This place was the opposite of any restaurant I usually see in Japan. It was huge, brightly colored, and had several dining rooms full of pissed-off workers. In a lot of ways it felt like eating in the middle of a convention hall. It was just me and my dad, but we ordered a full duck and some cabbage soup thing. This restaurant was famous for duck, so pretty much every table ordered one. Every few minutes you see a train of chefs wearing surgical masks come out from the kitchen with carts. They break formation and head off to whichever table they’re serving, and they start to slice the duck right in front of you. Peking Duck is half fat, which I guess is what makes it so famous. Fat and skin. So the guy slices up the duck for you, puts it on plates, and you eat it by dipping the duck meat and skin in sauce, adding shredded leeks, and putting it inside a thin pancake. It’s kind of like getting fajitas, but less Mexican and no sour cream. And it’s pretty good! Really fatty, but the taste is good. You can, of course, just put less of the fatty pieces in when you roll up your duck fajitas.
The next day we headed out to Dalian (大連) via airplane. It was a really short flight, only about an hour and a half. They barely had time to serve drinks and this weird beef jerky fried sandwich thing before we had to get ready to land. Dalian is actually a huge city, famous for its beautiful beaches, zoos, and museums. We got to see none of this, instead driving for about 2 hours to a smaller island nearby, which apparently is a rapidly developing area with a lot of government support. Along the way we stopped by a restaurant that was actually a hotel/motel, and the table took up the entire room. We ate and stuff, met our clients, then headed out to the place we’d be working for a few days. When you think “lab,” you don’t think about this kind of place. Check it out:
That’s the outside of the complex where we were working on the fishies for 3 days. At least they had electricity. It’s a hatchery with all of the workers living on the premises. Kind of interesting to see how these people lived. I also came up with some sweet nicknames for the people there, like Transvestite kid, 2-tone hair girl, and eyebrows.
Our last day in Dalian, we got treated to a big lunch at this market-restaurant a bit closer to the city. Once we walked into the place, there were all kinds of tanks and stuff with live seafood and other animals and vegetables. Our host told us to each pick a dish. We did, but the host also had picked out some dishes. We then headed back to a private dining room. It seems the general norm for these big Chinese meals is to order a number of dishes, put them on the lazy susan turntable, and have everyone share them. No biggie, I’m used to that. What is strange, however, is the number of dishes. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re guests here or if this is what they usually do, but it seems like the equation for figuring out the number of dishes is people x 2, because there’s always so much food. When the first 2 dishes came out, I was speechless. Weird, strange dishes (to me) that must have been ordered by the host. I won’t go into detail just now, although I’ve told a few of you already. I don’t know if I’ll actually post it on the blog, because I can imagine some people getting offended, haha.
Left Dalian and headed to Tangshan (唐山), a smaller city, via train. Of course, this was a 9 hour hobo train ride from hell, which I’ll write about later. It was terrible though. There wasn’t much to do or see in Tangshan, since it’s a fairly small town that pretty much has no foreigners and no foreign tourists even. Nothing is in English anywhere, and since me and my dad don’t speak Mandarin it was pretty interesting. The coolest thing though was learning about the “board taxis,” called “bardu” or something in Mandarin. It’s pretty much a motorscooter with an army green cab attached to the back that can carry 2 or 3 people. It’s a kind of taxi but super cheap. 3 RMB (about 45 cents US) seemed to be the flat rate. Sure it’s not super fast, but it was convenient and kind of cool.
We also made a day trip to Tianjin (天津), which was good for work but pretty boring overall. After the big meeting with businessmen and Communist government types, we went out to a local restaurant with them and had another infinity-course meal. They used a lot of local vegetables or something, and knew the owner, but it was kind of weird because we went to a pretty remote place to eat at this restaurant. And the owner ate with us! It was way good, and luckily no weird animals that I know of, except for the water bug shrimp things. They also served this Chinese liquor called baijo (白酒) which was supposedly 60% alcohol by volume but tasted more like Everclear. It was painful. Especially when the one Chinese guy across the table from me would take his glass, grunt, hit the glass table, and give you a look like “if you don’t drink some baijo right now I will kill you.” A very enjoyable party though. Communists love to give the double hand-sandwich shake, and they also wave goodbye using both hands, in case you didn’t know.
After a long dinner and baijo party, we went back to Tangshan in Golgo 13’s car as he played American rave and trance music picked out especially for us. I have a short video of this car ride that I’ll post later, just so you guys know I’m not kidding about the rave music.