Sunday, May 10, 2009

Daddy! Daddy!

After a mad dash to our train bound for Qindao, Shannon and I went to our seperate bunks. The ticket vendor had made a mistake and put us in beds that were in rows 20 and 21, but were 3 cars away from each other. After stowing my bag under the bottom bunk, I took stock of my bunkmates. The group that stood out was a grandparent pair and their little grandaughter who was wailing her eyes out. The train hadn't yet started moving and her father was on the station landing trying to console her. I decided to sit back in my bunk and observe this touching scene for a moment when in the bunk below me a man started singing. I thought to myself "how cute, her uncle or someone is singing to her to calm her down". I decided to peek down to get a glimpse of the crooner: he had earphones in and was singing to drown out the little girls sobbing.

Qingdao, also known as Tsingtao

After another long train ride during which we experienced the spoiled bratty downside to the one-child policy, we have arrived in Qingdao, former German concession and home of one of China's most famous exports. Who knew Tsingtao Brewery was started up by Germans in China? Who knew Tsingtao is actually pronounced "Ching Dao"? Not me. We were excited to sit on the No. 1 Beach in this seaside town, but it is raaaining. We are staying in an old astronomical observatory. Aside from this rain, things are good.

Update: In Qingdao many small restaurants and dumpling-erias have kegs of Tsingtao out front from which you can purchase a plastic grocery bag of beer to take away with you. We decided to experience this side of Qingdao culture, but due to our lack of Mandarin skills, we were given 2.5 kilograms of beer with several straws. When the man pointed to 2.5 on the hanging scale they use to weigh the bag as it fills from the tap, I didnt really think it through. Who knows how muh 2.5 pounds of beer really is? Then with a giant bag of beer in hand, I realized that it was 2.5 kilograms, which equals at least 5 pounds, I think, and seemed like at least 2 liters. All this beer cost 7 yuan or about 1 dollar.

Tomorrow we head to the northern capital, Beijing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


No, we have not been forced into pirate slavery, but we are in Shanghai.

For the past couple of days we have been in Hangzhou, famed for the most famous West Lake in China. Apparently even Marco Polo thought this lake was something to write home about. The hands down highlight of yesterday was the Yellow Dragon Cave Park on the western shore of the lake. We climbed the ridge in search of the dragon, but only found some caves.

We also went to Pizza Hut because I was already sort of tired of Chinese food. Pizza Hut is very classy here and the pizza toppings, such as seafood fruit salad, teriyaki with bonito flakes, and curry chicken with pineapple, undeniably cater to regional palates. I imagine a person from Hangzhou who visited a Pizza Hut in the US would come away rather disappointed.

We will post more about Shanghai after we actually see Shanghai.

Update: Sadly, Shanghai was a little disappointing - it didn't really look like Japanese-occupied Shanghai as seen in Lust/Caution... and everything is under construction for the World Expo 2010. We ate some good food though - hand pulled noodles and something that may or may not have been Korean. We ate a wide variety of buns and dumplings. We saw, but did not eat, stir-fried toothpicked sweet and sour baby chickens. We saw some acrobats. We saw the Chinese space needle. Now we have officially been Shanghai'd.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Hong Kong was Super. And beautiful, and innovative, and vibrant; "Asia's World City," as they like to put it, on buses and signs.

But we are in China for real now, in a coastal town named Xiamen. Getting across the border was a breeze, our faces weren't even laser beamed for swine flu fevers, but our first bus ride in China was eventful. As we stepped out of the Shenzhen local train station at the border with Hong Kong, we were intercepted by some kind of police, who asked us where we were going (John was confused and said Shenzhen, but they did not believe him), I said Xiamen and without another word, they escorted us to a ticket counter in the middle of an outdoor strip mall down the enormous plaza. We purchased our tickets, then we were told sit on plastic chairs to wait to be ecorted to the bus even though we could see the bus station across the plaza. Not knowing whether Chinese buses stop for food, I went on a food acquisition mission and only came back with a box of garlic chicken crackers that were about to expire... so John went to go try his luck at getting us some food and while he was gone, our guide decided we should leave ten minutes early and proceeded to yell at me in Chinese, hitting me in the shoulder, gesturing at her watch, her cell phone, and the bathroom and John's bags. I just shook my head and said things in English; my one semester of Mandarin is not paying off here in China. When John came back at the appointed time, she rushed us and some others around to the road behind the bus station where a minivan was waiting by the curb. We looked in and every seat was taken. They gave John half a seat to share, and put a very small stool between the seats intended for my behind, which made John say, NO!, and I blurted out, I WANT MY MONEY BACK! I thought I was being told to ride on a mini stool for eight hours after paying $20 (I would pay $5 to ride on a stool but not $20!), but our escort just waved goodbye and some people who spoke english told us this minibus was taking us to a bigger bus. We relaxed as we rode for about an hour through crazy traffic and pedestrians and construction to a random point on the side of the highway where a large bus was waiting. As we boarded a man waited with plastic bags, expecting you to put your shoes in one. Turns out all the seats were beds, like real "lay down with a pillow and comforter" beds. So we rode out the afternoon lying down, watching the rice paddies and highrises and temple ruins fly by.

When we finally arrived in Xiamen, we caught a taxi, only to find out the hostel was full because May 1 is labor day in China and people like to travel on holidays. Our next choice was a dorm on the local university campus where foreigners could reportedly stay. While on campus, we asked a guy we heard speaking english if he knew the way. Turns out he was from Ukraine and was studying Chinese there at the university for the year and his name was Eugene. He led us all the way to the dorm, translated for us, and found out it was full too. Then he kindly led us to another hotel off campus, which he found out was also full. Then seeing as how it was already midnight and every hotel was probably full, he really kindly said we could stay at his apartment because his two Ukrainian roommates were out of town for the holiday weekend. We protested, but he said he hadn't spoken to anyone in anything but Chinese for a week because his roommates had been gone and he would appreciate the company. So we swung by his favorite neighborhood restaurant where he picked his favorites off the chinese menu. Then we went back to his place and ate variously delicious Chinese dishes as he talked about how he thought Soviet communism was different from Chinese communism (Slavics' proclivity for being miserable vs. Chinese complacency with being given food and shelter), what things he missed about slavic culture (drinking wodka with friends!) and what things were like and are now like in Ukraine. All in all an eventful first day in China!

Today was more ordinary: we explored downtown, which is a mixture of buildings from the 20's and huge highrises covered in neon lights, we went to a restaurant famous for its peanut soup where John had to write down the chinese characters based on pictures of foods we recognized (xiu mai we could handle verbally) and then we rode a ferry to the nearby island, Gulangyu, to check out the villas left behind by weathly Japanese and British in the 1920's. On our way back to the hostel we encountered a large street market downtown, whether it was for the holiday or Sunday or everyday we do not know, but whatever the occasion, we ate a wide variety of street foods: fried egg sandwiches cooked in streetside egg poachers, chinese lamb gyros served by chinese youth with "the poofy hair" as John has named it, tibetan pies served by men dancing bollywood style (video to come soon, hopefully!), japanese blueberry cream puffs, and house-shaped waffles stuffed with vanilla, chocolate or red bean.

Tomorrow we are going to ride a train for 26 hours to Hangzhou, which is about an hour away from Shanghai. CHINA! is so BIG.