Hello, everybody! Dajia hao! I’m on the road again- this time to Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Click Going Places to follow the blog!
This stream of consciousnesses originally posted April 4th. Accidentally posted on my old travel blog.
I apologise for my lack of posting anything the past month. Things have not gone exactly according to plan. The short version is: Although I enjoyed the people at the school where I was working, I found that I wasn’t a good fit and the sake of my own happiness and mental health, I decided to resign. I succeeded in finding a kindergarten (preschool) that was a good fit but the visa clock ran out of time. (By the time my passport was through being processed by the local government , and the contract with the new school would be signed, I wouldn’t have time to complete the application for the new employment visa.) So, I’m headed home. For now. My globe trotting days are not finished yet. It is good to be coming home. I’ll have only been gone for four months, but it feels like so much longer. Funny how time distorts when everything is uncertain and spinning around you. I have ten days left in Dalian as of today. Now that Spring has arrived in full tree blooming, warm breeze, bird nest building force, I plan on exploring the city as much as I can. My good buddy, EnQuan, is visiting me for the weekend. Today, we’re going to explore the greater XingHai Guangchang (Star Sea Square) area. Lots of photos will be taken and posted. Tomorrow we might take a day trip to the historical Lushun/Port Arthur on the southwestern point of the peninsula.
I only have two and a half days left in Dalian. The landlord is coming to inspect the apartment tomorrow at noon. Things are wrapping up. I’m going to go down to the Xinghai Beach area tomorrow for one last walk on the boardwalk and a trip to the Dalian Modern Museum (History and Culture).
More updates are soon to come and even more once I get back to the States where the internet is reliable. I’ll post all the photos and writings that have been on back order.
Dinner tonight with friends on the barbecue street. Once the smoke gets in the tasting center of your brain you can’t get it out! Excuse me now as I go fill my tum with grilled peppers and smokey mutton and dry Dalian beer.
Today we traveled by bus to the Zhongshan district- the first time I had a chance to explore downtown. After a brisk walk around the globe/soccer ball thing in the center of the lovely and historical Zhongshan Square (actually a circle) we walked to the famous Russian Street. But just like all things in China, it was nothing like you expected. Instead of finding a cozy, pedestrian friendly street lined with restored late 19th century Russian buildings and restaurants serving steaming bowls of borscht and beef stew, we found ourselves surrounded by Chinese souvenir vendors apathetically hawking their wares under (some crumbling) Russian buildings with facades barely covered by peeling paint that may or may not have been actually built by Imperial Russia. The buildings did have Russian written on them though and there was at least Russian restaurant.
We quickly made our way back to Zhongshan square where we turned down another spoke and headed to the “China famous shopping street” in search of souvenirs and street food. With Enquan, taking point, we purchased a round of mussels(?) cooked on the halfshell over an open flame. While our snack was cooking on the fire, we examined the other sea creatures waiting to be barbequed- sea urchins, clams, conch, mussels. When our sea beasties were almost cooked to perfection, the food lady added a healthy dose of hot sauce and wasabi and let the sauce boil in the shell. SLURP! Delicious despite being slimy and tasting like the sea!
We then ventured into Victory Plaza, a great and labyrinthine underground mall and food court obstacle course. Emerging into the gusty day, Enquan and I found a dumpling restaurant and preceded to consume many “handmade, preservative free!” dumplings.
Homeward bound we were then for a short reprieve and then out again for a wander down the newly awakened barbeque street. After walking the street up and down, through the umami scented haze, we settled on a Xinjiang kebab joint with a colorful and yelling couple and their assistants manning the griddle. We ordered lamb, chicken, corn on the cob slathered with a dry rub, squid, more lamb, a green vegetable wrapped in tofu skin, and little bread rolls. Everything was spicy. Not northeastern Chinese spicy. We’re talking hotter than a hot day in the Taklimakan desert hot. Good times.
A new foreign teacher has arrived to reinforce our ranks from a small town west of Beijing. I hope she isn’t too intimidated by the newness and (mostly) organized chaos of the school and the big city.
Adam and I gave her and her partner (also a teacher but working at School One) a brief tour of the coffee drinking and noodle eating destinations of the Digital Plaza district. The couple plan on moving into the neighborhood imminently.
It was a long and especially busy weekend due to marketing events and demo classes and whatnot and we were all knackered. And thus extremely peckish. (I’m picking up some new Britishisms from my new British friends and coworkers). The new teachers decided that they wanted a “real” restaurant so we headed to another of our favorite places in the neighborhood.
After you push your way through the revolving doors, you are greeted by tanks full of swimming fishy creatures and a cloud of Chinese tobacco. After you settle down into your booth, the smell of cigarettes is quickly replaced with the smell of yummy things sizzling excitedly in chili oil.
As I alluded to earlier, the exhaustion and fatigue made us hungry. We ordered twenty thin, tortilla-like pancakes and four bowls of rice (which never actually came), a large plate of shredded pork over sliced scallions lovingly smothered with a rich gravy sauce, Gung Pao Ji Rou (Kung Pao Chicken) with roasted chili peppers and peanuts, and the center piece of the feast- sizzling, steaming, spicy prawns- shells and heads still attached- piled high in a pot of sliced bamboo shoots and chili peppers and onions and some tubery vegetable, all bathed in a merciless and beautiful crimson chili sauce. It was so spicy it made our tongues tingle and foreheads perspire, yet we couldn’t stop eating it- even after the four Chinese style beer bottles and tea pot of plum juice were emptied.
Getting drunk on spicy food with new friends is one of my all time favorite activities.
Note on Chinese beer: Chinese beer comes in bottles twice the size of standard American beer bottles but the alcohol content is significantly lower.
About two block’s worth of distance from my apartment building is Wu’s Noodles. Mr and Mrs. Wu (I assume they exist although I have never met them) serve up simple, hot noodle dishes with fast food speed, irregularly chopped everything, and minimal staring from other customers. Liberal with vegetables and noodles but light on flavor-which might be the point- as the tables are stocked with a variety of condiments, most of which are kindly labeled in Chinese and English.
There is another more upscale (and up price) place than Wu’s Noodles around the corner that serves giant bowls of steaming noodle soups in unusually clean for China environment. Unlike Wu’s Noodles, this place requires the customers to wait patiently and listen to their eccentric collection of music covers of the Jackson 5 and 80s pop music.
My favorite dinner time haunt so far is a little dive of a place across the main street in the district and down an alleyway. The people there are warm and friendly and smiling. You can feel the good radiating from this little food house. The food may not be the best and it isn’t what I would call “clean” but I love the place. There was a similar “food house” I used to frequent in Liaocheng. I noticed that the customers the a happy restaurant couple attract are also happy, easy going folks who don’t stare or glare or aggressively ignore. Everyone in that place is joyful. And they make a mean Beef Noodle Soup.
The lunches at school represent “working class” cuisine in Dalian (coastal North Eastern China). There is either cabbage or fish or both at every meal. The ‘dishes’ are served buffet style in the bare, bare, bare bones teacher’s eating room. Some teachers bring their lunch to the Demo Kitchen (usually reserved for extra curricular activities or marketing events). There is always ample amounts of mantou (steamed bread rolls) and copious amounts rice. A sampling of school lunches:
Deep Fried Chicken Parts (looked like mostly shoulders, wing tips, and necks to me)
Sliced Celery and Tofu
Sautéed Spinachy Cabbage Vegetable Garnished with Chopped Cellophane Noodles
Peppery Stir Fried Pickled Cabbage (basically hot sauerkraut)
Celery and Peanuts
Whole Yellow fish (about six inches long with big teeth and mean looking eyes- like a piranha crossed with a sardine).
Great lunch today! Yummy, yummy comfort food for a cold and windy day
Deep Fried Eggplant in Gravy with Sliced Meat- beef? lamb? pork? donkey?
Fish Meat Balls and with Green Peppers, Onions, and Carrots in a Fajita tasting sauce
Shredded Extra Firm Tofu with Green and Red Chili Peppers. Salty and SPICY.
The food street has finally re opened. It’s time for some street food dinner. Into the smoke and noise I go.
Things are starting to pick up, teaching wise. I’ve spent the last two weeks or so assistant teaching, co-teaching, or observing classes. On Wednesday, I taught my first solo lesson! It was an extra curricular activity- which means that I have a lot more control over the content and format of the lesson. It was a lot of fun. After the class, I was told “it sounded like there was good energy!” Which could be a nice way of saying “the kids were loud!” which would be a good thing.
The next day I taught two classes, both with children in the 3-6 age range. There are no such thing as failures, just opportunities to learn. Let’s just say that there was much learning.
But now that “the rubber has hit the road” things will be much easier. The weekend is the busy time. I’m working full days. both days. huzzah.
Happy Lantern Festival!
Yesterday, the Chinese sales and office managerial staff gave all the teachers a box of tongyuan, the traditional foo eaten on the lantern festival. I’ve had two run ins with the tongyuan before and I would love to tell you that the treats are delicious and satisfying in every way.
From afar, the innocent little dumpling sized tongyuans sitting placidly in their bowl look almost inviting. This all changes if you manage to get the slippery thing in your mouth with chopsticks. First, they are goopy. Not exactly slimy, just soft and wet and viscous. disgusting. And then you bite down and experience the filling- which is a mystery. The filling, unlike the outer shell isn’t just goopy. It’s goopy AND crunchy. And depending on what your filling turns out to be, it might be a little sandy tasting too. Delish. Those ancient Chinese were wizards in the kitchen, let me tell you! How this weird little food , became a traditional holiday food, I’ll never know.
Fast forward now to my third attempt to love the tongyuan. I asked a Chinese co worker about what flavor I got this year. She told me, “Peanuts and … uh… It’s a mixture. It’s traditional. It’s good! I got that one too!” You put the little snow white balls into a pot of boiling water and fish them out when they float to the top. Put them in a bowl and consume. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I woke up this morning feeling like a had a bad cold. (Tangent: this is the second prophecy made by my supervisor that has been fulfilled. The first is that I would gain weight. 😦 ) I was hoping to get a nice long sleep tonight, but it appears that that isn’t going to happen. The city is ablaze again with the pop pop pop bang BANG BANG pop pop of firecrackers and rockets and roman candles firing incessantly into the night sky. I watched until it got too cold and had to close the window (they are too dirty to properly gaze at fireworks through). Even now, far from the grand finale of fireworks sure to come, a smokey black powder haze billows up from the alleyways and creeps over the city.
Photos to come soon.