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August, 2014:

Fat Wife

Buy your wife a gift certificate to this store = frying pan to the head.

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An Outing

A local newspaper, the China Daily, has been putting on cultural events for their “VIP Readers” (foreigners living in Shenyang). The last one that I went on was to the local Forbidden City. It was educational and interesting. When I saw the opportunity to go on the next outing, I jumped on it.

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If there isn't a photo, then it didn't happen.

If there isn’t a photo, then it didn’t happen.

The Fairy Lake is a wetland, and is the largest lotus lake in China (apparently).

Yes, we're going on that boat, because that's what Chinese eco-tourism is all about.

Yes, we’re going on that boat, because that’s what Chinese eco-tourism is all about.

The event was co-sponsored by a local project of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). On the boat, as we toured the lake, a university professor that works on a local wetlands project gave a short talk about the role and importance of wetlands in local ecologies.

I'm on a boat.

I’m on a boat. Doesn’t the tacky lamp with the gold fringe add an outdoorsy feel?

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Getting out of the city was nice. I miss large bodies of water.

The event was co-sponsored by a local project of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). On the boat, as we toured the lake, a university professor that works on a local wetlands project gave a short talk about the role and importance of wetlands in local ecologies.

Lotus plants. The leaves are huge.

Lotus plants. The leaves are huge.

The flowers have already bloomed, and the seed pods are ready for harvesting (eating).

The flowers have already bloomed, and the seed pods are ready for harvesting (eating).

Then they fed us lunch. Lunch was a highlight of the trip, partly because of the good food, but also it was a chance to socialize with some of the other foreigners on the trip. I met an American wife of a German consular officer, who has served in several countries, including North Korea (“it was really nice” ?!). There were people from several German and French business and cultural offices. We talked shop, comparing our experiences with cultural affairs.

Yummy lunch with several local dishes.

Yummy lunch with several local dishes.

Me and a diplomat from the (South) Korean consulate. He studied both in Germany and the US. Nice guy.

Me and a diplomat from the (South) Korean consulate. He studied both in Germany and the US. Nice guy, and impressively smart.

China Daily employee who arranges these cultural outings.

China Daily employee who arranges these cultural outings.

The professor who works with the WWF.

The professor who works with the WWF.

Then we got back on the bus and toured an expo park. The park attempted to “combine” different aspects of Chinese culture, including architecture, literature and agriculture. The combination was… interesting.

Then we got back on the bus and headed back to Shenyang. As we were leaving the city, there was the traditional ritual of saying goodbye. The bus stopped at the edge of the city, and city officials, our hosts for the event, were there at the city limits to say goodbye (or to ensure that we left their city?).

Thank you for coming.

Thank you for coming.

Good bye!

Good bye!

This outing wasn’t quite as educational as the last one, but it was nice to get out of the city, and I saw some parts of the Northeast that I hadn’t seen before. I also experienced the current state of the local highway infrastructure in the region. Development continues in that area, ’nuff said.

 

Better not late than late

Here’s a unique marketing idea: make a big sign promoting a food festival on the plaza, and put it up after the festival is all over. Genius.

"Hey, Bubba, let's go to that food festival on the plaza!" "Great idea, Elmer, too bad it's already over."

“Hey, Bubba, let’s go to that food festival on the plaza!” “Great idea, Elmer, too bad it’s already over.”

Yuck

There is a wide variety of sausage in the local markets. On a whim, I decided to try some. I bought two varieties: a hot and spicy “garlic crispy”, and “special class ham” sausage. I thought that maybe one kind would be a good lunch meat option. Boy, was I wrong.

Do. Not. Eat. This.

Do. Not. Eat. This.

I could go into detail about how bad they tasted, but sometimes it’s better to leave the past in the past.

The Chinese people have no reason to fear a sausage shortage after a rush on the market from a certain bearded hungry foreigner.

 

Oh, really?

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“Thanks to Chairman Mao for our happiness.”

Yes. This is 21st century China, too

The fifth one of these that I saw today.

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Farming still involves a lot of manual labor.

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My life is not boring

Today was training day. The last Wednesday of every month is training day in the consular section. Today, we did some exercises involving the online visa application process, and reviewed the online application that all of the applicants have to complete in order to start applying for a visa.

After that exercise, I had to leave the training room and go to a welcome reception for the new section chief. We invited several local government officials with whom we interact on a regular basis. I was invited to the reception because my outreach activities have me interacting with these local officials, and the section chief thought it would be useful if I met them in person. We had a nice lunch, I hobnobbed with the government officials, and generally had a very nice time.

After the reception was over, we returned to the training activities. First, we visited the bank that we contracted with to ship passports back to applicants after their visas have been printed. We got to see the process of them sorting and accepting passports, and got to ask them questions about the process. It was pretty interesting.

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In the afternoon, we did some teambuilding activities. I was still wearing my suit from the lunch reception, so I did the teambuilding activities in business attire. Unfortunately for me, the team building activity was bowling. If you have never seen a grown man bowl in a suit before, just imagine a grown man bowling in a suit, and you have a pretty good picture about what I looked like. My personal quest is to never look ridiculous, and I’m afraid that I failed in that effort today. Oh, well.

After training day was over, I went back home, and hit the gym. I’m afraid that I put on several pounds since coming to Shenyang, largely due to the good local beer, so I have been trying to shed that extra weight. After working out, I got a text message from one of the Americans that I met at the reception this noon, and went out to meet him to have a drink. He has been in China for several years, and has some interesting insights into life in China and interacting with the local people. He also lives in a town about an hour north of Shenyang, doesn’t get around very much. I suspect he was hungry for some conversation with another native speaker of English.

Then I rode my bike home and talked with my wife via video conferencing.

Tomorrow we will resume our regular schedule of visa interviews and various paperwork. Life is not, repeat not, boring.

MONS beer

Here’s another example of me being an idiot.

Shortly after arriving in China, I noticed this very popular brand of beer. It was everywhere, possibly because it’s cheap. The name struck me as very strange, though. Why would anyone name a brand of beer “Mons?”

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“MONS” beer?

I tried it, and was not very impressed. It’s a very light, mild beer. Not bad, very drinkable. but I think the main selling point is the price: ¥3 per can, about 50¢.

The name was still strange, though. What the heck was the significance of Mons?

Then one day I turned my head the other direction, and realized what an idiot I am.

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Now you know what SNOW looks like upside-down.

You don’t have to tell me, I already know: I’m an idiot.

The accidentally exciting ride

I needed to get back to the train station to return to Shenyang. There weren’t any taxis around, and I didn’t want to take another one of these scary three-wheeled cars.
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I saw an electric cart, and negotiated a fare to the train station.

The electric carts are all around touristy places. They remind me of a golf cart that has been enclosed in plexiglass. They don’t go very fast, but they’re fun.

Imagine this, enclosed in plexiglass.

Imagine this, enclosed in plexiglass.

I figured that since I was doing a touristy thing anyway, it might be fun to have a touristy car ride back to the station. It would be a nice way to end my day trip.

We made our way slowly down the street. Although the cart couldn’t go very fast, the driver assumed that since he was driving a vehicle that had four wheels, that he deserved a space on the road along the insane taxi drivers, sociopath bus drivers, and regular incompetent drivers. It made sense logically, but practically, it was less than responsible reasoning. Horns blared around us continuously as we caused traffic to flow around us, much like water in a raging river that has to flow around a large boulder in the middle of the stream.

I was just starting to get over the frightening thought that an angry bus driver could sideswipe us at any minute, and began to relax and enjoy the ride. This isn’t going to be bad at all, I thought to myself. A nice, relaxing ride to the train station.

That is when it started to rain.

And it wasn’t just a simple shower. It came down hard; it reminded me of being in a typhoon. Imagine someone dumping a bucket of water on your head, then imagine that the bucket never empties. That’s how much rain was coming down.

Now, I have to amend what I wrote about the cart being “enclosed” in plexiglass. It wasn’t so much “enclosed” as “pieces of plexiglass nailed to the side of the cart.” Seams between the sheets of plexiglass began to make themselves obvious as the rain started coming inside. It was dripping in, blown in, splashed in (remember the sociopath bus drivers?), seeping in. I was getting wet.

I shifted in to the middle of the seat, and avoided the worst of the water as best as I could. I held my backpack on my lap, and scrunched my shoulders in to make myself as small as possible. The driver didn’t seem to mind the rain too much, he kept “speeding” down the road toward the train station.

Well, I thought to myself, the train station is only about 10 minutes away. I’ll just have to hunker down and get through this. After all, it’s only water, right? The worst that can happen is that I’ll get wet.

That’s when the rain turned to hail.

Big hailstones pounded down on the top of the cart, which, it turns out, was really just a thin sheet of metal welded to the top of the cart. The sound of the pounding of hailstones on the sheet metal reminded me of a Caribbean steel drum that has been pounded flat, back into the shape of the oil can that it was originally made of, then children throwing rocks at it. Not musical at all.

And a little scary.

Pieces of hail bounced into the cart. Remember the terrible air pollution in Chinese cities? Well, that pollution is captured by precipitation. Including hail. That means that instead of little ice cubes plinking into the cart and falling to my feet, I was getting bombarded with little frozen poison pellets. I kicked them out into the street as best as I could.

And oh, the potholes in the road. The cart had no suspension or shock absorbers at all, so I felt every pot hole reverberate up through every vertebra in my back. Since it was raining hard, there were about three inches of water on the road, which meant that the driver couldn’t see and avoid the potholes. We hit them without warning, and every time we hit one, it was like Christmas morning, except that instead of Santa leaving presents in your stocking, he kicks you in the butt.

We finally made it to the train station, except that there was a big pedestrian plaza in front. The station itself was about 100 yards away. The cart couldn’t drive on the plaza, so I had to walk across it. In the rain. And the wind. And the six inches of accumulated water on the ground.

My feet got a little damp.

Up to my knees.

My umbrella eventually just snorted and gave up, realizing that it wasn’t keeping much rain off me. Like a moron, I ran across the plaza, as if running was going to keep me from getting any wetter.

It didn’t.

The only good thing about the experience was that I was traveling alone. Because I didn’t have to share the experience with anyone else, no one will resent my decision to take the electric cart, and be mad at me for the rest of their life. So, you’re welcome, everybody!

The end of the wall

I visited the Shanhai Pass yesterday for my biweekly outing. It was an easy day trip from Shenyang.

What’s important about the Shanhai Pass is that it’s the part of the Great Wall that connects to the ocean.

The Great Wall is huge, and spans across China thusly:

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On one end of the span, the wall reaches the ocean.

The pass was strategically important, so soldiers were stationed there.

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One of the towers.

 

ShanHaiGuanProof

Proof that I was there.

 

One of the challenges of historical tourism in China is knowing what is original and what is a reconstruction. I think much of what I saw was a reconstruction.

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Chinese crowd, Year 2014

Near the pass is a (tourist trap) market place. When I saw this view, I was reminded of a famous Chinese painting.

Chinese crowd - Year 1114

Chinese crowd – Year 1114

 

 

After viewing the pass, I went to see the actual stretch of the Wall that meets the ocean. This is undoubtably a reconstruction, because the records of its destruction are pretty clear. Still, it’s cool to see what it looked like, and even though it’s a modern construction, it’s still impressive.

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A painting in the visitor’s center gives a birds-eye view of the site.

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Obligatory Great Wall profile picture

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This section is called “Old Dragon’s Head.” From this side angle, I think I see where it gets its name.

 

 

LaoLongTouProof

Proof that I was there.

 

I went out and stood on the extreme edge of the wall, so that I can say that I did.

Then I went somewhere else and had a snack.