Friday, November 25, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I am a bad American apparently. I have missed 2 out of the past 3 Thanksgiving dinners at the Dearden house, and for that I am truely sad. Gran, I will sorely miss you wonderful meal. Aunt Susan, I will miss your appetizers. Mum, I cannot tell you how much I will miss your pumpkin and pecan pies. If I've forgotten anyone's particular dish, I am sorry... I am sure I miss it also. All is not lost though... I am not repeating Thanksgiving dinner that I had two years ago (steak and kidney pie in England). Jackie's, the most popular western restaurant here in Yantai served a wonderful Thankgiving dinner this evening, complete with turkey, roast potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Unfortunately it was lacking the stuffing, mashed potato, creamed onions, and everything else that I've grown to love of Thankgiving dinner, but it was still quite good. I dragged Louise and my friend Paul (also British) to dinner and made them eat turkey.

Perhaps I will stop at the DVD store and buy Home Alone to make it feel like real Thanksgiving. I can't believe that is still on every year.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Despite my going on about the food, it is our family that I will miss the most. It is one of my favorite family get-togethers and I am certainly feeling rather homesick today. I will try and call during dinner and say hello.

The rest of my boat trip

Ok, I know it has been a long time coming... I mean, I've been back from my vacation now for about six weeks... but yes, suprise, here is the rest of my trip.

After leaving the Mini and Lesser Gorges, we rejoined our boat. On the way to our boat walking through the town (who's name I never knew... it will not exist in a few years anyway) I stopped and bought some street food. I am constantly amazed at how cheap, yet how good the street food is. I bought three steamed buns filled with a chili pepper/cabbage/pork mixture. They were delicious although since we were in the middle of Sichuan Province, really, really spicy. I purchased the three of them for 1 RMB, or about 12.5 cents.

We rejoined out boat and headed down the Yangtze towards the second and third gorges. Just after dinner we entered the second gorge... all I can say is "Wow, what a sight." I've only seen the grand canyon from an airplane, so this is definitely the most spectacular natural phenomenon I've ever seen in person when considering size. The mountain cliffs that leapt from the river's water were so large that they started to seem unreal. Boat.... water surface.... gigantic mountain. I guess it wasn't the size that was that impressive, it was just how suddenly they rose. The mountain peaks were not miles away, as you'd expect... the top of these cliffs were within a few hundred meters of the boat. They seemed to just go straight up.

It is funny that they are called the Three Gorges. There was a definitive break between the first and second, but I would be hard pressed to find the gap between the second and third. I spend the rest of the evening curled up in a chair on the deck, reading my book, and watching the gorges pass. Then, it was off to my room to nap for a while before we reached the Three Gorges Dam, the monster responsible for so many millions of acres being swallowed by the river.

Our tour guide came by the room around 10pm to let us know that we had reached the dam. We were given an option: we could stay on the boat and ride through the locks, although we wouldn't get to see much of the dam, or we could leave the boat, take a car tour along the dam, and then go to a restaurant. Yes, I know... big surprise... I actually passed up food and decided to stay on the boat. Emerging onto the deck, I was somewhat surprised. I had expected to see a gigantic wall of concrete, not thinking that you'd only see that from the downstream side. From where we were, you could tell that we were approaching a structure, but you couldn't gauge the magnitude of it.

And then we entered the locks.

Again, wow. I read that when China started building this project, the world went through a concrete shortage and that it was very difficult to get any in large amounts for a few years. I thought when I read it that the article must be exaggerating, but I can tell you that I fully believe that assertation now. I've been in locks before; big ones. But nothing like this. The lock system was a series of five locks, dropping our boats about 25 meters at a time. They were building a sixth lock upstream that wasn't needed yet as the water level hadn't reached that high. Eventually the whole system will raise and lower the boats 150 meters! Thats about 1.6 football fields long! Each lock could fit eight large ships in! Keep in mind that our boat was basically a small cruise ship... and they could fit eight. I swear, Chinese boat captains are as bad as the taxi drivers (read: suicidal). The boats kept hitting each other, the walls... everyone kept jockying for a place and there seemed no real order to it. Oh well, out of our control so, Ngee Siew and I cracked open a beer, sat on the deck, and watched the water levels drop. We had quite a long wait as the whole decent took around 5 hours.

Leaving the docks, we pulled over to the shore to pick up our fellow passangers who had disembarked. From their photos and stories I was very glad that we had decided to stay on the boat. I had gotten a much better view of the dam even if I couldn't see the actual outer structure. Ze Germans and I had decided to stay up all night as we would be arriving in Yichang around 3am... we had decided at that point that sleep wasn't worth it. We stayed up in the cold river air and talked about all sorts of things. It was very nice and I hope to keep in contact with them. It was during this time that I saw the largest rat I have ever seen, bounding across the deck. If I had to guess I'd say it was about the same size at Chipper (my Uncle and Aunt's old dog). Craziness.

Ngee Siew, Kristin (one of the Germans), and I were the only ones taking the bus from Yichang to Wuhan, so we stayed up for the rest of the night. We were finally herded off in a confusing mess to the busses where were to be crammed in for the next six hours. It was miserable. I had a fat, sweaty Chinese man using me as a pillow and a nice hard glass window to rest my head against. Did I mention that the Chinese are on the whole a small people, and nothing is made for anyone with long legs? I was in so much pain by the end of the ride that I just wanted to end it all. We arrived in Wuhan, found a hotel and slept for a few hours. Then it was off for some food (side story: we ordered tea and they didn't seem to have any. They had to run down the street and even then they only came back with sweetened iced tea. No tea in a chinese restaurant. And what we really didn't understand was everyone around us was drinking tea. Weird.). After scrambling around trying to arranged various train tickets, we started visiting some of the sights of Wuhan. First was the Flying White Crane Pagoda. Again, I don't know much of the history because I couldn't understand most of what we read or saw, but the pagoda itself was one of the most impressive that I've seen in China. I'm not even sure it was very old, but it was beautiful and provided a great view of the city (although Wuhan is not very pretty, it is neat to look at because it is so big. Wuhan is really three cities that combined into one). Then it was off to the temple of 500 dieties that we had heard about, although once we got their we found it was closing in a few minutes so we opted out. While walking around we randomly found some type of rock gallery that showcased many extraordinary rock and crystal formations. Not very Chinese-like, but very interesting. Then it was off to the shopping district, a pedestrian street much like Nanjing Road in Shanghai except without so much money. Ok, I'll admit it... we gave into temptation and despite being in the middle of Hunan Province we had dinner at McDonald's. In my defense, it was not my idea. Kristin had a craving for icecream, and I am not crazy enough to stand between any woman and her Haagen Daas (or Mcy D's soft serve in this case). To bad for Ngee Siew... he discovered in the McDonalds that his cell phone had been pickpocketed. Poor guy was crushed... he always did have an unhealthy attachment to that phone... constantly playing on it... but I digress.

To drown Ngee Siew's sorrows, Kristin and I took him out for a drink with the aim of getting him a whisky or something. What does he order? Rose tea. Oh well, Kristin and I each had a gin and tonic to make up for Ngee Siew's sobriety. On our way back to our hotel we wandered through a street market. Quite a sight (and smell). A small little alley way jam packed with dead animals, vegetables, spices, crafts, pets. I got a few really good pictures although I got yelled at by one merchant who didn't appreciate having his picture taken. Ooops.

Speaking of pictures. Clearly I have many from this trip and many really good ones. I have been having extreme problems getting my photo uploading service working properly. I have tried all sorts of things (and new services) but I cannot seem to get the connection to hold all night (which is how long it takes to upload these pics). Anyway, I'm sure (rather I hope) that most of you are interested and I will keep trying to get them uploaded for you to download.

Well, then it was off to bed. The next day we woke up, made our way to the train station, said our goodbyes to Kristin, and were on a train to Zhangzhou. Six hours later (and a nice nap in our hard sleeper) and were walking the streets of Zhangzhou looking for a place to stay. We got a hotel room directly across from the train station and then tried to book a way home. Ok, here is where I started to panic. We tried for hours to find a way from Zhangzhou to Yantai. Every train route and every plane (direct or otherwise) was booked solid for days. I really thought we were stuck. Then as luck would have it, we wandered across a Long Distance bus station. We got our tickets easily enough and they were cheap! They were even sleepers so we could sleep the whole way. And only a 12 hour trip!

Skipping ahead 24 hours.... (Zhangzhou was pretty boring anyway)

12 hours my butt. Try 22 hours. And by sleeper they meant 12-inch-wide-mattress-that-Nick-does-not-fit-on-with-a-metal-panel-to-use-as-a-pillow. Oh sure, you could use your most-likely-lice-infested blanket as a pillow but then you froze to death. And the bumping, oh the bumping. I though all of my teeth were going to fall out from the constant vibrations. Forget sleeping, it was enough not to go homicidal and kill everyone on the bus. Oh, icing on the cake: no toilet.... for 22 hours. Sure they stop every 5 hours or so in a village to use the latrines (read: disgusting maggot infested hole in ground) but lets just say that was not the most appealing option.

Anway, the worst part of the trip by far was the very last segment of it. We pulled into Yantai around 7am and had to be at work that day. All in all it was one of the best trips I've ever taken and I was so happy to see a part of the world that literally won't exist in a few years time.

Again, as soon as I get photos working I'll let everyone know.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hypothetically, of course

I am going to tell you a little story.  It involves this young American guy named Andrew who was sent over to Tanzania by his company to work at a  Ford factory.  Andrew spends his six months there trying to get the Liquidcare contract up to US standards.  He is at first greeted with the utmost respect by his Tanzanian colleagues.  He goes to work in the Ford factory in Tanyai where he is asked to help solve many technical problems.  Andrew goes out into the factory each day, makes his observations, takes his samples, and goes back to the laboratory to play.  Using his research, his experience, and talking to others in the industry, Andrew makes his recommendations as to what is going on and how to remedy the situation.  Do the Tanzanians listen?  No… they complain that the solution is too expensive, and that not enough research has been done.  Not enough experts have been consulted.  Frustrating for Andrew to say the least because he is certainly qualified to answer their questions, and he has involved people with over 30 years experience between them.  So a few weeks later, the president of Tanzania’s Liquidcare comes to visit the plant in Tanyai.  He is the person who complained that Andrew’s suggested solution was too expensive and out of the question in the first place.  And what is the first thing the jackass recommends when he gets to Tanyai?  You guessed it… exactly what Andrew had said was the proper solution.  It is times like this where Andrew, who is normally a very non-confrontational, non-violent person wished he had a golf club in his possession to beat the President’s head in with.  Or at least his knee caps.

Stereotypes should not be used, because they are clearly not true in all cases.  That said, they exist because in most cases they are true.  Tanzanians will lie, cheat, and steal without even a second thought.  In fact it is second nature to them.  Andrew’s idea/reputation was not discredited because it was a bad idea… it was discredited because other people wanted the credit (or the “face”) for themselves.  If Andrew’s idea would have worked (and it came from him), then the Liquidcare President would have indirectly lost face because someone lower than him in the company was able to solve a problem that he had not been able to.  What?  Whats that?  Stab someone in the back in order to gain face?  Oh, ok, sure!!

This dishonest behavior is so prevalent here in Tanzania that it makes you want to scream sometimes.  Andrew went to buy a winter jacket one day at a store near his apartment (yes, I know… why would Andrew need a winter jacket in Tanzania… that’s beside the point) and the price tag said 155 RMB.  The woman at the checkout charged me 280!  What, you think that just because Andrew’s doesn’t speak Swahili, he doesn’t know how to count?!  In that particular case, Andrew got really angy at the lady and stormed out of the store.  The woman chased him down and offered the real price… oh, that’s right, you want the business now don’t you, greedy cow.

Urgh… dispite all of the complaining, Andrew really does like it there in Tanzania… Tanyai, especially.  He most certainly wants to stay there for a while, but this is just one of many things that makes life a little harder each day… well, in this situation, a lot harder.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Wo xiang chi

The title of this posts means "I want to eat". Since I am no longer dragged to various banquests and special dinners out, I am no longer required to eat foods such as live lobster, fried sea worm, or pig's lung, although I did quite like the pig's lung. Instead I now must fend for myself for meals and that is A.O.K. by me. I should note that this post is in answer to a question my Dad asked me. And yes, I know I have not finished blogging about my Three Gorges Trip. There are only a few days of it left to talk about, and I promise I will get to that later.

So, where/what do I eat? Lunch is almost always at work. There are two cafeterias: both offer a Chinese entrée or dumplings and one of them offers Korean food, which is very spicy. Neither is really good though... I swear; more companies should take a lesson from GlaxoSmithKlein. Their food was to die for, not die from like here. Dinner? Now that's another story. I get to go where I want for dinner. Here is a listing. The first two are easily where I eat the most frequently.

Oh, one more thing before I get to the restaurants. Dad, you will be proud. I'm ashamed to admit, but I've been convert...

...I like Marmite now. Louise and Claire had some in their flat that was brought to them by a friend in England. It is really good in a sandwich with some cheese. And yes, because there are soooo many Brits here, I have started picking up British words like flat and fortnight.

Tudali - a chain Korean food restaurant. I have only discovered this place recently and I will go there often. My two favorite dishes there are Korean sushi (which is vegetarian) and a spicy, pepper/onion/pasta dish where the pasta is as thick as your finger. They also do a very nice BBQ chicken kebab there. I have started eating here twice a week or so.

The Korean – I don't actually know the name of this place, but it is a Korean owned restaurant across the street from where I live. You order a meat dish such as beef, pork, lamb, etc and they bring it to your table where you cook it yourself in an electric skillet with onions and spices. They provide a bowl of garlic penut sauce and lettuce leaves. You wrap the meat and onions up in the lettuce and eat it like a fajita. You also get a bowl of the best fried-rice I've had in China. When I eat here with Ngee Siew they bring a bowl of soy sauce, freshly chopped chili peppers, and garlic to use as a sauce. Amazing. I eat here at least three times a week.

The Chinese place next to that Korean minimart – you've probably guessed by now that I don't actually know the names of many of the places I eat. This restaurant sells these round roll things that are stuffed with beef or pork. It is almost like a cross between a hamburger and a Chinese dumpling. Amazingly good although very bad for you. I only eat here about once a fortnight.

KFC – look, there is on near the apartment, and sometimes I'm either short on time or craving some western food. I know its not good but I eat there once a week or so. And by "or so" I really mean "at least".

Jackie's – if I want good non-fast-food-western-food I go to Jackie's. It is a western restaurant owned by a young Chinese guy named Jackie. The staff have an incredible memory for names there and even after I had only been there once, they greet you by name as you walk in the door. By far the most popular place for groups of Westerners to have dinner, although. My favorites here are the chicken club sandwich, cheeseburger, fajitas, or fish'n chips. You can even get Newcastle Brown Ale, although it is 35 RMB per bottle!! I suppose I eat here once a week.

Outdoor BBQ – haven't eaten at any of these in a while, but there is a street that has many of these. You point to which skewers you want, sit down, and wait while it is cooked for you. There is a choice of lamb, chicken, pork, fish, chicken heads, duck tounge, chicken feet, chicken hearts, chicken wings, and chicken livers. I stay away from the weird chicken parts although the chicken wings are quite good. I haven't eaten here in quite a while though. Too cold to sit outside.

Pizzaland – There is a Korean owned place nearby that does a very nice pizza, chicken, or spaghetti. They will also sell you a container of Kraft Paremesan cheese for 20 RMB! Heaven! I only eat here about once a fortnight.

Jazz Island Coffee – again, good western food or chinese food depending on your mood. Quite expensive by Chinese standards, but they have 29 different varieties of coffee. When you can't stand the instant Nescafe swill with powdered creamer any longer, this is the place to go. They even put cinnammon in the espresso… do you have any idea how hard it is to find cinnammon in China? They also have a grand piano there that they will let me play. I can come in on a Saturday afternoon, order some coffee, and sit and play for hours. Too bad I don't have my books with me... I think the staff is getting sick of the same songs over and over. I guess I go here around once a week.

Sweet and Sour Pork Place – again, I have no idea of the name. It is a Chinese restaurant that caters to the bar scene downtown. When everyone is leaving Havana (out bar of choice) people will often head over here. Despite the fact that Sweet and Sour Pork is something on every Chinese food menu in the US, it is not a food that they actually serve here in China. This restaurant made a wonderful marketing decision and started cooking it for all of the tipsy westerners who miss Sweet and Sour Pork. It is sooooooo good. I eat here once a week, usually after leaving the bar, and usually very, very late at night.

Pizzahut – I have only eaten here once, but it is worth mentioning because in China, Pizzahut is a really nice restauarant. Any of the western food chains here are very expensive for Chinese even though it is must cheaper than at home. Pizzahut is fancy. They have all sorts of entrees that you wouldn't find on a Pizzahut menu in the States, and the pizza was very good.

California Noodle Fun – have never actually eaten there, and it is entirely Chinese food, but I wanted to mention it because of the name.

The only other good places to eat worth mentioning are all of my friend's places. Adriano cooks an incredible ziti with a really good sauce. Claire's version was very good also, but she has gone back to England now, so no more of that. A Brit named Paul had a few people over for dinner last night to his place where we had roast beef, carrots, spuds, and Yorkshire pudding... glorious. I have said I will cook for some people although I will need to use someone's kitchen since I have no stove. I think I'll make lamb biriyani (sp?), mushroom jack fajitas, or Pad Thai. I haven't decided yet.