Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reader request

I recently had a reader by the name of Sonja ask me if I can mention any good bars or restaurants in Yantai. That is quite the loaded question, as there are a great many. I'll attempt in this post to talk about the ones I frequent. I apologize if I've left any reader favorites out... feel free to add more in the comments section.

I'll start with bars because there's much fewer of those:

  • Alibaba Bar - by far the bar of choice for expats and many Chinese. Easily the most popular bar in the city. Alibaba is owned by Swedish Daniel and run by his girlfriend Micky and her family. The bar side offers a packed bar most nights, Daniels ridiculously strong drinks, and thumping pop music. The much larger pool hall side offers comfortable seating areas, 19 pool tables, 1 snooker table, a poker room, and a whole bunch of majong rooms.
  • Jackie's Bar & Restaurant - though more of a restaurant offering western cuisine (burgers, fajitas, etc) after about 10pm the downstairs bar can get quite crowded. Small bar but good company. Foosball table to distract you from drinking. Very large selection of drinks, including many imported beers, although prices are a bit stiff.
  • Havana & Cape of Storms - I'm grouping these together because they are almost across the street from one another and I'm going to say the same thing about them. In the past they were cool places to hang out, but after changing ownership, they've turned into primarily Chinese hangouts. The street they are on (Chao Yang Jie) has always been a little sketchy (mafia, prostitutes, etc) but in the past year it seems to have gotten much worse. Chao Yang Jie is undergoing a massive renovation. Perhaps afterwards the street will be better.
  • Bohemia Bar - again, not quite as nice as when under western management, Bohemia is located across the street from Yantai Shan Park. The decor is very nice, reminiscent of many western bars, but the lack of customers can lead to a very quite evening... although, perhaps that's what you want sometimes.
  • Red Fox Bar - purely a Chinese hangout, Red Fox offers constant KareOK performances by the staff at blaringly loud noise levels. The owner is very nice however and will go out of her way to make you feel welcomed.
  • Face Club - Located downtown, the only real clubbing experience Yantai offers, Face Club offers you loud house music, laser lights galore, poor bar service, cover charges, cross dressing bartenders, and a man who will give you a back massage when you're using the urinal (weird). If you feel the need to dance, I suppose Face Club would be a good alternative to Alibaba, although I much prefer Alibaba.
  • Banana Club - the shitty version of Face Club. I've only been there once and I've never heard of any one going there more than once.
  • New Bar out near Yantai University - there is a new bar out near Yantai University which I hear is ok. I don't know the name, but they are trying to attract some western crowd, although I don't think with much success. It is owned by Stephen who also runs Cape of Storms.
  • JJ Disco - another good dance club down near the old train station. Like Face Club but a little cheaper.
There are many more restaurants than bars to talk about and they tend to fall into 3 main catagories; Western Food, Chinese Food, non-Western Foreign Food (Korean, Japanese, etc.)

I'll start with Western Food, as this is what most foreigners are interested in and also the smallest catagory.
  • Jackie's Cuisine - also listed in bar section above, Jackie's is easily the most popular and maybe the best western food option around. Their fajitas are fantastic, their burgers are decent. It is basically Hard Rock Cafe type food with a similar decor. Not cheap by Chinese standards but still slightly cheaper than a Hard Rock Cafe or TGI Friday's.
  • French Romantic Restaurant - Expensive but very good food. If you are looking for steak, this is arguably the best steak in Yantai, but also the most expensive. The Chateau Briand is fantastic, the steak fondue is fun, and if you're adventurous, the steak tartar is decent. Salmon is quite nice there, but their lamb leaves a little to be desired. If you are ready to shell out some serious cash (approx 200 RMB) and pre-order 3 days in advance, Henri (the chef and owner) will prepare a couscous with lamb medallions that is incredible. Finishing the meal with Bananas Flambe is a lot of fun.
  • Sucre - a Chinese operated cafe/French restaurant, Sucre is the poor man's version of the French Romantic. The various steaks are not as good, but they are much cheaper and come with garlic bread, soup, and salad. Selection of wine pales in comparison to the French, but if you're trying to save some cash its a pretty good bet.
  • Pizza Hut - in China Pizza Hut is quite a nice restaurant. They even serve escargot!
  • McDonald's, KFC...
  • UBC Coffee - good selection of drinks, although the western food selection is poor... just the standard Chinese club sandwich or pan fried crappy steak. Also offers some Chinese entrees. Go to UBC for the coffee or the dessert selection (Tira Misu is fantastic).
  • If you're living in Laishan near the Universities, there are a few Korean Pizza places that will deliver right to your door. Pizza is decent, but not that cheap. Ask on the phone, "Ni hue shuo Yingwen ma?" (Do you speak English) and they will put someone on the phone who does. Remember to ask for Cheesy Crust (its pretty good).
Chinese Food; there are hundreds and hundreds of Chinese restaurants in Yantai, ranging from very large, fancy seafood restaurants, to small hole-in-the-wall dumpling restaurants with one light bulb. I obviously can't mention all of then here, but I'll list the ones I frequent. I also don't know the real names, but I'll call them what some of the foreigners do. If you ask around, I am sure you can find them.
  • Above the Ocean World (near Yantai library) - fancy, fancy, fancy seafood restaurant. Be prepared to spend some serious money (by Chinese standards), but if you want to impress Chinese clients/friends, this is where to take them. Live lobster is quite good...
  • Hot Pot behind RT Mart - great hot pot restaurant, providing each person with their own small hot pot instead of one large group hot pot. More suited for the winter as the steam rising from the boiling water can make for a hot dinner... absolutely delicious!
  • Sichuan Restaurant downstairs across street from Changyu Wine Museum - if you like really spicy food and have a translator, this is a great restaurant to keep your mouth burning on fire for a few hours. No English menu or speaking staff, you might want to have a Chinese friend write down what you want on paper that you can show the waitress.
  • Hole-in-the-wall restaurants in general - some of the best food (and cheapest) you will find is in the small family owned Chinese restaurants. Jiaozi (dumplings) are often fantastic and easy to order. Don't be put off by dark or dirty conditions in restaurants... you'll find some treasures if you look around.
  • Huiyifang - Sichuan restaurant near Yantai University - very poplar, very good, not so spicy as others. Try the ma po dofu (spicy tofu), the ganbian yundao (spicy green beans), or the fish flavor obergines (eggplant).
  • Hotel restaurant located on Yantai University - some of the very best Chinese food I've ever had at a great price. Go into the kitchen to choose your food. Don't miss the Beijing Qiezi (Beijing eggplant), pan fried beef, or 10,000 layer bread.
  • Mongolian Restaurant - specializing in North Western Chinese food, their lamb is fantastic. Near Yantai University, you can order more food than 2 people can eat for less than $6 US. Try the Paomo Soup (lamb soup with bread), Cumin Lamb, dry fried pork, really anything... food is fantastic and English menu is available.
Non-Western Foreign Food: If you've never tried it before, Korean and Japanese food are fantastic alternative to Chinese cuisine.
  • Nolboo Korean - located on Nan Da Jie near the Asia hotel, this is one of the best Korean restaurants, with a very nice decor and picture menus available.
  • Korean Restaurant near Huang Hai City Gardens along the Ocean Road - the most expensive, but still quite cheap by western standards. Coal BBQ at the table provides fantastic Korean style meats. Wrap the meat in a lettuce leaf with some garlic, chili peppers, and sauce.
  • Most of the big hotels in Yantai have a Japanese restaurant in house. The top three are the Asia Hotel, Golden Gulf Hotel, and the SD Mach Hotel. The Asia hotel is the most expensive but also the nicest decore. With a Japanese garden in the restaurant, and a large tempanyaki grill, you're sure to enjoy watching the chef juggle knives, light things on fire, and serve your food. The sushi is very good at all locations with quite a large selection. Picture menu's facilitate ordering. To give an idea of price, the standard sushi sampler which would be $18 US in America sells for about 40 RMB here ($5).
  • Tudali - a chain of Korean restaurants throughout the city, Tudali offeres a cheap, decent place to get some Korean food and get drunk on Soju. Often a place to come after a night of heavy drinking, Tudali offeres good drunk snack food. Try the Korean sushi, but be warned that Korean wasasbi is quite a bit hotter than Japanese wasabi.
  • Japanese Conveyor Restaurant on Shengli Lu near KFC - one of those conveyor belt Japanese restaurants where you take the dishes you want as they travel past you on a belt. Usually too empty for them to warrant running the conveyor. The package meals are quite good at a good price (sushi, tempura, egg, miso).
Well, I know this post was long and probably not of any interested to people not planning on coming to Yantai. Hopefully now you have a better idea of what is available and why I struggle with my weight sometimes. As much as I like living in Yantai, but waistline hates it.

Hope this helps, Sonja.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oh Sweet Lordy, why?

*Following excerpt taken from Popular Science article on lethal does of peppers*

Looking to top LeFevre and win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records is Anandita Dutta Tamuly, a woman from India who devoured 60 Bhut Jolokia peppers—the hottest pepper in the world—in just two minutes on national television. But she might not have anything on Mexico's Manuel Quiroz, who also wants a shot at the eating record and can squeeze habanero juice into his eyes without blinking.
Did you read that last sentence!? What kind of twisted soul do you have to be to voluntarily squirt habanero pepper juice into your eyes? AHHHHH!!!!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

New Diet

I've stumbled across a wonderful new diet that allows you to loose weight very quickly. I call it the KFC diet. Here are the basics:

  1. Go to KFC
  2. Eat their chicken
  3. Come down with food poisoning
  4. Take Extra Strength Tylenol to break the 102.8 degree fever
  5. Always remember to stay within 20 ft of a toilet
Follow these steps, and you too can loose 5 pounds in 1.5 days!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


A few days ago I had dinner with a former staff member of mine, a really nice Chinese guy about my age. He left our company for a job that treated him much better (weekends off, paid more, etc) and it was wonderful to see him.

After walking around the downtown Chao Yang Jie area, we went to a 四川(Sichuan) restaurant that I've been wanting to try for ages now. (It was delicious and my mouth was on fire for hours.) It was the first time I've eaten chicken's feet, and while not my favorite, I would eat them again. My favorite sichuan dish so far is mapo dofu, a very spicy dish of cubed tofu and pepper. But I digress.

During dinner we discussed many things, and as with many conversations with the younger Chinese, we began discussing China's role in the world, and in particular its govermment. Now, I have grown accustomed to the fact that most Chinese people are not exactly "up on the facts" about certain situations involving China. The Chinese mi-dia frequently reports what the govermment wants its people to hear, not that annoying thing called the trooth.

I was still surprised though when my friend told me that, despite the fact that he is a 26 year old, university educated, very well spoken guy, he had never heard of the "event" that occurred in TN&men Four Sides in the summer of 19-8-9.

Never. Not, "Oh, it really wasn't that big of a deal" or, "Oh yes, a few people were arrested." Never heard of it.! He was shocked to find out about it sometime last year. When he DID start to try to look into it more, the only things he could find about it were Chinese reports stating that in fact it was the protestors that shot at the military and police, killing many of China's heroic soldiers! He knows now more about it from speaking to foreigners, and he said it made him much more angry that his government would lie about it than the fact that it had actually happened.

It is very normal here for certain stories to be kept under raps by the Parti. A protesst here, police brutalety there, perhaps some withholding of true status of AID-S in the country. That is par for the course here... what shocked me was how something THAT BIG, something so internationally known that most people will list TN&men in the top 5 things you think of when you hear the word "China", could be entirely unknown to a well educated, affluent young man.

I think there is a large disparity between the generations here in China regarding knowledge. The older generations seem to know many things, but are unwilling to talk about them. Only amongst good friends after a few glasses of baijiu have I heard some older Chinese men discuss their view of the gov, TN&men, and such related things. Those guys lived through that stuff, they were there, and their reluctance to discuss things openly stems from those days when doing so ran the risk of being turned in by a friend or neighbor, and being sentenced to 5-years in a labor camp or worse (gulp).

It is the polar opposite for the younger generation here. They didn't grow up with this fear. They want to discuss and learn more about things, they have a fervor for it, but they don't have access to the knowledge that their parents and grandparents do. Instead, they try to supplement actual knowledge of things with information gleaned from the internet, which unfortunately is often misinformation, distributed en masse by the powers that be. The more they learn, the more ashamed many of them have told me they feel about they way certain powers have behaved... which unfortunately has the side effect of making them less willing to talk to foreigners about things, where they could actually find out more information.

I myself will not discuss any subject about Chinese governpants, unless a Chinese person brings it up first. The social rule of, "don't discuss poolotics or meligion at dinner" applied triply, nay quadruply in China. It can be a very upsetting subject for some and unless you know they desire to discuss it, you should just leave it alone.

This summer was the first time that the glovernment allowed anyone to publicly remember any of the deaths that day. One woman was allowed to openly commemorate her son... one woman out of the thousands of families who lost someone that day, who petition the glovernment each year to be allowed to openly remember their lost ones. Its not much, but at least its a step in the right direction. Perhaps in another 18 years there will be no more ban on publicly remembering the event. Perhaps by that time, the powers that be will learn that the only way to avoid repeating mistakes is to learn from them, and the only way to learn from them is to remember them.

**You'll note that throughout this post, some words have funny spellings, etc. That's so this doesn't show up in a word search for certain things. I don't want to attract any negative attention from anyone, and you never know who is watching here in China.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My trip

So after the debacle of loosing my passport, my nerves were completely shot, especially considering that my main reason for taking the trip was to avoid having a mental breakdown that was well on its way. I really didn't need the added stress.

Fortunately, I had a fantastic trip home that completely recharged my batteries. Some highlights of the trip below:

  • Sitting next to an Australian girl named Amy on the flight to London. We hit it off and chatted for 7 hours straight. Extremely well traveled, and a very talented photographer, Amy and just couldn't stop talking to each other. I was sad to say goodbye at London Heathrow, but a few weeks later I got an email from her asking if she could come and visit me in Yantai on her way back to Australia. She ended up coming to visit me a few weeks ago and stayed for almost one whole week... now she's planning to come back for 2 weeks in Sept when she is off of school again (nursing student). Yay!
  • Surprising my 92 year old grandfather by showing up in his room. Over the course of 4 days we had numerous pub meals (guy can still put back a few pints) and took some trips. How I miss fish and chips, chased by a good English bitter. It was great to put such a smile on his face.
  • Going out drinking with my friend Mattei and his brother Luc in London. The three of us have been talking about doing that since we were 10. I don't think we had in mind to drink quite so much, but it was still a blast.
  • Talking to the head guy at LBS for 1.5 hours... quite encouraging.
  • Getting picked up by Fargus at JFK when I wasn't expecting it (thanks again, man!)
  • The awesomeness that was Steve's wedding. I still can't believe how good the food was. The ceremony was 1 hour away from the hotel, so the groomsmen (in our luxury limosine van) stopped by the liquor store on the way to the church (at the suggestion of the reverend, I might add) and got ourselves quite tipsy on the way to the ceremony.
  • (Taking a step back) We nearly got kicked out of the hotel room for noise complaints when we had the combined groomsmen/bride's maids party. We kinda knew the night would turn that way when at the rehersal ceremony, the groomsmen all dropped their pants (we had boxers on) for the bridemaids to take photos of!
  • It was really cool to see the first of my friends get married.
  • The 4 days I spent down the shore, with my bro Charles coming to visit. Partying it up with my insane cousin Stokes and his friends. They're 21-is years old and I cannot keep up anymore. Woke up my Gran when I stumbled home at 4am. Sorry Gran!
  • The week of rest and relaxation of doing nothing at my parent's house. Of course, I didn't really have a choice to sit and do nothing. Once my parents got home from Europe, I didn't have access to a car, and since my company had yet to pay me, I didn't have enough money to rent one.
  • Sitting out on my parent's back porch with Charles for hours, drinking good English beer, shooting the shit.
  • Getting to see my parents, even if it was only for a short time.
Bottom line of it is, I have the best friends in the world. I know there were people that I didn't get to see, even though I thought I'd be able to... next time I'm home, I promise you guys, I'm going to come and visit you.

Back in Yantai, I quickly found myself enjoying life again here. I can hardly believe my mood has improved so much over the past few months. I really thought I was done with Yantai, but now I find myself able to stay here a while longer.

Back to Blogging

It's been almost 7 weeks since I last posted a blog. I am actually still here in China, but I've been so busy lately that I've hardly had time to do anything at all, let alone writing blog posts.

At the end of June I left China for one whole glorious month. I was getting to the point where I needed to get the heck out of dodge for a while. I was miserable here for various reasons that finally culminated in an ultimatum to my boss... send me home for a while, or I'm done. If I had had to stay in Yantai for another 2 days, I would have blown a gasket.

My last night here, I invited my friends Jack and Ben over to my house to hang out. They were leaving a week later to go home, and since they didn't think they were coming back, this was to be the last time I'd see them. As they sat and watched a few movies, I packed my bags only to find that I was missing my UK passport.

I spent the next 8 hours ransacking my apartment looking for it. Just the previous day I had taken it from my office desk to bring home because clearly I'd be needing it to travel. My friends left after a while, and by 5 am I was in a panic... my flight was leaving at 8 am and I had searched everywhere. I could get into London and the US just fine with my US passport, but without my UK passport (and my residence permit) I would not have been able to leave China!

I called one of my co-workers at dawn and had him look in my office. I was sure it had to be there since I knew it wasn't in my apartment. With no luck (and at this point in a paranoid you-clearly-aren't-looking-hard-enough state), I hopped into a taxi to the office to find it myself. Sure enough, my staff were right and my passport was no where to be found. The time was now 7am.

Deciding that it must have fallen out of my pocket or something in the car, I had the driver bring the car and we searched under the seats, down the cushions, to now avail. I was ready to cry.

When I had just about given up, the driver came running into the office with my passport in hand! On a whim he had looked in the trunk, and it was sitting there plain as day. I suddenly realized what had happened... my briefcase had been in the trunk and tipped over, spilling my passport out.

We left for the airport at 7:15am, made the 25 minute drive in 15, and I still managed to board my plane that was leaving at 8:00 am.

Yay, Harvey Luck.