The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Ate a Scorpion

...and other Daliawesome adventures in Dalian.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Dalian (a coastal city in the Liaoning province) with 6 of my foreign companions for our monthly 4-day break. As you are already gleaning from aforementioned scorpion, an exciting and refreshing time was had by all.

We boarded a train at half past the buttcrack of dawn on Saturday morning and hunkered down for the 12-hour ride ahead of us, which was full of sleeping, reading, listening to music, eating, and frolicking (as much as the confines of the hard-sleeper car would allow) with a 4-year-old named Le La.

We arrived in Dalian that night to be greeted by Courtney's friend, Dan - an American spending his Watson fellowship travelling the world. Conveniently enough for us, he happened to be fluent in Chinese, which made the whole checking into the hotel thing a lot easier. As soon as we'd showered off the funk of the train (which gave Mike scabies on the ride from Beijing to Tongliao, if you recall), we headed out on the town to celebrate Mike's 23rd birthday. Given the fact that we'd started our evening rather late, by Chinese standards (meaning any time after 8 pm - it was well past 9 before we ever sat down to eat), I was pessimistic as to the destiny of the fun-having quotient. I needn't have worried, however. After a lovely (and expensive!) dinner at a restaurant that was open til 2 AM (owned by freaks, clearly), we set out to get our drink on, having made a good start during our meal. We soon found ourselves at "Flying Bar," one of the most interesting bars I've been to yet. There were live singers on the meager dance floor trying to perform their craft to canned music amid lumpy Eastern Europeans shaking their middle-aged, drunken thangs. During a pause in entertainment, however, we managed to get Mike on stage and leid appropriately, complete with a chorus of "Happy Birthday." After that, we took over and showed them all how we do in America, much to the singers' delight (I don't blame them...the Eastern Europeans were over bleach and perm quota for such a small bar).

A couple hours and a bottle of Jack Daniels later, we decided it was time to leave with our pilfered tambourine...and find another bar. This time, "Alice Bar" welcomed our thirsty little selves. Also an odd spot, it had a raised area at the back that was not quite a dance floor, but not quite a karaoke stage either. We made it both. We took over Alice Bar quicker than you can say, "White Rabbit." The DJ was soon playing all our requests and watching us go ballistic to the largest concentration of Western music we'd heard in a public place since arriving in China. Despite a rather pushy prostitute making moves on various of the gentlemen in my company...and me, come to think of it...we had a great time and poured ourselves into bed around 4:30 AM (easily the latest we've ever stayed out).

The next morning found us suffering slightly over an early lunch (you don't honestly think we were up in time for breakfast, do you?) before hailing a couple taxis down to the coastline, where we spent the afternoon on a pebbly beach. As if we weren't dehydrated enough before, we managed to sweat out the remaining moisture in our bodies and score a halfway decent tan in the 2 or 3 hours we were there. We definitely chose the right beach, if I'm to believe what I've heard about some of the more tourist-populated spots along the coast. The property was owned by a hotel and absolutely sprawled. The approach to the beach consisted of lush and rolling hills, all beautifully manicured, with a couple fiberglass zoo animals here and know, to make it classy. The real spectacle, however, were the brides and grooms everywhere having their portraits taken against the scenery. By the time we were headed back to the city's center, they had swooped upon the area like moths to a flame. Costco could have bought them in bulk for the number of nuptials taking place that day...there were so many that it took us easily twice as long to get out of the area as it did coming in.

That night's dinner took us from the best of the West (pasta and pizza at Pizza King) to the beasts of the East. Hanging out with some English teachers stationed in Dalian on a pedestrian street peppered with street food vendors, we were introduced to some of the culinary delights Dalian had to offer, most of which were on a stick. These offerings include, but certainly do not limit themselves to, scorpions, centipedes, squids, grubs, and jellyfish. I told you that I ate a scorpion. What I didn't tell you was that I saw it crawling around a tupperware scorpion environment before it was skewered with 2 of its buddies and fried in hot oil. It took a lot of psyching up, but I managed to eat the little guy (and not die). It basically tasted like the grizzle left over on a barbeque after grilling a bunch of steaks, and had the consistency of cornflakes. I'm pretty sure I left that night with a leg or two stuck between my teeth.

Having spent a fairly tame and early evening on the town, the next morning saw us all go our separate ways. Or at least that's what I did. Until lunchtime, I wandered the city by myself, browsing the local merchandise sold at outdoor markets and even catching a primary school doing their morning exercises in a large courtyard. I relaxed with a cup of coffee and read my book in an actual coffee shop (thank you, Russia), and before I knew it, it was time to meet my friends again for lunch. We decided to return to the very market where we had our first taste of scorpion and have street food for lunch, which was arguably some of the best food we ate the entire time we spent in Dalian. Among the things available to eat on a stick was eggplant, or "chie zi" in Chinese, which is for certain my favorite food since coming to China. We met a young Japanese guy there named Yuji, who was visiting a friend in Dalian, and he tagged along with us as we made our way back to the coastline, this time to a theme park not unlike a Sea World or similar attraction, except that it was in China and therefore kinda ghetto, not to mention deserted at that particular time. Not discouraged, however, we proceeded with our mission, which was to ride their zipline across the little bay around which the park was situated. So we did. There's actually not much else to tell about it. We climbed a steep set of stairs to the peak of the hill overlooking the bay, got ourselves strapped in one by one, and zipped down to the other side, feet nearly grazing the water towards the end. The humorous part was stopping after all that momentum - you don't realize until just before you're about to hit it that it's up to the employee at the bottom to stop you, or else you hit the wall rapidly approaching your highly-vulnerable and dangling body at gravity's mercy. I was saved, barely...Mike wasn't so lucky.

After an open-air farewell-to-Dalian dinner that evening, we decided to spend our last hours in the city that had quickly captured our hearts hanging out in Zhongshan Square (actually not so much a square as a circle). It's a major traffic rotary and a great place for university kids to convene at night, playing hackey sack (though a befeathered and belled version of its American counterpart) and rolling around with neon-lit wheels strapped to their heels. Pat joined a game of hackey sack with some of the kids there; Clay was given a lesson in heel-wheeling by one of the girls hanging around; Mike, Emma and I had fun experimenting with night photography, which yielded more than a few cool shots.

It was back to Tongliao the next morning, though. We returned refreshed and excited about our successful trip to Dalian, if a little blue at the prospect of getting back into the grind of teaching. Only a matter of time until the next adventure though! Stay tuned for The Shenyang and the Restless...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

You know you're in China when...

Jacob sent us all a fantastically humorous "You know you're in China when..." list, so for your entertainment, though I realize it can't possibly be as funny to other people as it is to us, here are a few of my favorites:

You might be in China if...
  • you forget what clean smells like.
  • you barely flinch when you see a small child emptying his bowels in the street.
  • a cup of coffee costs more than ten times a bottle of beer.
  • you find yourself crying over a menu in a western restaurant because they serve potato salad.
  • you spend less than 10RMB on a fully satisfying lunch, but might end up eating at a table with 4 strangers.
  • you carry a supply of TP with you everywhere you go.
  • you know how to use a squatter.
  • you know what a squatter is.
  • grown men and women often say hello to you, and when you reply they run away giggling.
  • you can't decide if you love or hate the country you're living in.
  • you see nothing wrong with standing on a white stripe in the middle of a highway while cars whiz past you at 90kph.
  • it seems completely normal that some guy on a tricycle wants to buy your garbage.
  • you don't blink an eye when a complete stranger wants to take a photo of you with his family.
  • you use Kleenex for table napkins.
  • you drink warm sodas and find them refreshing.
  • you are accustomed to seeing people's heads popping up and down in the VCD you are watching.
  • you know what a VCD is.
  • you buy a movie that hasn't been released theatrically yet at home...
  • you complain about the price of chocolate bars...
  • when you can get ANYTHING to eat on a stick.
  • when you are constantly asked if you think simple foods and beverages are delicious. "This is the best boiled water ever!" "fantastic seeds!"
  • you take it in stride when you are offered beer/baijiu at lunch before going back to work.
  • you can play charades so well that it is often not necessary to talk (due to lack of chinese when you arrive)
  • an entire class looks at you with a blank face when you ask them to try and discover something on their own, rather than you just telling them the answer.
  • most of the club stops dancing to watch in fear/horror when you actually start to shake your thing.
  • you make a scheduled trip to KFC weekly to buy them out of mashed potatoes!
  • you have learned to enjoy being stared at.
  • almost anything can be "fixed"
  • you have a jar full of "fen" at home.
  • you give a beggar a handfull of fen and he gives them back.
  • you can buy a NEW bicycle for US $17.
  • people offer you a stool to sit on when you stop in front of a shop.
  • you don't blink your green eyes or shake your very brunette head when someone compliments you on your blue-eyed blondness.
  • Nescafe instant with edible oil product topping IS cappuccino.
  • when you go shopping for clothes or shoes you often find that they don't have what you want in a size that will fit your big foreign frame. Instead they offer you something bigger and uglier and think it's a fair compromise.
  • you have ten different responses to the question, "Do you like China?"
  • you point out foreigners to your Chinese friends even though you're foreign yourself.
  • you answer 'China' when people ask where you're from.
  • you answer 'China' when people ask where you live.
  • you no longer wonder if that guy who's up his nose to the second knuckle is drilling for oil or scratching his brain.
  • SARS doesn't worry you; 4% chance of death is considerably lower than eating the food, breathing the air, riding a bicycle or listening to bad KTV.
  • you don't have any idea what something is, but you'll eat it anyway.
  • if you just ate and liked it, you don't ask what it is.
  • you have strict mental rules as to when you reply to a hello (ie person must be within a 20 foot semi circle radius and not with a group of men).
  • you completely ignore most people who say hello to you.
  • you see a woman with dyed hair and try to figure out of she's Chinese or foreign by walking fast to catch up.
  • you know what it is and you eat it anyway.
  • nobody blames it on the dog.
  • the open sewer next to your school smells better than the canteen food.
  • the open sewer next to your school tastes better than the canteen food.
  • you convince yourself that it doesn't matter how dirty the cooks' hands are, cooking will fix it.
  • you are becoming proficient in 4 other languages: Mandarin, local dialect, Chinglish, and gibberish.
  • if there are only 4 screaming children running around the classroom, you consider it a good primary class.
  • if you're only mocked in public 4 times, you consider it a good day.
  • you love tofu because there's nothing to spit out and it doesn't have any taste.
  • you know exactly what CS is. (Diana's note: CS is Counter Strike - the dumbest computer game every teenage boy here is obsessed with)
  • you're curiously nonplussed when children stick their finger up your bum.
  • smoking does less harm to your lungs than breathing.
  • you call polluted water and preservatives wine.
  • living in a 'clean' city means living in one where you won't mutate. At least not immediately.
  • you point over your back with your thumb when using the past tense.
  • your Chinese friends have such revolting breath you wonder if they secretly eat turds.
  • you've learned that it's okay to be 3 days/weeks late for appointments because everyone else is.
  • every village is different from the rest of China but all foreigners are the same.
  • everyone wants to be your friend - all you have to do is teach them English for free.
  • everyone wants to teach you Chinese by speaking to you in English.
  • you tell people you don't understand, so they write it for you - in Chinese.
  • at the beach women wear bulky swimsuits from the 1950's while men wear speedos
  • men apparently smuggle olives in these speedos.
  • a hike up a mountain calls for a plastic grocery bag full of junk food. Later you add to the scenery by littering the ground.
  • you love and hate children at the same time.
  • grown men think it's ****ing hilarious to say hello. Hello, haha! I'm a stupid git, hellooo, haha! Me and my mentally-arrested-at-age-13 buddies like a say hellooo, haha! Foreigners go around saying hellooo in high pitched voices like me, hello, haha! I just bought a VCD of nothing but people saying hello, I wet myself laughing! Hellooo, haha!
  • you walk into a bar on Friday night at 11.00pm and you are the only one there.
  • you start thinking instant coffee tastes pretty good.
  • no one cares if you wear the same clothes all month.
  • absolutely everything that can possibly be eaten is in some way good for your health.
  • KTV becomes interesting.
  • warm beer becomes drinkable.
  • apples are the size of pumpkins.
  • you daren't have a salad 'cause you know what it was fertilised with.
  • only five minutes of prep time for a unannounced class no longer fazes you.
  • you actually believe you're here to teach English.
  • at English Corner (aka English Speaker Cornered) a person asks you how to "improve my oral English" and when you tell them the only way is to continually practice they walk away dejected and sad.
  • you plan to ask students questions they must form their own answers to and you bring reading material along to occupy your time during the long silence that fills the period between you asking the question and the first hand that tenatively rises.
  • you no longer expect the truth.

And that's only a fraction of the whole list! I chose these particular points because they're TRUE - I didn't put anything in this post that I haven't actually experienced, so chew on that (and then suck and pick at your teeth to be more Chinese about it).

For the complete list, go to