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...


At 11:41 PM, Blogger AMRebelo said...

Wow. Maybe it takes a foreign land full of foreign people to whip up the courage, but you get mad props in my book for the scorpio-snackin' activities... Lovin' the stories. :-)

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