Archive for November, 2007

Shame on You!

29 November 07

Yesterday the DH and I shamed a man in our neighborhood. I don’t know if he lost face or not, but I hope he did.

We were on our way to the bus stop when we saw this man fling a large garbage bag into the ditch that runs in front of our apartment building. “Hey!” we shouted, and pointed to the row of empty garbage cans located just 50 meters further away. “Oh!” he replied, as if the cans had just materialized out of thin air.

The ditch is full of black, foul water and all kinds of trash. I’ve posted about it before, but here is a picture to refresh your memory:

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We walk past this daily.

Everyday there is something new in there. Sometimes it is a mattress, sometimes it is rotting food. Other times it is construction material. This is what was new today:

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At least one dog can be found there at all times, rooting around for treasure. It’s the kind of ditch you’d dump a body in if you were in the mafia. And it is just outside our gate.

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Living day by day beside foul-smelling and unattractive trash is something I will never understand.

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Bang Bang

28 November 07

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Guns in China? Relax, they’re BB guns.

There is a healthy underground of people in China who get together and play war games with BB guns – pistols, rifles and shotguns. Why underground? The legality of BB guns is in question, at least to my understanding. The BBs are actually hard plastic pellets, but they can inflict pain and break skin. It’s kind of like paintball battles, but more grown up.

*I’ve been posting photos every Wednesday, part of my Wordless Wednesday project. Unfortunately, I seem incapable of posting a photo without commentary. Something to work on…

See more at Wordless Wednesday.

Go On! Be Thankful!

27 November 07

I should have posted this on Thanksgiving, but why restrict being thankful to just one day!?

From Foreign Policy magazine, 5 reasons we should all be thankful:

  1. Your plane isn’t going to crash! Better safety standards make air flight incredibly safe! (I can vouch for this one!)
  2. Fewer kids are dying. Health care basics like vaccines, mosquito nets, breastfeeding, clean water and better access to health professionals are saving children’s lives.
  3. Wars are history. Armed conflicts fell by 40 percent between 1993 and 2003.
  4. Poverty is down. Fewer people are living on $1 a day – from 1.5 billion people in 1981 to 985 million in 2004.
  5. You’re living to retirement. We’re living longer lives all over the globe thanks to modern medicine and improved sanitation.

Sounds great to me! And here I thought the end of the world was nigh. Read more details at FP.

Pizza Hut Lands in Linyi

26 November 07

This post was much better the first time I wrote it, but then it was eaten by the Great Firewall of China. I’ll try to rewrite it but frankly, I am so annoyed and frustrated and TIRED of this ridiculous censorship and the fact that I have to use a special program just to see my own damn blog that I feel like revealing all of China’s state secrets right here, today.

But I won’t. Everyone already knows about them, anyway. Instead, I will tell you about eating out at Pizza Hut. Because what is more hard-hitting: exposing China’s corruption and propaganda or discussing the insidious infiltration of Western fast food chains?

Pizza Hut just opened its doors in Linyi. This is a pretty big deal, evidently. There were long lines out the door for the first week. Linyi already has KFC and McDonald’s, so all we need now is a Starbuck’s and the holy quartet of fast food will be complete – fried chicken, hamburgers, pizza and coffee creations. I’m not radically anti-fast food or anything (actually, I’m a few rungs down from radical, but I’m definitely on the ladder). I don’t like fast food much, but I do eat it from time to time. Eating American fast food in China, however, is kind of like a little escape into a familiar corner when you just feel overwhelmed by all the craziness. American fast-food restaurants represent the easy choice and on bewildering China days, it is the sanest choice. (Besides, it helps you to appreciate the diversity and taste of Chinese restaurants!)

So it was with curiosity and a pizza craving that we set off to see Pizza Hut for ourselves. Kunzilla was right. Pizza Hut is a high-class joint in China. All the Linyi elite were there. The whole place has the feel of a fancy European cafeteria. I even felt a little under dressed.

The menu is very familiar. All the usual chain restaurant appetizers and salads are there with the pasta dishes and pizzas you’d expect to find. The biggest difference is in the portions. The small pizza is 9″ and the large 12″ and that is it. No mega-super-sized pizzas or drinks on offer here.

We had fried calamari, (no joke about the small portions, there were literally three or four rings!) two pizzas – one “edge” style without crust and one “pan” style, and a cranberry crisp cheesecake for dessert (again, a completely normal sized portion for most of the world, but an American would have asked to see the manager.) The food was as expected. It must all come from a central processing plant, anyway, as it all tastes the same everywhere. I’ll admit I enjoyed the pizza. Pizza is such a great food. How can you go wrong with bread, cheese, pepperoni and veggies, and you can eat it all with your hands! Yes, you are supposed to eat pizza eat with your hands. I stand firm on this.

The biggest shock, of course, came with the bill. Eating out in Linyi is super-cheap. You never have to cook a single meal if you don’t want to, since eating at restaurants and noodle shops will set you back the same or less amount of money. The DH and I regularly spend less than $10 for dinner. Our bill (we splurged) came to 230RMB (20 Euros or 31 USD). !!???!!! Twenty Euros for a two-person meal!!? (Well, we did have leftover pizza for brunch the next day.) Outrageous!

My recommendation for the best pizza in China is The Tree in Beijing. They offer thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas, pasta, sandwiches, great Belgian beers and free wi-fi. Located in the Sanlitun area, close to the embassy district, you will definitely pay Western-style prices for food and drink, but it is fresh, delicious and unique. Of course, the best pizza in Linyi is still to be found at my friend L’s house. She makes it from scratch.

Coffee Please!

21 November 07

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Vietnamese Mokka Coffee – strong and delicious

Happy Turkey Day!

21 November 07

Today I am thankful that I have finally finished my two term papers. I know that is not what I am supposed to say thanks for, but really, that is all that has been on my mind for the last two weeks. The semester is not over yet, but I feel like I can finally breathe.

On that note, I am also setting an early New Year’s resolution: I shall never procrastinate a school paper again. I swear.

Now that the papers are done, I will have more time for blogging!

Happy Thanksgiving Americans! (Canadians – I am SO sorry. I forgot your thanksgiving this year. I guess I am back to being a typical American again…)

**Update at 1500** I just realized that it is not Thanksgiving Day yet. I’m a day early. In my defense, I started work this week on a Sunday instead of Monday, so to me it really does feel like a Thursday. I’m not a bad American, I promise. So come back tomorrow and read this post!

What Could I Possibly Title This Post?

15 November 07

So the DH was in Beijing last weekend, and he ate out at Hooter’s with a few friends. I don’t condone Hooter’s. I think it is a bit tacky and it isn’t exactly my idea of an upper-class family restaurant either, but in Beijing apparently that is what it is. The DH reports that in addition to the expected Hooter’s girls (though I don’t see how they can keep those costumes going over the cold Beijing winter) there were also kids celebrating birthdays and couples obviously on dates.

Back where I come from, Hooter’s is a novelty. It’s basically a sports bar for men and people who like chicken wings. Isn’t it? Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever been in one before and that was because of the roof-top patio.

For some reason, talking about Hooter’s, I am reminded of the most politically-incorrect restaurant ever seen in a conservative Arab country – Chi Chi’s, a Mexican restaurant that was hugely popular in the Kuwait of my youth. As I recall, it was pretty much the only Western style restaurant, other than Sizzler’s and fast food. And no, I didn’t speak Spanish at the time.

So is this the kind of face that America is spreading around the world? Hooter’s and Chi Chi’s?

Internet Issues

15 November 07

Is this happening to anyone else out in the China expat blogosphere? Or maybe someone more technically aware can enlighten me on what might be causing my Internet issues?

For the last week or so, our Internet connection at work has been really weird. Here’s what happens. You open the browser, (Firefox), you enter your web URL, you click enter or go or whatever, and you wait. Within a few seconds, the “Cannot Find Server” screen appears. You hit refresh or try again and a second later, “Cannot Find Server.” You realize that there has been no thinking or searching, just an immediate stonewall and “Cannot Find Server.” Finally, after hitting refresh anywhere between 5 and 30 times, the browser will load the page.

Different browser, same problem. Different computer, same problem. Different cables, same problem. Different router, same problem. Turn on Tor program, nonsense stops.

So I have to assume this is a local Internet service provider issue. Are they automatically blocking every URL request? It is terribly annoying. The Internet at home works normally, and I’m pretty sure we have different providers between work and home.

Anyone else have this problem?

Go Fish

14 November 07

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Phan Thiet, Vietnam 2007

Fish Tales

11 November 07

Mui Ne & Phan Thiet are fishing villages. Everyday we ate seafood at least once – fish bbq, seafood soup, fried squid, etc… (I’m drooling.) But the biggest export and most important local product is Nuoc Mam – fish sauce. Sometimes you can smell it in the air – the odor of drying and fermenting fish. It really wasn’t as bad as I’d read it was going to be. The smell of fermenting fish might make you gag, but to me it smelled like the sea. And fish sauce is so yummy who cares what it smells like! If you buy fish sauce, check the label, it might just be from Phan Thiet!

One day when there was no wind, we hired a motorbike and drove ourselves through Mui Ne Village and Phan Thiet City. We saw a lot of drying fish.

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Mui Ne Village fishing boat fleet

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Fishing baskets – used like small boats for fishing/setting nets out

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Baskets used for carrying fish

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Drying fish in Mui Ne Village

Driving down the windy streets of Phan Thiet, we were sure we’d get lost. But we didn’t, and somehow we ended up at the fishing docks. (Must be the DH’s homing mechanism, since he grew up next to the sea.)

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Narrow streets in Phan Thiet – usually filled with motorbikes

Contrary to what you might think, the fishing docks do not smell like fish. The fish here is fresh off the boats and fresh fish doesn’t smell. (Try saying that out loud three times.) There was a flurry of activity here, with some workers unloading the fish from the boats, some loading the fish into crates, others separating the crated fish by type into piles, and some arranging the fish onto drying racks. Some of the fish was packed with ice and carted off for shipping somewhere else.

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On the Phan Thiet fishing docks

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Fresh fish on drying racks

Further down the dock we came across a huge open pavilion where hundreds of people, mostly women, were cleaning and gutting thousands of small fish. And no, it didn’t smell there, either.

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We stopped to take a look for a few minutes when the DH spotted a food vendor. The DH is the king of street food. I’ve seen him eat more street food in more places than any non-local should. Once, I watched in horror as he ate barbecued mystery meat, cooked on a makeshift barbecue pit made from a tire rim, in the dark at 2 AM in San Jose, Costa Rica. That was before my street food adventure days really got started. He’s actually been sick only once in the entire eight years I’ve known him.

This street food vendor was selling Ban My – baguette sandwiches filled with…well, we’re not sure, but they can have just about anything inside. We used to eat them in Toronto’s Chinatown. The Toronto version cost $1 and had a filling of something like bologna and cheese. The real version was incredible. It contained boiled egg, cilantro, fish?, and a spicy-vinegary sauce.

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The banh my lady

The ladies in the fish pavilion just went crazy over my white feet. At least, I think that was what they were going on about. They kept pointing at my toes (I was wearing sandals) and calling their friends over to see. Like most Asians, Vietnamese women like to stay as white as possible. I might spend the rest of my life in Asia just so I don’t have to be chastised over my white skin ever again. (I don’t tan, people! I just don’t!!)

She was also selling these steamed dumplings wrapped in leaves. Again, we have no idea what they were made out of, but they were yummy. In fact, every kind of Vietnamese food I tried was delicious. (And no, I didn’t try any of those half-egg, half-baby chicken things.)

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Steamed dumplings

Fishing is a way of life there, just as it is in thousands of cultures across the world.

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Locals and fisherman pulling in nets on Mui Ne Beach