lardbucket: 2017 : march

3/20/2017

Shanghaied

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:05 pm

Today was full, but not super busy as such. As our tour guide explained last night, Shanghai is always the last stop for their company’s tours, because there’s not as much history in the city (in practice, around 200 years), therefore less to do and it’s not as spread out as the other cities we went to. 

Breakfast was yet another buffet with lots of choices.


Our first stop was a very old (for the area) governor’s garden, which was a reasonably impressive complex. 


And of course, the garden. (To [roughly] quote our guide, “this means we call it a garden. Without this, it’s just a house.”)


From there, we went through the markets ringing the attraction and to other markets, where my mom got some yarn for future use. The floor that housed the yarn vendor also sold what I can only describe as thousands of flip-flops, in each of dozens of stalls. Outside, you could buy umbrellas by the bundle (possibly handy as it was drizzling). It would admittedly be nice to have such a market near home, effectively a physical AliExpress market. (Or, a Costco, for things you wouldn’t expect to get at Costco.)


Next up, we went to an old French house in the French area of the town. (Two-sentence history lesson: the British, French, and Americans all effectively took over parts of Shanghai when it was developing as a port city, but got forced out later. The Chinese resent this, but acknowledge it led to Shanghai being what it is today.) It was interesting, but somewhat small. Effectively a one-house museum. 


After that, we grabbed lunch at a Chinese restaurant. (Of course any food procured in China is “Chinese food” by some definition, but many of our tour guides have asked if we wanted Chinese or Western food when we ask about lunch or dinner options. We’ve generally opted for Chinese, as it seems like we’d get more authentic Chinese food here than elsewhere.) There was a bit of trouble with the menu, and we ended up cancelling one of our items once some others arrived, as we had ordered far too much food, but it worked out in the end. 


After that, we headed to a “TV tower” (the Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower) to tour a tall building with a theoretically good view. It was still drizzling, so the views weren’t as good as one might like, but it was still impressive. They also have a level where there’s a glass floor and the outer walls don’t go all the way up to the next floor, which is more open than I’m used to at most such attractions.


At the base of the tower is a museum about Shanghai, which we also toured.


As the last stop in our tour, we went to the Bund, the west side of the river bend in the middle of Shanghai. It gets lit up in the evening, and is just over a mile long of a walk. 


For dinner, we weren’t feeling strongly like we needed to try more Chinese food, and someone suggested we try the French bakery across the street from our hotel. That turned out well for an unorthodox but tasty (if disconcertingly sweet – sweet cheese bread? sweet garlic bread?) meal.


After that, my dad and I went for a short walk back along the Bund (so I can now say I’ve walked all the way along it), and came back and went to sleep. 

3/19/2017

Limestone

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 3:56 pm

I’ll just do the short notes version of this post, as I’m somewhat tired.

We woke up an hour late due to foolishly expecting the iPhone to work (I got the “alarm is going off” screen, with no vibration or sound). Just as well in this case, as it was a bit rainy. We had planned to go bicycling the day before, but it was raining, so we bumped it to today. Since it was a bit rainy and we were a bit late, we just scrubbed the whole thing and drove it instead.

The view from our hotel and breakfast remnants (watermelon, French toast, cereal, plain donut, “orange juice”/tang): 


On the drive, we took a break along the other river in the city, with some nice views as well. 


After that, we took a bit of a long drive to the old town area of Guilin, where we walked around a bit, shopped for a couple of souvenirs, and took some photos. Along the way, our guide ordered us a few rice balls with sesame seeds in them cooked in some sort is broth with ginger. I don’t think anyone in our party really liked them, but I at least tried it.


When done there, we went and got lunch in the middle of Guilin, including the restaurant’s reported specialty, roast goose.


From there, we went to a government research tea plantation, and saw a tea ceremony (that I didn’t photograph).


Next, we went to a local park where there’s a large rock formation that looks like an elephant drinking from the river. Apparently the elephant is the animal of Guilin, largely for that reason. 


Finally, we went to a cave that was set up as a local attraction, compete with colored lights and nature sounds. The colors were sometimes a bit much, but it did look quite nice.


Having exhausted the time available before we needed to head to the airport, we did that, and got on our flight with a minor delay. The in-flight food was a roll, a slice of something resembling pound cake, and a packet of roasted salted peanuts. 


Finally, we arrived and went to our hotel. 

3/18/2017

Boats and Mountains

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:01 pm

As with every day on this trip, today effectively started with breakfast. We got up a bit early, and had more from the same buffet as the day before. I tended towards the bacon, French bread, watermelon, and cereal.


Full, we took about a half hour ride to a wharf where we boarded what was apparently a tourism boat along the local Lijiang River. The main difference from a normal boat was that it had periodic announcements of the sights we were next to, as well as somewhat exotics snacks and lunch. For example, the couple at our table ordered a set of snacks, which came with small fried crabs (eaten with the shell), stuffed snails, fish, and something I don’t recall. The woman didn’t appear too thrilled with the snails, but did end up eating many of them when her boyfriend was willing to dig them out of the shells.


There were some impressive views, including one that’s depicted on the 20 yuan banknote, so there was a fair amount of photography taking place. Because it was a tourism boat, from and to towns that drive a fair amount of their income from tourism, there were quite a few English-speaking passengers, and the announcements were made in both Mandarin and English. 


The hills are rather impressive, and I enjoyed the interplay with the fog. (My mom, on the other hand, would be happy to never see fog again, particularly after yesterday.) For lunch, the boat served the equivalent of what I’m used to calling a “TV dinner”: a plastic container with a variety of foods that was probably heated in a microwave (or in the case of mass preparation, maybe an actual oven). It was okay, although our guide assumed it would be bad and brought us tuna fish salad sandwiches as well. (I opted to not have that, although I felt bad about turning down the hospitality.) Our guide also recommended avoiding chicken and duck given the bird flu in the area, so we mostly have done that. (The CDC indicated it would be fine as long as the meat was fully cooked, but I’m not sure what the details are. I know the FDA’s idea of “fully cooked” can differ from other peoples’.) The lunch consisted of rice, fish (boneless), steamed corn/peas/carrot, chicken, and a spicy condiment.


Once we landed, we were immediately beset by people offering a variety of goods, although largely bags of tiny oranges(?). Once we made it up the steps, we went down a long(! over half a kilometer) road with vendors along one side. Largely, each vendor specialized in two or three types of things, such as silk (or silk-style) squares, wooden frog noisemakers, sandalwood/bone combs, etc. While I’m not super surprised that the vendors didn’t produce their own wares, it was interesting to see many of the same identical items repeated in stall after stall. I’m sure the prices varied as well (for two different vendors and two relatively similar items, we were initially quoted 60 and 15 yuan, although bargaining was very much on the table).


When we finally made it to Yangshuo, we ended up walking down West Street, which is also heavily populated by tourist and other shops.


We grabbed a few souvenirs along the way, having been told that this is probably one of the better locations to do so: as reasonable a quality as anywhere, and lower prices.

We stopped off at our hotel, after confirming that we would do dinner and then watch a show along the river that several people had mentioned to us. I took some of the time to head back to West Street and attempt to find a Geocache. Unfortunately, this was my second failure to find a cache this trip, though I think I was in the right spot for this one as well. 


For dinner, our guide took us to a local restaurant that apparently specialized in “beer fish”, made by pan frying fish, then frying some garlic, ginger, soy sauce, salt, and sugar, then mixing all of it together with half a large bottle of beer and simmering it for a bit. The restaurant also allows you to pick out your fish from a tank, where they weigh it and after you approve, prepare it and serve it to you a short while later. We had that (okay, though the fish was not deboned, and the sauce wasn’t my thing), and beans, gingko fruits, lotus, and carrot, along with white rice, a small cup of soybean milk (not my favorite, but rather sweet: apparently sugar is added), and some beer.


Finally, we headed to the river show that seemed popular. Indeed it was, apparently doing two nightly showings that seemed pretty full to me. They use an extraordinarily large “stage” with a bunch of nature, claiming a total size for the stage of about 12.5 square kilometres, and over 600 actors. I’m inclined to believe it. (Apparently about 400 of the actors have a different day job, generator farming.) They even light up some of the mountains as a backdrop at times.


The person responsible for putting the whole show together was tapped to do part of the the Beijing 2008 Olympics opening ceremony, so you may have some general idea of how this played out. I got a few photos, but largely my phone camera wasn’t good enough to do the whole thing justice. As a good estimate, if you see a light that isn’t gigantic, it was probably a person – or several people – holding or wearing lights on a pole boat or large barge. After the show, we took a short ride back to the hotel, dithered for a bit, and went to sleep. 

3/17/2017

Terraces

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 4:20 pm

We had a bit of a late start today, given the late arrival yesterday. Breakfast was another buffet, again with broadly similar things as there other hotels. I had a number of things: chocolate rice krispies (or knockoffs thereof), bacon, “carrot bread” (tasted remarkably like normal wheat bread), watermelon, “chocolate donut” (a bread puff with a small amount of chocolate drizzled on it), and probably something else I’m forgetting.


After that, we piled in to the van for a 2.5 hour drive to our main destination for the day: the terraced rice fields.


First, we stopped by a village with one of China’s ethnic minorities, the Yao(?). They’re at the base of the mountain we were headed up, and are apparently known for their women growing their hair very long (~1.8 meters on a 1.5 meter woman is apparently common). They curl it up into what I gather is a very large bun (I lack sufficient knowledge of womens’ hair terms) and wrap it around their head. Apparently the covering or lack thereof indicates the marital status and number of children each woman has. I don’t have any pictures, as that seemed a bit rude given their proximity.

There was a significant amount of new construction going on, apparently both because tourism to the village is recent (and provides an influx of cash and a reason to build more infrastructure) and because winter is typically their building season: being largely farmers, they’re busy much of the rest of the year.


After that village, we went on a relatively short ride up the hill. (Or is it a mountain? Somewhere around a 600m elevation change.) There was another village, with another ethnic minority (although I’ve forgotten their name). This village had opened for tourism earlier, and was better set up for it. Lots of restaurants, cafes, stores with souvenirs, and so on. They even had a couple of hotels, coming in around 100 yuan a night in the off season (~$15).


While there, we opted for a lunch before going hiking. We got pork with bamboo shoots, beef with green peppers (that turned out to be jalapeƱos, we think), and green beans and eggplant. In addition, we got bamboo rice, which is sticky rice, corn, and bacon all stuck in a cell of a two year old bamboo tree and roasted, then cut open for eating. We also got some beer and sticky rice wine to try. (Sticky rice wine is apparently 12-15% alcohol, versus rice wine, which is closer to 50%.)


When we finished that, we headed on a hike with a lot of steps. I’m sure I’ll put together better panoramas later, but I’ll just dump a few photos for the moment. The fog came and went pretty quickly, and did so several times while we were hiking around.


When we finally finished, we went for another 2.5 hour drive back to the hotel. Everyone (except the driver!) took a nap. When we got back, my parents headed to the hotel room, while our guide and I went towards a noodle restaurant so he could show me where it was for dinner. He wrote down phrases for all the combinations of large and medium orders of noodles with pork and beef, as well as how to request no fried soybeans (I thought he meant soybean products, rather than just the bean, but whatever). I kept that for later.

Our hotel is the “waterfall hotel”, which has a display with lights every night at 8:30, so we went to that first. It was a bit anticlimactic, as it was really just a bunch of water going down the building lit with white lights. Impressive, but given that there were fountains in front, we figured it would be more colorful or with synchronized fountains, or something. 


Either way, we went to dinner after that. I used my sheet of translations, but ended up ordering two medium orders and one large, all with soybeans, rather than the two mediums we had intended. It all worked out, though. (Mediums were about $0.60, larges about $0.80.) There were some entertaining times when the person taking our order would ask a question in Mandarin and I’d just shrug and vaguely indicate in English that I didn’t understand, and they’d look confused for a second and make a decision. I got a similar response from the cooks, where I gave the international “I have no clue” shrug, and they made some decision, before apparently trying to ascertain if I wanted a take out bowl or a metal “I’m sitting here” bowl. They held up a paper bowl, I gave a thumbs up to indicate that it seemed like the right direction from simply having a few noodles in a larger bowl, and they seemed pleased. We couldn’t quite figure out what was supposed to happen afterward, but my mom found a canister of hot water, and we added some to our bowls. Hopefully it had been boiling for long enough, but we’ll see. The people working at the restaurant also indicated that perhaps we should use what appeared to be a teapot full of soy sauce, but we declined. Anyway, it turned out fine, and tasted reasonable.


Finally, we walked back past a bunch of shops and settled in at our hotel for the night. 

3/16/2017

More Wall

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 8:20 am

This morning, we had another breakfast buffet, with somewhat different selection, but still a large variety. I didn’t get pictures of everything I ate, but this was the first round. Watermelon, wheat French toast, fried egg, fried bread, a chicken ring (heavily seasoned), and orange juice. I got a bowl of cereal (the same honey flavored 50% larger Cheerios-type cereal everywhere in China appears to have), and also went back for more watermelon, some sort of thin cake, a tiny muffin, and a croissant. Yay breads.

After that, we went for about an hour bike ride along the city wall of Xi’an. It’s relatively large, and apparently all connected, but we couldn’t go all the way along it today because of an ongoing ceremony.

The wall itself is maybe 10 meters high, and provides a decent vantage point for viewing the city. Apparently large parts of the wall are original (from the 1300s or so), but others, like these steps, were restored in the 80s.

After our bike ride, we went to the “Muslim quarter”, which was more of a street where a lot of vendors sold various things (mostly food, I assume much of it was halal).

We got a snack of a “local hamburger” (beef that had been boiled, then chopped up, in between two rather thick pieces of a dense bread) and then a piece of “naan”, which was a bit closer to a slightly sweet pizza crust that had been cooked too long (with a stamped pattern in the middle and a thicker circumference). 


We walked around a bit more, and then had lunch at a local restaurant.

The restaurant was somewhat like one we had been to with our client: a number of areas for “regular” dining, along with a number more private rooms for groups to eat. For example, our tour guide set us up with a room, ordered food for us, and then ate with the driver in the regular area.

We had some string beans, sweet and sour pork, and chicken with peanuts, although I only remembered to get a picture of the first item.

I also forgot to mention restrooms in China. The hotels we’ve stayed at have had “regular” western bathrooms so far: toilet, toilet paper, shower, sink, etc. However, much of the rest of the areas have had mostly squat toilets. In general, there would be a line of stalls with those, and then a stall or so with seated toilets (in some cases, marked “handicapped”). On the plus side, the seated toilets tended to not be in use. In some cases, each stall would have toilet paper (although markings varied regarding whether it was acceptable to flush it or if it should go in a wastebasket), but in other cases, there was a single toilet paper dispenser near the entrance/exit. Most attractions (and, being tourists, most places we were) had stalls, people cleaning them, sinks, and so on. At one point, Graham did resort to a public toilet on the streets of Beijing, and reported that it consisted largely of a number of squat holes in the ground, as well as one toilet, with no partitions between any of them. I can at least verify that it smelled terrible: the sign outside (along other warnings) indicated that breathing protection was recommended. Mostly, though, the restrooms I’ve been in weren’t quite that bad. (The restaurant had individual rooms with a squat toilet, sink, and urinal.)

Our last activity in Xi’an was to go to a Chinese history museum, with a number of artifacts from 1.2 million years ago up to a couple centuries ago. 

On the way around Xi’an today, we noticed that a number of trees were receiving what appeared to be IV nutrients, which was a bit unexpected. Apparently that’s indeed what they are. Given that we were always driving when we saw them, they were a bit hard to photograph, but you can see a couple here.

Anyway, in the afternoon/evening, we headed back to the airport to go on to Guilin. Unfortunately, due to an earlier delay for the plane we were supposed to take, our flight got bumped by an hour and 15 minutes.

That leaves some time for comments about the airport screening process, though. The checkpoints are somewhat like you’d expect, with magnetometers standard rather than the backscatter faff we put up with in the US. There’s a more strict requirement to not have any liquid in your luggage (other than up to 100ml of liquid for cosmetics, but these must be intended for use in the airport or flight: no shampoo), and apparently a limit of two external USB batteries per person, with some limit on the capacity (mAh) of each. You’re supposed to remove them from your bag, as well as any laptops. (Phones and cameras can stay in the bag, for whatever reason.) As with the US, lithium batteries are verboten in checked luggage. After passing through the magnetometer, results vary. In Beijing, if nothing set off the magnetometer, you were free to grab your x-rayed bags and go (although apparently I set them off somehow, likely an oversensitive detector and the small amount of metal on my shoes to hold the leaves). In Xi’an, in the line we were in, you got a pat down either way. The pat downs are slightly more thorough than those in the US, but not significantly so. They do have a magnetometer wand to use along with them as well.

On the flight, we got a small meal of a roll with some ham(?) embedded in it, along with a small packet of roasted beans, as far as we could tell. (The water was poured out of a bottle, and hopefully it was indeed standard bottled water.) The sandwich/roll was slightly sweet, and decent; the beans weren’t enjoyed by any of my family. Given the late hour, we essentially called the roll dinner.


After we arrived in Guilin, we got our luggage and met our local tour guide and driver. Our guide is a bit more talkative than the one in Xi’an, but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of his accent yet, so there’s a bit of a pause between him asking a question and me understanding it.

Our guide has positioned Guilin as an idyllic city that is inexpensive (he notes that a 25 yuan bowl of noodles in Beijing would cost 4 yuan here), but largely because it is not particularly industrialized. “Here is a good place for living. But it’s not a good place for business. […] If you want to learn the culture of China, go to Beijing. If you want to learn the history of China, go to Xi’an. If you want to enjoy life, go to Guilin.”

And with that, we got to the hotel, and headed to sleep.

3/15/2017

Clay

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 10:24 am

This morning, we had breakfast somewhat early, as we were headed to the airport. The breakfast at three hotel my parents were at had a few more options than we had before: it had some English breakfast items, as well as more bread, crepes, skim milk, and other things. I had some cereal, orange juice, bread, bacon, chocolate croissants, and a regular croissant.

At the airport, we had a brief break, and then took a flight to Xi’an. We could see some of the smog in Beijing, although I’m not sure how much of this was just being a bit overcast.

On a two hour flight, we still got lunch, which was nice. Came with a stew, rice, bread roll, a sealed cup of drinking water, and what appeared to be fermented bean sprouts. I had a small amount of the stew, as well as the roll and rice. They also gave out small (350ml) bottles of water at the same time.

When we landed, it was drizzling a bit, and a fair bit cooler than Beijing (60 F to 45 F or so).

Xi’an also appears to have (and be building) a fair amount of infrastructure for people and business. Apparently they manufacture some cars here, as well as airplane parts and some other things. Part of the city (near the Terra Cotta Warriors) is also essentially dedicated to tourism, and has built up in the past 30 years or so since that exhibition has been open.

We went directly from the airport to the Terra Cotta Warriors, and spent some time there. It’s a rather impressive installation, particularly given that everything was built and transported to the area over two thousand years ago.

There are actually three areas with warriors in them, all of which are open for viewing, but only two of them have uncovered warriors available to see (the remaining one has most of them still buried under the earth and roof that was built over them). The warriors themselves are a bit larger than most people, but not particularly small or outrageously outsized.

They had a few warriors out for viewing, and they were reasonably detailed.

There were also some half (or less) size chariots and horses made out of bronze that were discovered some distance away, but they were moved to the same exhibition.

After that, we headed to our hotel. There’s a large bell tower in the center of Xi’an, literally in the middle of a roundabout in between the north, south, east, and west streets of Xi’an. It dates to the Ming dynasty, although I believe it was moved to its current location by another dynasty.


After dropping our things off at the hotel, we headed to dinner at a local restaurant recommended by our guide. One of the unnerving properties of the Chinese restaurants here is that a waiter/waitress will bring you a menu (frequently 30+ pages with photos, or sometimes just a page with a long list of item names, often just in Chinese) and then stand ready to take your order. No amount of “just a minute” or “we’re not ready” gesturing will get them to leave your side, and even Xiao telling them it would be a few minutes was hit or miss in the past. Sometimes we’ve managed to take long enough that they walk away, but usually they will attempt to stay nearby, or attend to another customer and then immediately be back. 

Anyway, this is all to say that it’s my fault that we ended up with what I assume were the two dishes that were the most difficult to eat with chopsticks. To start with, we had some sort of beef (my mom speculated that it was tongue, but I’m less sure; it was labeled “beef with juice”, the “juice” being a vinegar soy sauce on the side) and breaded fish.


The beef was mostly fine. It was cold, and slightly seasoned. It had some largish areas of fat and was thinly sliced, but okay. The fish, however, were very thin, and still contained their bones, which made for some slow going, particularly with chopsticks. (After seeing us comparing chopstick positions and flexibility with the peanuts they had initially set down, the restaurant took pity and gave us forks, but I don’t think anyone used them to actually eat.) The trick to the fish appeared to be to use your hands to peel off the breading on a section, and then grab the spine and pull it out along with the bones on it. Unfortunately, the piece I started with had fins that required additional work, and I gave up on much of it rather than just digging around in it with my hands (and notably, without napkins).


The second thing that was difficult with chopsticks was a bread I ordered. The menu photo made it look like it was a pile of thin pieces of bread, which I expected should be somewhat filling and easy to pick up. Not exactly. 


It was essentially a very large croissant that hadn’t been rolled upon itself in full. It was mostly all one piece, where the only apparent ways to get a chunk to eat were to either grab a piece and fold it back and forth until you induced a structural failure in the remainder is the bread, or have someone else grab near where you were trying to tear, and try to pull them apart. With chopsticks. It wasn’t easy, particularly as the bread had a grain to it, and was much easier to tear perpendicular to the direction you’d want to tear it. 

Anyway, we managed to get through that as well, and reduce it to crumbs, then eat most of the crumbs.


We eventually finished, paid (<$20 total), and went back to the hotel. The hotel has a rather nice chandelier, though it doesn’t photograph as well as I’d like.

3/14/2017

Last [Work] Day

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:06 pm

We rounded out our Pi Day by wrapping up work with this client (for Graham and I; Alvaro and Xiao stay on for a bit longer). The day was mostly uneventful, and I made it to my parents’ hotel to head out to Xi’an with them tomorrow morning.

For breakfast, I had a bowl of cereal, some chicken nuggets, and orange juice. This was the first day they had chocolate cereal, which was decent. It was a bit waxy, but had some decent chocolate taste. Similar in both regards to Cocoa Puffs, but in flake form.


Lunch was similar to the fried rice I’ve had in the past (made by the same guy at the same station), but with noodles in place of the rice. It was fine, but more food than I needed at lunch.


After taking a few group photos with our contacts at the client, we went for a brief walk around their building, and split up to a few different places (sleeping, convenience store, smoking, etc.). I tried to find a Geocache that was reportedly near our office and hotel area. Unfortunately, the first place I went was wrong because of the Chinese shifted coordinates, but I was able to find where it should have been. Unfortunately, the hiding spot was a pile of rocks with some concrete holding them together, so there were a lot of hiding spots. I tried as many as I could without being too suspicious in a public park at lunchtime, but didn’t end up finding it. Oh well, hopefully another one surfaces before I leave the country. 


We had dinner at the brewery again, being between it and the pizza buffet from yesterday for our choices. (We wanted to be near the hotel and somewhat Western.) I ordered the same thing I ordered last time, but this time it came as a largish hunk of meat, not a pre-sliced serving, but it was fine nonetheless.


And that’s the end of my client work time in China. Now for some additional touring.

3/13/2017

Now You Tell Me

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 6:24 pm

I’m apparently getting a bit more lax in remembering to take photos of foods, so my breakfast photo is a bit odd. Cereal and bacon this morning.


There were two main rentable bikes we’ve seen around. The tour guide from our Great Wall trip indicated that they both have combination locks on the rear wheel, as well as a QR code. If you scan the QR code with the right app, you’ll get the combination for the bike, and can unlock it and use it. There’s some hourly fee, apparently, but the first half hour is free (and possibly longer in some circumstances?). Apparently when you’re done, you just leave the bike in an obvious location (generally, next to a bunch of others of the same color/company), and take another scan of the QR code. We couldn’t figure out how this actually did anything other than stop charging you, as there didn’t appear to be any way to automatically lock the bike, or to track it. (Just not enough space for a decent battery and transceiver.) Apparently you pay a deposit, but the bikes appear to cost more than the deposit, so there may just be an honor system component (and/or the threat of being banned or facing legal action).

Anyway, we saw a new set of bikes out on the sidewalk today, in a bright green in contrast to the existing red or yellow bikes. These appeared to have a solar panel on them, and may be able to track themselves, and lock or unlock on their own, but we didn’t take the time to investigate. (Aside: paying for things in China is interesting. They largely still use cash, but their 100 yuan note is the largest in circulation, and trades for about $15-16, so you may need a number of them to pay for even a meal with a couple co-workers. Lots of places now accept WeChat – QR codes and some sort of bank orchestration – to avoid cash, but it’s very difficult for a foreigner to set up such an account. You appear to need a Chinese bank account, which is a bit difficult to set up, and may have to validate your identity somehow. So for most of us, it’s just cash.)


For lunch, I went with the noodles again. And again, this photo is a bit late, coming after I’d drained much of the broth. This time around, I got Xiao to order them without cilantro, which was nice.


For dinner, we went to what is apparently a chain restaurant called Big Pizza, at Alvaro’s suggestion. (Contrast Big Pizza with It’s Pizza a couple blocks away: the latter didn’t have any pizza in the dishes they advertised.)

Anyway, it’s apparently a pizza buffet, somewhat like Cici’s for those who know it in the US, but with fewer pizzas at a time and plenty more options. This ran about $10 US, which makes it a bit more than the minimum for a restaurant dinner here, but still far less than many places we’ve been.


Their labels are in English where they exist, but many are missing, hence me getting a banana custard cup while expecting a small quiche-like thing.


Alvaro and I agreed that the pizza available here was much better than that at Yummy Box. I had been warned that one of the pizzas was probably a durian pizza they were advertising, so I ended up getting that to try as well. It’s the top slice here (the other is plain cheese):


Also of note: drinks were included in the price of admission. That included a Pepsi fountain, as well as juices, soy milk, and surprisingly, bottles of beer (though it was all one beer with 2.5% ABV).


I didn’t get a picture of the rest of the selection, but there was a salad bar, a small fondue station, ice cream, chilled puddings, sushi, skewered and breaded meats, fried rice, and probably a few more things. The focus was on pizza, but the other items offered a decent variety while waiting on a new pizza. They also offered a “DIY” pizza counter where we assume you could order whatever you wanted, but it appeared as though you pretty much had to speak Mandarin to give it a go, and the pepperoni pizza was fine. 

We had what appeared to be a full moon for my second to last night in Beijing. 

3/12/2017

Markets, Part 2

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:05 pm

I had intended to do my laundry last night, but ended up waiting for this morning, as it was in use yesterday evening. This ended up taking longer than expected, but otherwise mostly worked out. Breakfast was a few of these muffin/cupcake things, a glass of orange juice, a glass of milk, a fried egg, and a piece of fried bread. 


The laundry takes quite a while: about 50 minutes for the washer, and about 40 minutes for the dryer. The dryer, however, appears to have a blocked air exhaust, as it only really gets clothes from “wet” to “damp”. I ended up sprawling my clothes out over my bed, luggage, and the small clothesline in the shower. (Luckily, having been warned of this in advance, I just washed what I will need for the rest of my trip, not everything.)


Today, we took Xiao, my coworker who knows Mandarin, to the electronics markets. I picked up an SD card my parents wanted, and we got a couple odd devices for the office to play with. 

I also managed to get a few photos of the markets, but they were largely from ends of the market where most stalls were closed for the day, so it looks a bit more abandoned than usual. (On the other hand, at both of the two large markets we went to, the first floor was almost completely devoid of signs of commerce, complete with empty storefronts that appear to have been torn out years ago.)

I do somewhat want one of those large format printers, but I have no idea what I’d do with it. 24″ is fine for now. 

There was also a Wu Mart in the basement of one of the markets, so we walked around that a bit and got some more photos. The market had a bakery section I wish someone would replicate near my house, complete with probably a few hundred different baked goods, from basically compete meals to dozens of different cookies. They also sold bulk rice and beans by the scoop, which was somewhat unexpected but not unreasonable. An impressive candy selection, too.


They also had an imported foods section, so we had a peek at the US representation for entertainment. 


For lunch, we stopped a bit late in the afternoon at a halal joint, and got some skewered meats and bread. Xiao got a mutton leg. Everything was spiced more than I was happy with, but I ended up eating it anyway. (The bread was spicy! The bread!)


After we returned, I grabbed a somewhat quick dinner at the hotel restaurant with Graham. I got beef and egg, which was fine besides the deep layer of oil(?) left at the bottom of the plate. I mostly didn’t eat down that far anyway, not being all too hungry from lunch. 


Fun fact, there are a lot of small rickshaws around, although I’m not sure I’ve gotten any photos that focus on them exclusively. They’re mostly built on a motorcycle base, often with two rear wheels, but they keep the handlebars as the steering control. 

3/11/2017

It Is Rather Great, Isn’t It?

Filed under: Travel — Andy @ 5:26 pm

Today Graham and I met up with my parents to do a tour of the Great Wall. I got up around 6, and had a breakfast of cereal and orange juice, which somehow I forgot to photograph.

First, we went to the Temple of Heaven for a bit. Apparently it also plays host to the largest senior citizen club in China, where most people play cards for small amounts of cash. (That’s not really legal, but it’s apparently tacitly accepted in this case.)

There was also an impressive amount of detail on even relatively less ornamental portions of the Temple area.

The Temple itself (and maybe the walk to it) is smaller than that of the Forbidden City.

After that wrapped up, we headed on down to the city where we were going to the Great Wall from. The lunch was reminiscent of the dinner from Tuesday, with a wheel for a number of dishes to circulate. I had at least a bit of all of these dishes. The plate and cups were sealed, apparently to indicate they were clean. Our tour guide indicated that typically one would pay more for the sealed dishes, or you could simply get non-sealed dishes, with the implication that they would be somewhat dirty. (It was a bit difficult to tell if he was joking, and there lunch was included as part of the tour, so I couldn’t quite figure it out.

There was some mushrooms and pork (?), which were okay but not great (and somewhat difficult to identify what you were having).

Chicken and shrimp bits in a thick but mostly tasteless sauce.

A salad, which had quite a bit of dressing on all of it.

And a spicy dish with chicken. This was definitely not my favorite, although I survived without any real problems.

Finally, beef and green beans (photographed after most of the beef was gone, though).


When we made it to the wall itself, we took a gondola up, and were able to walk along it for some distance. The steps were pretty uneven and quite steep in some places as well. 

The new surveillance towers watch the old ones, as it tradition in the country.

The Great Wall is actually a series of different walls, and are mostly not actually connected, but this section does go on for quite a while.

On the way down, we could have taken the gondolas, but everyone decided to go with toboggans instead. It was a pretty decent ride, although some unaffiliated riders in front of our group did cause a traffic jam and in one case, stopped to take pictures, which the speakers in the area repeatedly warned users to not do.


For dinner, we went to a hot pot place, and got beef, mutton, potatoes, and small white mushrooms. I grabbed some orange juice, while a couple folks grabbed Coke.


I tried to do the token-operated laundry, but it was in use, so I’ll try again next morning. Luckily, I don’t actually need to wash laundry until Monday anyway. In the meantime, I’m going for a decent amount of sleep.

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