lardbucket: blog



Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 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.


Last [Work] Day

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 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.


Now You Tell Me

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 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. 


Markets, Part 2

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 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. 


It Is Rather Great, Isn’t It?

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 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.


“Chicago Style”

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 11:27 am

Today was mostly unremarkable to start with. Short breakfast of cereal and orange juice. (And more lukecold milk.)

On the way to work, I spotted someone with a DHS / backpack, which was a little odd. (Also, note the winter jackets at something like 43 F.)

For lunch, I got some form of an omelette and some white rice. The omelette appeared to have red and green peppers and mushrooms. I picked out as many mushrooms as I could, and the remainder seemed mostly fine. 

I also had a small piece of something from Graham’s lunch, we think it may have been tripe. It tasted like gypsum to me, but I assume that wasn’t it. 

Also, the convenience store seems to sell salted coffee in a bottle, but nobody was willing to try it.

Crossing a marginally busy intersection at night is interesting: there’s the traffic that hasn’t yet cleared the intersection, the traffic that’s trying to turn into that traffic, the pedestrians who would be in the way of anyone trying to turn anyway, and then the cars that really just want to go straight. (And then the jerk taking a picture of the whole mess.)

This is also the first hotel I’ve noticed that has its own trophy case in the lobby.

For dinner, we went to a local chain of Yummy Box Pizza, recommended by Daniel. It’s a bit more of a late night establishment, but we ended up there closer to 8:30, with it being a little empty. 

Nonetheless, they have a substantial menu. Interestingly, they would not entertain any modifications to the established pizzas: despite having a thin crust pepperoni pizza and a number of deep dish pizzas, they insisted there was no way they could make a deep dish pepperoni pizza. (Also, they would only do a cheese pizza as stuffed crust, not deep dish.)

The pizzas take about 50 minutes to cook, so they also have SNES clones with 400-in-1 game cartridges at many tables. 

The pizza came after a bit and looked pretty reasonable, and I’m told the deep dish pizzas tasted reasonable (though not as good as that in Chicago).

Unfortunately, the cheese stuffed pizza was pretty lackluster: it didn’t have enough cheese, and I wasn’t a fan of the crust. After peeling off the top layer after my first slice, it was okay, but basically equivalent to a thin crust cheese pizza. I’ve definitely had thin crust pizzas with more cheese than this stuffed pizza, but oh well. 

The area we were in was a college area, with something like eight universities within walking distance. There was some pretty blatant propaganda outside.

Across the street was some sort of additional shopping area, with karaoke and possibly a few other destination-type places, but we took the subway back to the hotel, so Graham and I could go to sleep at a reasonable hour to meet up with my parents in the morning for a tour to the Great Wall. 

Incidentally, relatively close to most subway stops, there’s a small police installation, with flashing red and blue lights, and presumably somewhere you can go talk to the police if something comes up. It’s a somewhat interesting idea, I suppose. I haven’t seen any police on patrol, so either I’ve missed them, or they mostly rely on these outposts. (They also exist in places that aren’t immediately next to a subway stop, but I assume they try to be where there are large numbers of people.)


A Little East, A Little West

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 4:09 pm

Somehow I managed to have even less time available for breakfast than before, so I got a bowl of corn flakes and forgot to take a picture. I also ended up getting another breakfast like the one Alvaro got yesterday, although this time with a sausage in the middle. It turns out that after the egg/pancake layer is done grilling, they paint the inside (the egg side) with soy sauce, then drop on some sort of chopped onion (or similar), then a leaf of lettuce, and a sausage. The sausage looks like a hot dog, but has a much sweeter taste, and is somewhat less spiced. These sausages appear to be sold lots of street vendors (and, I believe, our hotel breakfast on many days), but I’m not a huge fan of the sausage itself. Anyway, the whole thing gets wrapped up in a small bag the size of a food service glove.

I tried it all together for a couple of bites, before giving up and just going for the pancake with egg and tossing the rest. 

Given the almost two breakfasts, I initially wasn’t very hungry for lunch, but ended up getting a bowl of white rice and some roasted chicken. As with many dishes where you’d expect a meat in chunks, it is, but fully bone-in, and simply cut apart apparently at random. 

After lunch, I followed my co-workers to the convenience store and ended up with a pre-formed ice cream cone.

For dinner, nobody was feeling particularly like going anywhere, so we split up between people going to McDonald’s and people going to KFC. Alvaro had warned that the KFC he’d gone to elsewhere in China wasn’t great, but they seem to be the most popular chain in Beijing, having restaurants nearly everywhere I’ve been. (Including more than the local hot pot chain that is also pretty prolific, Xiabu Xiabu.) Apparently the KFC also wants you to know they serve coffee.

Anyway, Alvaro was right, the KFC was underwhelming. The “bucket” I got consisted of some vaguely spicy popcorn chicken, some chicken nuggets, two small hot wings (which I skipped), and a relatively small amount of fries. It was okay, but not particularly good. We also stopped by the 7-11 on the way to the hotel, wherein I apparently decided I needed yet more sugar, and got a small tube of Skittles and an orange soda.

And that’s about it. Interesting note on the Skittles packaging: it has a tearaway strip to keep it sealed before purchase, but doesn’t require a cellophane wrapper.


Brewery, Part 2

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 4:07 pm

The preview pictures I see in my application are all breakfast, since that’s the first photo I generally post. So instead, today we have a photo of the truck that sprays down the main roads every morning. We had seen them wet at some point, but didn’t really know why until seeing this thing. I still don’t really know why, but at least I know how. We assume it’s to clean the streets, to wet them to keep down smog, or both. 

These trucks will spray through an intersection, honking as they go so you know not to get in their way. Yesterday, we were even cut off by one that cut through the intersection against a red light (though while negotiating the pedestrians for a few feet, at least it wasn’t spraying).

Anyway, another day, another rushed breakfast. I didn’t go for the fried bread today, but I did manage to get corn flakes, a part of this complete breakfast, with bacon and orange juice.

Alvaro skipped breakfast at the hotel, and decided to get something from one of the street vendors. Xiao ordered for him, and he got… something. It was constructed from an egg fried under a tortilla (or something similar), which was then folded egg side in around some lettuce and possibly some other green, and handed to him in a small plastic bag. Other options would have included a sausage inside, and possibly some sort of fish, though we weren’t sure what it was. 

For lunch, I had essentially the same ramen-like soup as yesterday. The meat was a bit different, thin slices instead of chunks. I had tried to indicate that I wanted only meat: no cilantro or radish, but apparently that didn’t work out. I mostly fished out the cilantro I could, and gave it to Graham, as I apparently do with food I don’t want.

I also grabbed some Biscoff cookies, which are a reasonable balance of somewhat sweet but not overwhelming. They appear to be imported, though, and the price reflected it. (I think I paid more than twice as much for 25 cookies as I did for 1.25 liters of orange juice the day before. Even so, it comes out to something like $3)

For dinner, we went back to Alvaro’s favorite place, the brewery. I got what was theoretically the same thing he got last time, but it came out very differently, and was much smaller. Either way, it was enough for me. I did find that my first choice of drink and appetizer were both unavailable, so I ended up with an off-menu saison, and no appetizer.

We’re not quite sure what the fruit was. We think pear served some strange way, but the purple was confusing. Either way, it looked nice. Had a nondescript fruity taste, which is consistent with a generic pear.

This is one of the more expensive restaurants we’ve been to (with the exception, I’m sure, of the restaurant yesterday), but it still worked out to about $30 a person with food and drinks, which is pretty reasonable for the US.

I am curious about the source of their music, though. It all worked fine, but I’m not sure what common thread ties together Groove Armada’s “At the River”, the original “Que Sera Sera”, and a jazz cover of “Tainted Love” (besides being somewhat quiet).

And now sleep, ever earlier.


Work Outing

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 4:26 pm

I appear to be heading for a shorter and shorter breakfast, but it’s worked out so far. Today, fried bread, chicken nuggets, orange juice, and cereal with “I can’t believe it’s not room temperature”-style “cold milk”.

For lunch, I got what is apparently just described as noodle soup, according to Xiao. Essentially, it was the Chinese equivalent of pho or ramen. It was pretty reasonable, although it was initially very hot and needed a while to cool off. Unfortunately, while the greens I had managed to spot in advance appeared to be parsley and green onions, it was really cilantro and green onions, making parts of the dish taste like soap to me (although I’m sure it was fine for people who don’t have the “cilantro tastes like soap” gene). As with the fried rice yesterday, I was only able to make it through about half of it before getting too full.

After lunch, we went to the convenience store and I grabbed a large bottle of orange juice (which I later finished). I also saw a bottle of a real sasporilla, which I had to get. To me, it tastes like root beer mixed with bubblegum flavor, but not in a particularly bad way. I gave the rest to Graham anyway. 

For dinner, our client contacts took us out to dinner. They had hoped to order Beijing roast duck, but it was apparently not available at the restaurant we went to. Instead, we had a lot of different dishes prepared a number of ways. (We also talked a while, of course, and everyone got my blog address, so hi everyone!)

The restaurant itself was fancier than any other restaurant I’ve been in this trip, but we had a separate room, so it wasn’t a problem where we could have been underdressed. 

After that much food, I don’t know how I could have been hungry the same night, but I wanted something kind of sweet, so I opened up the chocolate filled panda crackers I got a few days ago as well. 

Again trying to get to sleep at a reasonable time, so I’ll just end with a photo of a pylon (or so) from our walk to dinner. 


Not The Huts You Might Have Expected

Filed under: Travel — aschmitz @ 4:40 pm

Today was relatively mundane, and I’m trying to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, so the quick summary is that people were still tired from yesterday and work is going fine. 

Breakfast included an actual glass of “cold milk” (at best, just below room temperature, but the stuff here is basically stable for months) and one of orange juice, as well as the usual garlic mashed pork bowel, fried bread, and egg. 

Lunch was yet again more rice, though I’m likely to go for something else tomorrow (did the rice today as I didn’t have any rice yesterday, trying to spread out my rice consumption).

After lunch, I ended up getting a chocolate bar at the convenience store near lunch. Haven’t finished it all, but probably will tomorrow if it’s still on the desk. 

Dinner was at a place I figured I’d recognize, Pizza Hut.

However, it’s a very different restaurant than you might expect from the US. One sample page from the menu: 

Roughly three fourths of the menu is not about pizza, but that’s what we got anyway. I went with a Hawaiian stuffed crust pizza and picked out the pineapple, as it was the most normal thing I could see on the menu (our Mandarin-speaking co-worker wasn’t available at the start of dinner, so we made do by pointing at pictures: special orders would have been tricky, although maybe possible with a translation app). We also got calimari (better than I’d expect from a Pizza Hut, but not very good), and a co-worker got steak (though I don’t think I got a photo).

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