Dalian is still cold. Very cold. Maybe it’s because the government turned off the heat in my apartment for the season even though it’s colder now than when I arrived here a month ago, but I never feel warm enough. For this reason, I have subscribed to the Chinese thought that plain hot water really is magical. I carry around a nalgene bottle of piping hot water nearly everywhere I go.
Have I really been here for a month? Time works in strange ways here. On the one hand, I feel like I have established a routine here, so it seems like I’ve been in China much longer. However, if someone told me I arrived in Dalian five days ago, I would and could believe it. Individual days pass somewhat slowly, but the weeks pass in a flash. And weekends, well, they go by way too quickly…
On Saturday, my new friend Grace invited me to her cousin’s house for a nice lunch. We were supposed to meet up for coffee later in the day, but I was giddy to be invited into a Chinese person’s home since sometimes feel like I am missing out on key food-associated culture. None of her cousins speak English very well, so she acted as translator as I struggled to come up with more ways to say in English, “this food is delicious, thank you!” Grace somehow remembered that I liked a potato and eggplant dish here, so she made some of that.
We also had leeks and scrambled eggs, fresh greens dipped in a spicy shrimp sauce, amazing skewered chicken that had a BBQ flavor, fish, some sort of fried bread, and some other sort of chicken that I did not try. Yes, I finally ate chicken in China. And it was marvelous.
On the bus ride back to my part of town, I finally saw the ocean here. I got off at the stop closest to it so I could snap a few pictures. The beach was rocky, cold, and unspectacular. However, I did see a dog dressed in a lime green coat carrying a plastic water bottle in his mouth. I nicknamed him Eco-Dog.
I stopped by my favorite coffee shop on the way home to redeem a free coffee coupon and study Chinese. One of my American friends here met up with me for a little while, and we worked out tentative plans to go to Dandong, China, the following weekend. Dandong is located on the Yalu River, which separates China from North Korea. Tourists can take a boat down the river and get within 30 feet of the Hermit Kingdom’s shores. There is also a dilapidated part of the Great Wall just north of Dandong.
After coffee, I made a pit-stop at my favorite street food avenue, Tianjian Jie. Four ladies halfway down the street sell wraps stuffed with eggs, shredded carrots and potatoes, cilantro, lettuce, a special sauce, and spices. It’s filling enough for dinner, and costs a mere 3.5 yuan (about 50 cents). Before I discovered this, I had been doing a really good job of cooking in my frigid, tiny kitchen almost nightly. Now it’s hard to muster up the motivation if it’s cheaper, tastier, and more convenient to eat from the street. I’m trying to find a nice balance.
On Sunday, I had a mission of prepping a birthday package for a certain soon-to-be 21-year-old back in the plains of Kansas. Another Chinese friend, Sherry, and her friend joined up with me to assist with wrangling and bargaining.
While I was waiting for them at the bus stop, I was accosted by middle-aged men selling palm-sized puppies out of a cardboard box, and old women shoving their hands in my face demanding money from me, since I am a Westerner and therefore rich.I really enjoy people-watching on weekend afternoons, but sometimes I lose sight of the fact that nearly everyone is also Ashley-watching when they walk by me. Stupid face — a dead giveaway.
Anyway, my shopping mission was accomplished. I also sampled more street food (this time some sort of candied berry on a stick) and took part in a tea-tasting at a shop in a massive underground mall. And as for dinner, I succumbed to the street burrito again. You don’t understand; it’s addictive.
Even right now as I’m typing this, I am sitting dangerously close to Tianjian Jie (i.e. Street Food Mecca) in Amici’s coffee shop, waiting for my 6:00 Chinese class to start next door. I needed coffee to recover from an overall decent (but long) day at school. During the lunch break, my favorite Chinese teacher, Sophie, took me to a Korean-run cake shop called Cream Tea with her daughter Monica and her daughter’s friend for Monica’s birthday. I had tiramisu.
Before getting dessert, I ate my usual lunch with other teachers in the school dining room. One of the teachers commented to Sophie that I was much thinner than her. She constantly gets harassed by other teachers telling her to not eat so much because she is so fat. By American standards, she’s just a little thick. She’s very stylish and pretty. But here they openly call her an enormous whale, basically. The other teacher told her it was because of the economic crisis in America that I am so much thinner than her. China clearly has a higher standard of living, and she can therefore eat more than I can. It was a joke. I think?