Dinner has become my best source of entertainment - June 12-14, 2012

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June 13th 2012
Published: June 14th 2012
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As seen many times before
The afternoon of June 12th I did indeed find my co-workers and I went with them to a meeting with city officials. It had some interesting maps but other than that I was lost. I used the time to study my Chinese. That's the one good thing about these meetings -they force me to study Chinese. Because my hotel room is my sanctuary of English so I find it hard to be motivated to look at Chinese.

I also came up with the hilarious idea to create a Chinese drinking game where I select a few Chinese words that I understand and drink whenever they're said. First, I need to aquire some alcohol. Some possible words are you, meiyou, yao, buyao (Jeff's favourite word!!), women, nimen...there are lots of words that are said a lot and are easy to identify. Or maybe I'll go with my favourite word - shenme? ("what?") Anyways I survived the meeting!

Dinner that night was full-on Fernanda-style business dinner with city officials. There was COPIOUS amounts of alcohol. And they did that thing with all the toasting that Fernanda talked about. So like one city official would come around with his own little jug of alcohol and toast everyone from CAUPD one by one. And you had to get up and toast and drink with each official as they came around. And they'd also toast you at the table. And on two occassions I was told "bottoms up" and both times my glass was full to the brim. So it was a struggle to finish. I had two types of alcohol - red wine and local liquor that tasted kinda like sherry. I didn't want to offend them but I prefered the red wine. The lady came by and asked which glass I wanted refilled. They were all watching but I said the wine. I'm sorry. I told them the liquor was too strong for me. They found that amusing.

The food was also even more abundant than usual. A highlight was this goat's skull with mystery meat on it. At one point my supervisor asked me if I'd tried some. I asked what it was. He said tongue. I said nooo I hadn't tried it. Then managed to avoid trying it. Phew. So far I haven't had to eat anything too weird though I'm pretty sure at least once a day I'm eating something that, if I knew what it actually was, I wouldn't eat it. This week's top 10 will offer insight into some weird food. But I've avoided chicken feet, pig's tail, and all sorts of mystery seafood. I don't care that others eat it, I'm not here to judge. I just personally don't want it. I think that's my right.

Anyways I left the restaurant feeling kinda drunk. It was a fun evening.

Wednesday, June 13th I joined up with the tourism group because my group just had meetings all day whereas the tourism group was going to visit tourist attractions around Hai Ning. A lot of the sites we visited were places I'd been already but there were some cool new ones too. We visited lots of "former residences" of various famous people. They were mostly artists or scholars. But then we came to one house. And the first room we went in had a bench and a chair. The english translation was "lust bench" and "lust armchair". Umm what? I asked the two guys in the tourism group (they both spoke english really well) what that was all about. The one guys said "it's where a man and woman are together..." Oh, so it literally is a lust bench.

The next room we went into was just full-on pornography. There were drawings that were the Chinese version of the kama sutra. And some pornographic statues. I was like "ok, seriously, where are we??" To which I was replied "it was the house where prostitutes lived." Oh, a brothel. Ok, now it makes sense. But I am very much amused and confused by the fact that they didn't warn me about that before I walked into this pornographic room. If I was with someone who spoke no English and I was taking them to a brothel museum, I'd give them a heads up before taking them into a room full of porn. But anyways...

It was a fun day. Lots of cool sites to see. I told them my insight was OMG get someone who speaks English to read over the translations. If you want Western tourists, you need to have signage that makes sense. Most of the signage made no sense. And some of it was set in stone. Seriously ridiculous...

I met back up with my group for dinner that night. We decided to go out so we went walking down the street and ended up back at that really Western plaza that looks like it was lifted from Southern California. We walked all the way to the end and I could hear my supervisor ask people what they wanted. It seemed like they were indicisive so he asked me - Beijing food or pizza? OMG OMG OMG pizza sounded amazing. But I didn't want to offend them by being too enthusiastic about not having Chinese food. So I said "well, I'd say pizza because I haven't had it for a while". And it was decided! We went to this Italian restaurant. It was awesome! The place was actually run by ITALIANS! There were WHITE PEOPLE! I'm not sure where these white people are hiding but I assume they live in the fancy buildings and houses near this plaza and either work in Shanghai or are managers at the textile plants in the area. Anyways, it's exciting to see them.

What was most funny was that, although the place was legit Italian and the food was totally authentic - it was still Chinese. We had our own room, much like at Chinese restaurants. Everything was communal (though I got to select one of the pizzas we had which was a change from suprise food). Even the salad was a big boal in the middle of the table. We picked at it with our forks instead of chopsticks. There was a seafood bisque - again in a big bowl that we all served to ourselves in little bowls. It was all SO GOOD. And it was funny seeing my co-workers deal with Western food. My supervisor is very well-travelled (he's even been to Italy) so he knew what was going on but I saw him demonstrate how to use a fork and knife before the food came. When the salads arrived people were picking at them wondering what was in them. Reminded me of me at every other meal! They looked skeptically at the olives, the cheese, even the PROSCIUTTO (my supervisor and I ate it all, everyone else seemed confused - whatever more for us!!) SO FUNNY! They are just like me!! Hahahaha. Now they maybe understand what I go through every day...

Anyways it was such a satisfying meal. CHEESE! REAL CHEESE!! OMG I had been craving it like craaaazy. It felt so good. I wanted to take home the two leftover pieces of pizza and just have them with me in my life always...I ate soo much food because I knew it would be a while until I had food like that again.

And here's the thing - because I've talked a lot about food. It's not that I don't like Chinese food. It can be really good. But it's not what I'm used to, which makes it hard. And quite frankly I'm just not used to eating the same type of food for every meal every day. In my daily life, I eat all sorts of different foods from all sorts of different cultures. But here it's like 99% of the time they're eating Chinese food. Even breakfast is noodles, rice, stewed veggies - Chinese food. Don't they get bored?

And on this note, it's occurred to me that I cannot fathom what it would be like growing up in a place where everyone looks, talks, and acts exactly like
Hanging the clothing to dryHanging the clothing to dryHanging the clothing to dry

put it wherever you can!
me. That's what it's like in much of China - hell that's what a lot of Canada and the US are like! It's just so weird to me. I grew up in a super-multicultural city. Both Toronto and LA are places where I cannot imagine a way that you could look that would stand out. You could be a 7 foot tall drag queen and people would be like "meh, I've seen weirder". (Hollywood boulevard actually has a 7 foot tall drag queen...) But here...even just not having black hair is so weird. What a strange, strange world that would be like to grow up in...

Anyways, Thursday, June 14th I went with my co-workers to another meeting a city hall. It was very long - over 3 hours. I was so hungry by the end. China has made me need to have lunch at noon - at home I never would eat so early. But then, I'm a compulsive snacker at home so I would be eating all morning. Anyways, I decided to play a game where I focused really hard on what people were saying to see if I could pick up the jist of it. A good way to study Chinese. This one guy was the easiest to understand - he ennunciated (Beijinger's kinda slur their words, it makes it super difficult to understand). I think he was talking about money because I kept hearing numbers and the word for dollars. I should have asked if he was. Now I'll never know if I was right...

After lunch we went cruising around to look at some new developments in Hai Ning. This was really interesting. The first spot we came to had apartments and single family homes. The homes were HUGE. I asked how many families live in one of them - and was told just one. I then asked who gets to live in the big homes - and I was told peasants. Peasants?? I inquired further about this situtation and my supervisor explained that every peasant has the right to an apartment in the apartment complexes - they get 40 m2 then an additional 40 m2 for each person in the family. If the family has only 1 child (ie not breaking the law) they get a bonus 40 m2 - so a typical family of 3 would get a 200 m2 apartment for free from the government. In addition, they get about 100-150 thousand RMBs (Chinese money). Pretty good deal. The homes were for the richer peasants. The land is provided by the government but if you want a house you have to pay for the construction costs and you don't get the cash. It seems fair.

Anyways it's interesting how much the government gives its people. Say what you will about the Communist Party, they have provided for their people in a way few other governments have. Compared to the giant slums of Mumbai or Rio, this BRICS nation seems to not even have unsafe/ghetto areas in its big cities, let alone massive-scale illegal squalor. It's pretty impressive.

It was interesting seeing these fancy homes and then seeing the peasants that live in them - their skin leathery and their backs humped from years of working on farms. I guess it's nice they get a more comfortable lifestyle now. It's interesting as well that many of them continue to have tiny plots of crops outside their homes - you can take the farmer out of the country but you can't take the country out of the farmer!

Next we got the chance to visit a small-scale family textile factory. WOW it was so cool. They had all these mechanical looms running making different fabrics. Very interesting. My supervisor tells me the looms cost about $3,000 which is prety cheap considering how much income they probably bring in. Say what you will about the "Made in China" phenomenon - it has certainly helped a lot of people get out of extreme poverty. China is a lot like the West, but about 100 years behind. Their industrial revolution is now. Plus, the parasols the ladies carry look very 1910 haha.

We then saw a museum dedicated to the history of silkworm farming in the area. Very interesting.

Dinner was at a different hotel down the street. It started with a bunch of mystery dishes I didn't recognize. I decided to be adventurous and just try them out. I saw one of my co-workers look skeptically at something she was eating and asked "do you not know what this is?" She apparently did know, she was just confused because the vegetable was organic and was therefore smaller than normal. But this then caused my supervisor to ask if I knew the food I was eating. I said I usually didn't. He then explained the dishes I'd just eaten - one was lotus (I had guessed that by the looks), another was tofu (guessed that by the taste) and another was bamboo (I had no clue). Thankfully, nothing too sketchy! And the rest of the food that came out was more easily identifiable. So I was able to eat. Hurray! But another eventful meal.

Our time in Hai Ning is almost coming to an end. Soon we'll be heading to Hangzhou for some tourism. Hurray!


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16th July 2012

That was really interesting to read. It's great that the Chinese government takes care of its people, North American governments should learn from them.

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