Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I waited them out for a while, but I finally decided to dig around and find (with the help of my friend Keenan) a back-door to blogspot. I'm not sure how well it will work, or for how long, but at least now I can resume blogging.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
After a quick lunch, I found Driver's glossy tourist brochure and pointed to a picture of the Great Wall climbing up a mountainside
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Here's one more picture I can't resist showing you. Here is another guy trying to pick his way across the slimy rocks from the beach. There was really only room for one person to pass at a time, so I had to wait for him before I could attempt a passage. I was glad I chose to wear water-resistant boots that day, rather than tennis shoes!
We parked near the public beach, and Driver led me down along the water. I could see the Dragon's Head off to the right — shrouded in mist in this photo. I wanted to walk there, but Driver steered me to the left, toward a small card table with an old woman selling something for 30 rmb. I resisted for a moment, because I hadn't a clue what I was paying for, and I didn't see anything I thought was worth paying five dollars for. But eventually I gave in and paid. My options seemed to be either that or nothing.
Friday, May 8, 2009
We actually had to stop for a half-minute or so, while Driver laid on his horn and shouted for this cow to get out of the road. Meanwhile, to the right, I just missed getting a picture as four calves took off running playfully down the beach. It was surreal.
The reason I chose Shanhaiguan as the place to first experience the Great Wall is that it is the location of Laolongtou, the "Dragon's Head" — where the Great Wall meets the sea. (It's sometimes described as the easternmost part of the Great Wall of China, but that's not precise. There are other walls, older, I think, that stretch as far as North Korea. But Laolongtou is the easternmost part of the Ming Dynasty wall that is our standard picture of the Great Wall of China.)
By pointing at the glossy tourist brochure, speaking pointlessly in English, and nodding my head emphatically, while waving off other suggestions, I managed to communicate that I wanted to see Laolongtuo. It's about 20 minutes of rather harrowing driving from the First Pass, where I was staying.
Shenhaiguan/Qinhuangdao is a beach resort area, and I could see the hotels and apartment buildings getting fancier and pricier the closer we got to the beach.
We drove past the beach and through a gate in the Wall, up a hill that was much too steep for Driver's little three-wheeled taxi. In the chaotic rush that is Chinese traffic, hand-drawn carts, motor scooters, bicycles, city buses, all rushed around each other and attempted to slither through tiny gaps and spaces in the traffic — with one undersized, underpowered cab lugging an oversized an American through it all. With that stolid resolution which is the unique province of the Chinese man, Driver laid on his horn and shoved aside lorries and bicyclists alike. When their resolution bested his and he was forced to slow or stop, the car always risked stalling.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
When I had time to take a breath and go back through the museum at my own pace, I could start forming my own understanding of the place. I guessed that it must have been the home of an important person, probably a scholar. The "read-place" was clearly a kind of library, filled with comfortable couches for reading and studying, ink-stained tables and — behind glass — gorgeous calligraphy sets.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Next morning I arose, relatively fresh and ready to explore. I packed up my little day-pack a little early, then went down to wait for Driver to arrive at 8. The restaurant was in the appealing part of the hotel, so I decided to try breakfast there. It was only 5 RMB, so I didn't have much to lose.
The table was huge for one person, and the center was a giant turntable, the likes of which you've probably seen in Chinese restaurants. First, I was served a hard-boiled egg in a little bowl. When I had eaten that, the waitress came by and deposited an array of foods, shown on the left. The white balls on the top right are dumplings. To their left is bean curd. Under the bean curd is some sort of crunchy veggie mix in a strong-flavored vinegar marinade. At the bottom is a plate of peanuts. On the lower left-hand corner, you can see part of a bowl that I had hoped would be some sort of rice-based porridge. I grabbed a handful of peanuts, found them tasty, then started in on the real food.
I bit first into the mixed veggies. Their crunch was pleasant, but the marinade was way too strong and tasted of spoiled curry.
I quickly bit into a dumpling — I've had those before, in Dalian and in various cities of North America, and always liked them. I expected them to be like something one would get at a dim sum restaurant back home: pasty bread on the outside, with maybe some meat or something sweet on the inside. Not this dumpling: it was paste all the way through. Actually, that's an insult to paste: Elmer's Glue has more flavor than this stuff. Imagine that you made bread dough, but forgot to add salt, sweetener, or flavoring of any kind, then took the bread out of the oven half-baked and still a little sticky. That's about what this was like.
Becoming desperate, I lunged at the bean curd. It was yellow, with the texture of tofu. I like tofu. It was covered in red sauce. I like red sauce. I jabbed off a little corner with my chopsticks.
It tasted like gym socks in pepper sauce. Fermented, stinky, and disgusting.
So my choice seemed to be disgusting flavor, or no flavor at all. Surely, the rice porridge would be my solution. I like rice, and surely this was some sort of breakfast cereal that might perhaps have the right combination of flavors.
It turned out to be nothing but rice in water. No salt. No flavor. Just... rice... in... water. It had only slightly more flavor than the dumpling.
I couldn't quite believe that every item on the table except the egg and the peanuts had tasted awful. So I tried everything around the table, one item after the other, thinking that something here must taste good. Then I tried them in different combinations: bite of dumpling, bite of bean curd. Ick! Bite of bean curd, spoonful of rice. Ick! Bite of veggies, bite of bean curd. UGH! Bite of rice, bite of dumplings. Blah. I went like this for some time, chased around the table by my own disgust.
I once rented a room from a woman who had a very spoiled little terrier. When I cooked, as I like to do, the little dog was always underfoot, looking for me to throw him scraps. I accidentally kicked the poor little guy pretty hard a couple of times, because I'm not used to having a dog underfoot while I cook. So finally, to break him of the habit, I decided to try giving him little bits of my food — but first, I would dip it in cayenne pepper sauce. The dog would try it, make a funny face, spit it out. But he would keep eying it, and a few seconds later he would try it, make a funny face, and spit it out. I could see him thinking: surely that didn't taste as bad as it seemed — I must've gotten a bad bite. Maybe if I come at the other side...
Try it, make a funny face, spit it out.
Try it, make a funny face, spit it out.
I felt a little like that little dog. Finally, I gave up, admitted defeat, poured the remaining peanuts into a baggie, and escaped. Driver was waiting for me.
Monday, May 4, 2009
After arriving, exhausted, at a hotel that cost almost 100 rmb more than I'd intended to pay, I was at least pleased to see that it looked decent. Then the little hunched-over woman led me, very slowly, through the courtyard, through a reasonably well-appointed lobby, and up to a room. Not the room I was going to end up in, as it turns out.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
I arrived in Shanhaiguan right at nightfall on the first day of the May Day celebration, April 30. I met Driver just outside the train station. He called out "Hallo!" and I showed him the page in my notebook where a friend had written "Please take me to a hotel near the Great Wall where I can get a room for no more than 200 RMB a night." Driver took me to the Jing Shan Hotel, directly opposite the so-called "First Pass Under Heaven," i.e. the first gate on the easternmost point of the Great Wall.