----------------Saturday May 13, 2006---------------------------------------
I woke up this morning with a stomachache. Rather than get up and force food into a pained belly, I decided to stay in bed instead. This turned out to be a good idea because when I woke up a couple hours I felt a lot better. I had some fangao [a kind of steamed bread that I really like] for breakfast. The stomachache came back with a vengeance a hour or so later but after I went to the bathroom I’ve felt good for the rest of the day. Sally’s dad thinks it was because I ate the raw fish without dipping it in wasabi sauce first. Wasabi is a Japanese sauce that uses mostly horseradish. Because of my infamous horseradish experience in Vegas, there’s only one thing on earth I hate more than Bob Sagat, and that’s horseradish, so I think it was worth it.
After getting rid of the pain the only way I know how to deal with nagging stomach discomfort we slugged around the apartment for a while. We had plans to meet with a couple of Sally’s roommates from college who are still living in Dalian. We took a bus down one of the bigger streets called ZhongShan Street to a big mall. This same street is the one I’ve gone down many times. It has the train station, XingHai Square and many other important places on it. The buses hear are different from the ones I’m used to from Logan and Sydney. First off you have to pay and they have a lot of people riding them, which makes them totally from anything LTD has to offer. Here the buses stop at each stop to pick up and let off passengers, which with as many people riding as they have, is a pretty safe bet. In Sydney the buses will blow right by every stop unless on one there flags them down or someone on board presses the button to get off. In Australia you have to know where your going and they charge you accordingly, the further your stop, the more your ticket is. If you don’t have exact change, the driver will break a 10 or a 20 for you. You get a receipt and need to carry it with you for the duration of the trip incase the transit authority gets on to check for fare bludgers. Here you drop one kuai in the bucket and your good to go. For as long as your on the bus, you’re fine. In Australia people, with the exception of young punks who don’t count because they’re not people, are generally civil and will offer they’re seat to an elderly person or a mom with kids. Here, with so many people, you can’t always afford to be nice.
We went to a big mall by the train station. Like most big malls around the world on Saturdays with one was packed, mostly with young trendy people. It also had the most American places that I’ve seen in Dalian, including a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut and a Baskin Robbins. Sally and I were weighed down with three bags of soy vitamins that Sally’s friend wanted us to buy for her so we couldn’t walk around too much until they found us.
Sally’s two friends soon met up with us. They were Anne and Judy. Anne brought her husband, Liu Yang, and Judy brought her boyfriend Bryan. These, with the exception of Yang, are obviously their English names used for the sake of simplicity. Our original plan was to go to a big nice buffet of the fifth floor of the mall. We slowly forced our way through the crowd and up the escalators to the restaurant. The mall was like a bigger version of a mall in, you guessed it, Sydney. It was the confusing layout (it took forever to find the next set of escalators) and the awesomely Asianness of the food court that reminded me so much of the mall in Chinatown. Once we made it all the way to the top, the hostess informed us that the buffet was only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from to 10 p.m. Since it was 3 we decided to find another place to eat. Someone suggested YiXin (one heart or love) Barbeque, a Korean barbeque that wasn’t far from the mall. So we hoped in a couple of cabs and headed over.
I don’t think I’ve ever really explained what a Korean barbeque is. If you’ve never eaten ate one, I highly recommended it. So much so that I’ll take you to one in Salt Lake sometime if your willing to pay. It’s kind of a do it yourself joint. The waitress brings you plates of sliced, raw, marinated meat. In the middle of the table is a hole, the waitress then brings a bucket of hot coal and places it in the hole. She caps it with a grill and you’re good to go. This means everyone can have their meat as done as they like it, and it slows the meal down allowing for better conversation with family and friends. However, it’s the marinated that really shines in this show. The meat is usually dripping with sauce and therefore dripping with flavor. I can’t really describe the flavor and usually just say it’s loaded with Koreany goodness. My friend Ryan Robbins once said it’s so good that he’d throw it up just so he eat it again.
We got a room and sat and ate and talked. It was different than the other people I’ve met since I’ve been here. These were Sally’s friends, not her parents so she was excited and the conversation was lively. Also because we were all of the same generation there was more to talk about. I understood pretty everything that was said because they spoke with good clear accents. I enjoyed it. After we finished eating, Sally gave the girls some of the vitamins that she had brought for gift and the guys some Pringles that we were originally supposed to ship to a friend’s family but the post office wouldn’t let us. I’ve never seen anyone so excited to get a tube of Pringles.
Afterwards we made our way home. We took the 11 bus which is a route that goes through the neighborhoods rather than down the main street. The bus was smaller, only had one seat on each side and seemed to be a slightly older model. Ironically, it was also equipped with TV. The driver grinded the gears a lot and even sent some kids flying from their seats. It was good for me though because it help me get my “bus legs” back.
We got off the bus at the park where we walked off dinner a few nights ago. As we walked home Sally called her parents to let them know we were heading back (we didn’t have a set of keys so we needed them to buzz us in). They weren’t home so Sally wanted to go to the nearby Carrefour store (think Chinese Wal-Mart) to buy some bread that she has been craving for a long time. It’s this really thin Indian Style bread called paobing (thrown bread). While we were there we also picked up a couple of drinks, a zhunzhunaicha (pearl milk tea, not really tea, and quite tasty, next time you’re in Logan I’ll take you to get some, my treat this time) and a suanmeitang (sour plum soup, to my knowledge you can’t find it in America because it doesn’t make it through customs because of the no disgusting drink law). When we got home Sally’s parents were back as well. Apparently they had a similar idea and had bought a bunch of snacks too. They had lychees, cherries and dried hawthorn (my favorite, it tastes like fruit leather). We snacked and then played cards. They tried to teach me this ridiculously complicated but equally popular card game. I’m still trying to learn and not doing terribly well yet.
-----------Sunday, May 14, 2006-------------------------
Sally called Elder Jia, the go to guy in China for members to find a local congregation to attend. To our surprise and delight, Dalian had one. We really weren’t expecting to be able to go to church here. There was only one problem: Non-Chinese citizens couldn’t go. We still wanted Sally to go to church so we headed out. The plan was for me to hang out at Olympic Electronics City while she went to church. Not my ideal Sunday but it was better than hanging out at home. Electronic City is a two-floor electronics free for all underneath a soccer complex. It was a lot like the clothing expo but with computers rather than skirts.
It was pretty cool. I don’t know how much any of the stuff cost because it wasn’t labeled. I didn’t have any money so I didn’t ask. They had a wide variety of stuff though, everything from TV’s to computers to light bulbs. I spent most of my time looking through the movies. Everyone seemed to want to sell me DVDs (I blame the white guy factor). China is known for it’s movie piracy and I was smack-dab in the middle of it. If I wanted to I could have bought Mission Impossible Three or the new 9/11 movie that just came out. Trying not to look like too much of a foreigner, I spend most of the time thumbing through the TV series. Chinese TV aren’t open ended like ours are. They usually feature one major story arc and several small ones over the course of 20 to 50 episodes. These are very popular and I really like them. I’ve watched a couple of them back home and really like the way the stories can be more drawn out and how there’s usually a whole lot of kung fu. Fortunately there are other places where you can buy not pirated versions of these and I intend to stock up.
We were originally thinking they would only have sacrament meeting but they had a full block so I had even more time to kill. Exhausting my desire to have people say to me “Hello, DVD” making a circle with their hands (the universal sign of the DVD) I wend back top side to watch soccer for a while. While soccer is popular here, they’re not one the same level of play as Europeans or South Americans. Still, it was fun to watch for a while until it got too hot. I wandered around Olympic Square for a while watching little kids roller skate and then went across the street to hide in an air condition Internet café. Finally, Sally called me and we were able to go back.
She said she really liked the branch here. It was small, with only 12 members, but bigger than we were expecting. One of the members even just received a mission call to Canada. which is really exciting. I guess Chinese members can go to serve in five countries. We’re not sure of all of them but the US, Canada and Australia are all on the list. Sally also said the members were very friendly and happy to welcome her into their group. She said she had the same feelings at this branch as she did at an American ward and I explained that was because the truth is the same everywhere.
We went home and had lunch. I took a quick nap while the rest of the family watched the Korean soap opera. I guess Sally’s dad slept through it too. Sally’s mom sure didn’t, she cried. She really gets into this show. Sally says this is a pretty common occurrence.
After the mandatory viewing of the Korean soap opera, we went to the Labor Park here in Dalian. This time we were prepared and finally took a camera. Unfortunately the light wasn’t too good so the photos aren’t the best. We’ll be sure to take a lot more. The park was really pretty. We were there for the end of the annual peony festival so there were a whole lot of fragrant flowers in bloom. They also had a lot of statues including one for each sign of the Chinese zodiac. They had some birds in cages and ponds of gold fish where people could fish for pets. I wanted to take a picture of it but Sally wouldn’t let me. I’ll show the pictures I was able to take when I get home to a fast Internet connection. The park was a really pretty place though, and I liked it.
On our way out, we bought so lamb kabobs from a street vendors for a kaui each. This place lives and dies by its street vendors. They’re everywhere selling everything. It’s an extra bit of fun that we just don’t have back home.
I conclusion, I like China.