In China Post 5

------------Tuesday, May 16, 2006--------------

Today we took a few minutes to get ready for the wedding party. A friend of Sally’s mom came to help us. In Chinese, you generally refer to people much older than you as aunt or uncle. We were preparing some gifts to give the guests. We wrapped little packages of candy and cigarettes. This may seem a little strange but is quite traditional in China. It’s just there way of saying “Thank you for coming to our party. Here, have some tooth decay and a tumor.”

In the evening Sally and I headed over to Anne’s house for dinner. Liu Yang wasn’t there because he is out of town on business. We bought some dumplings at a mall near her place. Like most people in China, Anne lives in an apartment complex. Hers is part of a collection of large complexes in a rather nice community on top of one of the hills here in Dalian. China is different from American in that the rich prefer to live in the valleys, making hill top property some of the cheapest available. Anne and Yang both work and don’t have any kids yet so they live in a very nice place. Our apartment back in the US would probably fit in their living and dining rooms. It was probably a little bigger than Sally’s parent’s place. They had a lot of nice things too. I have to reassure Sally that someday, we’ll have jobs and not live in the tiny little place we live in now.

Not a very busy day on the whole, but still fun.

--------------Wednesday, May 17, 2006------------------------------

Today was a busy day. We slept in a bit, which gave us a late start. Once we got going we ate breakfast and then Sally and I went to the office where she used to work. Before she left China to come to American and get her doctorate, Sally worked at a company as an office assistant. Most of the people she worked with were still there. We didn’t have a lot of time to stay and talk because we told her mom we’d be back by 1 p.m. so we just dropped off some gifts and left.

On the way back we saw a bit of a disturbance on the street though the bus windows. All I saw was a guy running down the street and a lady and a guy on a scooter chasing after him yelling all the way. Once they caught up with him a loud and vocal argument ensued. Even more so than that time at the train station, people gathered around for the show. Some of them even took part in the shouting. Sally explained to me that in all likelihood, the guy was a bag snatcher or a pickpocket of some kind. He ripped off the lady and took off counting on his ability to out run her. However she was able to enlist someone with a scooter to help her chase him down. Now in front of everyone, he would have to deny any wrongdoing. It was good to see that many people concerned for a fellow citizen, but I was glad to see a cop walking over to restore order as we turned the corner.

Back when I was just a country bumpkin who had never lived in a big city, I used to be terrified that as soon as I got to any town bigger that Ogden (and yes, this included Salt Lake City) I would get mugged, pickpocketed and murdered, all at the same time. It took me a month or so do not be paranoid all the time in Sydney. I’ve gotten used to Dalian faster, but I’ve had practice. I actually feel a lot safer here than I did there, but that’s probably because I don’t have drunk Australians coming up to me to explain the purpose of life all the time.

We had to be back so early because we had to eat lunch and get ready to go sightseeing with Uncle Wu and Monica, the father and daughter from Friday night. We drove along the road that went on Friday. It turns out there are parks and scenic overlooks the whole way. And here I was thinking it was just a long and windy road. We started at a beach park that is popular for tourists here. Proving they really know their market, the builders of the park provided plenty of statues for people to take pictures with. Actually, most public places around here are just full of statues and people standing in front of them, flashing the peace sign, getting their picture taken. The statues where we started were of a “western” nature and included everything from a Dutch windmill to African folk art to a Pacific coast Native American totem pole.

It was also at this part of the park where I learned that I am the true Lord of the Pigeons. There was a flock of pigeons there (pigeons are not all that common around here, you hardly see them just flying around) and a couple guys selling packets of corn to feed them (they mopped off the area to help you forget the normal side effects that come from playing with pigeons). Monica asked her dad for some money and she bought us all some seeds. At the mere sight of a folded up newspaper the white pigeons went into a feeding frenzy. Some would fly up to attack the bag, hoping to get first picking of the food inside. Others wait below counting on the person holding the bag to freak out and drop the goods. This is what Monica and Sally did. I on the other hand, was the lighthouse in the storm of feathers. I truly ruled over the Pigeon Kingdom. I divided the seeds equally among my subjects and there was peace and harmony in the land. Once we ran out of seeds, using my years of teasing dogs with an empty hand as a template, I learned that if I held my hand out like it had seeds in it, a pigeon or two would jump up and sit in my hand for a bit. Outsmarting a lower life form is always a good feeling. After we were done with the pigeons I noticed a slight residue on my shoulder. Not enough to make me need to change shirts or anything, but enough to remind me that pigeons aren’t the cleanest thing to be the lord of.

One major difference between this place and Sydney can be found in the pigeons. Sydney is like most large city, absolutely covered in pigeons. I have many humorous anecdotes from that time in my life involving pigeons. The few pigeons that they have here are healthy and attractive birds. Usually white or at least mostly so. In Sydney, the pigeons are all kinds of colors and every flock usually has several sickly looking birds in it (Australia doesn’t have any birds of prey to pick them off, as far as I know). For reasons I never understood, at least half of the fowl were missing at least one two; many even hopped around on toeless stubs. I can also assume that the lack of competition here makes the pigeons more docile, I haven’t seen any picking on each other and they don’t fly away when you get close enough to kick them.

We continued along the road, stopping from time to time to take in the scenery. There were a lot of rocky cliffs descending into the raging sea and tree covered mountains. We’d occasionally hear the call of a bird from deep in the woods, which Sally’s dad said was a pheasant. I didn’t see any so I don’t know for sure if they were ringnecks like we have back home, an import from China. There was also a so called, “Magic Road” that will propel your car forward in neutral, in either direction.

There was more on the road than just trees and rocks. There was a stretch of road covered with statues of every sea creature imaginable. There was also a compound with some deer in it surrounded by statues of deer. If deer in the wild could somehow summon the power of the plastic deer, they would live forever while wolves and cougars chew on the dummies.

At the other end of the road was Tiger Beach, so called because the coastline curves like a tiger’s tail. We watched a Mongolian performance troupe perform dances, singing and playing traditional string instruments. There were also people flying strings of at least 30 small kites and men bull whipping wooden tops. It was the first public performance that I’ve seen here in Dalian, another difference between here and Sydney, which was crawling with musicians, martial artists and modern “artists.”

After we finished touring, we picked up Auntie Wu and went to dinner. Again it was Korean Barbeque. Uncle Wu is a very nice but stubborn man (as are many people here in Dalian), and despite our protests, ordered way too much food. Even though I ate myself sick, I still like Korean food, especially kimchi, a traditional side dish consisting of preserved rotten cabbage. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste at best, but I like it. We also had marinated beef and lamb, shrimp, fish, cornmeal and some tendon, which was really chewy and tasted like a dirty diaper smells (they like it though, so it’s perfectly legitimate, it’s just different from what I’m used to) all with the texture of wood. Still, with the spicy food and the hot coals in the table made me sweat. It’s not often you need to take a shower after dinner but I sure did.

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