---------Thursday, May 18, 2006--------------
I woke up with stomach problems again and had to stay home (more for safety than because I didn’t feel well) while Sally and her mom went shopping. I figured no big deal, I’ll hang out, watch soccer, catch up on my writing, go to the bathroom every ten minutes, a laid back morning. And it was, for the most part. The only thing worth noting was that the postman came by to deliver a package and needed a signature. I didn’t feel qualified to provide it so I took a message. I have several Chinese names and am never sure which one is appropriate to use. Besides it was for her father so it might have been top-secret Chinese government stuff. So I just took a message and went pretty proud of myself for being able to do so.
After lunch me and Sally decided to go climb one of the nearby mountains. However first we decided to sit for a bit and digest (we were really full, we’re always really full, we’ve both gotten fat since we’ve gotten here) before we left. I fell asleep. When I woke up Sally fell asleep. She told me to wake her up in half an hour, so I did. She wanted another 15 minutes. I gave it to her. This continued until it was time to go for dinner. Sally’s parents and we went to Jiajia for dinner.
After dinner Sally’s dad went to a tenets’ meeting for their building. I guess the land that this building is one belongs to the military and they’ll be tearing it down soon to build a bigger complex. Everyone who lives here will still get an apartment in the new place but they don’t want to have to pay if the new rooms are bigger than the current ones. Sally and I took a set of keys and went out for a date. It was nice not to have to worry about getting back in time for her parents to let us in and still get enough sleep.
We went to the big mall where we waited for her friends a few days ago. We shopped a bit and went to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. The ice cream was good but the proportions were not so much. When I pay 16 kaui for a single scoop, I expect something softball sized. I’ll accept a baseball if it’s really good but no smaller. All we got was a racquetball. I guess they count on Americans being desperate for a taste of home.
Speaking of Americans being desperate for a taste of home, we also checked out the ice cream at KFC (we weren’t just two crazy people wondering the streets looking for frozen dairy deserts, we did other things too, I just don’t think you want to here about us looking at Chinese CDs). I know that when people talk about how American culture is taking over the world they always mention that McDonalds is everywhere. This is true, there’s a Mackers (Aussie slang) in every major shopping center in Dalian. But in the war to conquer the world’s taste buds, it’s better to follow the orders of a colonel than a clown. I’ve mentioned before that KFC is everywhere and I meant it. Every time we go out, I count the KFCs that I see. Four is the average. Like most international fast food franchises, KFC adapts to fit local tastes. In Sydney (we Kentucky Fried Chicken is even more popular than it is in China) one of the things that struck me with the most culture shock was the fact that they gave you French fries with everything (because you can’t have chicken without chips, it’s the law). Here it’s a little healthier with a seasonal vegetable side dish. The ice cream wasn’t very good, but at least you didn’t pay much for it and the size was what I expected.
-----------------Friday, May 19, 2006-----------------
Today we mostly finished getting ready for the party tomorrow. We went to the Carrefore (which Sally wanted me to explain is French, not Chinese) to buy some drinks for the dinner and some small luggage for our trip to Shanghai (which, it turns out, starts Sunday, more on that later, if I remember). We bought a pair of small, personal suitcases that will fit easily in the overhead compartment. We also bought a whole lot of Pepsi and 7-up. With the exception of Smart and Fanta, which enjoy a much smaller market share, most of the pop here is either cola or lemon/lime. No root beer, no Doctor Pepper, no cream soda, nothing. Coke and Sprite are the clear winning of the Chinese soda wars. Sally told me that until recently there wasn’t any 7-up here at all. It was all Coke products. I guess Pepsi has spent a lot of money advertising (I see it everywhere) and while the flagship drink has started to gain traction, 7-up has not. So much to the point Sally’s parents almost went with two cases of Pepsi rather than one of Pepsi and one of 7-up because they were afraid the guests wouldn’t drink it. Also, the cashier confirmed with us that we knew we were buying 7-up, not Sprite. We would have gotten Sprite, but they were out.
I like going to Carrefore. For one, I always see at least two other non-Chinese people there. I never talk to them, it’s just nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one. Also we usually get a zhenzhunaicha on the way out, because they’re cheap and are hands down the best drink this continent has ever produced.
This trip we also got me so clothes. We figured out my pants size in Chinese and bought me a pair of shorts. I didn’t get the color I wanted because for some reason all the ones in my size in the right color were lacking the hole that you put the button in the front through. I was relived to fine that it was just these few and not some new Chinese style so I decided that the ability to do my pants up was more important than fashion, so we went with a lighter shade. As a souvenir, I also found the T-shirt with the worse English on it I could find. Every since I’ve learned Chinese, I’ve been hyper critical of the Chinese characters that people put on T-shirts, hats or permanently on their body. Usually their choice is OK, but more often than not it’s not exactly what they were expecting or isn’t written quite right. Here in China, it’s the Latin alphabet that is mysterious and cool looking. English is written on a lot of clothing and advertising for no reason other than to look neat Other languages like French, Spanish and even Greek pop up from time to time, but usually it’s English and usually it’s really bad English. I’ve never claimed to be the best speller or to have the best grammar (which I’m sure these letters have proven) but sometimes it gets a little ridiculous. The funniest part is, they don’t even know. So I got a shirt so that I can always remember it. I won’t tell you what it says, I’ll just tell you that it beat out “Brave hovers in water like fish.”
Like I said, we’ve finally figured out our trip to Shanghai and we’re going on Sunday and we’ll be taking the train. At least, Sally, her mom and I will be. Her dad will be flying down a couple days later to join us. We ordered him a plane ticket over the phone and they delivered it to our door, just like a pizza! It came while Sally’s dad was at work, her mom was out running errands and Sally was in the bathroom. The money was on the table though so I was able to handle the transaction without concern and increase my usefulness in the family.
This train trip should be a lot less painful than the last one. Even though it’s a lot longer, 23 hours, we’ll be riding in what’s called a soft-sleeper. Soft-sleepers are supposed to be a whole lot nicer than the hard-seaters we took to and from Shenyang. I’m certainly hoping it is. I’ll be taking “Speaker for the Dead,” the next book after “Ender’s Game,” a copy of the “Dao de Jing” the Taoist book of scripture and the conference Ensign, so I should have plenty to keep myself busy. And we’ve got magnetic chess so Sally can pass the time beating me at that. She’s really gotten better and I still tell her when she makes a bad move so I’m pretty much doomed from the first move. It’s still a lot of fun though. So while I’m not busting with enthusiasm for the journey, I’m not dreading it. Plus I really want to see Shanghai so it’ll be worth it.
Once we got everything for the near future worked out we focused our attention on more current matters, dinner. Both Sally and her mother were suffering from upset stomachs so it was just her dad and I eating. We were looking for a wonton place but decided to eat what they called fast food instead. It was a lot like the Chinese restaurants that are popping up in supermarkets in America only a lot cheaper and whole lot dirtier. We just ordered a couple dishes from the guy behind the counter and sat down and ate. The food was like you would get at a Chinese place in America too, only a bit more authentic. I thought it was really good and at 14 kaui total for four dishes and two bowls of rice, the price can’t be beat. My favorite was the lazi jiding (spicy, cubed chicken), which is a fairly common Chinese dish. Think tiny spicy chicken, now make it without that crappy breading on the meat, real chilies and better sauce, then make taste a thousand times better. Now you have lazi jiding.
After dinner Sally’s parents went home and we went for a walk. We went back to the park we’ve visited several times. It was busier than ever, probably because of the weekend. It was still a little light out, so there were still a couple old guys playing Chinese chess on the ground. Most people were walking or jogging for exercise with a few doing Tai Chi or other, similar forms of exercise. We even saw one guy practicing kung fu. We also found a place were old couples were dancing together to music being played over any old stereo. There were many schools of dancing being practiced – from the waltz to country swing – so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an organized event by any means. It was still fun to watch and made a relaxing end to the day
Steve’s interesting bit of information about China for the day: Like America, China uses their athletes in a lot of their advertisements, especially those who succeed on the international level. There’s one athlete who appears in more adds than any other though, and no, it’s not Yao Ming (although he is everywhere here). Remember in the last Olympics when the Chinese dude got the gold in hurdles? Yeah, I didn’t either. This guy is an icon over here. I see him all the time of billboards and on TV. I guess it makes sense though. He won big time in an event that China hasn’t won before and did so in big way. Still, not what I was expecting when I got here.