Tuesday, December 26, 2006


First up here's a great blog post about christmas in China, from the 'far better China blog than mine' Adventures of the Humanaught

And now, on with our irregularly scheduled programming:

My first christmas in China was a cocktail of:
  • Beer and Fried Chicken with Anshan's American/Cameroonian community
  • Lasagne
  • Haggis
  • A wet bed
Yep, courtesy of Lucas, I am now the proud owner of a can of Scotland's finest tinned haggis:


Apparently Lucas swore to his mother that it would come in handy here in China, and couldn't face the thought of her seeing him unpack it when he returns to the US next week. We decided it should be passed on to some other lucky English Language Teacher when I leave. We have started a Chinese Canned Haggis gifting tradition.

Returning to my apartment later in the evening, I discovered a less welcome gift, courtesy of Chinese plumbing. A pipe in the ceiling of my apartment had burst, a pipe that just so happened to be directly above my bed. After stripping back my sodden sheets, I discovered that my lower most mattress, that sits on the plywood bed base, was reasonably dry.

Upon this mattress is writ: "Extra firm steel springs for strong and firm body support" Basically its a quilted slab of granite (it also says "Fashion Peality and Fashion Beauty" and, for no discernible reason, "email" and "www.com"). So my bed last night was that, a sleeping bag, and my living room floor (or as I like to call it now "the room that isn't full of water of unknown cleanliness and origin").

This tale has a happy epilogue: This morning I was awoken by workmen coming to inspect my pipes for imminent explosion (which was well timed because the entire left side of my torso had gone numb, half an hours more sleep on that mattress and I might've lost a limb). They insisted that I leave my keys with them so they could lock up afterwards, promising to leave them in the security office. When I returned from class that morning, under-dressed for the barrage of snow that had showed up a day late, the security office was locked and my keys nowhere to be found, so instead of lunch I got to stand around in the snow cursing under my breath and fighting to keep starvation, exhaustion and hypothermia at bay (not to mention a severe outbreak of melodrama).

So there you go folks, my christmas gift to you is a happy heaping helping of schadenfreude.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I wish you all a

merry christmas

Observation: Getting up at 7am to work on Christmas day sucks. I much prefer the traditional gluttony and getting stuff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Scenes from a Shenyang Shop

Taken with my PDA, so apologies for the poor quality



PS: Not a pet store.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Santa, Me, and the Qing Dynasty

Today I went to Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province. Lonely Planet's write-up on the city begins "At first glance, Shenyang may be a hard city to love."

Sounds about right. 3.5 million people, none of whom seem to be in the traffic policing or town planning trades.

Anyway, Shenyang does have a pretty good Jiaozi (dumpling) restaurant, and a supermarket/wholesalers called 'Metro' that stocks western treats these eyes have not seen in many moons. Here is my swag:


Yes that is the original Transformers series in its entirety on DVD. Well spotted. Only $2 US as well.

And here's me, Santa, and a 400 year old Qing Dynasty Palace.


It was -16 degrees celsius today. Pretty nippy. I still haven't broken out my 'last resort' duck-down jacket yet. I'm saving that for when it gets cold.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


When I signed on for this job, I was promised that I would have access to a kitchen, with microwave, stove etc. While these things were provided, the fact that they were all covered in about an inch of filth and dust meant that I haven't really taken advantage of them (except for one time I tried to make popcorn and the kernels BURST INTO FLAME. Those of you that know me well will have seen me make popcorn under the most extreme circumstances of intoxication and lack of sleep, and that has never ever happened before).

Anyway, 3 months in, I'm starting to get pretty sick of eating at the cafeteria and the same three restaurants day after day. Not to mention mishaps like accidentally ordering stomach, or pig liver like I did today (the perils of buying food from small blurry photographs). So yesterday I decided to roll up my sleeves and, arming myself thusly:


I made an attack on this:




Three hours later, I arrived at this:


(I have no idea what that cabinet thing on the right is for. The only english on it is a button saying 'ozone'. My current theory is that its a Doomsday Device of some sort)


He cleans! But will he cook? time will tell. A few more brushes with surprise organ meals and I'll be in there every damn day.

PS: If you don't get the title reference, you need to watch this

Sunday, December 10, 2006

My favourite mistranslation so far

On the vertical row machine at the gym:



I sure hope I selected the proper station.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Further musical and culinary adventures

So yesterday I was informed that there was to be an English speaking competition at the school that evening, and that I was invited to attend (andohyeahcanyousingasongforustoo?that'dbegreatthanks). The topics the students had to choose from were "Success through Brain Power" (which all of about 3 students opted for) and "what happiness means to me". A lot of the kids seemed to have copied from the same book/website/whatever so most of them were pretty boring, a notable exception being when one girl ended her speech (“what happiness means to me”) with "If god calls on me to die for the motherland I will do so without hesitation".


Anyway, I was asked to do a song, and managed to belt out my trusty version of 'Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town' despite the school band's well meaning but woeful attempts to play along and to mic my acoustic guitar (resulting in some ear bleeding feedback, but not deterring the mic holder in the least, until I pretty much swatted him away).

All that out of the way (one of my students won), I was invited to dinner with the rest of the English Faculty, where I was asked "what kind of food do you like?" I gave my standard "whatever, I like to try new things" reply. A phrase to be used with caution in China.

Amongst the more standard delights of pig skin jelly and sheep's blood cubes, there was a plate of these guys:


Silkworm Pupae. Not bad. Pretty much just confirmed my theory that anything deep fried and appropriately spiced is edible. The taste was kind of peanuty, but not very distinctive. The shells were crunchy. I find it helps not to think about the words 'worm' or 'pupae' too much whilst eating.

The highlight of the dinner (deep fried insects aside) was the presence of the English Department's Party Secretary (I didn't realise we had one, but, you know, Communism) who was chastising everyone for not properly draining their beer glasses when toasts were made. Some rules need to be enforced. I of course didn't need reminding of this particular protocol.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Journey to Peter Burger

You know sometimes, when you're sitting in your warm, comfortable apartment, talking to westerners via the internet, listening to western music (the latest Mint Chicks album. It's great. Buy it), you can almost forget that you're in China.

Then you decide that you need some lunch so you venture outside forgetting that its ten degrees below zero and that the three high schools across the road are getting out for lunch so there's a million kids on the street all shouting 'hello!' at you and a taxi driving on the footpath tries to kill you and some store down the road is letting off dynamite to celebrate something or other and when you get to the burger place for an ultimately unsatisfying but occasionally necessary fix of western stomach-filler some old lady tries to elbow in front of you in line (and you let her) and they're playing that one Richard Marx song at full volume on a loop so by the time you get your order you're praying that whoever it is he is right here waiting for would just show the hell up already and then on your way back to your apartment you almost slip on the cruddy black stuff that used to be snow that's built up on all the footpaths.

China - every day's a carnival.